When college student Sydney Bristow (Jennifer Garner) joined SD-6, a secret branch of the CIA, she had no idea that her father already was a CIA agent and that her dead mother was in fact alive, but on the run from the U.S. government after turning into a supervillain in the grandest of James Bond traditions. That was the great setup for J.J. Abrams’s spy show, which must have been inspired by Mission: Impossible and The Man from U.N.C.L.E., even in the choice of music. It also had clones, a variation on the masks from Mission: Impossible.
Part of a global criminal network
When we first met Sydney, she had no idea that SD-6 was in fact not a part of the CIA, but a global criminal network. The only one of her co-workers who knew the truth was her boss, Arvin Sloane (Ron Rifkin). But after the murder of her fiancée, Sydney realized that she’d been duped and contacted the CIA to become a double agent. She also learned that Jack (Victor Garber), her father, already was a double agent working both for the CIA and SD-6; he gave her plenty of reasons to wonder where his loyalties lied, but their relationship subsequently became much more affectionate.
Things changed over the years. SD-6 was brought down and Sydney’s co-workers transferred to the CIA. That’s when Sydney learned that her mother was alive. The villainous Irina (Lena Olin) turned herself in, but that was part of a plan and once she had accomplished whatever she hoped to accomplish regarding a mysterious device, an all-powerful weapon designed by a fifteenth-century prophet named Rambaldi, the CIA were unable to prevent her escape. Rambaldi had supernatural powers and Sloane (who once had had an affair with Irina) was also obsessed with the weapon.
Confused? There’s more. The next seasons would deal with the growing love between Sydney and a fellow agent, Vaughn (Michael Vartan); the problem of not telling close friends that she was an agent; the constant emergence of new, powerful, evil organizations; and the complex relationship between the agents and the mysterious Sloane whose fingerprints were always everywhere.
Amusing twist in the third season
Character actor Rifkin was brilliant as Sloane, but Garner was the true star; the missions took her all over the world, always landing her in sexy disguises, including a new colorful wig for every job. She was always up for the challenges, which were usually physically demanding (she knew how to handle a gun and beat up bad guys). The show reached its zenith in the second season, which was very intense and creative; especially Olin contributed a lot as Sydney’s two-faced mother. The third season provided an amusing twist in the shape of old enemies having to work together again in a newly created branch of the CIA. They kept giving each other dirty looks, since, you know, the previous season had been spent trying to kill each other.
The writing was uneven but the production values fairly high.
The writing was uneven but the production values fairly high. The actors made sure we rooted for the characters, even at times the dastardly Sloane. The emotions were intense at times, but everybody involved gave it the kind of light touch that we sort of expect from a fantastical spy series like Alias. It always made the show fun, even as the quality inevitably declined in later years.
Alias 2001-2006:U.S. 105 episodes. Color. Created by J.J. Abrams. Theme: Michael Giacchino. Cast: Jennifer Garner (Sydney Bristow), Victor Garber (Jack Bristow), Ron Rifkin (Arvin Sloane), Michael Vartan (01-05), Carl Lumbly, Kevin Weisman, Greg Grunberg (03-05), Bradley Cooper (01-03), Merrin Dungey (01-03), David Anders (02-04), Melissa George (03-04), Lena Olin (02-03), Rachel Nichols (05-06), Balthazar Getty (05-06), Mía Maestro (05).
Golden Globe: Best Actress (Garner) 02.
Quote: “Some people go miniature golfing with their parents. We go to India to look for nukes.” (Garner)