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ALIAS

COUNTDOWN


EPISODE NO. 42
Season 2, episode 20
Series 220
1st release: 04/27/03
2nd release: 08/31/03
Last update: 09/25/03


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REGULAR CAST, GUEST CAST & CREDITS
SYNOPSIS by Sally Dye
COMMENTARY 1 by Adriane Saunders
COMMENTARY 2 by Zero and E
LINKS



REGULAR CAST
Jennifer Garner as Sydney Bristow
Victor Garber as Jack Bristow
Ron Rifkin as Sloane
Merrin Dungey as Francie
Carl Lumbly as Dixon
Kevin Weisman as Marshall
Michael Vartan as Vaughn
Bradley Cooper as Will
Joey Slotnick as CIA Agent Steven Haladki
David Anders as Mr. Sark
Lena Olin as Irina Derevko/Laura Bristow



GUEST CAST
David Carradine (Conrad)
Danny Trejo (Vargas)
Jonathan Banks (Brandon)
Amanda Foreman (Carrie Bowman)
Patricia Wettig (Dr. Barnett)
Jimmie F. Skaggs (Captain)
Carlos Cervantes (Panamanian detective)
Allen Evangelista (Jandu)
Ryan Honey (Delta Force leader)
James Carraway (Proteo DiRegno)



CREDITS
Teleplay by Jeff Pinkner
Story by R.P. Gaborno
Directed by Lawrence Trilling



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Broadcast on ABC, 9-10pm, Sunday nights.

SYNOPSIS:

This synopsis is by Sally Dye.

Teaser

Scenes from previous episodes, culminating with Diane Dixon's car being blown up just outside the restaurant. Flash to a scene in which Dixon is threatening to detonate an explosive if a man doesn't tell him where the "device" is. Sydney shouts at Dixon to stop, and Vaughn is ordered to "take him down."

Flash back to LA -- Diane Dixon's wake. Dixon sits with his children. Sydney, Marshall and Vaughn stand nearby, not knowing what to say. Later, Vaughn sees Dixon taking pills of some kind.

At home, Vaughn tells Sydney that he's worried about Dixon coming back to work, especially if he's self-medicating. Sydney says she's sure it was just aspirin. She says she was the same when Danny died.

Sloane tells Sark he thought he would have some satisfaction after Diane's death, but he doesn't. Sark says they have traced their man to Panama, and Sloane says to take care of it by phone. He tells Sark he's going on leave, and he might not see Sark again.

Jack introduces NSA Director Brandon and his assistant Carrie Bowman, who are studying Rambaldi and his prophecies. Agent Bowman asks Marshall if he has a presentation to make, and Marshall stutters even more than usual as he complies. He shows the pages of Rambaldi's heart studies, pointing out that there are notes in the margin which turned out to be specific DNA strands. The DNA info has has been matched to a man living in Panama named Proteo DiRegno. It has also been used to translate some of Rambaldi's prophecies, most of which have already taken place. One date, however, is for 48 hours hence, but there is no indication as to what will happen then. A team is to go to Panama and bring DiRegno back.

In Panama City, DiRegno is awakened by the sound of a window sash banging in the wind. He gets up to investigate and is killed by an assassin.

Act I

In Panama City, Sydney and Dixon find DiRegno's body, which has had its heart removed. The only clue is a scrap of a latex glove, but there is a partial fingerprint, which Marshall traces to an assassin named Emilio Vargas.

Vaughn talks to Jack about Dixon, but Jack is determined to let Dixon stay in the field. He feels responsible for recruiting Dixon into SD-6 and says he's not going to deny Dixon the chance to be part of the search for Sloane.

Marshall sees Carrie crying and takes her a tissue. She is embarrassed and says she's crying over a Joni Mitchell song. They discuss Rambaldi and seem to click with each other. She asks him out for sushi and he accepts.

Vaughn calls Dr. Barnett and tells her his concerns about Dixon.

In Guadalajara, Dixon and Sydney enter a night club and ask to see Vargas. They convince him they are there to hire him. When he is comfortable with them, they ask about DiRegno. He immediately attacks them and they fight all over the place with swords he has hanging everywhere. Sydney finally has Vargas at the point of her sword, but when he is still reluctant to answer their questions, Dixon breaks his hand. Vargas says what he took from DiRegno was more like a machine, and it's now on its way to Colombia. Dixon starts hitting him, asking if that's where Sloane is, but he doesn't seem to know, and Sydney has to pull Dixon off him.

Act II

Barnett calls Dixon in to talk. She asks why he participated in a mission so soon after his wife's death. He says he was encouraged not to go, but insisted on being part of the operation, because he has "unfinished business." He says he needs to be involved in the search for Sloane. Barnett says she will decide if he's fit for further duty.

Marshall says DiRegno never had a heart transplant or an artificial heart. He wonders what all this might have to do with Rambaldi's "doomsday prophecy". Marshall makes a reference to Carrie, and Sydney picks right up on his use of her first name, which flusters Marshall. Dixon interrupts to ask Sydney if she talked to Barnett about him. Sydney says no. Dixon says he's been ordered to take a drug test. He admits he's been taking Vicoden, but says he stopped and threw the pills away. But it will still show up on the test.

Sydney confronts Vaughn. He says he's just rying to protect both Dixon and Sydney. Sydney is upset with him, but he stands by his decision to get involved.

In Nepal, Sloane is led up a mountain. His guide refuses to accompany him any further when he sees where Sloane is headed, so Sloane goes on alone.

Vaughn comes to apologize to Sydney. He tells her that Dixon's test came back negative, so she was right -- it must have been aspirin. Sydney looks worried.

Sydney goes to Dixon, and he admits he switched the test results. Sydney says she has been called in to see Dr. Barnett. Dixon begs her not to reveal what he did. Sydney says she has to go.

Barnett asks Sydney if she knows of any reason why Dixon should be taken out of the field. Sydney says Dixon is the strongest person she's ever known, and she would trust him with her life. As she is speaking, Dixon drives to a tall bridge. He gets out and stands on the bridge's outer railing, looking down.

Act III

Sydney, Vaughn and Dixon are to go to Cartagena to intercept the truck carrying the heart. Dixon is late and they are momentarily worried, but then he comes in and apologizes. Dixon asks for a moment and thanks Sydney for not saying anything to Barnett. Sydney: "I want you to look me in the eye and promise me you can handle this." Dixon says he can.

Sloane reaches a monastery on the mountaintop. He tells the monks he needs to see Conrad. Conrad recognizes him. Sloane pulls out his gun and makes it clear that it was Conrad who sent him on the quest for Rambaldi 30 years ago and made him "abandon the CIA and betray everyone I ever loved."

In Cartagena, the team gets into a cargo freight area. They find the truck, but it's empty. Brandon wants to blow the place up, but Jack says to give them time to find the heart. Dixon gets one of the guards and tells him he will blow them all up if he doesn't tell him where the cargo from Panama is. Sydney arrives and shouts at Dixon to turn off the explosive he's holding. Brandon and Jack, monitoring from hq, order Dixon to disarm his explosive. Dixon doesn't respond. Vaughn arrives and has Dixon in his sights. Brandon orders him to take Dixon out. As the detonator counts down, the guard reveals where the cargo is. Dixon lets the countdown continue to zero and nothing happens. Dixon says he cut the primer cord. They find the case, with forty seconds left til midnight, the time mentioned in Rambaldi's prophecy.

Act IV

Delta Force opens the case with 19 seconds remaining. It's not a bomb, just a heart shaped device that seems to still be pumping. They are ordered to seal the box and bring it back.

At the monastery, Conrad shows Sloane a scroll of Rambaldi's. Conrad: "Your journey has just begun."

Dixon apologizes to Sydney for asking her to lie. He tells her about standing on the bridge and planning to jump. But then he heard what he thought was a baby's cry. It reminded him of his children, and he got down off the railing. The baby's cry turned out to be a tree branch bending in the wind. He and Sydney embrace.

Sydney and Vaughn are sitting on a park bench eating ice cream. Vaughn says Dixon has admitted what he did and turned himself in, but he thinks things will turn out all right. Sydney confesses that she knew what Dixon did. Vaughn looks serious. Sydney says she never had anyone to disappoint before, but now she does. She says she's sorry. Vaughn smiles and gives her a bite of his ice cream. They walk off with their arms around each other.



COMMENTARY 1

This commentary is by Adriane Saunders.

Finger on the trigger, an eye to the sights of his rifle, Vaughan is about to take down Dixon with shot. Syd shouts at Dixon. But Dixon, with a timer in hand for manual detonation of an explosive, continues to threaten. He threatens a dockworker in Cartegena for the location of a missing Rimbaldi heart.

Lives in the balance, the scene shifts to a replay of events 72 hours earlier.

The ISSUES: Is Dixon able to cope with being in the field four days after his wife's death, or is he over the edge--on drugs and out of control. Can he be trusted? Can Syd? She lies to Barnett, the CIA psychologist, and her lover Vaughan, to protect Dixon.

HIGHLIGHTS and LOWLIGHTS follow, starting first with the LOWLIGHTS:

1) Lame. Arvin Sloane's trip to "Shangrilla" in the Tibetan mountains is headshakingly unrealistic. Sloane walks up a glacier by himself in what looks like street shoes. Ski poles are supposed to help traction. No one walks up a glacier with ski poles! Give the man an ice axe and climbing boots! At the top of the mountain, he barges into an isolated monastery only to vent at someone he hasn't seen in twenty-five years. (The object of his ire is David Carradine, from the long running "Kung Fu" TV series,. Carradine plays Sloane's not-so-hapless monk. Old monks apparently never die, just do guest spots on other people's shows.)

2) Laughable. An all but hysterical Dixon tells Syd: "If they find out I doctored my test, they'll never let me work for the government again. How will I support my kids?" As if the only job he can get is working for the government! Too funny! Preposterous. Just as preposterous is what got him into the drug test in the first place. Vaughan sees Dixon (at his wife's funeral) taking pills. Immediately Vaughan assumes Dixon is "self-medicating". How does he know Dixon does not have a doctor's prescription? Talk about leaping to conclusions!

3) Sappy. CIA Psychologist Burnett asks for Syd's evaluation of Dixon suitability for duty so close to his wife's death. Syd says: "I'm confident that despite the agony he's feeling just now, he'll pull through this." This is dialogue is delivered with violins playing in the background. Give me a break!

4) Unlikely: From a Rimbaldi manuscript marker of a particular DNA, the CIA immediately pinpoints a specific individual now living in Europe. What?! Is there some gigantic database at CIA Headquarters where all the DNA signatures for everyone on the planet, for the last five hundred years, is documented? Yeah, right.

5) Confused: What is with the "musical leaders" for each subsequent mission? From Kendall to Jack to NSA Director Brandon. "Take me to your leader" is evidently subject to continuous change. Why? Why too does Brandon order Delta Leader (on the mission to Cartegena) NOT to say what is in the case he opens. Presumably the Rimbaldi heart is inside, but why the secrecy? Keep that news from the other leaders, perhaps.

HIGHLIGHTS:

1) Humor: Agent Kerry Bowman asks Marshall, "Are you gay?" His reply:"Why? Is there someone you want to set me up with?" Hilarious and unexpected response. "No," she says, "but every cute guy I meet turns out to be gay." These two are a delight together. Marshall's new love interest is a winner. Not only is she personable and smart, but she is a perfect foil for Marshall staccato ramblings.

2) Heart: The genuineness of Syd's concern for Dixon is, throughout this episode, touching and memorable. "I don't know how to do this without Diane!" Dixon says, at the edge of breaking into sobs. The murder of his wife pushes him to contemplating suicide. It is moving to watch him, and Syd's reactions are bang on. Later Syd tells Dixon, "It wasn't just Barnett [the CIA psychologist]. I lied to Vaughan. I want you to look me in the eye and tell me you can handle this." She is speaking of an imminent mission to Cartegena to find the Rimbaldi heart. Eyeball to eyeball for a long count, Syd then says,."OK,"let's go." Well acted, both players.

3) Spectacle: In Panama City Syd and Dixon find Rimbaldi's DNA marked Proteo Di Regno is dead. His heart is ripped out. Vivid. A fingerprint on a latex glove leads to Emilio Vargas and a sword fight with Syd making use of her Daredevil Electra skills. Flashy. Dixon still operates at the edge of his emotional balance and uses excessive force interrogating Vargas for a lead to Sloane. Syd is shocked at the spectacle and screams at him to stop. Later she will do the same in Cartegena, for the teaser shown at beginning and end.

4).Accent: Garner is terrific with languages. What a good ear! In this episode her Spanish is totally without an accent. Muy bien.

5) Unexpected: The timer Dixon holds for the C-4 is a dud. Nice touch. The timer goes to zero, but there is no explosion. Gotcha! Sucked in. For a moment there, the possibility Dixon was going to blow himself up is very real. "I'm not that desperate," Dixon says to Syd. Could have fooled me. Well done.

6) Eloquence: Of all the scenes highlighted in this episode, the last two--in terms of scripting, acting, pacing and believability--are the best and both speak from silence. First is Dixon speaking of the branch that sounded like a baby crying. This he heard while he contemplated suicide. Syd's response is a wordless embrace at his pain. Second is Syd admitting to Vaughan, while the two sit on a park bench, that she knew Dixon lied and falsified his drug test. "My parents were absent when I was growing up. I never had anyone to disappoint," Syd says. Vaughan's is a wordless response. After a spoonful of Syd's ice cream, he gives her a spoonful of his. Then he takes her hand and they walk away. Well played, Dixon and Syd and Vaughan. End of episode. .



COMMENTARY 2

This commentary is by Zero and E.

"A Necessary Step"

THINGS THAT WORKED:

-Court Marshall

"To tell you the truth, I'm exhausted by the world. Everything -- the evil and the rage and the darkness. And the last thing I need is some fifteenth century dork telling me I got a day and a half to live."
"I understand. I mean, like, I have so much left to do."
"Right! ...Are you gay?"
"Why, is there someone you wanted to set me up with?"
"No, it's just every cute guy that I meet turns out to be gay."
"Oh."
"I'm not stupid. I mean, I'm in Mensa--"
"Hold on -- not gay. I-I mean, I like men in a kind of manly friendly sort of way-- "
"How about sushi? Because when we're done with this job, after thirty-six hours -- of course, assuming we're all still here -- would you maybe... you wanna get some sushi?"

Though we miss Marshall's gadgetry, this was just unbelievably fun to watch. Amanda Foreman's Carrie Bowman was the perfect counterpart to Marshall's unfettered sincerity. She's maybe just a little more forthright and a little less nervous, but she's got an easy candidness and a humor in her eyes that make her incredibly appealing. And, when she scoots her chair over to Marshall's desk and he pulls back, pleased but surprised, they share such a warm moment of resonance as they draw one another closer with the animated conspiracy of their dialogue. They took such pleasure in the simple act of conversing and, for once, Marshall had the audience he deserves.

-The Kingdom's Prophet

The fall of an era is the culmination of thousand misplayed hands, a thousand small coincidences. A Minister of Finance mistakes a nuanced warning for an innocent exchange of banter. Twenty-three days later, seven young men take their places on a crowded street. The entourage passes. The first man freezes. The entourage continues and the second man proceeds. He strikes his explosive against a lamppost before taking aim. Hearing the clang of the struck pole, one man calls for the car to stop, but the driver, seeing something hurtling toward them, steps on the accelerator. Archduke Ferdinand, the intended target, also perceives the attack, and raises his hands in defense. The bomb hits his arm. Bouncing off the Duke, rolling across the car's folded top, it falls into the street where it detonates. Undeterred, both officials and assassins continue with their day. And now it's just a matter of wrong turns. From Apple Quay onto Franz Joseph Street, it becomes clear there's been a miscommunication. The man responsible for coordinating the day's events had been injured in the first attack. And so, as the Duke's car pulls to a stop outside of Moritz Schiller's storefront, preparing to turn back, Gavrilo Princip, who had stopped for a sandwich on the way to his secondary position, discovers a strange opportunity before him. He stands a mere five feet away from the Archduke. He fires twice and a fragile world falls to pieces.

For thirty years, Sloane has been sustained by false promises and dead-end dreams. And, as his mouth turns sour from the dissatisfaction and disgust of a misspent vengeance, he returns to the gate of ivory, seeking deliverance or conclusion or truth. As Sloane takes the cleric's gift, the bells announce the hour of yet another changing of the guards. The world turns its head and history bends under the weight of a single man's providence.

Elsewhere, there is the heavy sigh of ignorant relief. But, Rambaldi is never wrong. Somewhere in Nepal, a man is tracing the twists and turns of the last three decades of his life. He exchanged all knew for the costly promises of Rambaldi's puzzle, his closest friend recruiting the man who would one day kill his wife and his best agent laboring constantly against him, weaving SD-6's work by day, undoing it by night. It is only when the costs surmount that he returns to the source and demands his dues. Prompted by the machinations of a desperate few, Sloane has unwittingly played into the prophet's hand.

And tomorrow the sky will fall.

-Bending in the wind

"As soon as I left the building, I knew it was a mistake."
"Oh, Dixon..."
"But it was too late."
"Oh, my God..."
"The results were already cataloged."
"Oh, Dixon, you shouldn't have done that."
"Sloane murdered my wife. I have to make him pay for that."
"I've been called in to talk to Barnett."
"You can't tell her."
"Dixon..."
"If they find out I doctored my test I'll never work for the government again. How will I take care of my kids? Sydney, I don't know how to do this without Diane."

Carl Lumbly, as he has proven on countless occasions since the fall of SD-6, is a phenomenal actor. He brings both a passion and a compassion to the role, conveying an emotional honesty that is as unique to Dixon as his friendship with Sydney. As disconcerting as it was to watch him wrestle with his own integrity, it felt right to see him struggle with his loss and watch him heal, if only just a bit.

-Better than ice cream

We've said before how much we respect the maturity with which Sydney and Vaughn's relationship has been handled, the agency with which their characters have been permitted to explore each other. Though difficult moments surface from time to time, though Vaughn hesitates at the mention of Danny and Sydney flinches at every implication of a compromised independence, they are a couple who genuinely care for one another. We appreciate that larger issues have taken root, that Sydney might have something to learn about herself from Vaughn, that they might learn from one another. But, especially, we loved the hopeful ending. We loved the way Vaughn looked her, his hesitation etched across his face, how Sydney seemed to hang upon his silence, how he glanced away, and then, with a softened expression, forgave her with a wordless offering.

THINGS THAT DIDN'T WORK:

-Regardless of her presence or absence in this episode, the dearth of verbal references to Irina was frustrating. She has been such an integral part of Sydney and Jack's life, working so hard to cultivate the semblance of a relationship with both her husband and her daughter. So, to see her absence left unnamed and unexplored seemed an incredible waste. Last episode, Jack expressed an anger toward Irina more personal than we have ever seen. Two episodes ago, Sydney shot her mother at point blank range. Both have lost what they feared to love, but we were only privy to a single dialogue concerning Irina's flight. Why this sudden rift? Why so little conversation? With dinner plans still pending, how will they move forward when they lack even a friction to justify their distance?

-Something about the pacing and the energy of this episode lacked the urgency appropriate for an impending apocalypse. Dixon's scenes were fully charged and full of consequence, but the other countdowns seemed somewhat anemic in comparison. Also, Nepal was perhaps the first location that felt unnatural both visually and narratively. It just didn't feel right.

DETAILS WE APPRECIATED:

-It's good to have mentors.... and it's even better to dress like them. Here's to Sloane's impeccably professional fashion sense and Sark's uncanny mimicry.

-Pinkner writes a fantastic Marshall. We liked that Marshall's "The what-could-he-possibly-have-been-smoking element" was so reminiscent of Will's "The Hell-hath-no-fury department." (episode 02.16). Perhaps the CIA can look into consolidating some of these auxiliary components into something of a Joint-Task-Force.

-"da Vinci in his PRIME"? When was Rambaldi... NOT da Vinci... in... his... PRIME?

-We always enjoy our visits to Dr. Barnett. Patricia Wettig makes a frighteningly convincing therapist.

-Diane's memorial service was perfectly underscored by Lizzie West's "Prayer". It was really a beautiful scene.

-We're not entirely sure what to make of the parallels that seem to crop up between seasons 1 and 2. Episode 20 of last year featured some familiar elements: archaically equipped fight scenes, a near-death experience involving Dixon, and a lesson well learned about the fruitlessness of revenge.

-The club in Guadalajara was aptly titled "Apocalypsis"... another seedy Triad hotspot?

-"Old seer, you know that already; why seek to lead me astray with questions? You know already how all this while I have stayed a prisoner in this island, unable to contrive deliverance and eating my heart away."



LINKS:

Television Without Pity. Recap Right. "Countdown." When's the d--- finale? Countdown - Do you care? I mean, really, do you? Do you care what this damn episode's about? No. You don't. It's really just a placeholder 'til the finale, isn't it? Yeah. There's a Holocaust Heart and Dixon pops some pills and Marshall gets a girlfriend. Is this season over YET?




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