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ALIAS

MASQUERADE


EPISODE NO. 18
Season 1, episode 18
Series 118
1st release: 04/07/02
2nd release: none to date
Production number: E647
Last update: 08/09/03


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REGULAR CAST, GUEST CAST & CREDITS
TV GUIDE PROMO
SYNOPSIS by Sally Dye
COMMENTARY by Adriane Saunders


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

GUEST CAST
Peter Berg (Noah Hicks)
Angus Scrimm (Agent McCullough)
Patricia Wettig (Dr. Judy Barnett)

CREDITS
Written by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman
Directed by Craig Zisk

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




TV GUIDE PROMO

While on a case in Vienna, to track the activities of "The Man" Alexander Khasinau, Sydney runs into her ex-lover, fellow agent Noah Hicks (Peter Berg, "Chicago Hope")...who left without saying goodbye, and broke her heart five years earlier... Meanwhile, Jack is ordered to see CIA psychiatrist Dr. Barnett (Patricia Wettig, "thirtysomething") to help him deal with his churning emotions after discovering that his wife may still be alive...while Sydney asks Sloane for his cooperation while she finds her mother...and Will and Francie also become suspicious of Sydney's activities -- after finding one of her airline ticket stubs... Official Alias Website


SYNOPSIS:

This synopsis is by Sally Dye.

Teaser

Scenes from previous episodes, culminating with Sydney's declaration that her mother must still be alive. The next scene shows Sydney climbing Mt. Sebacio in Italy. When she reaches the summit, she calls the FBI to tell them where she is.

Back in LA, Sydney meets Jack, who tells her that the FBI is now focused on finding her mother. He also reveals that the CIA knew all along (but he didn't) that Laura Bristow was not dead -- and one of the original members of the commission which determined that was Arvin Sloane. Sydney declares that she will find her mother. Jack is quite upset when he hears her say this. Sydney later tells Vaughn that she just has to know. She wants Vaughn to help her, but he says all CIA files on Laura Bristow are classified and he doesn't have access. Sydney then goes to Sloane. He tells her that Jack was kept in prison for six months following Laura's disappearance until he was cleared of involvement in her activities. Sydney says she wants to go off active duty until she can find her mother. Sloane is at first reluctant, but then agrees to help her.

Act I

Will and Francie are planning to look for a tuxedo for Will to wear to his upcoming awards ceremony. Sydney and Francie insist that they will be there to see him receive the award. Francie notices a bruise on Sydney's arm, and Syd makes up a story about being bumped by some carryon luggage on the plane on her "trip to Seattle".

Sloane and Jack fill Sydney and the others in on their investigation of "the man", Alexander Khasinau. They have had two agents in deep cover in Vienna for the past five years, and the agents have reported having info about Khasinau's financial dealings. One of the agents, Kyle Wexler, has encoded Khasinau's financial transactions on a microchip, and Sydney and Dixon are to go to Vienna and get it during a masquerade ball at the embassy there. Sydney protests to Sloane that she didn't want any assignments, but he tells her that Khasinau was her mother's superior in the KGB and this might be a way to get more information about her.

Sydney and Jack have a confrontation in the parking garage over Sydney going to Sloane for help. When Sydney reveals Khasinau's connection to Laura, that silences Jack's objections. Later, Jack confronts Sloane over encouraging Sydney's desire to find her mother. Sloane says Jack needs to take a break from active duty. He says he is only concerned with protecting Sydney and "standing in" for Jack when it is necessary.

In Vienna, Sydney and Dixon arrive, masked, at the embassy ball. Sydney is wearing special earrings that will identify her to their contact, which they assume will be Wexler. Another masked man enters the ballroom and cuts in on Dixon when he sees the earrings. He tells Sydney that Wexler is dead and his cover is in danger of being blown, too. He gives her enough info that she is convinced he is Wexler's partner. He and Sydney leave the ballroom to get the microchip. Sydney radios Dixon to get the car ready. When they are out of sight of the others they remove their masks and -- each is shocked to recognize the other. When they are almost discovered by the guards, they pretend to be making out til the guards get close enough to knock out. After they dispatch the guards, the other agent turns to Sydney: "How you been?"

Act II

The other agent, Noah Hicks, takes Sydney to a basement room where they find Wexler's body. They know that Khasinau didn't get the chip, so Wexler either stashed it somewhere or swallowed it. Noah takes out a knife and cuts into Wexler's stomach -- no microchip. Meanwhile, Dixon discovers that they must have been expected because their car has been disabled. He radios Sydney that they must get out quick. Sydney tells Noah to check the esophagus, and they find the chip. They get out through the ballroom by dropping hundreds of balloons into the crowd and are met by Dixon driving a horsedrawn carriage, which they escape in.

On the flight home, Sydney and Noah talk about how they parted five years earlier. Sydney feels that Noah left without a word and has been angry ever since. Noah says he encoded a message to her in a junk e-mail and waited hours to meet her, but she didn't show up. Sydney sighs and reveals that her computer is set to filter out junk mail.

Sloane is not happy that Noah was pulled out of Vienna. He says that Noah will have to be debriefed by McCullough. Sloane tells Sydney that he has now done her a favor and is sure that he can count on her returning it at a later date.

Sydney watches through a two-way mirror as Noah is put through a battery of lie-detector tests. When he is asked why he volunteered for a long-term undercover assignment, he says that he was in love and was afraid to admit it to himself, so he left. He refuses to reveal the name of the person he is referring to: "Where I come from, a gentleman doesn't kiss and tell."

Act III

Vaughn asks Sydney about Noah. She tells him that they dated for a while, but kept it "under the radar" because SD-6 discourages fraternization among agents. Vaughn: "So does the CIA". They both look a little pensive at that comment. Then Vaughn asks if Sydney knows where Jack is. They've been trying to set up a meet but can't find him.

Sydney locates Jack at a neighborhood bar. She sits next to him and asks him what he's doing there at 2 in the afternoon. She suggests that he talk to someone about his feelings in the wake of discovering Laura may be alive. He doesn't seem receptive to the idea. She says she knew he wouldn't take her advice, so she already arranged for Devlin to order him to see Dr. Barnett.

Sydney and Noah work together to decode the information on the microchip. Noah talks a little about Sydney's enthusiasm as a new recruit for SD-6 and how he worried that she wouldn't always be that enthusiastic. Sydney says he's right -- it's not really fun for her anymore.

Will and Francie are getting ready to go to a show. Francie can't find her coat and grabs one of Sydney's. When she puts it on she finds a return ticket from Italy in the pocket dated the previous week, when Sydney supposedly had a business trip to Seattle. They wonder why Sydney wouldn't have told them about a trip to Italy.

Act IV

Sloane shows the team a schematic of a supercomputer that Khasinau was supposedly using to assemble the Rambaldi artifacts he had and extrapolate the missing pieces. He wants Sydney and Noah to steal the data core from that computer. Marshall tells them that the data core is stored in a cryogenic chamber that is kept so cold that "your skin would freeze to stone in less than a minute" if exposed. In addition, the computer is a mile underground, surrounded by forests teaming with security forces.

Sydney and Noah go to Arkhangelsk, where Khasinau's compound is. They pose as photographers, get captured by Khasinau's security guards, and are taken to his compound.

Jack meets with Dr. Barnett. After listening for an hour, she tells him that she doesn't believe anything he has said. So she is going to recommend he come in once a week to talk to her.

Sydney and Noah are taken into what looks like a ranger station. The guards demand to have their cameras, and they hand them over while slipping on protective glasses. When the cameras are opened, a flash of light knocks the guards out. Noah grabs their keys and he and Sydney descend to the undergound chamber, changing into protective suits as they go. Before she goes in to get the data core, Sydney types in a query about her mother into the main computer. A bewildering string of numbers comes up. Then Sydney disengages the core and enters the cryogenic chamber to get it. She puts it into a container which will keep the temperature constant at -150 degrees. Meanwhile another guard enters the station and sees the unconscious men. He sets off an alarm that initiates a lockdown in the compound and startles Sydney and Noah. Sydney is hit by a swinging beam and falls, breaking the visor on her protective suit. It begins cracking in the extreme cold, and Sydney starts to lose consciousness. Noah has to shoot his way into the chamber. He carries Sydney and the case containing the core out of the chamber. He strips off her helmet and has to give her mouth-to-mouth to revive her. They fight their way out and get away.

Will and Francie speculate on why Sydney would have kept her trip to Italy a secret. Francie thinks she might be seeing someone. She remembers the bruise on Sydney's arm and wonders if the guy is beating her. Will says Sydney would never put up with that. Francie suggests that Sydney might be having an affair with her boss, and Will, who has met Sloane, chokes on his coffee. They decide that when she gets back from San Francisco -- if that's really where she went -- they will ask her about it.

Sydney and Noah get to a safe house and learn that they have six hours to wait before being extracted. Sydney wishes they had a fire in the fireplace, but Noah says they could be detected by a thermal equipped helicopter. He gives her his coat. He wants to know what she was looking for in the computer database, and she tells him a little, but says she can't share all of it with him. They look at each other and still feel a connection between them. Sydney slowly goes over to Noah and they embrace, then begin undressing each other.



COMMENTARY

This commentary is by Adriane Saunders.

How to describe episode 18, titled "Masquerade": Uncharacteristically un-Alias-like, more talkie drama than action-packed thriller. The timing is more in minutes than Alias split-seconds. This episode bored and puzzled me. Where, oh where did Alias, our Alias, go? Maybe the title is the answer. This episode "masquerades" as Alias, but what is it?

In a phrase, what this episode is, is a predictable script, loose direction and sloppy editing. There is little or no contrast or tension in pacing, overlapping dialogue, or change of scene. The camera simply switches from one talkie scene of "talking heads" to another talkie scene with more "talking heads". This is not Alias. This is CNN without clips from remote war zones to add interest and realism.

All that happens in this episode can be summarized in a few sentences and could probably have been presented in about 20 minutes, rather than dragged out for an hour. That fact alone clearly indicates "masquerade". Usually pages are required just to cover the bare bones of all that happens in one episode of Alias.

But, here is what happens in Episode 18: Syd wants to find her mother, (duh, big surprise). Syd's father Jack has mixed feelings about his previously believed to be dead wife now assumed alive, (so he turns to trite, I mean, "drink", to console himself). Is this primetime drama or daytime soap? Francie and Will find a ticket stub in one of Syd's jacket pockets indicating a trip to "Italy" not mentioned to them, (so suspicion kicks in and way more discussion than the discovery deserves). Editor, editor, where's the editor?

And, finally, Vaughan is jealous (another duh) when one of Syd's old boyfriends, Noah Hicks, resurfaces. We do get to see what a great kisser Syd appears to be, if that matters. Sloane does Syd "a favor" (by way of a "lead" to find her mother), and he expects Syd to pay him back in the future. What? No unconditional "favors" from Sloane? Such an un-surprise. Ho, hum.

How did all these previously multi-dimensional characters suddenly become cardboard cutouts?

After the "Masquerade" ball where Syd reacquaints herself with old boyfriend Noah, and the two gut a corpse (curiously bloodless and goreless) to retrieve a microchip, an escape kicks in (literally, on horseback). This more or less summarizes the speed and tone of the whole episode. Horse and buggie.

That is how Dixon arrives to rescue Syd and Noah, in a horse drawn carriage. The limousine has flat tires and a dead driver. Syd says, as she gets in the carriage: "I'm not even going to ask." But, the answer to her unspoken question is, pace-wise, this episode is strictly "horse and buggie". This is not a typical Alias, Ferrari-like, classy and fast. This episode "clip clops".

Perhaps "Masquerade" is the "adagio" portion of the orchestration that is Alias, a particularly slow adagio--a yawn in fact. Or, perhaps a rehearsal was mistakenly aired, not the final cut. That would explain the tedium, and lack of suspense or suprise. Or, perhaps not even Alias is "perfect", and, after 17 first rate episodes I simply expected more. Oh well, tune in next week.

Apart from my boredom, there is little to highlight in this episode.

Of note is the difference in approach between SD-6 psychologist McCulla--a man, and CIA psychologist Dr. Barnett--a woman. To get at the truth requires of McCulla, the man, machines, electrodes, and lie detectors. For Barnett, the woman, nothing more is required but her own perception and savvy to determine truth from lie. McCulla needs a gauge, Barnett only her own wits and intuition. This is an interesting--and stereotypical--distinction between man and woman.

Already noted in an earlier episode is the absence of women in positions of real power in Alias. Now we see even PhD's, doctors or psychologists, given conventional or stereotypical roles. Interesting what this says about creator J.J. Abrams' view of man and woman. Not only the pace of this episode needs to pick up, the creator's views do too.




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