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ALIAS

TRUTH BE TOLD


EPISODE NO. 01
Season 1, episode 01
Series 101
1st release: 09/30/01
2nd release: 10/30/01
3rd release: 01/01/02
Production number: 535J
Last update: 08-09-02


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REGULAR CAST, GUEST CAST & CREDITS
TV GUIDE PROMO
SYNOPSIS by Sally Dye
COMMENTARY 1 by Adriane Saunders
COMMENTARY 2 by Edward Mazzeri
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

GUEST CAST
Edward Atterton (Danny Hecht)
Jay Gerber (Professor Mizzy)
Angus Scrimm (Agent McCullough)
William Wellman, Jr. (Priest)
Ric Young (Suit & glasses)
Lorenzo Callender (Messenger)
Greg Collins (Kenny)
Vicki Davis (Intern)
Ming Lo (Agent)
Raymond Ma (Taiwanese businessman)
Miguel Najera (Agent Gonzalez)
Greta Sasheta (CIA receptionist)
Philip Tan (Taiwanese security officer)
Emily Wachtel (Beth -- airline clerk)
Nancy Wetzel (Amy Tippin)
Greg Grunberg (Agent Weiss)

CREDITS
Written by J.J. Abrams
Directed by J.J. Abrams

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




TV GUIDE PROMO

Sydney (Jennifer Garner) tells Danny (guest star Edward Atterton) about her secret life.

Jennifer Garner is an unconventional coed in this exciting new drama from Felicity creator J.J. Abrams. Garner plays Sydney Bristow, a grad student juggling the books, a boyfriend and big secret: She's a CIA-trained operative. Forced to keep her Government ties under wraps, Sydney finds her loyalties put to the test in the opener after tragedy reveals the dark side of her immediate supervisor (Ron Rifkin). Soon, Syd finds herself immersed in double-crosses and caught in a deadly spy game that threatens to turn her closest family and friends into her greatest foes. Tvguide.com






SYNOPSIS:

This synopsis is by Sally Dye.

The premier episode opens as Sydney Bristow, a young grad student who is also a CIA operative, meets her boyfriend Danny after one of her classes. She is lamenting the fact that she probably just blew the exam in her last class when he surprises her with an engagement ring. Sydney is stunned, but accepts. It's obvious she's concerned about something, although she doesn't confide in her fiancÚ. Later she goes running with a friend, Will, and tells him about her engagement. He congratulates her, but seems distracted. It's pretty plain he has a crush on Sydney, too. Sydney also tells another friend, Francie, who asks if she has told her father yet. Sydney says he already knows - Danny had called him to get his blessing. (Flashback to this telephone call, with the dad being very scathing of Danny's motives in asking for his blessing. Danny says he was just following custom, but Dad says he's just doing it to brag about it, and it wouldn't change anything if Dad didn't give his blessing.) Sydney makes it clear that she and her dad have a pretty strained and distant relationship.

Danny tells Sydney he can't wait till they have kids, and Sydney realizes what that means in terms of her CIA missions, so she tells Danny she is an operative. He is shocked by this information, and says he needs time to think. Meanwhile, Sydney and her partner, Dixon, go on a mission to Taiwan, where they infiltrate an electronics plant and take pictures of the lab area. They use state-of-the-art equipment and gadgets provided by Marshall, their division's technology expert. Sydney is almost caught by the guards, but convinces them she was just looking for the restroom. On the way home, Sydney asks Dixon if he has ever told his wife what he really does. He says she knows that's not an option for them.

Back home, Danny is wrestling with the knowledge that Sydney is a "spy". He calls and leaves a message on her answering machine that makes it clear that he knows what she does. The call is intercepted by the people Sydney works for. They tell the head honcho, Sloane, about it, and he says that measures must be taken to insure their secrecy. The camera pans around, and he is talking to Sydney's father, who says he knows what must be done.

Sydney comes home from the mission to find her apartment trashed. She runs through the chaos, calling Danny's name, but she's too late. She finds Danny in the bathtub -- dead. Even as she is out of control with grief and horror, she knows immediately who has done it and heads for the central office. She confronts Sloane, who does not deny they were behind it. He says, however, that Sydney is the one who killed her fiancÚ by telling him her secret. She tries to leave, but they put her through a barrage of lie-detector tests to determine if she has told anyone else. They finally let her leave.

Sydney gets through the agony of Danny's funeral, but is basically just going through the motions. She is consumed with guilt for putting Danny in danger by telling him who she works for. Her friends are all concerned, but don't know the real reason she feels so awful. She is reluctant to go back to work, but her bosses are not being very patient. She is told she must continue her missions, but she refuses, even though she is warned that measures will be taken if she doesn't come back to work. One day as she is getting into her car in the parking garage, two men pull up beside her and open fire. Only her quick reflexes save her. She rolls from the car on the opposite side and takes off at a dead run, with the two men in pursuit. She manages to take one of the men out, but the other gets back in his car and chases her through the garage to the street entrance. Another car pulls up in front of her. The door opens, and her father says, "Get in." She does, and they outrace the other agent and get away. Her father takes her to a deserted area and tells her that he also works for the agency, which is NOT the CIA as she had thought, but an organization known as SD-6, whose operations run counter to the CIA's. In other words, all the time Sydney thought she was working for her country, she has really been working for the other side. He tells her she must get out of the country, or SD-6 will have her killed - she knows too much about their operations. Sydney refuses, and gets out of the car and walks away.

Sydney goes to her friend, Will, and asks him to loan her his sister's passport and id. Will wants an explanation but finally agrees. Sydney dies her hair bright red to match Will's sister's hair and gets on a plane for Taiwan. She returns to the plant she and her partner had visited on her earlier mission and manages get a prototype they were manufacturing and then blows up the lab where the prototypes were being manufactured. Unfortunately, she is captured by the guards this time. They tie her to a chair and demand to know who she works for. She refuses and is beaten. Finally she says okay, get a pencil and paper. She tells the head interrogator to write down EMETIB. He does, and then she says to read it backwards. He is incensed and says she has one more chance. She says she has nothing to lose. He pulls out some sinister looking instruments and says, "You have teeth, don't you?" Sydney takes a deep breath and says, "Start at the back, please." They pull one of her teeth, while she screams.

Sydney regains consciousness to find the interrogator waiting. He says he has given her pain medication, but it is due to wear off soon. He comes a little too close and Sydney manages to flip her chair over on top of him, knocking him out. She gets loose from her bonds and escapes. When she gets back to the U.S., she goes straight to the CIA office and tells them what she discovered in Taiwan. She meets with an agent named Vaughn, and they arrange for her to become a double agent to keep them apprised of the doings of SD-6. She then goes back to SD-6 headquarters and walks into Sloane's office and says, "I'm back." She tells them what she learned in Taiwan. He looks a little suspicious, but accepts the information she has and welcomes her back.

Sydney visits Danny's grave and finds her father there. He says that Vaughn told him what she's doing, and it is very dangerous. He should know, because he's in the same position. Sydney walks away, leaving her father standing next to the grave.



COMMENTARY 1

This commentary is by Adriane Saunders.

Look sharp in all directions. Hit the floor, running. Here comes Alias Episode 1.

Even before Alias starts, there is a "watch now" ad that is so good, you will already be on the edge of your seat, waiting for the program. Stark snapshots of action to come, dramatic "Ta Da" music, and a commanding, "Now is your chance to see" announcement grab the attention.

Memorable quickies from this "lead in" include double agent Sydney Bristow covering her head as her car windows are blown out by gunfire, of Syd kicking out another car window, then walking into CIA headquarters. All these images grab hold and drop you headlong into Episode 1.

Starting with the teaser, lots happens in Alias. Episode 1, of course, introduces all the characters and the basic plotline, but does so with panache--such surprising clarity and depth and savvy that you will be hooked completely on this show. Gotcha!

If Episode 1 is any example, then this series is not only actors and plotline, but a skilled and compelling ensemble effort for everyone involved. Quality is consistently high throughout all aspects of the production.

The entire show is richly layered with complex and overlapping scenes, astonishingly astute characterizations, and a breathtaking pace. Kudos to Alias, and everyone involved.

Now, straight to the teaser.

Syd, (Sydney Bristow, played by actress Jennifer Garner--who is terrific in the part), is captured and on the floor, sweat covered and battered. After being beaten, two guards babble at her in Chinese. Syd's in Taiwan. (We find out later, through flashbacks and overlapping action.)

Meanwhile we are with Syd as she is roughly handcuffed to a chair, and stares frightened toward doors at the far end of the room, doors about to open.

The camera then switches to other doors, and a professor walking into a college classroom. Syd, at the far end of the room, is the last student present writing on an exam.

Awesome visuals for this scene, quite literally "awesome", since the classroom looks rather like a cathedral, with huge, broad beams of sunlight coming in from high windows. Beautiful.

This is followed by a wonderfully hilarious and touching scene of Syd's fiance, Danny, (Danny Hecht, well played by Edward Atterton) proposing marriage to Syd, outside on the campus lawn.

He does this on bended knee, half singing, half shouting, passersby smiling all around. "Build me up, Buttercup," he roars at Syd, to her delight and astonishment.

Lots of interconnecting scenes follow to introduce more of the "players" in this show. This includes Francie (played by Merrin Dungey), Jack--Syd's father and, as we find out later, fellow SD-6/CIA agent, Victor Garber), SD-6 Dixon (Carl Lumbly) and SD-6 Sloan (Ron Rifkin), and, the inimitable Marshall, the tech expert at SD-6 (played hilariously by Kevin Weisman).

All this just in the teaser, which leads to an SD-6 "briefing" for Syd's next mission. "Do us a favor. Come back," says Sloan.

"How could we not?" I wonder. And this is just the teaser.

Opening credits introduce yet another character with Syd, running full speed round a stadium track, side by side--friend Will. And, his feelings for Syd show, especially after she tells him of her engagement to Danny.

Next, we switch to Syd in her apartment looking at Danny. In the shower she tells him, "I work for the CIA." And, he laughs. Danny does not believe her at first, and, it is unfortunate he could not have left it at that. He might still be alive.

Lots of back and forth between scenes follows, for ongoing action, from Syd's explanations to Danny about her recruitment into the CIA as an "Operations Officer" to back to the room in Taiwan where Syd is being interrogated by the Chinese man in glasses.

Lots of fright and stress until Syd is drugged, and passes out. Then flashbacks fill in the gaps about Syd's recruitment into--supposedly--the CIA. This happened seven years previously, her Freshman year in college. That makes her a "third year" grad student, and an agent for seven years.

When Syd asks the recruiter, "Why me?" she is told she fits a profile. Syd tells Danny working for the CIA is "exciting". He responds, "This isn't real." And, he is partly right. Syd is not working for the CIA, not yet.

Though Syd warns Danny not to tell anyone about what she is doing, and he says, "I've got it," apparently he does not. Later--while Syd's away--he blabs on and on about spies and spying on her answering machine. Granted, he is a little tipsy, clutching a drink as he speaks, but really! How stupid is that?

Dumb, or merely naive, but that call costs Danny his life. SD-6, Syd's employer, monitors all the calls of agents. Danny's call is heard and reported, and Danny is killed before Syd returns from her trip to Taiwan.

Danny's voice is the connecting thread for a whole series of actions. His words punctuate what happens elsewhere on the screen. We see Syd and Dixon on a reconnaissance, in a plane, at a diplomatic cocktail party, and scrambling security cameras while Syd breaks into a basement storage to take photos.

And, back to back with the action in Taiwan is seeing SD-6 agents and equipment track Danny's over the line--in more ways than one--message. The information and transcipt are delivered to Sloan. He closes his eyes when he realizes what that means. Eloquent, that.

Danny's dead. And this whole sequence of events is very well done. Clear and effective.

Back in Taiwan Syd is nearly blown, for the security cameras scrambling comes offline before she is out of the basement storage. This is at the diplomatic cocktail party, and Syd's in an evening dress. She pretends to the head of security, the Chinese man in glasses, that she is looking for a bathroom.

Her plead for belief from him is engaging and entertaining. Syd's a good talker, and she thinks fast, and even includes humor. As he finally agrees to let her go, she compliments him on his tie. "Thank you. Bless your heart, and I like your tie," she says. I laugh. He touches his tie thoughtfully, and Syd hurries away. Fun.

And, beautifully done by the actress. Syd is so convincing here, I almost believed myself what she was "pretending" to the Chinese security guard. And, I was still smiling into the next scene, at her compliment to his tie.

Syd returns to Los Angeles to find her apartment trashed, and her fiance, Danny, bloodied and dead in the bathtub. Her agonized and despairing scream meshes perfectly with a screech of tires. Syd is driving. Directly to Sloan at SD-6 she goes. He is at his desk.

Still covered with Danny's blood, Syd demands, "What did you do?" "I might ask the same of you," Sloan replies.

Sloan then closes the door behind her with a switch on his desk. He reminds her of the "codes of conduct" for an agent, and of all the men and women she put at risk by telling Danny of the agency. She sits down, putting her head in her hands.

What follows is an amazing scene, gripping and memorable, and likely to underscore the relationship between these two as adversarial, from here on. As Sloan says, "Even though I despise the counter measure," Syd leaps up, grabs his lapels, barely able to control herself, fury and grief at war within her.

Through her teeth, Syd says to Sloan, "Stop talking about the agency. You killed the man I love." Very physical, this girl, and her emotions are right out there. Forcing him nearly backwards over his desk in her rage, her face is inches from his.

Then, Sloan strikes back by saying, "No, Agent Bristow, You did." Incredible scene, and a terrible truth. All the emotions are bang on. Kudos to Garner, for the acting--and to Rifkin, too.

Syd shoves Sloan away, moves toward the still locked door, and says, "Let me out." But no, not so fast, because, as Sloan says, "You're a risk now too." And so it is, and continues to be throughout the remainder of the episode. Syd is not only a risk, but "at risk".

And all that happens next keeps me riveted to the TV. I am blown away at how good this new show is. Cheers, loud whistles, foot stomping, and lots and lots of clapping. Way to go, Alias.

HIGHLIGHTS:

1--Back to the teaser, Syd in the bright red wig--which incidentally looks great on her--comes back to consciousness, after being drugged. She is still handcuffed to the chair. The Chinese security guard in the glasses says, "I'd rather not make this too painful."

"Me too," says Syd, "I'm glad we're on the same page." Chitzpah from Syd, even under stress and threat. She has a sense of humor, and she plays him further, getting him to spell out backwards "BITE ME". (Shades of Xena: Warrior Princess. Xena says the same to the Destroyer, holding her off the ground, in A FAMILY AFFAIR from Season 4.)

When Syd tells him she has "nothing to lose," he disagrees and tells her, yes, she does, "teeth". The interrogation--and torture, proceeds. "Start with the teeth at the back, if you don't mind," Syd tells him to another laugh from me.

2--Syd's escape from torture by first luring her inquisitor close enough to do a head whack into his face, Xena-style. This surprising move leads into an astonishing one. A few deep breaths, some focus, and she follows the whack with an impressive forward flip, chair and all. She is still handcuffed to the chair.

Her flip lands her directly on her captor. She unlocks the cuffs with his keys. Then, as more guards rush into the room, she takes them on with a flurry of martial arts moves, swinging a broken stick. Grabbing hand guns from the guards, Syd shoots down the locked door and escapes.

3--Another small touch of humor in Taiwan: When Syd is about to steal a van, a guy who has just parked his car walks by and blows smoke in her face. She steals his car instead. Fun.

4--Back at home--without Danny now, Syd sits on the floor by her bed. She plays the answering machine recorded message, which has both her voice and Danny's together. Reluctantly, she records a new message with her voice alone.

"Say goodbye to flesh and blood," the words to the song playing in the background underline, rather unnecessarily, the mood. Her actions and her keeping back her tears, are far more expressive, and say enough.

Sometimes music can be a little extraneous, or heavy handed--like we are all cows with emotions to be milked. But, hey, sometimes that works regardless.

5--And, finally, the riveting "attacked and fight back" scene in the underground parking alone is worth the price of admission to Episode 1. After this scene I knew I am not going to miss Xena: Warrior Princess, now that series is done.

In Alias, the beat goes on--and with dazzling perfection. In this scene everyone and everything fits exactly right, and the pace is heart stopping, edge of the seat all the way.

Syd leaves the restaurant, goes into the underground parking garage, and gets into her truck. She is just fastening her seat belt when she catches a glimpse of a red dot from a laser rifle on the edge of the front door frame.

Syd looks up just a a gunman in a nearby car blows out her window. She drops down on the front seat, covering her head as glass shatters all over her. The special effects are notable. Is that real glass being blown all over Syd, as she frantically tries to jam the key in the ignition.

Key in, she backs out of the parking space, only to be rammed by the gunner's car cutting her off. She slides out of the truck and runs, hides behind another car. Whispering, she calls her friend Francie on her cell phone.

And, this is hilarious. Francie answers the call with "You want to hear the worst day ever?" Syd just asks her to call back, so she can test her ringer. The cell phone ringing is a lure for the shooter, and Syd jumps him.

Lots of fighting, jabs and high kicks. Syd whacks him in the face with a car antenna at one point. A neat trick. When he falls against the car, Syd--after a pause, kicks his head through the car window. Definite punctuation.

Syd grabs his gun as she hears a car screeching toward her. She puts the red dot of the laser on the forehead of the driver, but it is her father. "Daddy?" she says, astonished. And, the shock on her face is almost comical.

A second car, with the other gunman screeches toward them. So, Syd gets in her father's car. The chase is on. Jack, her father, one hand on the wheel, loads a gun. Still incredulous, Syd says the obvious, "Dad, You have a gun."

Just then her cell phone rings again. Francie says, "Just call me back. You're not going to believe the day I just had." "Me too," gasps Syd, with her father burning rubber to escape the parking garage, and pursuit by the gunman.

This is a fantastic scene, edge of the seat all the way. How will Syd get out of this? What next?

And, what a resourceful girl, this Sydney Bristow. She makes instant decisions. She is fast on her feet, quick of wit, and totally locked into a life full of surprises, and dazzling responses.

If Syd (Jennifer Garner) is not doing all her own stunts, then she has a double for sure. Just like Geena Lee Nolan in Sheena, telling where Syd leaves off and the stunt double begins is almost impossible.

Notable too is the relationship between Syd and her father in this scene. The tension between the two is palpable. And, the actor who plays the father does so with such restraint he seems almost expressionless at times. Yet, still, through his very restraint, he conveys his concern and attentiveness to Syd.

And, he did, afterall, show up with a getaway car in the underground parking scene.



COMMENTARY 2

This commentary is by Edward Mazzeri.

The first episode of Alias has just aired in Australia (11 Feb 02). How will the show be received? The local network "are confident the show's success in the US will be repeated here and have programmed it into the Ally McBeal Monday night primetime spot." (McCabe 1). Sydney Bristow is "the girl with everything" and there is "lots of girl-kicks-ass action intermingled with soulful moments of no dialogue and extended pop music. A silly but stylish new series." (Tabakoff) Cultural reference moment: silly is good, like a roller-coaster ride, in contrast to serious, like a taxi ride to the airport to attend a business meeting interstate.

The first episode was followed by flag-waving Olympic ski jumping in Utah which continued the mood (Sydney decides to work for the good guys, yay!), and paralleled on another station by the first episode of The Guardian, whose theme was 'tell the truth', which was in contrast to everything Sydney has been involved in. For example, lighter by a few teeth, she asks her Bad Boss for a week off to write her 'mid-terms' and the next moment we see her writing a report in Langley. For a moment there I thought she was a nice girl. But she must have her reasons, and these begin revealing themselves through the episode. The game is between CIA and SD6. Sounds like a sort of civil war. Who are the 12 freelancers who founded SD6? Why are there 12? Are they like the 12 apostles spreading the news of a new order that the establishment sees as a potential threat? Where did they come from? The KGB? Industrial espionage from places good at making electronics?

Spying implies a higher-level order of things. It is done for a purpose. The CIA works for somebody; the SD6 freelance founders must work for someone too. Themselves? Someone else in the CIA? Dr No?, A Cigarette Smoking Man? Some guy in a basement office? Questions hopefully answered in future episodes. It's easy to tell who the good guys are. They have the clean offices, the bright foyer with lots of bustling people in good clothes walking over the big symbolic mosaic, pictures of family and friends on their desks. And they are young. The other side are older, have darker dingy offices, are probably smokers, don't shave as much, and have less people around, and less nice ones.

Sydney is a Mission: Impossible team of one. Sydney is almost James Bond: she is briefed by her boss (like M), she is given handy utensils by her technical guy (like Q), but the flirting with Miss Moneypenny is missing. The episode's presentation of females is generically domestic, like showing them (usefully, it turns out) in the kitchen washing dishes. The spying game has no females except Sydney, who is 'special', not your usual female. She shows resourcefulness, at times like a mother in protective mode, and other times like a young female in attract-a-mate mode. Her most dangerous counterpart would be another female (Nikita?). Sydney is a student. She has 101 practical uses for boring school science lessons, like what to do with a gas pipe (and a convenient screwdriver). The supermagnet water-bubble special effect was quite good. Sydney was surprised. There are some things she does not know about. She demonstrates that a good student is the one who can write, and can write quickly, whether it is exams or reports. (Writing is an unusual choice for the high-tech age, though.)

The style of the episode is dim darkness, reminiscent of Buffy and The X-Files. In places it was like watching a soundtrack, which adds a cloak of imagination to the stunts.

The cultural references are by necessity in shorthand because there are so many to get through. In places they are almost cryptic, like the smoke-in-the-face scene when Sydney is looking for transport to borrow. I would not have understood that was intended to be insulting without the explanation in the synopses. The sense of different places comes across well, including using the local language, which was nicely spoken or dubbed. One the other hand, rich guys all over the world seem to drive the same sort of cars. The music video plot overlay story-telling technique is also well-done, with the various layers and threads augmenting each other, balletic, interweaving. But why did Sydney return to the lab in Taiwan? To prove a point? To demonstrate a usefulness? I think I missed a piece there. I might have blinked. The pop music used in the soundtrack might be too niche, too localised, to be taken as pop music in the sense of being familiar to the audience (as distinct from a backing soundtrack setting the mood). The record companies and radio stations have not started bulk playing of those tracks and artists in Australia (yet). By the time they do they would be probably be out of fashion.

So what is the verdict? A week later, on the eve of the second episode's airing in Australia, it is a "sexy new spy show" that "was able to kick the backside of" the competition (Dale). Sydney is "the new female action hero on the block", "with the best moves on television", and "While some of the fight scenes are a little too well choreographed, it adds to the old-school Batman appeal. Female viewers will seriously consider kick-boxing classes and the guys will just love Garner." (McCabe 2)

She does look good in red wig and rubber suit, and knows all the moves, but she really needs a partner.

References

David Dale, Target audiences see hits and misses, The Sydney Morning Herald, 16 Feb 2002, p 13.
Kathy McCabe 1, Jennifer muscles her way to the top, last paragraph, The [Sydney] Sunday Telegraph TV Guide, 10 - 16 Feb 2002, p5.
Kathy McCabe 2, Alias, Sunday Telegraph TV Guide, 17-23 Feb 2002, p3.
Jenny Tabakoff, tv previews, last paragraph, The Guide, 11-17 Feb 2002, p14, The Sydney Morning Herald.



LINKS:

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