[Re-posting after the "great crash of 2003." I don't remember what I called this, so the name is probably changed. Many of the questions in the column have now been answered (thank goodness we don't have to worry that they're preparing to wrap up the series this season!!!), but here it is anyway.] A little family, a little ensemble, a little theme music--“A Free Agent” (2:15) saw Alias return more-or-less to its usual form after a guest-heavy foray in “Double Agent.” The episode opens with Sydney and Vaughn sharing a little pillow talk, in which Sydney reveals to him that, not only is she graduating that very day, but she plans on leaving the agency. Director Kendall, of course, is not at all pleased with this development and attempts to blackmail Sydney into staying by telling her that she forfeits her rights to see her mother if she leaves. This leads to Jack’s comment, “Legally, he’s right. Ethically, he’s an ass.” Meanwhile, Sydney’s parents provide two different perspectives on the matter. Jack, very hesitantly, offers his opinion: “For years I’ve wanted nothing more than to see you live a normal life. However, your value to the CIA is irrefutable. While this is ultimately your choice, I suggest that, given the enormity of the last two weeks, you might not want to make life-altering decisions without a little more perspective.” Irina, however, tells Sydney to get out, as per the following exchange: Sydney: I’m thinking of leaving the CIA, which would mean giving up my clearance to see you. Irina: You’re too forgiving, Sydney. Don’t pretend I’m something I’m not. I’ve never been a real mother to you and you don’t owe me a second chance. If you make this decision about me you’re a fool. In fact, if you decide to stay, I won’t agree to see you any more . . . Take care of yourself. Irina waits for Sydney to turn and leave before she allows the angony of parting to register on her own face. Meanwhile, unbidden, Sloane calls Sydney to weigh in with his own congratulations and advice. Allow me to indulge in transcribing the conversation: Sloane: Congratulations, Sydney. You have so many things to celebrate today. I myself am still coping with the pain and disappointment of learning that you and Jack were double agents--the two people I trusted most in the world. Our first honest conversation, Sydney, and you have nothing to say? Sydney: Listen to me, you son of a b----, you have been a plague on my life. You repulse me. Every time I sat across from you listening to your lies, all I could do was fantasize about slashing your throat. Sloane: Well. I can’t pretend to be surprised that you feel that way. My only hope is that you can learn to forgive me. As hurt as I am, I know I can forgive you. After all, Sydney, I helped you. Sydney: What are you talking about? Sloane: You don’t really think it was a coincidence that I happened to be away these past two weeks, do you? The intel that you acquired that allowed you to take down the Alliance? I provided that. My involvement with the Alliance was merely a means to an end. Sydney: Why are you telling me this? Sloane: Because knowing that I’m alive is going to tempt you to come after me. Don’t. We’ve helped set each other free, Sydney. As much as I wish you well, I will end your life if you get in my way. When Sydney meets at CIA headquarters to discuss this conversation, she learns that Sark has kidnapped a mathematician, Neil Caplan, has been kidnapped with his family. Caplan is an expert on knot theory and can presumably help put together Rambaldi technology into a finished weapon. As Sloane puts the squeeze on Caplan, Sydney approaches Dixon. She lets him know that he’s been cleared and that the CIA has offered him a job. “Our friendship was the only thing that kept me sane,” she says. Dixon’s response: “We were partners. You lied to me, then chose to tell me the truth when it was convenient for you. I never want to see you again.” Dixon goes on to explain what happened to his wife, including the job offer from the CIA. Stunned and betrayed, she gives him the choice of the CIA or their marriage despite his vow to her never to lie to her again. Meanwhile, Marshall immediately accepts his job offer and is in geek heaven. His reaction: “Wow.” He quickly sets out to recover data from Sloane’s computer and discovered that Sloane recently looked at the address of a cybernetics specialist in his rolodex. Jack checks out the address and discovers the corpse of the cyberneticist, who has a cybernetic eye. Marshall recovers data from the eye that reveals Sloane as his killer and also (through lip-reading software) that he was shipping artifacts. Jack knows of a likely shipper out of the Mojave and Sydney suggests accessing the flight data recorder of their plane to find out where it’s been recently. Vaughn poses as an arms dealer to get that intel. Meanwhile, in Switzerland, Caplan tells Sloane that he needs a very sensitive magnetic field reader to find out how the pieces fit together. Sloane basically tells him, oh, like the one you built, the one that I’m stealing from the vault in the bank today? Sydney and Vaughn trace the artifacts to Switzerland, but instead find the Caplan mother and son, whom they rescue. Marshall helps them locate Sloane via his cell phone at the bank and he guides them there through a hair-raising chase through the streets. They confront Sloane as he is exiting the bank, but Sloane threatens to take a city block with him if he’s stopped. Sydney and Vaughn must drop their guns. Sloane tells Sydney she’s driving him out. What a time for a cliff-hanger! Analysis . . . Man oh man, what a wealth of thematic material there was this week! Truth/lies, forgiveness, family, freedom, etc. First, let’s look at the various reactions to Sydney’s decision to leave. Of course Kendall would be opposed to losing a valuable asset. Let’s set that aside. Much more interesting are the reactions of Jack, Irina, and Sloane. Jack ends up placing himself on the fence. I’ve wanted you to live a normal life, but you’re a really good agent, he basically says. But isn’t there more to the pro argument for staying than he’s saying? As long as she’s an agent, he gets to work with her and see her--he gets a chance to make up for the things he missed out on when she was growing up--missed out on because of his undercover work. If she leaves, he probably feels that she will drift inevitably away from her distant father. I believe his hesitancy and the couching of his words comes from a guilty feeling that his desire to see her stay comes from selfish reasons. Typically, he will not tell her that he wants her to stay because he will miss her. Irina, on the other hand, takes a hard stance against Sydney staying in, despite the fact that it means that Irina won’t see Sydney again. The anguish on her face was reserved for the time after Sydney left. Sloane tells Sydney to leave the CIA, or, at least, to stay out of his way. But is that really what he intends? He knows what Sydney’s like. An enemy telling her not to come after him practically guarantees that’s exactly what she’ll do. Besides, he has the Francinator in place; is there any reason for that if he doesn’t have an investment in Sydney and her continued presence in the CIA? If not, the Francinator is a rather expensive insurance policy merely to keep her out of the CIA. The lies . . . Dixon feels betrayed by Sydney’s lies to him. He feels that she should have told him the truth about what she found out about SD-6. However, as you remember, she ultimately did not tell him the truth because that would then force him into making a terrible decision of going into extremely dangerous undercover work (with a family yet) or into hiding. He doesn’t see this decision she had to face, only that she lied to him. This revelation is probably what forces him to rethink his position regarding informing his wife of the truth (he disagreed with Sydney telling Danny the truth, as you recall). He vows never to lie to her again. However, the truth is too much for her to handle all at once, and she hands him the ultimatum: choose between me and the CIA. Sloane feels “pain and disappointment” over Jack and Sydney’s lies to him, saying that they were the people he “trusted most in the world.” Is that true? Jack and Sloane’s relationship was an extremely peculiar one. Yet Sloane lies very facilely to his own wife (contrast with Dixon), even after he had to confess his involvement with the Alliance last season. Perhaps she now thinks they are in happy retirement? Or that her husband is off pursuing non-criminal business interests now that they are “free”? It would be interesting to know exactly the scope of Sloane’s lies to his wife. Forgiveness . . . Dixon refuses to forgive Sydney--for now. Dixon’s wife seems to make her forgiveness conditional: I’ll forgive you for your lies if you don’t take the CIA job. Irina tells Sydney she’s too forgiving of her. Jack’s implied continuing presence at his wife’s side implies his forgiveness of her actions. Sloane tells Sydney he forgives her for her betrayal of him. Marshall’s forgiveness of Sydney’s silence is implicit in his grateful and joyful acceptance of his new CIA job--in fact, he seems to understand it as a natural fact of life. The theme of forgiveness is woven throughout the episode. Dixon needs time to forgive; Marshall forgives instantly. Sydney’s forgiveness of her mother came very easily, more easily than Sydney wanted (and way more easily than her father wanted). Freedom . . . Sloane thanks Sydney for setting him free and tells her that he’s set her free, yet doesn’t he bind her with his call? She immediately returns to the CIA and instead of resigning, does the exact thing Sloane asked her not to do, interfere with his plans. Isn’t that what he wanted? Meanwhile, Irina is imprisoned, but uses what little freedom she has, the freedom of choice of whom she will or will not see, to try to make sure that Sydney leaves the CIA. Our kidnapped family is promised freedom in return for putting together a weapon that will probably deny freedom to--how many people? Could this weapon turn Sloane into “the highest power”? There is an interesting segue from Sydney’s visit with Irina to the kidnapping of the family at the aquarium. It’s interesting that they chose an aquarium as the setting for the kidnapping because Irina essentially lives in a fishbowl, with her every move and word recorded. The fact that it was a family with one child demands comparison. Irina’s family must revolve around her fishbowl to visit her. The family is caught and kidnapped while visiting the aquarium. Freedom and coercion. In a big enough aquarium, the fish might feel free, but it’s an illusion. With Sloane around, can Sydney ever be truly free? Can Jack? Sloane no doubt still holds secrets that he doesn’t want Sydney to know. Is Irina somehow more free now in her cell than she was as an agent? And what was that role, exactly? Will we ever find out? In the Caplan family, it is the father who is targeted for his knowledge. Does that mean that Jack is the one that Sloane is after? But it’s Sydney that he goes for first. He doesn’t call Jack. He knows that Jack with his subtlety and experience, is unlikely to get overly emotional. He gets a strong emotional reaction from Sydney. Does the microcosm of the Caplans indicate that eventually Sloane wants the macrocosm of the Bristows? And why? Mere revenge? Or something else? The contrast between Dixon and Marshall couldn’t have been greater. Dixon’s life is shattered and he now must struggle to pick up the pieces. Meanwhile, Marshall approaches his new life with great optimism and energy. He’s impressed with his new digs and asks for all sorts of new equipment. He’s surrounded by new geek friends who look to him as their geek god. He immediately gets to work for the good guys and gets them on track--and fast. So what if he was misinformed and working for the wrong side for a while? Oops. Reset and restart. He can make up for it. If only we could all take that approach. Sloane pretty much admitted that it was Sark who clued him in that Jack and Sydney were double agents. That makes sense short term because he found a use for them--to bring the Alliance down. It made no sense at all for him to keep double agents around for years. On Sloane’s pain: my heart just bleeds for him . . . Irina’s delayed reaction: Sydney and Irina look at each other for what might be the last time through the cell glass. They can’t touch each other. After a moment, Sydney looks down, turns, and leaves. Only then does Irina also look down, her expression revealing agony. Are we at last catching Irina in a private moment? We can read this two ways: a) Yes. Irina is really tortured that she is perhaps seeing her daughter for the last time. b) No. Irina knows someone might be looking--perhaps Jack--and wants them to see her reaction. It’s all part of her plan. I guess I’m not too jaded yet. I’m leaning toward a) at this time. However, looking at the situation from the point of view that Irina does have a hidden agenda, we can still see how removing Sydney from the equation might fit in with her plans--if Jack were her primary target. This might also tend to explain why it took so long for Irina to contact her former family. As long as Jack and Sydney were estranged, it would be more difficult for Irina to use Sydney to get to Jack. However, once they were working together as undercover CIA agents, they had to rely upon each other and work together, like it or not. This is the time when Irina shows up. And once she begins speaking with Jack on a regular basis, she cuts Sydney loose; in fact, she tries to enforce her nonparticipation. Looking at it from this viewpoint, Irina looks like a woman who does indeed love her family (she tries to remove Sydney to the sidelines where she’ll be safe), but has a higher agenda--she is not above using those she loves to achieve her ends. Does she love Jack? Is that fact irrelevant? As long as we’re discussing Irina, it’s interesting to notice a flip in the family dynamic. When Sydney goes to visit her mother, she says, “I’m sorry I haven’t been to see you in a while.” But that certainly isn’t true of her father, who was studiously avoiding Irina when Sydney couldn’t seem to stay away from her (“Your father told me about your success.” / “I graduate today.” “I know.”). Obviously Jack has been keeping her up to date on her family and on operations (is he making the same mistake here that he made during their marriage?). Meanwhile, one wonders what they can talk about. After all, Irina literally lives in a fishbowl. There are cameras trained on her at all times. Jack can’t possibly talk to her about the things that they must most desperately need to talk about, can he? He’s too private a man on the one hand, and on the other, he might be in danger of having his integrity questioned. Their conversations must give them limited satisfaction. Meanwhile, they leave us to speculate, as usual. Random thoughts . . . Car race through crowded streets. All right! Looks like it’s time for Jack and Vaughn to go off-book again to get Sydney back. Do we get to see Jack in the field again, or will it be Dixon, drawn in at last now that Sydney’s life is on the line? Still no hint at what happened to Will. Was he perhaps captured? Has he been psychologically compromised in some way? I’m really anxious to see Jack and Irina together. Just how far have things progressed between those two? (And how far can they progress with Irina in a fishbowl?) The elements coming together worry me a little in that they seem to be positioning the series for a quick wrap-up, should that be needed. (Either that, or they do not expect Lena Olin to renew her contract, another tragedy I’d like to see averted . . .) God, I hope it’s just a precautionary measure! (I hate to express such sad thoughts, but it was a random thought that floated through . . .) Discuss . . . Will Irina really refuse to see Sydney? Can she resist? Do you believe she was sincere? Do you really think Sloane forgives Sydney and wishes her well? Do you think that he really wanted her to get out of the game? Do you agree with Sloane’s decision to lie to his wife after all they’ve been through? Do you think Sydney should have rejoined the CIA just because of Sloane? Do you think she should have a deeper reason for her decision? Lots of folks have already said they think Dixon is too hard on Sydney, so I won’t ask that. I’ll ask this instead. Do you think Dixon should have told his wife the truth? Do you think she should make him choose between her and the CIA? Why do you think Jack asked Sydney to think over her decision? Do you agree with my assessment? Next: Kendall appears to be cutting Sydney as a loss. I don’t think Vaughn will have any trouble recruiting Jack as an asset in recovering her, but what about Dixon? While you’re waiting, check out Victor Garber as he revisits his Broadway musical comedy roots as Mayor Shinn in The Music Man. Entertainment Weekly says “The Music Man won six Tonys in 1958 and deserves at least as many Emmys now for ABC’s sparkly new version.” Both the EW and TV Guide reviews say that it starts weaker than the 1962 movie version but quickly gains its footing, primarily because Matthew Broderick is much less a steam-roller than Robert Preston. I, for one, have been interested to hear about Mr Broderick’s success on Broadway and am interested to see what all the shouting’s about. (Expanded to three hours and pre-empting Alias largely by--yawn--commercials, of course.) Note: Again, not enough Jack really for a separate Jack column. Sigh.