“The Indicator” (2:05) opens with Sydney trying on Irina’s cell for size. Clearly she’s still haunted by her mother. Jack appears, and Sydney reiterates her apologies for not listening to Jack’s concerns about Irina and goes on to, ironically, thank Jack for saving their lives. Jack doesn’t directly respond to these thanks; how could he? He was the one who endangered their lives in the first place. The first of two tight close-ups on Jack closes in on his expressionless face. Sydney takes his arm as they exit together, leading us to lament that the joining no doubt will turn into a rift by the time the program is over. I’ll digress here for a moment to comment that it’s interesting to me that Sydney appears here to attempt to step into her mother’s shoes for a moment. Is this an attempt to understand her better? We have never seen Sydney make any such attempt on the part of her father. Certainly she has researched his past, his movements; but she has never attempted to see things from his point of view. Is this because her mother appears to be a cipher, even to her, while she thinks she knows her father (a poor assumption based on her continued misunderstanding of him)? Sydney then meets with Vaughn to discuss her next operation only to discover that Jack has gotten op approval from Devlin. Vaughn brings up his suspicions that Jack might have rigged the Madagascar house, which sets Sydney off. She accuses Vaughn of feeling irrelevant and Vaughn brings up Russek. Sydney points out that the recent situation wasn’t a matter of life and death, but forgets that from Jack’s point of view the stakes were indeed piled that high and the rules of the game were largely unknown. So Vaughn must step to the background and grind his teeth as he watches Jack ably step his daughter through her next operation. Unfortunately for Jack, this operation brings up some memories because it uncovers a Triad conspiracy to train European Union children as future spies. A man featured in downloaded footage turns out to be an ex-KGB psych ops agent Valerie Kolakov, who ran the same sort of program for the Soviet Union in the 1980s. They’ve traced him to his home in Buenos Aires, where they plan to snatch him. Jack is going to let the CIA run with this on its own, but Vaughn calls Sydney in. Jack clearly doesn’t want Sydney in on the operation, coming up with some ****-and-bull about it being “too dangerous,” but Sydney insists, sympathizing with the children and saying, “I know what it’s like to be used.” This leaves Jack with nothing to do but stare daggers at Vaughn, who isn’t finished with Jack. He tells Jack he discovered proof that Jack sabotaged the house in Madagascar. His response: Jack: You do good work, Agent Vaughn. But your consistent shortcoming--and you should know this--is your naïve sense of morality. Evil must be eliminated by any means necessary. Vaughn: I don’t think Sydney would agree with that. Jack: Sydney will never know about what I’ve done. Vaughn: You betrayed her trust. I won’t. Now, she should hear it from you. But if you don’t tell her, I promise you, I will. And we have the second tight close-up on Jack. This exchange is interesting on several fronts. First, last episode it was Sydney who claimed that it was she, not Jack, who was willing to do whatever it took to bring SD-6 down. But who’s more likely to live up to that when the chips are down? My money’s on Jack. He really is the ends-before-the-means guy. Second, it reveals that Jack wants to be able to treat his daughter as though she were still a child. His instinct--a strong and overriding instinct--is to protect her. And that includes protecting her from unpleasant truths. You don’t tell your 6-year-old about your debt-load, or the possibility you might be laid off, or even that Santa Claus isn’t real. How can you tell her that her mother isn’t what you thought, she’s actually a foreign spy working against your country, and worse, betraying the trust of husband and child. There’s so much hurt in the truth--hell, he should know, he went through it himself--that he wants to spare Sydney (she will never know). Jack’s desire to take the entire burden onto himself may endear him to us, but it’s unrealistic of him. Sydney is no longer a child. Jack should know by now that if Sydney sees the corner of a puzzle, she’s not going to let it alone until she thinks she has it solved. Further, how is she to understand what she’s dealing with (her mother, for example), if he never explains what he went through? Instead of continuing to try to fight all her battles for her, he needs to hand her some weapons which can help her fight her own. In Buenos Aires, Sydney discovers a literal puzzle (which, oddly, reminds me of the object featured on Led Zeppelin’s “Presence” album, although it is not the same shape) that evokes a memory response in her. She then has herself regressed to find the source of the memory, suspecting her mother might have had something to do with it. But no, it was Dad. Sydney meets with Jack but will not get into his car with him. As he approaches and sees her stricken expression, we see, uncharacteristically, a very strong expression on his own face, and a tragic one at that. It seems that he realizes some of his greatest fears have come to pass. Sydney explains the false memory that she had that covered the training. She goes on to relate the project that Irina discussed on her debriefing tape, Project Christmas, with a CIA project to train children to be American spies. It ends with the following: Sydney: So the first opportunity you had, you set her up in Madagascar. Jack: Sydney, understand something-- Sydney: No Dad. You understand something. You took away my choices in life. You programmed me to be a spy. I will never forgive you for this. Sydney swings like a pendulum. Each time she discovers some unpleasant fact about one parent or the other, she swerves wildly away without thinking it through. Remember “Reckoning” (1:06)? Jack responds to Sydney’s accusation that Jack might have caused her mother’s death with “I’m not a perfect man, but I am smart enough not to draw simple conclusions and then act upon them. I would think if anyone had learned that lesson, it would have been you.” Apparently Sydney has not yet taken this lesson to heart. First, Jack really didn’t take his first opportunity to set Irina up; he does this only after opposing her openly and repeatedly fails. Further, Sydney doesn’t consider the probability that the set-up is related to a more present problem (as we saw last week, Jack’s belief that Sydney faced immediate danger). Second, did the training really cause her to accept Sloane's offer (take away her choices)? Third, doesn’t the timing of the spy pre-training bring up any questions in Sydney’s mind? Doesn’t she think to ask why? In a way, by slamming the door, she validates Jack's approach of secrecy because, instead of using the opportunity to demand more information, she cuts him off and simply punishes him (not that he hasn’t any sins to atone!). Thanks to both actors for pushing this scene to its intense limit (Watch Ms Garner’s mobile expression shift gymnastically as Sydney struggles to keep some kind of composure! Watch Mr Garber’s subtle expression flirt around the edge of tears!). Random thoughts . . . Irina is absent, but she is clearly the winner here. Irina’s credibility is now restored at a steep cost to Jack’s (one would expect him to face other penalties as well, but we shall see). Do you expect her to now come after him? I don’t. I’d expect her to put her most forgiving face on, further eroding Jack’s position and strengthening her own. This episode had some nice “value-added.” There was a fascinating geometry: the daughter-father-lover triangle dynamic set up between Sydney, Jack, and Vaughn along with a nifty symmetry with the previous episode. Vaughn’s understandable jealously and distress at Jack’s dishonesty oddly mirrored Jack’s upset at Sydney’s increasing closeness to her mother and distress at the probability that it would lead to Sydney’s death or corruption. We find him in emotional pain, working behind the scenes, just as we saw Jack in the last episode. And, as Sydney wound up in Jack’s embrace in tears over one parent at the end of “Dead Drop,” she ends up in Vaughn’s in tears over the other at the end of “The Indicator.” Project Christmas. Let’s assume for the time being that it is what it’s being presented as. However, it’s bothersome. We didn’t see Irina go into detail about the project on the debriefing tape. Was the evidence on a part of the tape we didn’t see, or did Sydney put two and two together? If it was on the tape, why wasn’t Sydney bothered by her father’s involvement in such a project? And why would a man of Jack’s background (aerospace, not psych) be involved in such a project in the first place? Something doesn’t seem quite right about that. Sydney’s accusation that Jack took away her “choices” reminds me of the episode in which Sydney considers dropping out of her graduate program and asks Jack for advice (1:14 “The Coup”?). Jack, is at first stunned into silence, but it seems very important to him to convince her to continue her studies, particularly to point out that the decision was her own. The choice of using Mr Garber to play 20-years-younger Jack was an interesting one. Is it because the sequence plays out in Sydney's mind's eye? Or did the production team simply throw up its collective hands at the prospect of casting someone who could conceivably step into the character of Jack (territory so ably and meticulously carved out by Mr Garber) with a any chance of believability? SPECULATION FOLLOWS! Place your bets now. OK, so the “it” DID occur after Irina’s “death.” But, obviously, Irina guessed that the pre-training had taken place because Sydney was such a good spy, so that takes care of her knowledge. But why did the training take time after Irina’s “death” and not before? My guess: testing had taken place and Sydney’s scores were off the charts. Jack had put his foot down to Sloane, who was drooling to have her put through the program. Jack didn’t want her trained. But after Irina's "death" Jack had a big problem. He had to assume the KGB knew about Sydney, too. Was she so great a prize that he feared she might be abducted and put through God-knows-what? He couldn’t leave her with a family member (if there was one) or nanny. She needed a powerful protector, and he would not be present to perform this role because he was about to be hauled off to prison, where he could only pray for her safety and hope to hear word of her second-hand. Sloane was willing to take the role of protector on, for a price--put her through the training (one of those strings-attached “favors” Sloane likes to hand out). Jack had to do it, but he felt he had to do it personally. Additionally, this might help explain why Jack was forced to stand by as his daughter was recruited into SD-6. Had he objected, Sloane could well have revealed Jack’s secret to Sydney at that time. This might also tend to explain some of Sloane’s peculiar fatherly feelings toward Sydney. Are they similar to the feelings of Dr Frankenstein towards his favorite monster? Or I could be wrong! Modifications: 6/2/03: Added random thought about using Victor Garber to play the much-younger Jack.