[All right! I was going to post this humongoid yesterday, but when I finally got this together I was greeted with Bandwidth exceeded messages--also this morning! I hope this turns out to be worth the wait. If it doesn't have quality, it certainly has quantity this week!] As “Passage - Part 2” (2:09) opens, we find the Bristow family walking out of the night into the early morning--and into another argument. Irina is once again frustrated that Jack won’t trust her, insisting that they go to her contact, who is closer and has better equipment. Jack insists on working with people he trusts. They come upon a train, which they hop to get to Jack’s contact. Aboard a freight car, Jack and Irina share a bottle of some kind of spirit, which causes Irina to smile, initiating a fascinating incident. Jack: I know what you’re thinking. Irina: Do you? Jack: Toaster. Sydney looks at the pair with a quizzical smile and Jack explains the incident. When Sydney was about four, Jack was making toast in their broken toaster while he and Irina-as-Laura shared a bottle of a similar spirit. The toast was forgotten and a small house-fire resulted, filling the house with smoke and driving the family into a hotel for a few days. Jack smiles at Irina as he loses himself in the memory, and broadens the smile as he remembers Sydney’s passion for the sundaes served by the hotel. But then a cloud seems to pass over his face and he says, “You should get some sleep.” With that, he shoulders his gun, stands, and walks to stand between cars and get some fresh air as he looks out over the passing scenery. Irina and Sydney look on. At last the three meet Jack’s contact, who recognizes Sydney as Jack’s daughter immediately and says, “He always brags about you--” only to be cut off by Jack as he requests help. Sydney contacts the CIA via a provided satellite phone and discovers that the nukes will be “activated” at 1700 hours. Jack’s contact attempts to be helpful, but has limited resources, leading to more second-guessing by Irina (the air filter on the provided truck will clog) and another argument. Sydney breaks in, informing them of the new intelligence and reminding them that they have to work together on this mission. She tells them that Jack will handle getting them to and from the facility and Irina will run the mission once inside because of her familiarity with the facility. Jack has Irina hide in a grain bin in the back of the truck to minimize the likelihood that the three will be detected--Irina is the most likely to be recognized. Let’s not forget that this plan also has the advantage of giving Jack a break from Irina, as well. Of course, after five hours, the air filter on the truck does clog, causing it to break down. Jack takes an extra moment before facing Irina. Sydney: Dad, we need to get moving. Jack: I know. I’m just preparing myself . . . to let Irina out. Sydney: You’ll be fine. Jack: I’ve been doing this a long time, so when you lectured me about continuing the mission-- Sydney: Dad, my point was-- Jack: I know what your point was and the truth is, I needed to hear it. I’m proud of you, that’s all. Again, Jack opens up just a little to Sydney. He admits to her how difficult it is for him to deal with Irina. Then, he does something very important, as both a team lead and as a father. He validates Sydney’s intervention. He tells her that he's proud of her. How often must he have felt that way about Sydney but neglected to tell her, frozen in his own wasteland? Jack unpacks Irina, forced to reveal to her that, yes, the filter clogged and they face a hike to the facility. They’re hiking through a minefield and sewage tunnels, but now it’s Irina’s turn to make the decisions. As they pick their way through the minefield, they are met with gunfire, and Jack must toss a weapon to Irina. Doing this, he is shot and lands partially on top of a mine. Fortunately, Jack’s vest caught the bullet. Sydney and Irina disarm the mine, saving Jack. Once inside the facility, Irina quickly outlines the plan, which sends all three to different locations to take care of security. Jack doesn’t trust Irina on her own, saying she has friends there. But Irina responds bitterly, telling them that she was held there as a suspected traitor: “And no, I wasn’t an officer here, I was a prisoner. Why do you think I learned the sewage tunnels or memorized the mine locations? So I could escape, you idiot!” Irina feels that Jack should be able to see this, perhaps because she knows how perceptive he can be. But he has never been able to look at Irina dispassionately--he’s never been able to read her as she has been able to read him. But it makes sense to Jack. An officer wouldn’t need to know the details like a prisoner--or insurgent--would. He believes her, listening with tears standing in his eyes. He knows exactly what that feels like. There is no time; he's agreed to Sydney's plan to allow Irina to run the show inside the facility; and he believes her. At last he relents. Jack and Sydney rendezvous as planned, but Irina isn’t there. They must go on without her. They find the housings for the nukes, but the cores aren’t there. At last Irina appears, but Cuvee is with her, along with his men, and Jack and Sydney are taken prisoner. Sydney must watch Irina and Cuvee interrogate Jack from a distant cell. She can see what is going on, but she can’t hear much of what they are saying. Cuvee reveals that he gave Irina the assignment to marry a CIA officer many years ago, and though there were several candidates, Jack had the “most potential.” Bending in toward Jack’s face, he says, “I actually thought it would dawn on you that a woman like this would never go for someone like you. Luckily for me, your ego was too big for that.” Jack takes this opportunity to strike Cuvee brutally with his handcuffed hands, driving him back against the wall of the cell. Cuvee draws his gun, yelling “You’re a dead man!” But Irina steps between the two, reminding Cuvee that they need to get information from Jack before they kill him. She then threatens Jack, drawing her own gun and asking, “We know Sark has a new partner. Who is it?” But this is a question she already knows the answer to. Sydney told her about Sark and Jack knows this. It must dawn on him right then that she intends to save him. Cuvee is drawn away by a call from Sark and Irina play-acts an interrogation while filling Jack in on the details of what’s going on. “If you don’t make it out, I’m sorry this happened,” she says, and she brutally pistol-whips him in the mouth while slipping a set of keys into his hand. Jack frees Sydney and they contact Kendall, who orders them to meet Vaughn (who has made his way in via helicopter to extract them), leaving Irina behind. Sydney begins to argue, but Jack takes the satellite phone from him: “This is Jack. You’ll either hear from us or you won’t.” He turns off the phone and simply tells Sydney, “Our assignment from the CIA is to bring her back. It’s our job.” They make their way to the lab just in time to see the Rambaldi artifact opened using power from the nuclear cores. The artifact, a black, ovate object, opens to reveal a blooming orchid, apparently in good health. While Cuvee is distracted by the orchid, Irina takes her chance, delivering a vicious kick. Cuvee responds by drawing his gun on Irina, but Jack jumps him, subduing him with a few swift moves. The two share an enigmatic glance. They run to Vaughn’s helicopter and return home, where Irina finds a pillow in her cell. At last Sydney allows Irina to explain why she shot Sydney at their first meeting since childhood. Cuvee was in the next room watching, she explains. I couldn’t let him think that I’d betray him, so I had to shoot you to give you a chance to escape. As Irina watches Sydney depart, a single tear courses down her cheek. Could we love this family any more? Analysis and endless speculation . . . You must have so many questions. - Irina Oh, yeah. And for a gal who’s job is investigation, she doesn’t ask half as many as I would. And I’d think that Jack might have a couple of questions too . . . 1. Irina’s feelings Ah, at last. A good look at Irina Derevko. And an opportunity for much speculation around some central questions. First is the question of whether Irina ever fell in love with her undercover target, Jack. This is an obvious question, and one that was very recently subtly hinted at by Irina’s ignore-formality-and-reach-for-happiness advice to both Sydney and Vaughn. I’ll get to it by backing up. What did we know about Irina before this season that might have shed light on this question? ~ She had a child with Jack.* ~ We know a few tantalizing facts about the events surrounding her disappearance. ~ We have some debriefing (or interrogation) footage. [* Yes, I know there might be some debate over whether Jack is, in fact, Sydney’s actual biological father. However, I’ll argue that he must be. Not only is he physically right for this role, but let’s face it, he must be Sydney’s father if only for the reason that the series needs the strength of that bond between father and daughter. The bond between Sydney and Jack is at the core of Alias and if they did not have the blood link, the estrangement/tension aspect of their relationship would dissolve into dissociation as soon as any lack of true relationship were revealed. I believe that, although there might be a certain dignity to Jack’s devotion to Sydney were he only her adopted father, the series would demonstrate a hollow center that it could not sustain, and the series would collapse as a result. ‘Nuff said.] Let’s examine these details. First let’s toss out the debriefing footage, in which Irina expresses her contempt for Jack. Why? Let’s hypothesize she doesn’t love him. She’s likely telling the truth. Let’s hypothesize that she loves him. In this case, she must lie because that is a secret that she must keep at all costs from her employers--for her own sake, and possibly Jack’s as well. So her comments at the briefing tell us nothing. Then we come to the fact of Sydney’s birth. That can be read in so many ways. Was she merely a part of Irina’s cover? That seems a little bit of a stretch--after all, a child could prove an encumbrance and in the 70s Irina could certainly have blamed infertility while she secretly practiced birth control to prevent pregnancy. Further, I’d think that a woman like Irina would be a little bit particular in choosing the men who fathered her children. This can be counted as a factor in favor of her loving Jack--the notion of Irina, knowing that her love is doomed, having a child as a way of creating a lasting expression of that love is an extremely romantic an compelling one. However, you might also consider the possibility that Jack possesses other qualities (a little eugenics at work here?) that Irina wanted to combine with her own and express in a, well, a sort of uber-spy. You might even chalk it up to an error in birth control. Hey, it happens. At best, this fact is equivocal. This brings us to the sketchy and incomplete events (as we know them) of the night of Irina’s disappearance. What we do know is that both Irina and another KGB agent, Igor Valenko, faked their deaths and escaped. Think for a minute here. Two KGB resources were burned. One of these, Valenko (aka Bentley Calder), was positioned in the FBI Counterintelligence unit. Valenko is a resource that they would not have wanted to burn. This is an enticing clue. Add to this the fact that Jack came out of the situation alive. Here’s where I come to SPECIFIC SPECULATION If you don’t want to hear my speculation, don’t read on. I think that Irina was ordered to kill Jack, making his death look like suicide. If, indeed, she did love him, she would not have been able to do this. Her inability to follow her orders in this case may have led to troubles with her own agency (2:09, current episode). Valenko, of course, was to have blamed all of Irina’s activities on the now-deceased Jack through his FBI investigation leaving Irina free to target yet another CIA officer, were that the KGB’s plans (Jack's supposed suicide, of course, motivated by the investigation closing in on him). That’s why all the evidence so neatly pointed Vaughn toward Jack in his investigation of the old CIA murders last season. Since Irina’s reappearance, she has not had the opportunity to interact with Jack until this passage. Generally, we’ve seen ~ Her baiting Jack in many ways, including angrily with words, and sexually by kissing him and showing herself to him ~ Arguments ~ An alcohol-aided waltz down memory lane ~ Her ultimately saving Jack and Sydney by slipping Jack a set of keys First, let me touch on the moment where she claims that the reason she knows the location of every mine at the nuclear installation is that she had to plan an escape from there because she was held there as a suspected traitor. This is tantalizing in juxtaposition with my speculation above MORE SPECIFIC SPECULATION because, if true, it suggests that Irina might have been suspected of being a traitor for not following orders regarding Jack. OK, this is stringing speculation upon speculation, but it’s intriguing and fits together--and it’s a romantic notion. Irina’s incarceration would then mirror Jack’s. No wonder he stood with tears in his eyes. He knows exactly what she went through, having been imprisoned as a suspected traitor himself. But if it was the resulted from an effort to save him, he would still have no idea. All right, let’s hypothesize that Irina actually did love Jack and see if things fit. The arguments, of course, are to be expected. Yet there is an interesting undercurrent of anger on Irina’s part that you don’t see her display toward other characters. Jack’s betrayal of Irina might have put her in line for a lethal injection, but I don’t think that’s what it’s about; the sentence was based on actions 20 years past, she knows that. Assuming Irina did love Jack, she would have been in the unique position of being jealous of herself; i.e., her alter-ego, Laura. Was she tempted to tell him? Defect? What kept her quiet? Was she afraid that he would feel--as, in fact, he ultimately did--betrayed, and be unable to forgive her? Did she fear that he would be unable to love her as Irina? Did she feel that she had betrayed him before she even fell in love with him? How must she have felt, killing his friends and colleagues? Did she hate herself for falling in love with him? Did she despise him just a little for not seeing through her façade--or even more importantly, for loving someone like Laura instead of someone like her? Or, did she see in this situation an odd test of love? That is, perhaps Irina believed that if Jack truly loved her--her essence, as it were--he must see the truth and accept her as she is. Did she somehow expect that he would see through everything, faked death and all, and come after her? Warped as that sounds, it's an additional possibility. If she did love him, it’s quite possible that she’s jealous of her own alter-ego and angry at Jack for loving Laura but not her. That would explain why Irina would both express anger and tend to be somewhat aggressively sexual toward Jack. But if Irina loves Jack, why can’t she just tell him? Ah, there’s the rub. She can’t be sure that Jack loves Irina, as much as she can be sure that he does love Laura. She reads him well, but can she read him that well? She can’t fully trust him, any more than he can trust her. If she tells him that she loves him and somehow makes him believe her, suddenly she has lost much of her leverage over him. She has always enjoyed the superior position because she could be sure of his feelings and he was unaware of hers; she knew all his secrets while he knew none of hers. It was as though she were clothed and he naked in the storm. And even if she were certain of his emotions, she might not be certain of his priorities (Sydney, patriotism). Can we blame her for being cautious? Certainly the reminiscence about the toaster fire was a sign that there is still some common ground between the two, if only in the past. Irina seems as relaxed and swept into the memory as Jack, but it’s hard to tell with a woman as calculating as Irina what would be an act and what would be genuine. Yet, as Jack retreats to the space between cars, she seems to regard him as wistfully as does Sydney. In the end, Irina saves Jack and Sydney and returns with them to her little cell (the pillow made it all worthwhile!). Is this indeed a proof of love? Let’s not be too hasty. I’ve just written a lot on the pro side. We still have a lot of questions. First, why now? Why did it take 20 years? What has she been doing all this time? Even if we believe her imprisonment story, I don’t think that took up much of her time. On the other hand, if she loved Jack, it could simply be that she felt that he could never forgive her and she was waiting to approach Sydney when Sydney could make her own decisions. Also, let’s not forget that she could have a larger plot that she is working out. This plot might rely on continuing to concentrate Rambaldi technology with the CIA (which was already happening before her arrival, thanks to Sydney’s and Jack’s efforts, thank you) while she slowly gains trust, including that of those who have least reason to trust her (um, Jack). In such a case, this juncture would be far too early to tip her hand. Meanwhile, she will have the opportunity to work on weakening, disabling, or destroying her rivals and/or former associates (Khasinau, Cuvee, Sark, Sloane) from a relatively safe distance. For The Man, the name of the game was Rambaldi--and that’s what it is for Sloane and Sark. And even if the above proves to be true, Irina could still love both Jack and Sydney. She might want to make them part of her plans, her organization. But, then, Sloane truly loved Emily, didn’t he? 2. Jack’s feelings Setting aside Irina’s feelings for Jack, one might bring up a second point and question Jack’s feelings for Irina. Does he still love her? Or does he hate her for what she did to him? I will be brief (blessedly, this is becoming epic . . .) here, leaving a more in-depth discussion for the Spy Dad column, but think about it. If Jack simply hated Irina, the Toaster moment never could have happened. If Jack could have changed his feelings, he could possibly have healed his wounds and put Laura and Irina in the past. But it’s clear he never moved on. You could simply argue that the betrayal was too great and he couldn’t trust anyone. Maybe, but the toaster moment revealed that the man Jack used to be still exists beneath the ice. When they were attacked in the minefield, Jack exposed himself to desperately toss Irina a weapon--an act that nearly cost him his life. Jack went back without question to retrieve Irina. This was not repayment for her rescue of him. It was something he had to do. Something he couldn’t not do. CIA orders, indeed! 3. The trust game No matter who loves whom, trust is the ever-present problem. The mission--and Jack, in particular--suffered greatly because Jack could not trust Irina. Irina practically demanded Jack’s trust and behaved as though she deserves it. Perhaps, from her viewpoint, she does (particularly if my speculation is near target). But, even if my speculation is correct, Jack really has no reason to trust a woman whose successful* ten-year mission was to deceive him and undermine his work. She should know and understand this, at least a little. Yet she expects the CIA to take what she gives them, just the information that she sees fit to dispense, a piece at a time. [* Again, it appears that it must have been successful, except perhaps for that last night . . .] On the other side, Irina does not fully trust the CIA or Jack, and she is right not to. After all, she was recently sentenced to death by the US government and only saved by Sydney’s intervention of a well-placed lie. And how can she fully trust a man whose life she destroyed? Both Irina and Jack hold their secrets closely. 4. The connecting thread Let’s take a look at Sydney. Poor Sydney has to trudge through this mission putting up with her parents’ bickering. But, hey, she learns a lot. She finds out her just how vulnerable her father can be--he even admits it to her, telling her that he has to prepare himself to deal with Irina. She discovers that her father is actually a great deal more interested in her than she imagined, hearing from his contact that he “brags about” her, and hearing from his own lips that he was “proud of” her. She gets a look back at the man he was before Laura was revealed as Irina when Jack reminisces about the Toaster incident. But Sydney has to step in several times and be firm with her parents, giving them orders when they will not focus on the mission. And Sydney also gets a terrible fright. Having dragged her father into this mission and ultimately finding themselves captured--apparently by her mother’s betrayal--she believes that she’s about to see her father tortured and killed before her eyes. Imagine the guilt that would have left her with! Thank goodness Irina proves true this time out. Sydney is anxious to trust her mother and seems to fall into it with ease. Yet she is as convinced by Irina's betrayal act as anyone. There is no bedrock there as there is with her father. No matter what Sydney might say about not trusting her father, that bedrock is there. It's not there with her mother. Not yet, anyway. Sydney is the thread that connects Jack and Irina. Even if there were no emotion left between the two--and I’ve obviously argued against that--they are both concerned with Sydney. Whatever Irina’s plans for Sydney, it seems that she is not willing to sacrifice her for little gain (sacrifice her for large gain? Good question); and we know that Jack would willingly sacrifice his life to save Sydney. Here we see both father and mother forget their differences to patch Syney’s scrape, both insisting, “You’re not all right.” Sydney is the one force that can cause the two to focus when they are most distracted by their personal baggage. 5. The Man Let’s move on to a fifth point: the question of Irina’s organization. How exactly, was The Man’s organization organized? Irina seems to be downplaying her power level (Cuvee was watching from the other room when I shot you), but just how much of this can we trust? Judging from Sark’s moves and power plays, he certainly seems to want to move in on some of Irina’s territory. But Irina seemed to have Cuvee bamboozled. Why did she want to drop him in favor of daughter and untrusting ex-husband? She could have easily escaped and re-established whatever relationship she had with Cuvee. However, after aiding the Bristows’ escape and initiating a fight with Cuvee, Cuvee will hardly keep up good relations with her. In fact, he may well reveal to Sark the names of those who upset his plans (until then, he was happy to conceal Irina’s presence). Of course, if Irina had rejoined Cuvee, she might have been able to save Sydney, but Jack’s life certainly would have been forfeit (I’m afraid Cuvee would have insisted). Or is this all part of a plot that involves gradually building the trust of the CIA for a larger manipulation (after all, they’re fast becoming the great Rambaldi repository)? Random thoughts . . . Returning to good-ol’ SD-6 duty after a mission like this must be a real b**ch for Jack. How does he get his head in the game? How does Sydney? If I were Jack, I’d try to get some verification on Irina’s story about her imprisonment and see when it occurred. Was it just me, or did you think that Cuvee’s excessive zeal and enjoyment in attacking Jack contained a note of jealousy? He talked a good game, but he seemed pretty emotional for a guy who holds all the cards. I'll bet Jack got just a little bit of extra satisfaction taking down the man who set up his sham marriage. Seems like we’ll probably hear more from Cuvee. Seems like a natural antagonist for Jack. I hope that Jack’s cover with Sloane explains his bruises . . . Remember the blackmail disk? I wonder when we'll hear more from that? Or that bug in Sloane's office? Again, we see the aftermath for Sydney--and even Irina--but not for Jack. I don’t know about you, but I’m dying to know. We weren’t shown the man seen with Emily at the airport. Think we know him? It can't be said often enough. This cast is top-notch. OK, I have to say it. Anyone else getting a case of déjà vu from the other Jack B over on 24? Irina, Nina . . . both are seen in shackles . . . both betrayers, ex-lovers . . . Jack Bauer’s increased aggressiveness and rogue behavior (of course, he had his moments last year, especially as the day wore on). The similarities are only on the surface, of course, but they’re enough to set up a certain odd resonance. It was weird enough meeting two Jack Bs who happened to be spooks last year. (At least Kim is absolutely nothing like Sydney!) Next: Sydney gets to dress up rather than down when she travels to London. The Alliance gets involved in Sloane’s extortion mess.