As we await a new Alias episode, I thought I would entertain myself by finishing a little essay that I was working on during a little gap a little while back. It's about how the character of Jack fits as a tragic hero. I didn't have access to the usual library research materials, so I took the descriptions of the tragic hero from a couple of websites (which might account for a slight flakiness). (In the following, please note that by "American" I mean United States-American, or "Yankee.") In American culture, we are accustomed to the hero who conquers, the happy ending. This tradition is typical of the optimistic nature of the American outlook. However, this tradition of winning and happy endings is not the only tradition in fiction. There is also the tradition of the tragic hero, which goes back to Greek roots--and quite possibly even farther. As someone with a fondness for tragedy, Shakespeare, and so on, it has always struck me that Jack in many ways fits the mold of the tragic hero. Certainly tragic events have struck more than one character in Alias--Sydney has lost her mother and fiance (along with having her relationship with her father ruined), Sloane his beloved wife, Dixon his wife now, Vaughn his father--but it is Jack whose own flaws and actions are inextricably linked to his misfortunes. Per Aristotle, the tragic hero: Exhibits both good and bad traits Has a tragic flaw (hamartia) Exhibits hubris (excessive pride), and is surrounded by circumstances--a person or thing--that set the stage for his fall Almost always goes on a journey Is someone that people can relate to Always falls--bringing tragedy upon himself and others In another, more modern summary, the tragic hero: Is of noble stature (has a station to fall from) Has a tragic flaw Has a choice in his actions Is subjected to punishment that exceeds the scope of his crimes Has his awareness enlarged during the course of his adventure (or misadventure) Enables the audience to achieve a catharsis Does Jack fit this model? Let's look at Jack and his marriage to the woman he knew as Laura. The Jack we know has both good and bad traits. However, it's my hypothesis that the Jack of 30 years ago was much more like the Sydney of today--much more the hero than now. However, he was still human. But he did have a tragic flaw, which appears to be falling in love with Irina Derevko. And this love--more tragically still--appears to be of a deep and unchanging variety. I believe that there were probably signs that she was an agent during their marriage, signs that he closed his eyes to because he didn't want to believe that the woman he loved so deeply would do that to him. First of all, Irina's statements indicate that she rifled his briefcase on a daily basis and planted bugs on his clothing. It's difficult to believe that Jack in a clear-headed state could miss all this for years. The point is, he's not clear-headed when it comes to Irina, nor can he ever be--not completely. Jack, of course, does have an element of hubris. He's a man of extreme dignity. He has a great intellect, and that certain arrogant impatience that goes along with it. Did Irina take advantage of this trait? It's almost certain that she did, feeding his ego regularly. Certainly there is a person connected to Jack's fall from grace, and that person is inextricably linked to his tragic flaw. Of course, Jack has gone on a journey in the sense that he's gone on many missions, but in modern stories, the sense of "journey" applies more to the inner space than the outer. In this way, the idea of a journey applies to any character that is not static but grows and changes as the story develops. Can people relate to Jack? I think so. I'm gratified to see that even the younger people here seem to relate very fervently with Jack's plight. And why not? His emotions, love, hurt, regret, patriotism are all things that we can all relate to. His intense devotion to Sydney is extremely compelling. Most of us can even understand his need to hide and repress his emotions. Obviously, Jack fell from grace that first time around, and it caused much suffering. He suffered tremendous loss personally: he lost his wife, the mother of his child--not only that, he discovered that she married him for no other reason than to subvert his work. He has no factual basis to believe that the woman that he loves so deeply ever returned even a shadow of the emotion he invested in her. Others suffered as a result of his fall: US intelligence was grievously compromised and agents were killed--no doubt Jack's friends among them. Jack's long involvement in undercover work and estrangement from Sydney can be at least partially blamed on these circumstances. Moving on to the modern summary: I'd say that Jack had a position to fall from. He was a respected agent, and I'd guess a rising star, the kind of guy the other young (and not so young) agents envy. Flaw: see above. Did Jack have a choice? Yes, he could have kept his eyes open. He could have been more aware of the possibilities and caught inconsistencies. Did Jack's punishment exceed the scope of his crimes? I think so. When it comes down to it, what was his crime? Falling in love with the wrong person? Or failing to notice what was going on; allowing Irina to fool him? And what was his punishment? Years of privation. He has no private life to speak of; he has been long estranged from his daughter, the one person he had left, the person he loves more than anyone else; he was forced to work for Sloane, forced to torture men, sent out to assassinate whomever Sloane needed out of the way--do terrible things to maintain his cover. We cannot know it for sure, of course, but it's my hypothesis that had Irina not betrayed Jack, he would never have accepted the assignment to work undercover at SD-6, a situation that seems inextricably linked to his estrangement with his daughter. That's just off the top of my head. Was Jack's awareness enlarged? Definitely. He found out that Irina was a spy sent to marry an agent and steal his secrets. However, Jack's enlarged awareness does not by any means say that he has complete awareness. Was he aware then of Irina's obsession with Rambaldi? He did not seem surprised by her admission during their flight from Bangkok to Hong Kong in "A Dark Turn" (2:17). Well, since this happened in the past, we can hardly say that the last (audience catharsis) applies. In ancient tragedies, the tragic hero had this unfortunate tendency to die, which doesn't necessarily happen in the more modern ones. And Jack didn't die--that would just be too easy, wouldn't it? It would prevent the sequel. Jack moves on, but then again, he never does, does he? He never really gets over his tragic flaw. He can't let go of Laura. He thinks of Irina as Laura, the name that he knew her by as his wife, even twenty years later. He can't let go of her memory even though she is both a betrayer and dead. Ladies and gentlemen, the man is in love. Deeply. Completely. Sonnet 116-in love. Nothing he finds out about Irina is going to keep him from being in love with her. And he knows it. Going back to the first season, we can see that Jack is profoundly affected by Sydney's news that she believes that her mother is still alive. He breaks into CIA files and gets Sloane's confirmation, then promptly suffers a minor breakdown (and Sydney stages a minor intervention) (1:18 Masquerade). In the very next episode (Snowman), Jack secretly views debriefing footage of Irina discussing her mission undercover with Jack. He doesn't want Sydney (or anyone else, for that matter) to see his interest--or understand its implications. Because what his interest centers on is what emotion Irina might have for him. When she displays the emotion that could be expected, contempt, Jack is crushed--to the extent that he feels compelled to seek Dr Barnett's help that very day. Jack draws a distinct parallel between Sydney's connection with the questionable Noah and his own with Irina, and he frees Noah for Sydney to the evocative strains of "Lover, You Should've Come Over"--a subtle hint, for it contains the lyrics "it's never over," unplayed in this episode. And for Jack, hasn't that proven true? For him it will never be over. Even if Irina dies, her devastating effect on him overshadows his life. This has already been proven, for he thought her dead for twenty years. So can we see Jack's latest "passage" as the tragic hero's journey in miniature, an encore of the tragedy previously performed? When Irina dropped in on her family, Jack's strategy was sound. His plan was to keep as far away from her as possible. He knew that the one thing he couldn't trust was his own emotions--his love for Irina. But part of his strategy depended on Sydney also staying away from her mother because he didn't want to see her hurt as he was. Unfortunately, controlling Sydney was something that he could not do. Driven to extremes, he set Irina up (2:04 Dead Drop), but she made it a question of life or death, forcing a reprieve (2:06 Salvation). So he had to remove himself to the sidelines where he watched anxiously until "Passage, Part 1" (2:08), when Sydney dragged him into contact with Irina by arranging a mother-daughter mission. During "Passage" Jack fought valiantly with his emotions. Sydney doesn't seem to understand what her father is going through when she urges him to hurry and he begs for a moment "to prepare" himself to deal with her mother. But as they move into more and more dangerous territory and Jack is forced to work with Irina and Irina helps them out of danger, Jack appears to break down. When she speaks of her imprisonment, tears stand in Jack's eyes. He may understand why she may have been incarcerated under suspicion of treason. Did that act represent the one thing she might have done that indicated a reciprocal emotion on her part? It is an intriguing moment, for it appears to be the turning point where Jack decides to grant Irina some trust. He sends her to accomplish her part of the mission unescorted in the beginning salvo of a series of acts of trust that Jack displays towards Irina. After Irina saves their skins in Kashmir and they return, it seems that Jack cannot stay away from his once-and-technically-current wife. He and his daughter have changed places. As Sydney is distracted more and more by her blooming relationship with Vaughn, Jack is spending more and more time with Irina. He is now the one filling her in on SD-6 operations and news concerning Sydney. Sydney seems surprised by this turnaround, as does Kendall, when he finally blurts out "When the hell did we change places?" in "A Dark Turn." Irina does betray Jack once more because she betrays his trust. She works out a plan with him for the stated purpose of capturing Sloane with the ultimate goal of freeing Sydney to leave the CIA. But this is clearly not her real plan. She could have left Sloane behind to be captured when Emily was shot, but instead she helped him into the helicopter for their escape (2:18 Truth Takes Time). Sloane's capture was not even remotely part of her game. Freeing Sydney was just a particularly desirable bait to wiggle in front of Jack as a likely motive for her wanting to participate without it being obviously all about Rambaldi. Jack wants to believe that Irina would put Sydney first as he does, after all. He wants to trust her, to be able to give in to his love for her. Jack has been betrayed before. How does this figure in? Can he be betrayed again? And was he? I say that he was. Irina's intention was to betray him and she went through with the act of betrayal--all the way through with it. And it seems important to Jack that she do that, for the method that he used to track her (replacing the tracker that she had him remove with a self-activating passive tracker) was a risky method at best--as was demonstrated; Irina escaped capture, didn't she? But (as I've stated elsewhere) more and more it seems plain to me that Jack needed to go through this--he needed to show the CIA and Sydney that Irina could not be trusted, but most of all he needed it for himself. He needed to remind his heart of her treachery. As painful as the experience was, he willfully closed his eyes and relaxed, dropping the defenses that he had worked so hard to maintain almost to the end of "Passage." It's a test in a way. He wants, more than anyone, perhaps more even than Sydney, to see Irina prove herself true. He could have caught her earlier, he could have checked the Rambaldi manuscript before they went to Panama--it's an obvious precaution--but he didn't. When she asked to have the tracker removed, he must have known, particularly when she said, "Kendall's not as smart as you"--an offhand flattery that sounds frighteningly patronizing. I'd expect a reaction from Jack, but we weren't given the privilege of witnessing it. But Jack removed the tracker. And then she initiated a kiss, which he eagerly returned. How poignant must that act of love have been, Irina knowing of her betrayal and Jack knowing he almost certainly was being betrayed? I hardly think that implanting the passive tracker made Jack feel any better. Jack let it play all the way out. When we saw Jack's expression in the van, it was filled with despair. He already seemed completely alone as his eyes seemed to beg Irina to change her mind. But it was not to be. In a few minutes, she was gone. The passive tracker allowed Jack to protect his position with the CIA, but wasn't Jack's actions harmful overall? He really didn't trust Irina, after all; he merely desperately wanted to trust her. And the fact that he relied on the passive tracker and did not check the manuscript hints that he may have subconsciously wanted to give her the chance to escape without completely losing his own reputation--which is even more tragic. Jack's hesitation to send the team in after Irina and Sark without verification of Sloane's presence tends to lend support to this hypothesis (Truth Takes Time). Returning to the tragic hero for this little adventure: Jack still has both good and bad traits. He loves his daughter, and we love him for it--but sometimes he even loves her to a fault. He sometimes goes too far in protecting his daughter, sometimes forgetting that she's an adult who should be given her own choices. He works for good, but he often does questionable things to accomplish good ends--the ends justify the means, in other words. That's just a couple of things. Jack's tragic flaw is the same now as it was. In the encore, the hamartia at work is still Jack's love for--and need to trust--Irina Derevko. And if it's true that he subconsciously wanted to set Irina free, this is probably only the beginning. Jack still has extreme dignity in spite of the humiliations that he's suffered over the years. He's a very capable and respected agent who--somehow, despite his reputation for loose-cannonism--seems to have gained a fair amount of pull within the agency. This little encore involves both inner and outer journeys--"Passage" and "A Dark Turn" both contained major portions of this story and physical travel. Can we relate to Jack? More than ever, I'd say. Did Jack fall? He was "promoted." But he lost Irina, breaking his heart in the process, and his promotion seems to be contributing to a possible re-estrangement with his daughter. Certainly, Irina's escape is potentially contributing to the loss of countless lives. It is under her orders that the building housing the genetic database is blown up, for example. Jack's made his point, but at what cost? It's large, and escalating. From the modern point of view: Jack does have a position to fall from; he's a respected senior agent. Jack certainly did have a choice. He could have continued to insist on distrusting Irina completely. Or, he could have double-checked her; for example, catching her before they went to Panama by checking the Rambaldi manuscript. Jack's punishment. This is a good question. At first it would seem that Jack isn't punished at all, but rewarded. He's made operational head of the task force to capture Sloane and Derevko. But if you look at the costs, the picture doesn't look as bright for him. Look at how isolated he's become. Just a few weeks before, look at how Sydney tearfully rescued her father (2:13 Phase One). He had Irina to speak with and be with. Now he is lonely and irritable, as his exchanges with Marshall illustrate. But we may have only seen the tip of the iceberg as far as what will come from this in the way of punishment for Mr Bristow. His agony may well mushroom greatly from here as a direct result of Irina's freedom. Has Jack's awareness been enlarged? The direct result of this encore tragedy is that Jack completed his experiment and collected his data. The fact that his data were negative is part of the tragic result of this story. But at first glance, it wouldn't seem that his awareness has been enlarged much by this particular exercise. However, the audience did get a chance to taste the catharsis that Jack's earlier experience must have induced. What he experiences is, of course, merely a ghost of what he lived through before, almost a nostalgic journey through a torture chamber. Jack's gift of forgiveness was returned by a renewed betrayal. Perhaps he could have expected no better, but it hurt him just the same. I believe part of why he decided to take this on was so that Sydney would not have to pay the price that he has had to. Rather than have her resent his interference and still wind up betrayed and wounded, he took the bullet himself. And that's probably what he tells himself the real reason he did it was--but we know better, don't we? We know that in his heart of hearts he was praying he was wrong about her. If anything, Jack seems to have been hardened and isolated by the repetition of betrayal and loss. He still carries his tragic flaw with him, of course--he cannot shed it any more than he can shed his heart. If he did not stop loving Irina after what she did to him the first time, this tiny betrayal (by comparison) can hardly make any difference. It will always factor into any decisions that might involve Irina's death, for example. Irina's betrayal colors miriad other decisions that he must make involving Sydney and other situations. We just saw a bare flash of the pain and resentment that he feels in his confrontation of Elsa Caplan in "Endgame" (2:19), but we haven't really seen him let it out. What happens if/when he does? And, as I think ahead, I seem to see a man more and more divided--his need to hold it together and run the mission to capture Sloane and Derevko would seem at odds with his love of Irina and his implied impulse to free her. Is he being pulled apart? (But I am in danger of digressing.) There is so much hidden in this complex man . . . Yet he seems ever doomed to push himself to extremes over those he loves and pay the price for it. Jack's journey continues. FOOTNOTE: Someone has pictured Irina as a tragic hero. I feel that we simply don't know enough about her to know whether she fits into this definition or not. However, as the manipulator rather than the manipulated in this history, the chances are that she is not. How much real misfortune has she suffered? This is a truly unknown variable. Can define her obsession with Rambaldi as her own tragic flaw and point to its having brought down unmeasurable suffering upon her family and others? Possibly, but it all depends on whether Irina can be seen as heroic or not. The jury's still out on that one, and I suspect it will remain in deliberation for a long time. In the long run however, hero or not, Irina may be in for a rude awakening if the truth she's pursuing turns out to be something she's not expecting.