In “Counteragent” (2:07), Irina and Jack each have their own take on daughter Sydney’s relationship with her handler, Vaughn. Meanwhile, Sydney pays a tremendous price to save Vaughn’s life. Vaughn comes to Irina, closely followed by Sydney, both asking her help in finding a cure for Vaughn’s illness. During a conversation as fascinating as it is terse, Irina promises Vaughn that she will help him in exchange for a piece of very personal information. She does not inform Sydney of this little deal, however, but tells her that she can create a cure by using a machine at an installation in Paldiski, Estonia. Sydney heads out to this location with her father (who is running the field team) but runs into trouble when it turns out that using the machine will cause an alarm to go off. Sydney refuses to abort and is caught in an untenable situation. Sark gives her a terrible choice: agree to assassinate Sloane and you can have the antidote and live, or you can die in a toxic chemical bath. She is forced to capitulate, a decision capped off with a humiliating decontamination shower. Sark affirms his belief that he’s “destined” to work with Sydney. Kendall, of course, is not willing to sanction Sydney’s proposed mission. The FBI is hardly in the business of planning the assassinations of American citizens. But Jack pulls Sydney aside. Sydney’s ready for a fight, but Jack agrees with her instead. He knows when to push from within the system and when to go off-book and he knows that this is a time to go off-book. If she pushes too hard, he reasons, she’ll just lose her chance to fulfill her bargain. Sloane is going on a trip to Japan, he tells her; it would be an excellent opportunity and it would be out of the FBI’s jurisdiction. Sydney, of course, pulls off her mission without a hitch, which only seems to heighten Mr Sark’s apparently ever-growing admiration for her. Vaughn’s life is saved, and he wakes to find not Sydney, but her father, sitting by his bedside. Jack informs Vaughn of the terrible price Sydney paid to purchase his life. Meanwhile Sydney is surprised to see that Sloane is still alive and that Sark has made a bargain with him. Further, Sark presented some mysterious information to Sloane to help secure the deal. Vaughn meets with Irina to fulfill his part of the bargain, although he doesn’t directly answer her direct question, “Are you in love with her?” He makes it pretty clear that the answer would be “yes.” Irina points out that he hasn’t said anything to the person who matters, Sydney. Analysis . . . Irina is curious to know what Vaughn’s feelings are and tries to bargain for an admission from him. But really, the answer might be beside the point because it seems that if she doesn’t already know the answer, she at least strongly suspects what it must be. Later, when Vaughn, cured, returns to her and tells her--more or less--how he feels and goes on to speak of the rules imposed upon handlers and their assets, Irina scoffs. What about what happens between a man and a woman, she asks. She quickly strips the interaction down to its primals. She seems to be advising Vaughn to disregard protocol. Is she doing this for Sydney, or to manipulate the situation for her own purposes? (BTW, this brings up the question of whether she ever applied this type of thinking to the interaction between an undercover agent and her unsuspecting target.) Meanwhile, Jack is well aware of Vaughn’s feelings for Sydney and is content, if only to use them as an insurance policy. With Irina around, Jack’s life may be in more danger than usual and Jack knows Vaughn would do anything for Sydney--and, moreover, has reason to distrust Irina. The fact that Jack was present when Vaughn awoke seems to show that Jack wants to make sure that Vaughn is aware of the magnitude of what Sydney did for him. He wants to make sure that no one cushions the blow for him, but simply spells it out. Sydney got the antidote. How? She had Sloane killed. Helping out Sydney is simply an added bonus for Jack here, but it is a bonus that comes with a measure of sadness when Sydney is unable to obtain the antidote on her first try and must turn assassin. Jack prepares Sydney for her mission to assassinate Sloane and he does so with a certain willingness, but he does express regret that she has to undergo such a mission: Sydney: Tell me you agree with me, that we have no choice in this. Jack: Of course we have no choice. It’s a moment I never wanted you to face--to kill someone. I’m not talking about self-defense; I’m talking about premeditated murder--to be there when the door closes on him for the last time--knowing you are responsible. That is something you never same close to considering before getting to know your mother. Is that really fair? Yes, in this case the virus can be directly connected with Irina, but surely there might have arisen circumstances that would have placed Sydney in a similar situation that might have had nothing to do with Irina. It’s as though he associates Irina’s very presence with an almost Shakespearian sense of impending doom. Sydney apparently gets a get-out-of-guilt-free card, but does she? She knows what she did. She had no reason to believe that Sark would revive Sloane (administering a “counteragent” to the poison). The deed has been undone, but not the intent. How has this event changed her? About Mr Sark . . . Since family was pushed mostly to the background as Sydney’s relationship with Vaughn got a moment in the spotlight, let me move back to a more distant orbit for a moment and make a few more general comments. The Man’s organization was split apart at the beginning of the season, leaving Khasinau dead and Irina and Sark scrambling. Apparently, Sark saw the event as an opportunity to wrest the organization from Irina’s control. Perhaps that is partly why she showed up at the CIA: a refuge--not only that, a refuge where she could have another thing she wanted--contact with her daughter, while her daughter ran interference with Sark. Meanwhile, while Sloane got the promotion that his ambition so desired, things have not gone well since. Although they were able to pick up the blackmail disk, they were unable to get the camera, the music box, or the organizational bible. Sark has had little luck as well, failing to get the music box or the bible (an inadvertent benefit of Jack’s set-up of Irina). And Sark found Sydney waiting for him at every turn, leading him to wonder aloud at the source of her intel. Perhaps he developed an interesting (and correct) theory? The downside of all this, of course, is that it served to push Sark and Sloane into each other’s arms through a mutual benefit (perhaps Jack should have foreseen this potential outcome--but then, he's been distracted). Further, it seems clear that Sark should, by this time, be well-aware that Sydney’s allegiance--and her father’s--is to a force outside of SD-6 given their willingness to sacrifice Sloane for an unknown third party. No doubt his insistence on Sydney poisoning (rather than tranquilizing) Sloane was to test that theory. He may well theorize that they are working for Irina, particularly if he has worked out the family relationships. Fortunately, Sark is unlikely to give up this little piece of information to Sloane for nothing. Has he worked out Irina’s hiding place (does the paper he handed Sloane have any bearing on this series of events?)? Random thoughts . . . We still haven’t learned Mr Sark’s first name, have we? Does his connection to SD-6 mean that we will now have the opportunity to learn it? I do hope it’s not Mark (though that would tend to explain why he always introduces himself as “Mr Sark”). Mr Sark certainly seems to have a thing for Sydney. It’ll be interesting to see where that goes. Next: A family portrait comes together in the same room for the first time in more than 20 years in a two-parter that looks like it will force Jack to face the one thing that he may fear more than his daughter’s contact with her mother--his own. If the promo is any indication, Irina wastes no time working over her ex’s battered psyche. I can’t wait! Meanwhile, while you’re waiting, have a happy Thanksgiving, everybody!