And so it begins . . . (wait a minute, that's the second episode!) In “Truth Be Told” (1:01), Sydney dares to tell what she thinks is the truth to her beloved Danny, only to discover that she doesn’t even know the truth to tell it. This event leads to a series of rude awakenings regarding her profession, her preconceptions, and her father. After we see Sydney brought in for her session with Suit and Glasses, we see her in a different kind of torture session, an essay test. She completes it under the professor’s eye, convinced she’s scored a D (yeah, right). Danny is skeptical, and vies for her attention, finally grabbing it with a rendition of “Build Me Up Buttercup” and an engagement ring. Sydney says yes. Sydney breaks the news to Francie, who is excited for her best friend. Sydney frets over whether to tell her father, but Francie advises her not to let him ruin this for her, telling her “your mom would be so happy for you.” Sydney reveals, however, that her father already knows because Danny called to ask for her hand in marriage. It’s a peculiar call. Sydney’s father, Jack, points out to his future son-in-law that his daughter acts without seeking his advice or approval--she’s going to do what she wants. He then tells Danny that he won’t become a figure in a cocktail party anecdote, suggesting that this exercise is all about enhancing Danny’s persona at Jack’s expense. Arriving at SD-6, Sydney takes off her engagement ring. Yet Dixon notices something, telling her she has a “glow.” At their planning meeting, they discuss Oscar Müller, the victim of an FTL hit. They have some of his notes, taken in Demotic. An SD-6 agent was lost, so Sydney and Dixon are to be sent to Taipei to do some reconnaissance without retrieval of the prototype that FTL is building based on Müller’s research. While running, Sydney breaks the news of her engagement to Will, who seems a bit stunned and disappointed. To the strains of the Cranberries, Danny and Sydney look forward and Danny begins to talk about how much he wants to start their family. Sydney suddenly makes a decision. She takes him into the shower and tells him that she works for the CIA. Jumping forward to Taipei, we see Suit and Glasses enter. He gives Sydney an injection. To the strains of Cat Stevens’ “Trouble,” Sydney meets Danny in an oilfield to talk things over. She tells Danny about her recruitment, saying she didn’t feel she belonged anywhere. It throws Danny for a loop. “You can’t tell anyone,” Sydney insists. “I’ll call you tonight,” he responds. As Sydney and Dixon fly to their mission, Sydney grouses that Sloane doesn’t want her to have a life and asks if he’s ever told his wife that he works for the CIA. Dixon hasn’t. “If there’s one rule you don’t break, that’s the rule you don’t break,” he says. Their mission is intercut with Danny’s call to Sydney. Sydney and Dixon attend a reception where Dixon collapses to set up a diversion. Sydney heads into the lab and takes pictures. Meanwhile Danny calls Sydney and leaves a somewhat drunken message on the machine. “The whole world’s a nightmare, anyway,” he says. But “I want kids. I love kids.” At SD-6, Sloane calls for immediate action and breaks the news to Jack personally. “You understand what that means . . . I’m sorry, Jack.” “Don’t be,” Jack assures him. “You know where my loyalty lies.” When Sydney arrives home, she finds the apartment in a mess. Entering the bathroom, she sees Danny in the tub--dead. Her screams of horror dissolve into the screeching tires of her SUV as she pulls up in front of Credit Dauphine (SD-6). She marches down and confronts Sloane, who informs her that it was in fact she who was responsible for Danny’s death. Sydney is ready to stalk out, but Sloane reminds her that she must first meet with McCullough--she’s now suspect, too. When she finally gets out, she’s arrived just in time to see her SUV towed. Jumping ahead to Taipei, Suit and Glasses asks “Who are you working for?” Sydney spells out “EMETIB” and asks her torturer to reverse it. “I am your worst enemy,” she claims. “I’ve got nothing to lose.” Suit and Glasses is unfazed. “That’s not exactly true. You have teeth.” We return to the flow of the story and Danny’s funeral. Jack attends on the fringes, unseen, surveillance-style. Sydney re-records their phone message. Back at school, Dixon intercepts Sydney. She’s been away for three months and Sloane’s getting impatient. He explains that Quintero never reappeared and they’re getting anxious to recover the Müller device. Not only that, he cautions, when an agent in as deep as Sydney leaves, it’s a problem, and “they’ll fix that problem”--that is, they’ll kill you. It doesn’t take long for Sydney to find that out for after an evening at a restaurant looking longingly at loving couples, she is attacked by security section on the way to her vehicle. She calls Francie to get her to call back and create a little misdirection for her--buying her just enough time for her father to drive up. She has dispatched an agent and hears a car screech to a halt, grabbing the agent’s gun, she raises it only to see it’s laser site on her father’s forehead. “Get in!” he shouts. “Daddy?” she responds, uncomprehending. “Now!” While driving, Jack quickly loads his gun, switches into reverse and shoots out the driver of the pursuing car, then pulls out of the way as it crashes. And they’re off. Jack pulls into an area near the airport for a transfer and explains that he works for SD-6 too. He goes on to explain that she’s no longer trusted and will be killed. He’s planned her extraction to Switzerland, but they’re only waiting two minutes. Sydney has trouble believing him and checks his face to make sure that he’s not disguised. Jack goes on to admit that SD-6 is a branch of the Alliance of Twelve and begs her to leave. But Sydney won’t trust him. “Who are you to come to me and act like a father?” she says. “If you want to help me, stay away from me.” Sydney runs--we see her running form in the blackness--followed by the hand of Suit and Glasses--as he reaches for a dental clamp . . . And we are back in the torture chamber with Sydney, who is trying to speak around the clamp. It’s removed for a moment. “Start with the teeth in the back if you don’t mind,” she requests. The camera pulls back as we hear her screaming. Back in the flow, Will receives a note at his desk and finds himself on the roof. Sydney begs to borrow Amy’s credit card and passport, promising to pay her back for everything. Sydney goes on her mission alone. She makes herself over into Amy Tippin, dying her hair bright red and travelling to Taiwan as a colorful personality. Once there, she changes into cat burglar black and steals a car. Unfortunately, at the lab she is caught breaking into a lock-- And the separate timelines converge . . . Suit and Glasses tells Sydney that the pain pill that he gave her lasts about two hours and the time’s just about up. Sydney acts like she’s starting to break down, murmering “I can’t” and encouraging her torturer to lean in to hear her better. When he’s close enough, she flips the chair over onto him, secures the keys to her handcuffs and escapes. She gets to the lab and finds the prototype. It seems to be functioning, with some kind of little red ball floating above it. When she disconnects the leads, the ball bursts into water. Security forces arrive, but she uses gas lines to set up an explosion that aids in her escape. Back in Los Angeles, she marches into SD-6 and lays the prototype on Sloane’s desk. “I’m back,” she says. “Fine.” “I’m taking the week off,” she announces. “I’ve got midterms.” We next see her walk into CIA headquarters, asking to see the director, Mr Devlin. She announces herself as a walk-in. Vaughn and Weiss watch as she writes page after page of information. At Vaughn’s desk, Vaughn informs Sydney that the CIA is reviewing her statement. He sounds optimistic, saying that they could use another double agent at SD-6. Sydney is skeptical, thinking that Vaughn is setting her up, testing to see if she is looking to be a triple agent by giving her false information. Sydney goes to the cemetery to visit Danny’s grave and encounters her father there. She is not happy to see him and asks him to leave her alone. But Jack had asked to deliver the news personally. She’s in--a double agent working for the CIA undercover in SD-6--just like her father. Analysis . . . The very structure of this episode is fascinating. Rather than moving straight through time, it begins with Sydney’s capture and torture, intercutting that scene with the events up until her capture until the timelines merge. This structure tends to increase the nightmarish quality of the overall story and suggest that the preceding events were, in fact, torture of a kind. At each turning point in the story--right before the proposal, right after Sydney’s admission, after Sydney discovers Danny’s body and confronts Sloane, after Jack’s confession--we return to the torture chamber. Suit and Glasses’ key question, “Who are you working for?” is delivered right after Sydney’s confrontation with Sloane--and she ran to do this mission right after her conversation with Jack. She didn’t know who she was working for at all, did she? Can she even answer this question? After this event, she immediately changes who she works for--she walks in to the CIA. Sydney really doesn’t understand who she works for, not really. Her decision to tell Danny the truth was not a considered one--it was an impulsive one. Unfortunately, Sydney’s tendency to make snap decisions, which can be lifesaving in the field, are not necessarily beneficial in other situations. She lives in a complex world of multiple factors--a world in which things aren’t always as they seem. She must learn--as her father has--to take the time to understand her circumstances. We shall see her make impulsive decisions that lead her to a mistaken conclusion or lead to a dangerous circumstance over and over again. So when she tells Danny that she works for the CIA, she doesn’t understand what could happen, not really. She’s been through the protocol training, but it doesn’t really get through to her. Her government wouldn’t do that. She can tell Danny not to tell anyone, but he says he’ll call her. She doesn’t tell him not to leave a message. So she finds his body and confronts Sloane: Sydney: What did you do? Sloane: I might ask you the same question. Security section became aware of the breach and performed their function. You’re familiar with the codes of conduct, Agent Bristow. You know those codes applied to you even as you put at risk the lives of every man and woman working at this agency. Sydney: Danny wasn’t a risk, he was--he was just a man, he was--he was a doctor and you still-- Sloane: You listen to me. Information about this agency must be treated like a virus. There is only one response to a virus and that response is containment. You put is in a compromised situation and even though I despise the countermeasure-- (Sydney grabs his shirt) Sydney: Stop saying we. Stop blaming the agency. You killed the man I love. Sloane: No, Agent Bristow, you did. And I’m sure that Sloane believes this. He only gives the orders. It was Sydney’s actions that initiated the sequence of events. He believes that Sydney is to blame and wants Sydney to accept that blame. It is, after all, the only way for her to survive. But Sydney isn’t really responsible, is she? She didn’t kill Danny and she knows it. She’s too strong to take responsibility for Danny’s death. And so she gets into trouble. Truth be told. Sydney’s admission of the truth was something she felt was necessary for her marriage. For Sydney and Danny to be equal partners, for them to plan to have a family, Danny really needed to know the risks that Sydney was undertaking and decide whether he was willing to share them. Dixon doesn’t share this point of view, believing that his lies protect his family. But this truth is a dangerous one and when Danny carelessly reveals what he knows over the telephone, he is killed. When Sydney is subsequently targeted, Jack is forced to cough up a little of the truth himself. He rescues Sydney and suddenly the airplane parts salesman is transformed into a capable agent. In his effort to persuade Sydney to leave the country, he tells her that SD-6 is, in fact, a branch of the Alliance of Twelve. This leads to Sydney’s decision to turn against SD-6. She plans her own mission to obtain the Müller device for Sloane to get back in his good graces and then walk in to the real CIA. She’ll have SD-6 yanked down in no time flat, she thinks, and then she can go on with her life. She tells her truth about SD-6 to the CIA and becomes a double agent. Which leads to another little piece of truth. Jack comes to her to let her know that she’s been accepted--revealing that he is the other double agent placed in SD-6. It’s very clear that Sydney’s relationship with his daughter is a strained one--an estrangement. When Sydney discusses her engagement with Francie, she says he’ll just find a way to “ruin it” for you. As we can see from our first exposure to Jack, he’s carefully constructed and maintained his distance from his daughter. And while he attempts to appear unconcerned, there are constant signs to contrary. Let’s take a close look at Danny’s uncomfortable conversation with Jack Bristow. Jack: Yeah. Danny: Oh, Mr Bristow. Jack: Yes. Danny: Hi, it’s, uh, Danny Hecht Jack: (long pause) . . . Danny: Sydney’s boyfriend? Jack: (carefully) Is Sydney all right? Danny: Oh, she’s fine. Nothing to worry about. Um, I’m calling because I’m planning on asking Sydney to marry me and I was hoping to get your approval. Jack: Danny, let me ask you a question. Danny: Sure. Jack: How well do you know my daughter? Danny: Um, we’ve been dating two years. Jack: Because if you feel the need to ask me about this scenario, I have a sense you don’t know Sydney at all. Danny: Sir, I love your daughter and I want to marry her. That’s why I’m calling. Jack: First of all, Danny, this is just a courtesy call. Like when you say to your neighbor, “We’re having a loud party on Saturday night if that’s all right with you.” What you really mean is “We’re having a loud party Saturday night.” Danny: Mr Bristow-- Jack: Sydney doesn’t give a damn what my opinion is. What interests me is that you do. Danny: It’s just a custom to call the father. That’s all this is. Jack: Well then, I’ll tell you what. I may become your father-in-law, that’s just fine. But I will not be used as part of a charming little anecdote you tell your friends at cocktail parties so they can see what a quaint, old-fashioned guy Danny really is. Are we clear? Danny: Yes, sir. Jack: Good. Then welcome to the family. Yeah, it’s a long example, but it sheds a lot of light on Jack Bristow right from the get-go. The first reaction Jack has upon being called by Sydney’s boyfriend is to try to ask him whether Sydney’s been hurt--and he has to do this without seeming overly concerned, therefore the long pause. How many viewers missed this? Once Jack determined Sydney was just fine, he went into estrangement mode, protecting Sydney’s distance from himself by establishing a distance from Danny. It’s easy to do, too. He can use Danny’s desire to follow the custom of asking the father’s permission to marry his daughter. And since the custom really has no true substance these days--and Sydney certainly wouldn’t hesitate to marry Danny if Jack were opposed to the marriage--it is easy enough to compare the custom to the custom of warning a neighbor of an impending party with an “if that’s all right with you.” And, anyway, isn’t it true, too? Doesn’t the idea of Danny telling a story about his asking for permission to marry Sydney sting just a little? Jack has a great deal of dignity--and it must have been hard-won, after all (we later learn) he’s gone through--and the idea of being used as a footnote in a story regarding his daughter must hurt. After all, he’s become little more than a footnote in her life, and the fact that it is (most probably) by his own design makes it no less painful. In fact, I’d guess that Jack likes Danny a great deal. Why? Jack (as we later learn) takes pains to know about his daughter’s life. Certainly SD-6 had it carefully monitored. So we can be almost certain that Jack was aware of Danny’s fondness and desire for children--a characteristic that we can suspect (based on his devotion toward his own child) he shared in his own youth. Hidden within Jack’s dialog are the tiny signs of concerned fatherhood: his immediate question of whether Sydney was all right, his admonition to Sydney to put on her seat belt in the middle of a car chase--when he had a lot in his hands, by the way. And, of course, fatherly love is implicit in his risking his life to save hers. No wonder he says “I wish you had taken me up on Switzerland” even though he would likely never have seen her again. But Sydney couldn’t trust Jack to take him up on Switzerland. She doesn’t even know her father well enough to be certain it’s him. She has to check his face to see if it’s a man wearing a mask. Here is their discussion. Jack: There’s no time for you not to trust me. You don’t know who you’re dealing with. Sydney: What does that mean? Who the hell am I dealing with? Jack: About a decade ago, a pool of agents went freelance. Russian, Libyan, Chinese, Ethiopian-- Sydney: The Alliance of Twelve. Jack: What do you know about them? Sydney: They’re an enemy of the United States. They’re mercenaries. They’re dangerous. Jack: I’m one of them. SD-6 is not a black ops division of the CIA. SD-6 is a branch of the Alliance. You work for the very enemy you thought you were fighting. Sydney: That’s impossible. Jack: Then tell me why you’ve never been to Langley. You’ve been lied to. All lower-level agents have been lied to. I am trying to help you here. Sydney: So you say I’m working for the enemy and that you are the enemy. Jack: Sydney, this is your last chance. You have to go. Sydney: Who are you to come to me and act like a father? If you want to help me, stay away from me. So the estrangement that Jack set up to protect Sydney at this moment prevents him from helping her. Sydney refuses to accept his help. The graveyard scene . . . This scene is so interesting and well-conceived, that I couldn’t help but undertake a special analysis of it. Here is the scene: Music from Vertical Horizon: “Give You Back” from Everything You Want Scene: Sydney in the graveyard, laying flowers at Danny’s tombstone Lyrics: I need to know if you were real ‘Cause I’ve been known to get it wrong When the memory comes, I’ll see I’m (the view slowly turns to reveal Jack in the shad of a tree in the distance) _________always in the dark, you got me now I wanna give you back / I wanna give you back . . . Jack: I wanted to say I was sorry. Sydney: You don’t have to. I’m back at work; I guess you know that. Jack: I meant I’m sorry about Danny. There was nothing I could do. Sydney: I’d like to be alone, if you don’t mind. Jack: I know what it’s like to lose someone-- Sydney: Listen, I don’t know what you expect. Just because we’re working on the same side, just because I know the truth about you now, that doesn’t change a thing between us. I accept what I’m doing now because I have to. That doesn’t mean I have to accept you. Jack: (taking Sydney’s cell phone out of his pocket) I asked Devlin if I could come tell you myself. They verified your statement You’re in. I read what you wrote. I appreciate your not naming me. That was . . . kind. Sydney: (pausing) You’re CIA. Jack: You don’t know how dangerous this is, Sydney, doing what I do. I wish you’d taken me up on Switzerland. Sydney: How do I know what you’re telling me is the truth? Jack: I guess we’ll just have to learn to trust each other. Lyrics: I need to know if you were real (Jack offers Sydney her cell phone; she takes it) I’d hate to think I’d been fooled again (He turns and walks away) And as the vision fades I’ll see I was blinded by your eyes _________I felt them burn (phone rings) Sydney: Hello. Lyrics: I wanna give you back / I wanna give you back to somewhere out of here / I wanna give you Oh, yeah . . . Between the rescue scene and this, I was sucked right in by the father/daughter story. The spy stuff was just icing on the cake, folks. I loved Suit and Glasses, and the chair flip? Excellent! But this is what took me by the throat. Here begins the uncomfortable pas de deux between father and daughter that lasted through the season. Sydney’s new position has changed things as far as Jack’s concerned. Before Sydney knew what Jack was doing, he felt he could not approach Danny’s funeral, but had to hang out on the fringes, unseen. As long as Sydney did not know about SD-6 and her father’s business, Jack’s estrangement from her protected her. Now that he and Sydney are working together as double agents, he feels that she is now in the same dangerous position he is and he can now afford to try to build some kind of relationship with her (“I know what it’s like to lose someone . . .”)--perhaps that he should build a better relationship with her, since that would enable them to work better together and enhance her safety. But Sydney does not understand this. She doesn’t see what has changed between them. She still has no idea why they were estranged in the first place, and her father has so much trouble discussing personal matters at all that he can’t hope to try to explain the situation to her. She doesn’t want to change things (“Who are you to come to me and act like a father?”). She’s closed the door on her father and she wants to keep it securely locked (“That doesn’t mean I have to accept you.”). And yet, there is a sign of Sydney’s love in this exchange. She didn’t name Jack in her “Tolstoy-long” report to the CIA. Of course, they would have inevitably caught up to him, wouldn’t they? Did she plan on shielding him somehow? Or had she thought that far ahead? Meanwhile, Jack’s primary concern, Sydney’s safety and happiness surfaces in his statement, “I wish you’d taken me up on Switzerland.” There just wasn’t enough trust there. So Jack makes the first move and Sydney backs off. We’ll see this go back and forth several more times before the season closes. The song, “Give You Back,” is an inspired choice. It seems, at first, to refer to Sydney’s feelings regarding Danny, yet as the scene moves forward, it becomes clear that the lyrics are extremely appropriate for Sydney’s relationship with Jack. As the lyrics “When the memory comes, I’ll see I’m always in the dark” are heard, we see Jack in the shadow of a tree. But it’s Sydney who is “always in the dark,” as she keeps on finding out over and over again that she’s “been fooled again.” When it comes to it, what Sydney really does “need to know if [Jack was] real.” The father she knew wasn’t the father she had at all--he wasn’t “real.” But Sydney doesn’t want things to change. She’s become comfortable in the idea that her father was a remote and unreachable man without feeling. If he’s more than that, she has to now consider the possibility that she should expose her feelings once more to possible injury--and she thinks she’s had more than enough of that from this man. And maybe she thinks it’s his turn to suffer, not realizing what he’s already suffered to spare her own feelings. No wonder she might say, “I wanna give you back.” But remember, the last line is cut off at “I wanna give you--” which means something else entirely. Nokia allowed the pilot to be aired without commercial interruption in exchange for a very prominent display of their product. However, it was inserted very cleverly into the plot in two ways--as Sydney’s ruse to assist in fighting the bad guys--but also here, as a symbol of communication. Sydney leaves her cell phone behind in Jack’s car as she tells him “If you want to help me, stay away from me.” It is a symbol of Sydney’s breaking off communication with Jack--communication that he abruptly opened out of desperate necessity. In the graveyard scene, Jack offers the cell phone back to Sydney, a symbol of his renewed offer of renewed communication. “I guess we’ll just have to learn to trust each other,” he says. Sydney accepts his offer silently. It’s not much, but it’s something. At the end of the scene the phone rings. We don’t know who is on the other end of the line. It’s a mystery. We don’t know what’s ahead. Sydney says hello. She’s ready. She’s saying hello to all of us. Random thoughts . . . There are some magnificent cinematic moments in this opening salvo. The structure, intercutting the story with moments from the torture scene, lend the entire story a certain surreality. The segue where Sydney bolts from Jack’s car and runs through the darkness followed by Suit and Glasses’ hand as he reaches for the dental clamp is a stunning image. The action scenes, Sydney pulling up the gun only to see the laser dot on her father’s forehead--followed by the classic car chase through the parking structure--are top notch, particularly for television. (Really, I haven’t seen chase scenes on television come close to Alias in quality/excitement level, and that includes 24. Who else really seriously attempts them anymore, anyway? Heaven knows I don’t watch them all, though.) Here we find the fascinating duality of Jack: The estranged father who would do anything for his daughter. The man who pledges his loyalty to Sloane even as he plots to undermine him. This is a character I knew right off I wanted to know better. We see right away just how tough Sydney can be. Jack’s lack of loving attention might have been designed primarily to protect her from the dangers associated with his own life, but it also had the effect of making Sydney more independent--if also more rebellious and somewhat resentful. The first episode, the first reference to Rambaldi. Müller was working on the circumference, after all, and we’ll see it again in the season ending episode. Fathers’ Day coming up this Sunday . . . I don’t think there’ll be another when I don’t think about Jack Bristow. Man, do I have to mention the acting? Highest credits go to Ms Garner, Mr Garber, and Mr Rifkin, of course. Sydney bending over Danny’s body, hardly able to get her cries out. Jack, his emotion naked in his voice as he desperately tries to convince Sydney to leave for Switzerland as he watches the seconds slip away. Sloane, telling Sydney that it’s she who’s responsible for Danny’s murder. Having the extra time to prepare is always exceptional. In the case of this pilot episode of Alias, the result is an episode of higher quality than most movies. The structure and segues are exceptional. You see nice touches everywhere. For example, when Dixon comes to find Sydney at the university, there is some nice meta-narration. This scene follows the funeral montage and begins with Sydney’s professor intoning, “She loved a man and lost him . . .” and discussing it as a familiar theme in literature. And it is a theme that we are watching JJ Abrams explore with Sydney. And that final scene . . . I don’t think I’ve ever been more impressed by a pilot episode. My current plan for the first year is mostly to stick with family columns since Jack was less featured during the first season. But that plan could change. I did end up saying a lot about him this time, but mostly in his role as father. Discuss . . . Asking a father for his daughter’s hand in marriage is like announcing a loud party to your neighbor. Should Sydney have run to Switzerland (yeah, I know, of course not, there wouldn’t be an Alias, but for her, not for us!)? Did she turn double for the right reasons? Was Sydney too hard on her father? Or was she right to try to shut him out? Had Sydney taken better precautions--thought it out better, taken time, prepared Danny--was she right to have told Danny about what she was doing? Or was Dixon right? Is this the rule you don’t break? Next: Sydney gets into an explosive situation--with her father--and with a nuke.