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Alias: Truth Be Told

Jack: "I guess we'll just have to learn to trust each other."

This stunning pilot was wildly impressive. The action just rocketed along, and the torture scenes actually shocked me. It sucked me in and got me hooked.

"You are schizophrenic," her unknowing friend Francie told Sydney near the beginning of this episode, and she pretty much said it all; the main theme of the show is, of course, Sydney Bristow's double life. The wholesome graduate student with nice friends and a normal job working for a bank is constantly contrasted with the dangerous existence of a secret agent. When Sydney got engaged and told her fiance the truth about herself, she caused her two worlds to collide.

Jennifer Garner was just wonderful. Sydney is heroic, charming, athletic, brilliant, emotional and sexy; she's the ultimate heroine, and Garner is perfect for the part. I particularly liked her aghast reaction to Danny's "Build me up, buttercup!" proposal; the way she charmed Chinese torturer guy into thinking that all she was doing was looking for a bathroom; her shock and grief at Danny's death; and her determination at the end to do what was right.

The most interesting character in the pilot, other than Sydney, was by far and away her father, Jack Bristow (Victor Garber). He went through several iterations here: at first a cold, distant businessman who was sarcastic with his daughter's fiance (the Jack/Danny phone call was a hoot); then an evil cohort of Sloane's at SD-6; and finally, his true face was revealed when we learned he was a double, like Sydney -- a true hero, a patriot who risks his life every day. We saw bits of Jack in all of these different personas, but the true Jack is a cipher, and his relationship with his daughter is a big, fascinating question mark.

Although the focus was mostly on Sydney, the major characters were all introduced: Arvin Sloane, who appeared to be all business until he showed his ruthlessness by having Danny killed; Dixon, Sydney's SD-6 partner, a nice, normal married guy who also happens to be a spy; Marshall, a sort of young, bumbling Q (from Bond, not Star Trek); Francie, Sydney's clueless best friend and roommate; and Will, Sydney's reporter friend, who is very obviously in love with her.

The briefest and least informative introductions were to CIA agents Vaughn and Weiss at the end of the episode. Vaughn appeared to be a stereotypical clean-cut CIA agent, and Weiss was pretty much just someone for Vaughn to do dialogue with, and that was it.

Bits and pieces:

— Sydney has parental issues not just with Jack, but with her mother, whose death after many years is still too painful for her to discuss.

— Is Sydney getting a masters in literature? Tennyson was mentioned.

— We learned here that SD-6 is part of the Alliance of twelve, not part of the CIA, as Sydney believed for the past seven years.

— Rambaldi was not mentioned, but we learn in later episodes that the ball of water device that Muller supposedly invented was actually invented by Rambaldi.

— Devlin, the director of the CIA, was mentioned but not seen.

— There was a lot of pop music in this episode... almost too much. The best was "Forever Young," which we heard during the Sydney/Danny shower scene. Danny will never get any older now. The bells actually tolled for him during the proposal scene.

— The woman with magenta hair that Syd was using as a non-agency alias was Will's sister, Amy. Good for the plot, but who keeps their hair that color long enough to get a passport photo with it?

— There was a photo of a blond woman with Vaughn on Vaughn's desk.

— Number 47: Marshall mentioned that he wanted to bring the number of exposures in his camera from 42 to 47, and that 47 was a prime number.

— In the credits, you can see the sign of the Magnific Order of Rambaldi <0> over Victor Garber's name.

This week's...

... itinerary: Taipei, twice.

... cool gadgets: a lighter as a scrambler, and a lipstick as the above-mentioned camera.

... language skills: Sydney spoke Chinese, Dixon spoke Hebrew, and the unseen Mueller took notes in Demotic.

... hot look: the skin-tight red dress at the party, and of course, the famous magenta hair.

Four out of four spies,

Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.


  1. I've just started rewatching the series, which I LOVED the first time around. I only started watching about 5 episodes into the first season, so this pilot is completely new to me, and I found it kinda... disappointing, in comparison to the awesomeness that is to come. It felt just like an average pilot, not a pilot to an amazng show, and if this was the first episode I had watched I wouldn't be as sucked in as I was with most of the other episodes.

    But despite all this, the show itself is great, and i'm thoroughly looking forward to reliving it all :)

  2. I've been meaning to do an Alias re-watch for a while, and now seems to be the time for it. I'm excited to re-read your reviews, Billie: I first watched Alias (back in my days as a silent lurker) because you reviewed it, right after I got into Buffy and Angel. I think I've only watched it once, but I'm not completely sure.

    This pilot is extremely impressive. You nailed it with the schizophrenia idea, but Sydney makes a great fulcrum (Chuck pun?) to center everything. (I think that's what a fulcrum does.) There was so much crammed in that it could have been a disaster, but it really zips along, all the relationships are clear, and we even get a great sense of the personalities of most of the characters. Except Weiss, who is my secret crush.

  3. I love Weiss, too. A much better character for Greg Grunberg than the one he played on Heroes.

  4. Josie, I actually re-watched Alias last summer (took me 3 months to do it), and it held up so well. I'm actually jealous you get to watch it all again! I always loved the pilot; its immediately engrossing and exciting. You should do a summary review when you're done watching it with things like best episode, season and so on.

    And Billie I'm with you on Weiss. So much more interesting than that bore on Heroes. I can't even remember his name to be honest.

  5. I re-watched the first two seasons about two years ago and thought they held up incredibly well. Jennifer Garner and Victor Garber are a great pair, and Ron Rifkin is delightful as the evil Arvin Sloane.

    I can't speak to the later seasons though. I didn't enjoy them enough the first time to want them on DVD!

  6. Still one of my favourite series -- especially the first two seasons.

    I always loved Weiss. I wish they could have found a way for him to have an even bigger role.

    Enjoy the re-watch.

  7. Ooooh I love Alias comments.

    Just like Panda, I re-watched the series last summer. I just missed my favorite show so much and it had been a few years.

    Well lo and behold, it was a fantastic experience. Took me around a month and a half I believe to watch all 5 seasons again. I'm going to read through Billie's reviews with the ones Josie has commented on already for fun and continue with you guys.

    But anyways, regarding the Pilot, it's absolutely wonderful in my opinion. It's a masterclass actually in creating a vibrant world filled with characters that are so quickly well defined and twists that are immediately enthralling. I do wish however the pilot's cliffhanger was stronger, but the phone ringing is an intriguing end nonetheless.

  8. A month and a half? I don't think I can beat that, not for Alias right now. Although I think I did all of SPN in about 5 weeks. :-)

    There is really nothing more fun than a marathon, is there?

  9. Josie -- as much as I hate to burst your bubble, I did six seasons of SPN in a week and a half. Of course, I was stuck in bed and could watch multiple episodes a day...


  10. Does it make me a terrible person, that I'm jealous of your pneumonia? :-)

    (Yes, I think it does. Just a bit.)

  11. It's difficult to imagine two shows more different than Downton and this one. Considering the first has taken up a lot of my time lately, I can't stop thinking about this one. So, I re-watched the pilot this morning while I was putting up my Charlie Brown tree.

    It's been several years since I watched this show all the way through and I had forgotten how good the pilot really is. What is really impressive is how the exposition is handled. It's always neatly woven into something else that is going on.

    I loved Sydney from the start and I adored Jack. He's just so amazing.

  12. It's hilarious that all of the comments on this one are from rewatches. Such a good show. It's been well over a year since I've seen it, perhaps I'm do for a marathon. :)

    Billie, I love your point about Amy's hair. That's always bugged me too. Everyone I know with rainbow colored hair changes it constantly.

    ChrisB, yay for Charlie Brown christmas trees!

  13. sunbunny, all the comments are from rewatches because when I initially posted the reviews, there was no way to comment! Same with Buffy, Angel, the first few seasons of Lost, and a few others. We enabled comments only a couple of years ago.

    I so wish I'd known what I was doing when I initially wrote all these reviews. If I had, there'd be so many more comments!

  14. I love this show more than words can say.
    The fight scenes are awesome and the acting,too. The scene when Danny seeks Jack Bristo's blessing to marry Sydney is a classic.

    I love this wonderfully abnormal spy family. It's so dysfunctional, it could be mine. Lena Olin is especially wonderful - since I've seen her as this wonderfully evil master mind Irina I've lost all fear to get older. She just gets better every year like an elegant read wine.

    And Jennifer Garner was born to play Sydney. I would love to see her as a cool action heroine again. Lately I've read an interview where she stated that she misses doing stunts. Jennifer I miss you doing stunts, too***

    I've started to re-watch it all way through and re-reading your reviews rounds up the whole thing perfectly. Big thanx***

    Somehow I haven't found equal spy shows yet. Maybe Nikita. How do you like Spooks? Any plans to review that?

  15. Thanks for reading, Luipaard. I've never seen Spooks! However, I am a huge fan of the original La Femme Nikita, although I'm also the first to admit it isn't for everyone.

  16. I've started re-watching Alias and just found your reviews. I absolutely LOVED this show when I was first on and I'm still a huge fan!

    I agree that the most interesting character is Jack. It's interesting to watch these early episodes with the knowledge of what is going to happen. What was originally seen as a very aloof father is really a very protective father. It's this over-protection that ultimately leads to the unveiling of the secrets he is keeping from Sydney.

  17. We need an official rewatch!!

    I initially didn't watch this show because I wasn't sure I wanted to drink the Kool-Aid that all my Alias-loving friends had. Once I saw the pilot, though, I was hooked. Jennifer Garner is a great role model in this series and I want to be her when I grow up. ::grin::

    Just asking--is there a reason you use a season 3 picture for the Alias page? I could do without seeing Mrs. Traitor Big Teeth.

  18. Liz, I just chose the cast photo I liked the most. No other reason.

    We talked about which shows that might lend themselves to a rewatch, and Alias was on the list. We still have a ways to go with Buffy and Angel, though.

  19. My phone rings on a quiet Sunday afternoon while I am deciding what comfort food will work for dinner. It is my teenager niece who NEVER calls unless she needs a ride. As I am in no mood to go out, I almost let her go to voicemail. But, she is my niece.

    Me: "Hey. What are you up to?"
    Niece: "OMG, Aunt Chris. Do you have Disney+?"
    Me: "I do. Why?"
    Niece: "I have spent all weekend watching a show I know you will love. It's about a spy who becomes a double-agent and she travels and wears cool clothes. You have to start watching immediately!"
    Me. "Alias?"
    Niece, a tad crestfallen: "How did you know?"
    Me: "It's one of my favorites of all time."
    Niece, now a tad snarky if we're being honest" "You should have told me!"

    She's about to start season two. I can't wait to hear what she thinks at the end of that one! I have a huge smile on my face and may just have to watch the pilot again.

  20. The pilot was amazing. I’ve rewatched the entire series a few times and had to look at the pilot again. I never liked the music they used in the series. Jen Garner was fantastic, with amazing athleticism that really stood out, but the show is soooo slick. It feels VERY network tv show. That flaming red hair was taken from Run Lola Run for sure. I don’t know if folks remember, but they show premiered Sept 2001 inbetween the 4th and 5th season of LFN. And the network aired the series despite September 11th having happened. It was very surreal. So many things they did that took from LFN, mostly obviously the romantic male lead being named MICHAEL! The corruption and killing the fiancĂ© was from the movie that the series chose not to do (which I always wondered about). I like that this forum is still up because back in the day there was a new site called Television Without Pity and they tried to ban me because I said this show was too much of a rip of LFN haha. The entire Rimbaldi plot was ridiculous! And I wish they had been able to have more Lena Olin bc she was fantastic. After two seasons JJ jumped ship to work on Lost and the network started interfering too much and it went downhill, but that’s kinda the way the cookie crumbles with these projects. They insist on dumbing everything down.


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