Season 1, Episode 4
Date of airing: October 21, 2001 (ABC)
Nielsen ratings information: 10.76 million viewers, 6.8/10 in Households, 5.2/12 with Adults 18-49
This episode was good. I like it that the show tries to mix up the spy action genre with a lot of interesting character drama involving likable characters and attractive faces, making ALIAS kind of a mixture of the soap opera genre and spy action (which definitely is something I would love to watch on a daily basis for gazillions of years). Otherwise the emphasis on Francie’s little heartbreak story, and Sydney crying over her father not showing up for dinner or her Moroccan friend Mohktar getting killed during an operation or maybe even the weirdness going on between her and Will wouldn’t have been these huge story elements in this episode, reminding the viewers that ALIAS is a drama first and foremost, and with drama the show means “you’re gonna feel for the character going through misery and emotional pain.” Agents recuperating after a horrible mission with an awful ending — something that you don’t always see in the spy genre.
Then again, a few elements of this hour were rather ridiculous. Beginning with how long-stretched the cliffhanger was (and it ended at the wrong time as well, but more on that after the next episode), going over to the fact that no one in the business sees another contact signal coming from Berlin to Los Angeles, which was clearly the case when Sydney talked to Vaughn in Los Angeles, and not just to Dixon in the van close by. We are dealing with highly skilled and dangerous spy people here, who make James Bond look like Bernie Sanders, and the SD-6 people don’t notice that there were two signals being handled with by one agent in Berlin? Then again, this was 2001 – ten years later and both Sydney and Anna would have just taken a quick Snapchat of the code, without having to memorize it in a rush. Kind of interesting how cell phone cameras weren’t a thing back then.
The mission(s) of the week was/were rather boring this time. I didn’t care much about Sydney’s mission in Morocco, with the exception of her caring about Mohktar’s death and how it affected her emotionally, even after she now knows what Mohktar really died for. The whole deal in Sao Paolo was also not that interesting, since the actual cliffhanger ending wasn’t even part of this episode. Yes, I know what’s coming next, and I always wondered why the episode ended with Sydney realizing that Patel has a bomb in his body, and why she looked like she just realized that a nuclear bomb is ticking down and about to eradicate 20 percent of the planet. The situation didn’t really seen that exciting, especially since the setup of the (next) episode happened already: Patel is being used to blow stuff up, only now we know how he is being used to blow stuff up. Yes, it’s creepy and kind of weird, but I don’t think it’s worth a cliffhanger ending.
Francie’s story was solid. The writers tried to give her some important moments as she is the character almost guaranteed to never ben in the spotlight of any meaningful stories or twists, though the fear of Charlie hooking up with random blond woman #24733 is a bit of a cliched story. For the sake of ALIAS being a character drama, it was a solid plot, but in hindsight it’s just another soap opera element, and one that might not even be developing Francie as a character. But I liked the moment with Francie and Sydney in the car, staking out Charlie’s place, and Francie learning something about surveillance practices from her BFF. It was kind of hilarious, and I would almost like to have a whole episode of awkwardness between Francie and Sydney, just because the former can’t believe how much the latter knows about spying on people.
Meanwhile, Will’s story actually develops, and how nice it was of the writers to bring “Kate Jones” into the game, now that her name has been mentioned once or twice before Will put the name on his digital document, followed by three question marks — it turns out that the name drop of “Kate Jones” during Sloane’s mission briefing had a purpose after all, least alone Will playing with the luggage name tag like he couldn’t keep his fingers still. That’s how you fire up a storyline. Also hilarious was how Will tried to hook up Jenny with his source, just to find out the name. What a shame that Sarah Shahi wasn’t good for anything more in ALIAS. I can think of Will’s “relationship” with Sydney being the reason the writers never tried to get Will “out there” in the relationship business — as in, bringing him in contact with people who are not major characters. The writers put some effort into making Will and Sydney a will-they-won’t-they couple, and while it might have ended with their weird kiss on the second half of the episode, it doesn’t mean it’s gonna be forgotten forever.
Best part of the episode: Sarah Shahi is still in the show, and she almost seemed like her character was being used for something, which in contrast to how Marshall has been used so far is kind of … hilarious. Still, Shahi is a goddess to me, and I will always worship the ground she walks on, or the television episode she appears in.
Worst part of the episode: The writers definitely didn’t care about Rambaldi’s machine code from the previous episode any longer. SD-6 had part of the code, and the K-Directorate had another part of the code. SD-6 believed the K-Directorate didn’t know about the separation of the code. And only the code in the suitcase happened to be important for Sydney and Anna to find their way to Spain. Part of the code that SD-6 (and the K-Directorate) already had were useless. That is a weird way to write a show.
Weirdest part of the episode: It’s the “dream sequence” during Jack’s briefing with McCullough. The show just established that Jack was lying to Sydney about her mother, so of course Jack needed to be haunted by his decision to lie to his daughter, and be scared that his ruse is going to blow up in his face. That is a convenient way to write a television episode.
Player of the episode: Mohktar reminds us all that you can be into spy games, but still have fun working in the field, when you work with colleagues whom you like. Mohktar felt like he was the happiest person. Let’s just forget that he was brutally murdered.