In 2018, I began my first deep-dive TV review series looking at JJ Abrams’ Alias, which ran from 2001-2006. This year, I’ll be looking at Season Two’s 22-episode run in detail…
While it may be the twelfth of a twenty-two part season, The Getaway without question is the penultimate episode of the ‘season within a season’ structure of Alias Season Two.
We have discussed Phase One for some time, whether directly or indirectly, but from roughly The Counteragent onwards, everything has been leading up to the next episode of the show, and consequently The Getaway works to both lock certain avenues off and set in motion key developments for Alias’ ‘Season 2.5’, which almost everything post-Phase One is. While A Higher Echelon served as the final traditionally structured episode of Alias, The Getaway is the definitive final episode of Alias in the style that it has been since the show’s inception. This is the final episode with Sloane in charge of SD-6. This is the final episode of Sydney working as a double-agent on a case that isn’t directly about bringing down SD-6 and the Alliance. This is the final episode of Alias we knew it.
The Getaway does however, to its credit, function as a solid conclusion to many of the narrative arcs in play across the first half of the season while telling a contained story, particularly arcing around the Syd & Vaughn relationship, that feeds into the broader continuing plots. Jeff Pinkner uses this episode to lock off the mystery surrounding Sloane’s blackmail and the subsequent loss of $100 million of the Alliance’s money, weaving it quite seamlessly around resolving Jack’s status as a fugitive from SD-6, his cover having been blown by Faye Dunaway’s counterintelligence operative Ariana Kane. Interestingly though, Pinkner actually ensures most of the pieces by the end are back where they were on the board: Jack and Syd are almost exposed but end up safely back in SD-6 under their deep cover.
This is perhaps designed to give the final scene a level of surprise, pulling the rug from under the audience just at the point you believe you’re on firm footing with The Getaway, and everything might be settling down and returning to normal, as it has done when Alias’ central quadrangle has come close to exposure before. Not this time.
Before we get to that point, The Getaway chooses to operate on more of an individual character level than A Higher Echelon, which was concerned with throwing half a dozen balls in the air which hadn’t landed by the beginning of this episode. Pinkner’s resolution dials quite specifically into the continued, unresolved sexual tension between Syd & Vaughn, but also Jack and Irina.
The Syd and Vaughn relationship has been steadily advancing particularly since the advent of Season 2. Across the first season, a bond existed between them that was clearly riven with the genuine sexual chemistry Jennifer Garner & Michael Vaughn had on screen, but J.J. Abrams and his staff clearly were still considering Will Tippin as a possible alternative suitor, and it was only into Season 2 that they truly seemed to lean into Syd & Vaughn as a genuine romantic going concern. They introduce a girlfriend for Vaughn, Alice, who is purely designed as a means of engendering visible jealousy in Syd that Vaughn has a romantic life beyond her. Vaughn’s feelings have been more apparent for a while but toward the middle of Season 2, Syd truly realises she returns these feelings. It becomes a question of when, not if, they will become an item.
While the later seasons of Alias do threaten to be consumed by the Syd/Vaughn relationship, which is never as interesting when they’re happily together, the show always does understand that the central dynamic is between Syd & Jack, that it is at heart a series about fathers and daughters and the dysfunctional early 21st century family unit, a distorted take on the ‘nuclear family’. The relationship between Syd & Vaughn has quite naturally evolved, partly thanks to the aforementioned actor’s chemistry, but also through the writers fairly sacrosanct rule that Syd & Vaughn abide by: they cannot fraternise, become true friends and especially lovers as agent & handler, lest they put theirs and other lives in danger. The Getaway is built around what happens if Syd & Vaughn choose to break this rule and the answer is, naturally, nothing good.
Through their relationship, Alias has always questioned whether Syd’s life as a double agent is worth it. Working for SD-6 cost her her fiancee. She has always been a reluctant hero, a protagonist keen to escape her circumstances at the first opportunity, and here she misreads that chance. Syd and Vaughn have perhaps become *too* comfortable in their roles ever since Parity, in which Vaughn was briefly replaced by creepy CIA handler Lambert, steadily moving from working partners, to quiet friends, to the point they can barely contain their desire for one another. When they choose to go for dinner, Pinkner layers the dialogue with sexual metaphor, as Vaughn talks about being “starving” and Syd “hungry”. Let’s just say, it’s not for the beef brisket!
Indeed, Pinkner presents them throughout The Getaway as something of a dysfunctional, already operational couple. Syd is angry that Vaughn knew about Jack being on the run and didn’t tell her. “You didn’t even tell me you were seeing Alice again!” She barks and the realisation their two worlds are blurring leads to a level of unresolved personal tension that Pinkner wisely reintroduces the character of Eric Weiss, last seen getting shot for his trouble in The Enemy Walks In, to provide a sounding board for Vaughn and his feelings. Syd struggles to figure out how to do her job at this point while separating Vaughn the handler from Vaughn the prospective lover. Now she has admitted her feelings to Francie, as she did in A Higher Echelon, a door has been opened that neither can close.
Talking of Weiss, you almost don’t realise as a viewer how much Alias has missed him until he slots very quickly and easily back into the CIA ensemble. One can only assume Greg Grunberg was filming elsewhere as to why Weiss is absent for the first half of the season, given he appeared with regularity across the first, but he provides a much needed level of comic bluntness to contrast Vartan’s frowning intensity. Weiss can cut the crap and talk to Vaughn with a knowledge and buddy friendship candour unlike anyone on the show and instinctively understands what’s happening between he and Syd. His near death experience has given him a new lack of caution as to the separation of their feelings which contributes in the end to the danger Syd & Vaughn end up in here. “I was the one who said this is a line you don’t cross but that was before I nearly died. And you know what they say about the white light and all that? No. They’re wrong. It’s darkness. Darkness”.
This feels like Alias continuing to suggest that change is inevitable for these characters, even if Weiss later questions his own frank advice. But Pinkner adds to this with the parallel of how he frames Jack and Irina’s interactions in The Getaway. Jack, knee deep in the mire of the Alliance chasing him under the impression he is a traitor and Sloane’s blackmailer, hides away in the CIA and consults Irina for advice on how to extricate himself. “When I was your wife. I would meet my case officer in his hotel room”. The inference here is clear. Irina’s relationship with her handler was sexual. When she *was* Sydney, working as a double agent for the KGB, the line between personal and professional was blurred. This is why in The Counteragent, Irina pushes Vaughn toward his feelings for Syd, as she understands the position they find themselves in.
Jack and Irina are, however, a cautionary tale in how these relationships can be destroyed by the confluence of sex and espionage. Syd and Vaughn are unable to maintain that distinction while on mission in France and make the mutual choice to accept the maitre’d’s offer to stay overnight, knowing what it will lead to, unaware the Alliance are watching and tracking them both. “We were so stupid!” Syd exclaims when they are made, and are forced to kill Alliance agents in order to escape without her cover being blown, and it almost costs them the tech Syd’s mission for SD-6 was designed to get – another example of latent, post-Cold War technology in the quantum gyroscope missile, which turns a 70’s scud into a precision guided cruise missile. Personalising their dynamic almost, in this instance, gets other people killed.
This combination of sexual passion and espionage even extends into the Alliance investigation against Jack, as the show connects back to the B-plot of The Prophecy, strangely, and the death of Alliance member Jean Briault, murdered in that episode by Sloane on the calculated whim of Roger Moore’s member Edward Poole (who it’s almost a shame they didn’t fly in for a cameo here, given his story remains unresolved). We learn that Kane was having an affair with Briault, which strangely complicates his presentation in The Prophecy as a family man (designed to make Sloane’s murder of him all that more brutal), but gives Kane the impetus for why she would want to blackmail Sloane and the Alliance and kill his wife. It wastes Dunaway as a result, to an extent, but it adds to the general theme running through the episode of dangerous sexual politics.
It’s also why it makes complete sense, in the scope of those thematic underpinnings, for Sloane to be reunited with Emily in the final moments of the episode, in a twist only the most insightful would have seen coming. It explains why Amy Irving returned for shots of her lying dead on a slab but it works as a complete rug pull while also an affirmation of how relationships are at the very core of the world they inhabit, and the love of a man and woman overcomes all. Kane is framed and carried off likely to her death because of her rage at the murder of a man she loved. Jack is, worryingly, allowing Irina steadily back into his sphere of influence and maybe his heart. And both Syd and Vaughn are struggling to bottle up their feelings for one another. Sloane is the only one who is truly “free” as he claims. Not just of the Alliance but free to love Emily. Theirs is the real ‘getaway’ of this episode.
The title does, of course, recall the well-known 1972 thriller from Sam Peckinpah, The Getaway, which starred Steve McQueen and Ali McGraw as a husband and wife who rob a Texan bank and are caught up in a complicated double cross. This is just one of several cinematic allusions across Pinkner’s episode which suggest thematic undertones or an understanding of popular culture. The episode begins almost as film noir, with Jack meeting a contact in a cinema only to have to fight his way out, and the screen plays the 1949 black and white movie D.O.A, starring Edmond O’Brien as a poisoned man desperately working to find out who doomed him and why, which feels resonant of Jack’s journey to both evade Alliance hitmen and expose who is framing him. Marshall even designs a gadget called the Artful Dodger, referencing Oliver and the classic line begging for more from Carol Reed’s adaptation of the Dickens novel.
Ultimately, The Getaway works to provide symmetry with the beginning of Alias. The opening sequence concludes with Jack, on the run, being saved by Syd in the exact same way he saves her life and reveals himself to be a spy in pilot episode Truth Be Told. Syd walks into SD-6, when Jack is a fugitive, like the first time she learned the truth about the organisation, Kane appearing as alien to her as Sloane was. Aspects of the plot call back both to the first season, such as The Prophecy but also season finale Almost Thirty Years, with Kane questioning the possibility Syd might be as corrupt as Jack given Dixon did suspect her of being a double agent. The episode feels in some sense designed to reflect how far the characters have come, teetering them poised on the brink of seismic change, before snapping them back into place.
It ends up, consequently, being a simpler episode than the structure might give it credit for. The Getaway is all about putting Alias in a position where it is ready to be exploded from within and transformed into a new show. Alias is about to be set free.
Check out reviews of the rest of Season 2 of Alias here: