There is so much I can say about the pilot! There are not enough hours in the day people! What a remarkable show! What a landmark television action drama! Okay, I am done. I’ll jump down from my soap box so we can chit chat about episode 1.
In the first 15 minutes, we as an audience come to understand that Sydney Bristow is leading a double-life. By day, a college grad student, and girlfriend. By night, an international, deep cover spy for an organization known as SD-6, an assumed covert branch of the CIA. In short, Sydney tells Danny the truth about her day job. Danny is killed and Sydney learns that SD-6 is not exactly affiliated with the CIA. It is one of twelve terrorist cells in a group called the Alliance. Sydney has been working for the very people she thought she was fighting against. She learns this from her estranged father, Jack Bristow, who is also an agent with SD-6. He has been working closely with SD-6 Director Arvin Sloane. When Arvin learned of Sydney’s leak of information to her fiancé, he ordered Danny to be killed. Now, to save herself, Sydney must prove her loyalty to the man that killed Danny.
Aside from Sydney, we meet several very significant characters in the very first episode of Alias. These characters not only define the show, but they define Sydney. We come to understand in the first episode that, essentially, Sydney has two lives- her personal, normal life and her SD-6/CIA life. The relationships in her personal life define her as a woman, a student, a friend. Sydney’s relationships at work, or in her professional life define her as a spy. Sometimes these relationships can over lap into the different parts of her life, like her relationship with Jack and ultimately her relationship with Vaughn. Very quickly the line between her personal and professional life is blurred, once Danny is killed by her Sloane.
The top secret nature of her profession requires that Sydney lie to the people in her personal life, (as well as people in her professional, such as Dixon and Sloane, who don’t know she is working for the real CIA.) Sydney’s ability to be so trustworthy and loyal in her personal life makes her more believable when she has to lie about her professional life. On top of that, Francie and Will never question Sydney as a person, but they do question her job. They constantly badger her about traveling too much and working too many hours. Still, they respect her and are loyal and that says a lot about Sydney as a friend. Francie and Will never have a reason to believe Sydney is lying to them
I spent much of the episode writing about the characters. There is a flurry of faces in the pilot, some that stay with us and some that disappear. Each of these characters have a job to do; create a world around Sydney that is complex, challenge her both personally and professionally and make us, the audience, believe in her.
Here is what we learn about Sydney through other characters in the pilot:
Danny-Though Danny is only in the episode for a total of 5 minutes, it is important to look at him as a reflection of Sydney. He is studying to be a doctor, he saves lives. In a sense, Sydney also saves lives. He’s genuine and good, as is Sydney. He asks her to start a life with him, and she agrees, but lying to him kills her and ultimately telling him the truth kills him. We might not be given enough time to be truly invested in Danny, but we become invested in what he means to Sydney, how his death motivates her in her fight against SD-6 and how it affects her relationship with Sloane.
Francie- Francie is Sydney’s best friend. Sydney’s relationship with Francie is probably the only strong female relationship Sydney has had in her life. In the first episode we learn that Sydney can confide in Francie, she can disclose information (her engagement) to Francie that she doesn’t feel comfortable discussing with her father. Francie also sets up Jack’s character. She talks about him in a way that lets us know that Jack’s relationship with Sydney is not your typical father/daughter relationship.
Jack- His hard toned conversation with Danny early on in the episodes makes us uncomfortable. What kind of father says those things to his daughter’s fiancé? There is such a contrast between her interaction with friends and Jack’s interaction with Danny. Jacks rough edge in the pilot forces us to ask questions about Sydney’s past. How was she raised? By whom?
Will- The minute we meet Will, we know he is in love with Sydney. He comes off with boyish charm and a big brother vibe, but it is clear when Sydney mentions her engagement that Will is hurt. Will tells us that Sydney is playful and fun. He has a playful fun attitude and that is obviously why he likes Sydney, why he spends time with her. He might be more in tune with Sydney than we thought. He asks questions, he’s a reporter, that’s what he does. He knows there is a secret to be found, he knows there is more to Danny’s death than initially thought. On some level Will must have known that Sydney was the one hiding something or he would have let it go. Will thought it was strange that Sydney didn’t find any interest in bringing Danny’s killer to justice. His knowledge of Sydney and what might have been a normal reaction is what sent him on his dangerous journey to find the truth.
Suit and Glasses- This man of oral torture is a wonderful character in which to gauge Sydney’s ability to withstand pain and danger. He is terrifying, no mercy, no remorse. He scares the ba-jeezers out of us and Sydney. But she hangs tough. She plays ball with him and she is able to reverse their roles. She’s quick thinking and intuitive; she can make something from nothing. Just when we think she is utterly screwed, she’s got him tied in the chair and she’s ramming the pliers into his rib cage.
I will go on about the other characters later. What else does the pilot tell us about Sydney? How is preggo Sydney like pilot Sydney? Pilot Sydney lost Danny, preggo Sydney lost Vaughn, discuss her different reactions to their deaths, assuming Vaughn really is dead. What does the pilot reveal to you about what possibly could be going on this season could?
Let’s spend a couple of days on the pilot. There is too much material here. Tomorrow we can explore JJ’s direction and some of the trademarks of Alias. I talked a lot about the dramatic aspects of the show, tomorrow we will move on to the action!