Don't be fooled by the wig that she's got, she's still Jenny with a Glock...
"My name is Sydney Bristow. Seven years ago I was recruited by a secret branch of the CIA called SD-6. I was sworn to secrecy, but I couldn't keep it from my fiancÚ. And when the head of SD-6 found out, he had him killed. That's when I learned the truth: SD-6 is not part of the CIA. I've been working for the very people I thought I was fighting against."
— Sydney Bristow, opening narration
Alias is a Cliché Storm / TroperifficSpy Drama (2001-2006) by J. J. Abrams about Sydney Bristow (Jennifer Garner), an agent for SD-6, black-ops division of the CIA, who discovers that, whoops, it wasn't a black-ops division of the CIA so much as a faction of a powerful terrorist group called The Alliance; so she becomes a double agent. She then discovers her father, a supposed salesman, is also a double agent for the CIA. Sydney then has to divide her loyalties between a team of good men at SD-6 who simply don't know their boss is the devil, and a team of mostly good men and a few pricks at the real CIA.Pretty much a show full of Impossible Mission episodes, with a twist — Sydney must perform her mission for the CIA, while appearing to be performing her mission for SD-6. There's also a large element of soap opera though, as she learns all kinds of secrets about her parents and their Mysterious Past.Unusual for its willingness to embrace a fanciful Story Arc about a centuries-old prophecy. The first four seasons all featured a subtle, never explained Myth Arc about an Italian inventor with a penchant for odd drawings and fanciful words. Somehow this 15th century prophet is still relevant today. His designs have been implemented and his writings dissected. And apparently the global intelligence community has nothing better to do than go to war over every piece of technology he might have even glanced at.Also notable for the fact that the show was ReTooled three separate times. Each time, character relationships and roles changed in fundamental ways.One of the leaders in Wig, Dress, Accent.
This show provides examples of:
A-Team Firing: For the first season. Sydney does not kill anyone until this point, apart from a rather contrived situation in which an assassin falls on a knife and in the second episode where she breaks a guard's neck. After the start of the second season, she's frequently shown shooting people to death.
Aborted Arc: Originally Irina was supposed to have more of a role in Season 4, but the actress left for contractual reasons.
Action Girl: Mainly Sydney, but also Irina, Lauren, Nadia, Rachel, Anna Espinosa and Allison Dorren.
Bad Ass Family: Almost . the characters are related somehow, and sometimes they even go on missions together. It's dangerous enough to mess with Sydney, but if you mess with Sydney and Jack at the same time, you're just asking for trouble. Also, the two-part episode in season 2, "Passage", where Irina goes undercover with Jack and Sydney to India as a family of tourists to recover six stolen nuclear warheads, is a badass family vacation if there ever was one.
Bus Crash: In the Season 4 premiere, we learn that Jack killed Irina offscreen at some point between the Season 2 and Season 3 finales. See Aborted Arc. Of course, this being Alias, it later turns out that Jack actually killed a ''double'' of Irina.
City of Spies: Los Angeles is home to both SD-6 and the CIA. It also attracts a few other freelancers, such as Sark.
Cliff Hanger: Several examples, of which one classic must be Sydney trapped under ice.
Clip Show: 1x17, "Q & A," is a Clip Show and Recap Episode, consisting mostly of flashbacks. Sydney is interrogated by the FBI and tells her story up to that point in the series. A couple of the flashbacks have never-before-seen backstory, but most are from the previous 16 episodes. There's actually a good bit of present-day story as well. But a good 75% of the episode is flashbacks.
Clockpunk: The technology of the Rambaldi artifacts.
Continuity Nod / Book Ends: Jack in a car in "Truth Be Told", saving Sydney from an SD-6 assassination attempt, and Sydney in a car from "The Getaway", saving Jack from an SD-6 assassination attempt. Both with "_______, GET IN!" from the driver and a shocked look from the passenger.
Except Jack, who allegedly manufactured airplane parts for Jennings Aerospace.
Cut Apart: In "The Horizon", when a pregnant Sydney is kidnapped, her father tracks her down while she's simultaneously making an escape attempt. It seems like he found the right place, but he hasn't, of course; instead he finds something incredibly creepy.
Darker and Edgier: Basically describes the direction of Sydney's character development between Seasons 1 and 2 and onwards.
Death by Materialism: Irina had the option of being saved by her daughter, or grabbing the Horizon. She grabs the Horizon, completely ignoring the fact that she's on an unstable and steadily cracking glass pane. It subsequently breaks, and she falls to her death.
Death by Origin Story: Syd was perfectly happy with her job(s) and life and had no interest in digging up dirt on SD-6 — until she told her fiance she was a spy for the CIA. He lived maybe 5 microseconds after that.
He was fine until he left a message on her answering machine using a wiretapped line. If he'd only paid attention...
Deep Cover Agent: Sydney becomes one of these in the Pilot, after learning SD-6 is not the CIA. Also, both her parents - Jack as a heroic example, Irina as a villainous.
As well as Lauren in season 3, a villainous example.
Die Hard on an X: The season one two-parter, "The Box" featured spooks taking over SD-6 while Sydney and her father were just arriving. They immediately start a Die Hard plan to eliminate the enemy spies.
Sydney and her father worked for the CIA, posed as SD-6 agents
Lauren worked for the Covenant, but posed as an NSA agent
Sark is always claiming to work for someone or other, but is usually just out for himself
Dueling Hackers: Marshall (the resident Omnidisciplinary Nerd) was in a hacking duel at least once, as someone tried to break into SD 6's system.
Dysfunction Junction: There's dysfunctional and then there's the Bristow family. The dysfunctionality certainly extends past the Bristows though. Most of the characters lives a marred by the death and/or betrayal of loved ones. It certainly doesn't help when our heroes are forced to work with the bad guys and double-crossers or the people they thought were dead but actually weren't.
Everyone Is Related: At one point six of APO's top eight spies (and two of it's main villains) were biologically or romantically involved.
Fauxreigner: The show's characters imitate a bewildering array of nationalities while undercover. This is sometimes Played for Laughs, as when Will attempts a cool British accent that ends up sounding vaguely Australian.
Fanservice: Done, very much with a wink, in "Phase One"- the opening shot of the episode is Sydney in her black underwear and holding a riding crop. immediately after the obligatory slow-mo shot, the guy tells her to put on the other one. . . cut to her in just as scanty RED lingerie. This episode, by the way, was right after the Super Bowl. However, there are many a straight example.
Finger in the Mail: Sloane receives his wife's ring finger through the post as proof she's alive and being held hostage. Zig-zagged in that Sloane himself is the mastermind. His wife cut off her own finger and posted it to him to help his plan
The Generic Guy: Rachel Gibson and Thomas Grace were two characters added in the 5th season to fill in while Jennifer Garner was pregnant (which meant she wasn't up to full Action Girl speed). They were both fine and action-y, but neither one was equal to Sydney.
Genius Bruiser: Dixon, an excellent guy to have as backup and whose brains are well-balanced with his brawn.
Homage: There's one to the famous fight scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark in "A Free Agent", complete with a fistfight on an airfield and a mook going into the propeller of a plane.
How's Your British Accent?: Happens a few times. Sark uses David Anders's natural American accent once or twice, for example. There is also an episode where Sydney and Vaughn are undercover as Russian spies, and when a real Russian spymaster asks them how their English is, Sydney says a few words in heavily-accented English in order to avoid undertaking a mission. However, as elite Deep Cover Agents, they should have flawless American accents, and the spy calls their bluff.
Jigsaw Puzzle Plot: The show juggles with its Rambaldi devices, ancient conspiracies, modern spy dramas, and family problems. There's an overarching Myth Arc, but by the fifth season there are too many pieces and they don't all fit it in the same puzzle.
Just Friends: Will and Sydney start out this way, complete with an ambiguous (drunken) kiss whose meaning neither of them can quite figure out...
Killed Off for Real: Very few people, surprisingly. Danny, in the very first episode, then later the Iceman, Francie, Lauren Reed, Emily Sloane and Diane Dixon. Being a love interest other than Vaughn seems to be deadly. But for almost everyone else, Death Is Cheap.
Except for a large number in the last season - Jack, Irina, Thomas, Nadia, and Sloane all bite the big one.
Late-Arrival Spoiler: Oh yes. Everything from the pilot, with its Nothing Is the Same Anymore plot — Sydney's father is a double agent, her fiance is killed by Sloane, and Sydney becoming a double agent herself — but there are a few other things that you will find yourself spoiled for by looking at just about any press for the show:
"Phase One," Notable in that this aired literally seconds after the Super Bowl, but a year before the Janet Jackson incident so the Moral Guardians didn't make too much noise. It also was actually the lowest-rated posts Super Bowl shows on record - you have to go back to 1975 for a worse performer.
Sydney is quite often shown in lingerie when getting dressed or getting undressed.
Passage I/II: Jack (and the audience) gets to see Irina Derevko in bra and panties, and she gives her 'husband' a good, long look. Just to established that Irina is still smokin' hot, which she is, and to remind us that Jack isn't over her, which is probably true.
More like unquestionably true. The question was what did he (and their daughter) mean to her?
Martial Arts Do Not Work That Way: Mostly seen with the female characters, who occasionally use high-flying kicks, backflips and the like. The male characters' fighting styles are generally less flamboyant.
The Man Behind the Man: Literally named, "The Man". Played with, though, because "The Man" is actually Irina, a woman.
Meaningless Villain Victory: The final episode has Sloane finally achieving immortality...only for Jack to sacrifice himself in an effort to seal Sloane beneath a mountain for all eternity. And since there's no reason for anyone to believe Sloane's alive, we can assume the effort was successful.
The recurring image of a red ball, suspended in midair, which is revealed to be the Mueller Device, a plague carrier. In "Truth Be Told", Sydney steals one from Taipei. In "Almost Thirty Years", she and Vaughn find a room-sized one in Taipei as well. And in "Search and Rescue", it's revealed that Arvin Sloane and Elena Derevko have built a city-sized one over Svogda, Russia. It's been dubbed by fans "the Happy Fun Ball". No, you should not taunt it.
My Grandson Myself: "Time Will Tell" features an unnaturally long-lived Renaissance clockmaker who, in the present day, pretends to be his own distant descendant.
Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Melissa George as Lauren Reed. They wrote the character as American, cast an Australian who can do a serviceable American accent, and make her an American raised in England. The result was an Australian accent jumbled in with vague attempts at sounding American and English at different points. Inexplicably her parents, played by Raymond J. Barry and Peggy Lipton, Americans who were supposed to be doing American accents, would randomly use British inflections for no apparent reason. Even by the standards of a show where the accents were questionable much of the time, the Reeds' accents were awful.
Out-of-Character Alert: This how Sydney knows that Francie is an imposter. Sydney offers her some coffee ice cream, something the real Francie hated, and she accepts.
Pair the Spares: Will Tippin and Francie. Also, much later, Weiss and Sydney's dead sister Nadia.
Papa Wolf: Do not mess with Sydney or you'll be dealing with Jack, and you will not be in good shape after.
Parental Abandonment: During the first season we learn that Sydney's mother apparently died in a car accident when she was six. However, at the end of the Season 1 finale, we learn that she faked her own death and now leads a criminal organization. Upon meeting Sydney for the first time as an adult, she proclaims, "You must have known this day would come. I could have prevented all this, of course. You were so small when you were born. It would have been so easy."
Repeatedly. One thing is consistent through all the reboots and changes is that Irina is not trustworthy and won't be there when Sydney needs her. Sydney, of course, repeatedly trusts her over and over and over in spite of this.
Jack also counts, considering in the first season, Sydney seems to have no personal relationship with him whatsoever. She describes Jack as cold and emotionally distant, having never been there when she really needed him.
Part Time Hero: Sydney tries this for a few seasons, but over the course of the show all of her non-Spy friends have either also become spies/gone into witness protection, or they are murdered, cloned, or cloned and then murdered, so she's pretty much forced to go all-in.
Sydney: Don't use rational thought as a defense with me, not after all you and I have seen. Vaughn, you and I live and breathe madness every day on the job. There is no rational thought. I can't pretend to have a conversation about anything else with you. What it comes down to is faith. What I was hoping you'd say was, "I gave up on us, I lost faith." But what you came here for was closure, and there is not a chance you are getting that from me. I'm not gonna say I understand. I'm not gonna sympathize with you, and tell you how hard this must be for you. But you wanna know how I am? I am horrible! Vaughn, I am ripped apart. And not because I lost you, but because if it had been me, I would've waited. I would've found the truth. I wouldn't have given up on you. And now I realize what an absolute waste that would've been.
Re Tool: The show was ReTooled several times. By nature, of course, this contains several spoilers.
In Season 2, halfway through, Sydney and the CIA bring down the entire Alliance, including SD-6, Sydney starts to work for the real CIA in the open, and her relationships with Vaughn, Sloane, Sark, and Dixon all change, and her relationships with her father and Marshall remain basically the same. Her relationships with Will and Francie both end as a result of this change.
In Season 3, after Sydney's 2-year memory hole, faked death, etc. Sydney finds that Vaughn is married, her dad is in jail, Dixon is the director of the LA office of the CIA, Sloane is living in Europe as a philanthropist, and other things.
In Season 4, Sydney works for a branch of the CIA called "APO," or Authorized Personnel Only, which is a lot like SD-6. Here, the official team relationships are the same as at the start of the pilot (minus the double-agent part), with the original team of Sydney, Dixon, Sloane, and Marshall back together in their original team roles, along with Jack and Vaughn. However, after three seasons of betrayal and general evil by Sloane, all the personal relationships are extremely frayed.
There are other, more minor ReTools, but these are the major ones. Season 5 is sort of a Re Tool, but it's constantly changing and never settles. The interesting thing is that all of the original characters are maintained (minus Will and Francie) despite all of the changes in the show. The same might be said of any show, but in Alias all of the characters completely change teams at least once and repeatedly betray one another, some of them over and over, in ways that would destroy most real (and even most TV) relationships.
Riddle for the Ages: The show never attempts to explain how Rambaldi managed to predict future events, grant eternal life, and so on.
Sherlock Scan: This happens frequently, done by almost all protagonists and villains alike.. In Detente, an op is almost aborted when they realise the mark they have very little intel on is staying in to watch his football team on the telly. Nadia and Sydney come up with an infiltration plan from a single glance at his hotel room through a surveillance camera, which gives them all the clues they need to immediately conclude the man has a long-term girlfriend who lives off his money, likes to party, is bored and angry with him, and is currently in the hotel bar looking for some fun at her boyfriend's expense.
Spy Versus Spy: This show is one of the few non-intentional uses of the trope. In the beginning, it was CIA versus SD-6. And SD-6 also had enemies in K-Directorate. Then it became CIA versus the Covenant. And then CIA versus... well, that's when it started getting complicated.
Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Katya Derevko for Irina, because they could get Isabella Rosselini and couldn't afford Lena Olin. Katya has all of Irina's attributes and was rather obviously interchangeable. Extra cool because Jack gets to hook up with her.
Trigger Phrase: In season one, there was a Manchurian Agent who could be activated by reading a specific poem. He turned from sweet, mild mental patient to master-assassin upon completion of the piece.
Virtual Reality Interrogation: At one point, Sidney's father suffered from a Tap on the Head and now thinks he's back in the 1970s with his wife and young daughter. So Sidney has to pretend to be her own mother, married to her father, in order to get her father to give up some secret codes.