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Series / Alias

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"I can be anyone I want to be."

"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 fiancé. 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 Spy Drama TV series created by J. J. Abrams, which was broadcast for five seasons (2001–06) on ABC.

The series follows Sydney Bristow (Jennifer Garner), an agent for SD-6, a black-ops division of the CIA, who discovers that – whoops! – it's not actually a black-ops division of the CIA so much as a faction of a powerful terrorist group called The Alliance. So she turns double agent, then learns that her father Jack (Victor Garber), a supposed salesman, is also a double agent for the CIA. Sydney then must 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 at the CIA.

The series is pretty much full of Impossible Mission episodes, but with a twist: Sydney must perform her missions for the CIA, while appearing to be performing her missions for SD-6. There's also a fair element of soap opera-type storytelling at play, as she learns all kinds of secrets about her parents and their Mysterious Past, as well as recurring use of Wig, Dress, Accent.

Alias was 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.

The series was notably retooled three separate times; each time, character relationships and roles changed in fundamental ways. It's also notable for the sheer number of A-grade Hollywood figures who participated in the series, ranging from the main cast (Garner and Bradley Cooper are but two examples), to memorable recurring players (Quentin Tarantino and Djimon Hounsou are two more examples).

Not to be confused with the Marvel Comics book Alias. For the TV series adaptation of the comic set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, go here — though both this show and the show which was adapted from Marvel's Alias were made by what would become ABC Signature.

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.
  • Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder: In the finale of Alias season 2, Sydney is kidnapped and brainwashed for two years. In her absence, Vaughn marries another woman, Lauren Reed.
  • Action Girl: Mainly Sydney, but also Irina, Lauren, Nadia, Rachel, Anna Espinosa and Allison Dorren.
  • Action Survivor: Many of the one-shot characters, such as Neil Caplan.
    • Sark. Is a deal going down? Or perhaps a Mexican standoff? If Sark is there, and it turns out a shootout, he will escape.
  • Agents Dating: Sydney and Vaughn.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Averted. The suave international terrorist Sark clearly has eyes for Sydney, but she'll have none of it.
  • All Up to You: In "Tuesday" Marshall, normally the Mission Control, was late to work and got locked out when the base went into lockdown, and consequently was the only one available to rescue Sydney, who had been exposed, captured, and Buried Alive. Because she'd been exposed, he had to finish her mission even after he rescued her.,
  • All Your Base Are Belong to Us: In "The Box", is about the SD-6 headquarters is taken over and made hostage by former SD-6 agent McKenas Cole.
  • And I Must Scream Sloane's ultimate fate, being trapped alone and underground but unable to die.
  • Apocalypse Maiden: Sydney according to Rambaldi's prophecy: "Unless prevented, at vulgar cost, this woman will render the greatest power unto utter desolation."
  • Arc Number: The number 47 is a significant one to Milo Rambaldi and many of his works and artifacts. It has also been prominent throughout the show, appearing in documents, files, and other places for keen-eyed fans.
  • Arc Words: "Truth takes time". "The Passenger".
  • Artistic License – Martial Arts: 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.
  • Attending Your Own Funeral: The Covenant forces Sydney to do this as part of their brainwashing.
  • Back for the Dead: After being in a coma for half a season, Nadia finally wakes up only to be accidentally killed by Sloane in the following episode.
  • Back from the Dead: In the series finale Sloane is shot and killed by Sydney. Luckily, his body fell into a vat of special Rambaldi liquid that healed his wounds and brought him back to life.
    • Bigger problem though. He was stuck under a collapsed pillar when Jack blew himself up.
  • Badass Bookworm: Jack, a game theorist chessmaster who will nonetheless disarm you in .5 seconds and shoot you between the eyes.
  • 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.
  • Bad Guy Bar: A staple trope in Alias.
  • Bathtub Scene: Sydney gets one in "Mea Culpa" when talking to Francie.
  • Because Destiny Says So: Sydney is The Chosen One according to prophecies of Milo Rambaldi and try as she might she can't escape her destiny. Ah well, at least it's not predictable.
  • Beethoven Was an Alien Spy: Joseph Stalin apparently tried to unravel the Rambaldi mystery.
  • Black-Tie Infiltration: So frequently it was a shock to not see it employed. It was usually an excuse to put Sydney into a form-fitting gown.
  • Body Bag Trick: How Sydney Bristow once sneaked into a Uzbek military base.
  • Book Ends: The first season begins and ends with Sydney wearing a garish wig, beaten bloody, and bound to a chair.
  • Bound and Gagged: Numerous times.
  • Boxed Crook: Inverted. Sydney works for the government, but is abducted by criminals to perform certain high-risk jobs for them in Season 2.
    • Played straight with Irina, who spends the entirety of season 2 in a literal box.
  • Break the Cutie: Sydney's life as we see it begins with her fiancé's murder, and gets progressively worse from there
  • 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.
  • But for Me, It Was Tuesday: Downplayed in "The Box: Part 2". Cole describes previously meeting and falling in love with Sydney; she shrugs it off.
  • Changeling Fantasy: Nadia, who discovers her parents are actually Irina and Sloane.
  • CIA Evil, FBI Good: Inverted, as it was a show about CIA agents. Virtually all FBI agents depicted were either misguided or actively malevolent, and a significant storyline in season two is the FBI putting Sydney through a tribunal for being a suspected terrorist.
  • City of Spies: Los Angeles is home to both SD-6 and the CIA. It also attracts a few other freelancers, such as Sark.
  • Cliffhanger: 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.
  • Come with Me If You Want to Live: Jack does this to Sydney in the pilot.
  • Clockpunk: The technology of the Rambaldi artifacts.
  • Continuity Nod: 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.
  • Conveniently Timed Guard: This trope is particularly favoured by the series, which does it almost Once an Episode.
  • Crossover: Not in the show itself, but a brief bit produced for the ABC 50th Anniversary special had Sydney meeting a new partner, Lt. Columbo.
  • Covert Group with Mundane Front: While working for SD-6, Sydney and associates ostensibly work for Credit Dauphine Bank.
    • 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.
  • Deadly Rotary Fan: One episode ended on a Cliffhanger with Sydney struggling not to get pulled upwards through an air vent into a huge fan.
  • 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...
  • Decontamination Chamber: In "The Counteragent", Sydney gets one after Sark exposes her to ammonia fluorochloride. Is also more played for Fanservice than usual, with a pan up shot of her naked body getting hosed, with either Scenery Censor or Hand-or-Object Underwear preserving Sydney's modesty.
  • 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.
    • 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.
  • Disney Villain Death: Irina. She easily could've avoided it though...
  • Double Agent: Most of the cast, at some point
    • 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
  • Dressed Like a Dominatrix: "Phase One" opens with Sydney playing the part of a call girl to appease her target, with her being dressed in black lingerie, thigh-high heeled boots, and a riding crop that she brandishes suggestively. But the target isn't into it and tells her to change into something else, as he apparently doesn't like being submissive to women. She comically gets peeved about this and brings it up later as she's garroting him.
  • Dueling Hackers: Marshall (the resident Omnidisciplinary Nerd) was in a hacking duel at least once, as someone tried to break into SD6'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.
  • Elaborate Underground Base: The CIA had one near a park, which required accessing a nearby underpass and some covert protocol to get into. APO is similar, but seems to be twice the size.
  • 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.
  • Extra-Long Episode: Zig-Zagged with the first episode, originally broadcast 69 minutes commercial free - which works out to about a more standard 90 minute episode when commercials are added in.
  • Eye Scream: In "Tuesday", Marshall has to gouge a bad guy's eye out with a spork to use it in a retinal scanner.
    Marshall: Oh, oh, it's oozing, it's oozing everywhere, sir!
    Jack: That means you've punctured the sclera. That eye is useless; move on to the next one.
  • 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.
  • Failure Is the Only Option: Goal: Take Down Sloane.
  • Fake Town: "Welcome to Liberty Village". Posing as Russian nationals, Vaughn and Sydney are brought to a "village" located in Russia that resembles a typical American town. It was once used to train KGB agents in how to blend into American society, but is now being used by a terrorist cell to train operatives in preparation for bringing down America's economy using an electromagnetic pulse weapon.
  • Faking the Dead: Nearly every character does this at least twice.
  • Fanservice: The show doesn't hesitate to put Sydney in a lot of fanservicey situations or revealing outfits and costumes.
    • 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.
    • "Snowman" opens with a pan up shot of a post coital Sydney sleeping with a Modesty Bedsheet barely covering her waist.
    • In "The Awful Truth", there's a scene with Bishop spying on Sydney in the shower with only some Censor Steam to cover her.
  • 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
  • Foe Romance Subtext: A rare, married couple example - Jack and Irina. Syd/Sark and Syd/Anna also fall under this category.
  • Four Eyes, Zero Soul: Season one's Big Bad, "Suit-and-Glasses".
  • 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.
  • Heel–Face Revolving Door: Sloane and Irina both qualify.
    • And Sark has self-stated "flexible loyalties".
  • Hilarious Outtakes
  • 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.
  • How We Got Here: Done several times, by necessity.
  • I Got You a Drawer: Sydney makes Vaughn very happy.
  • I Have Your Wife: Played with in respect to Emily Sloane, though ultimately subverted, as Sloane was pulling this on himself and Emily was in on the con.
  • Immunity Disability: In the final episode, Big Bad Arvin Sloane has gotten his hands on enough Rambaldi documents to create a vat of fluid which somehow makes him immortal - and immediately thereafter a giant stone pillar falls on him, trapping him under it forever.
  • Impossible Mission: A hallmark of the show, due to Sydney's double-agent status in seasons one and two. Each episode, she had to perform TWO of these - one for SD 6, and a countermission for the CIA that complicated the original mission even more.
  • Incredibly Obvious Bug: Averted. Marshall loves to show off bugs that look like paper clips or pens, or in once case an actual cockroach.
  • In-Series Nickname: Arvin Sloane's clone is nicknamed "Arvin Clone".
  • Ironic Nursery Tune: "Pop Goes the Weasel" in Season Two's "Double Agent".
  • 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...
  • Kudzu Plot: To follow the show, viewers had to keep dozens of plotlines straight, including the SD 6 storyline and characters, the CIA storyline and characters, Sydney and Jack's double agent plotlines, multiple characters switching sides (Sark, Sloane, Irina, and Lauren, just to name a few), the Rambaldi Mytharc, the "doubles" of characters running around...
  • Last-Name Basis: Justified when used by characters in any setting that retains a military-like command structure (CIA, SD-6, APO), but you'd think when she's in bed with him, Sydney might be able to call him Michael? She also almost never calls Dixon by his first name.
  • 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:
    • Sydney's mother is Not Quite Dead, and she's an ex-KGB operative.
    • Sydney has a long-lost sister named Nadia.
    • There are doubles of characters running around.
  • Layman's Terms: "IN ENGLISH, MARSHALL!"
  • Layout of a Season: "Phase One" is a textbook example of a 15th-episode shift.
  • Lingerie Scene:
    • In "Phase One", we see Sydney dressed in lingerie to seduce her target. This episode 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.
    • In "A Missing Link", Sydney escapes from a hotel room by stripping to her Black Bra and Panties and jumping from the balcony into the hotel pool. The scene is downplayed in-universe, since everybody who sees her seems to think her underwear is a swimsuit.
    • 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 establish that Irina is still smokin' hot, which she is, and to remind us that Jack isn't over her.
  • Love Triangle:
    • Sydney, Vaughn and Lauren in season 3.
    • Implied at times: Jack, Irina, Katya.
  • MacGuffin:
    • The series frequently employs impressive-sounding MacGuffins to give Sydney a pretext to put on a disguise and sneak into a casino (or wherever the episode of the week takes place), yet which have ultimately very little bearing on the plot because the villains are taken down and the devices secured by the CIA before they can be used for anything nefarious. One episode got frisky with its formula and actually used its MacGuffin of the week, an EMP bomb, to bring down a helicopter. But the show had to make do with simply having the villains exposit they wanted to cripple America's financial system with the EMP since they didn't have the budget to do anything more.
    • Sydney is frequently sent after Rambaldi artifacts — which aren't technically MacGuffins since they contributed to the series Myth Arc, and a MacGuffin by definition has no relevance beyond "people want it" — ranging from small vials of liquid which revealed secret writing in his journals to a city-sized bioweapon.
  • Magical Defibrillator: At the end of the season 3 episode Facade.
  • Manchurian Agent: Martin Shepard, who was brainwashed to be a killer for SD6. In a clear homage to The Manchurian Candidate he was triggered by someone reciting a poem ("No Man Is an Island" by John Donne) then do whatever they said. He would then forget everything if it was recited again. After he began to break free of the conditioning, Shepard checked into a mental institution, and eventually broke free entirely, but not before helping Sidney. It's revealed he's the one who killed her boyfriend Danny under the command of SD6.
  • The Masquerade Will Kill Your Dating Life: Literally, in many cases, and the first major event in the show.
  • 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.
  • Memory Gambit: Sydney's missing two years are due to her erasing her own memories so that her enemies won't discover where she hid a Rambaldi artifact.
  • Modesty Bedsheet: Used a lot whenever Sydney sleeps with someone. Notably it usually averts the L-shaped sheets by having Sydney sleeping on her stomach and thus only showing her Toplessness from the Back.
  • The Mole: Hoo boy. Sydney and Jack, double agents in SD-6 really working for the CIA. Irina in the CIA for whatever side she was supporting. Sloane in SD-6 and APO for the Covenant and for himself.
  • Mole in Charge: Jack, occasionally. Sloane, in season four.
  • Motifs: A number of them running throughout the series.
    • Animal Motifs: One of Sydney's call signs after she returned from the "dead" was "Phoenix"; Jack's call signs are all birds ("Blackbird" with SD-6, "Raptor" with the CIA).
    • Esoteric Motifs: The Rambaldi sign, which looks like this: <o>
    • 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.
  • Mugged for Disguise: On a few rare occasions, Sydney is forced to knock out women and steal their clothes in order to make an impromptu disguise.
  • 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.
  • Mysterious Parent: Both of Sydney's and Nadia's count. For Sydney, it's ironic because her father (who raised her) is the mysterious one, with the two of them barely even speaking at the beginning of the series, but her mother (whom she thinks died in a car accident) turns out to be a spy who married and stole secrets from Jack on orders from the KGB. Nadia's father is Arvin Sloane, and his reasons for having a child with Irina Derevko are entirely Rambaldi-mystery related.
  • Mysterious Past: Pretty much everyone's got one.
  • No Such Agency: SD-6's original cover story was that it was functioning as a covert unit in the CIA to handle the dirty work the official agency could disavow. APO was later set up by the CIA as a legitimate version of SD-6, by the very same Magnificent Bastard who created the original.
  • 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.
  • Nudity Equals Honesty:
    • In the Pilot episode, Sydney invites her fiancé Danny to get into the shower with her. He thinks he's up for some Shower of Love, but then she confesses to him she's a secret agent. She presumes the bugs planted in her house cannot hear them there.
    • In "Welcome To Liberty Village", Sydney and Vaugh jump into a shower so they can talk... but they also engage in some Shower of Love.
  • Oceanic Airlines: An Oceanic Airlines flight to Sydney was mentioned in passing.
  • Opening a Can of Clones: Rule of thumb on Alias - even if we've seen a body, they're probably not dead.
  • Out-of-Character Alert: This how Sydney knows that Francie is an impostor. 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.
  • Pretty in Mink: Sydney, in a few undercover missions.
  • Ransacked Room: Sydney comes home to one of these after she tells her fiance what she does for a living. Turns out SD-6 staged a break-in and had him killed.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Sydney delivers one to Vaughn after she recovers from her kidnapping/brainwashing, only to discover that Vaughn has married someone else in her absence.
    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.
  • Renegade Splinter Faction: SD-6, due to Sloane having his own agenda from the rest of the Alliance.
  • Retool: 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 Retool, 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.
  • The Series Has Left Reality: Starts off as a relatively cut-and-dry Tuxedo and Martini-style spy drama. Gradually, over the course of five seasons, the show introduces more and more science fiction elements until eventually you've got prophecies, immortality, city-sized balls of Synthetic Hate Plague (or something), special bees that are incredibly venomous and totally docile, and more.
  • Sex Sells: The opening scene of "Phase One" features Sydney in two lingerie outfits solely due to being broadcast after the Super Bowl.
  • Sex with the Ex: Sydney ends up sleeping with her ex Noah at the end of "Masquerade". Naturally for her he ends up being revealed a traitor and dies at her hands in the next episode.
  • Sexy Surfacing Shot: In "A Missing Link", Sydney is undercover on a hotel as a maid for a job. When the police start banging on her room, she escapes by taking off her uniform and performing a High-Dive Escape from the balcony into the hotel pool and then slowly comes out of the pool in her underwear where a waiter helpfully hands her a robe, apparently completely missing her diving feat.
  • She-Fu: One of the Trope Codifiers.
  • Sherlock Scan: This happens frequently, done by almost all protagonists and villains alike.. In Detente, an op is almost aborted when they realize 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.
  • Shout-Out: One of Marshall's passwords is "Moonglum of Elwher."
  • Show Some Leg:
    • In "Double Agent", Sydney is in a swimming pool in In Cayo Concha, trying to attract the attention of Markovic's security chief. She gets a Sexy Surfacing Shot when getting out of the pool in Slow Motion wearing a blue bikini and both her target and the camera slowly pans up and down her body. Getting his attention, she makes her way into a cabana while he follows her, even taking off her bikini top to shower her Toplessness from the Back and he follows her inside... where he finds Vaughn and Sydney who easily overpower him.
    • In "Repercussions", an undercover Sydney is searching Simon's room for a biological germ when she hears him coming into the room. She quickly takes off all her clothes and puts them in a trail leading to the shower. When he comes in he finds her showering he gets too distracted by her Sexy Silhouette and then her in a Modesty Towel to really question why she's in his room.
  • Significant Monogram: Sydney's dad Jack is a Cold War relic of a superspy with the initials "JB." Hmmm...
  • Spot the Imposter: Played with, via Project Helix. Sydney figures out Allison Doren isn't Francie, but Jack believes he's killed Irina, and Anna Espinosa successfully doubles Sydney herself before people catch on.
  • Spotting the Thread: Happens several times, given the villains' tendency to clone people close to Sydney and send them in as spies.
  • Spy Drama: Kind of self-explanatory.
  • 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.
  • Storming the Castle: Bringing down SD-6.
  • Strapped to a Bomb: An episode had a captured spy tied to a bomb and forced to sing "Pop Goes the Weasel." It explodes when she gets to "pop!"
  • Surprise Car Crash: Used to set up the end-of-season cliffhanger from season 4. The bad guys are defeated and Sydney and Vaughn decide to elope instead of having the big wedding ceremony that's being planned. As they drive off:
    Vaughn: I need to tell you something. Just so there's no secrets between us.
    Sydney: Okay, whatever it is, I can handle it. Just don't tell me you're a bad guy. (pause) You're not a bad guy, are you?
    Vaughn: I guess that depends on who you ask.
    Sydney: Vaughn...
    Vaughn: It's from a long time ago. It's before we met. Actually it's the reason we met. It's no accident that I was the one you came to when you walked in the CIA with your story about SD-6.
    Sydney: Wait. I don't understand. Vaughn, what are you telling me?
    Vaughn: Well, for starters, my name isn't Michael Vaughn.
    [Another car crashes into them.]
  • 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.
  • Taking You with Me: Jack Bristow's final moment:
    Jack Bristow: Goodbye, Arvin. You beat death, but you couldn't beat me. (activates bomb)
  • Talking in Bed: "A Free Agent" opens with a post-coital Sydney and Vaugh discussing her desire to leave the agency.
  • The Teaser: At times long enough to have their own commercial breaks.
  • Terrorists Without a Cause:
    • Sark routinely changes his alliances, and his true allegiance seems to be only to himself.
    • The same can be said of Irina.
  • Their First Time: Sydney and Vaugh end up sleeping together at the end of "Double Agent".
  • There Are No Therapists: Subverted. Dr. Barnett is even a Recurring Character.
  • Time Skip: One of the biggest WhamLines in the show - "Syd, you've been missing for almost two years."
  • A Tortured Index: Just about everything, usually more than once. This element is used more than fight sequences, as torture sequences involve less choreography.
  • Trapped in a Sinking Car: In the Back Story Sydney's mother died when she drowned in her car.
  • Trash the Set: In "Phase One", the real CIA trashes SD 6's underground base, because with the elimination of the Alliance, there's no reason to keep the place.
  • 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.
  • Villain Decay: One of the saddest things about season five is how it reduces Irina from a woman with complex loyalties and even more complex motivations to a simple Well-Intentioned Extremist Evil Matriarch. Most definitely a point of Fanon Discontinuity; Irina's storyline really ends when Jack lets her walk away at the end of "Before the Flood".
  • Virtual-Reality Interrogation: At one point, Sydney'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 Sydney has to pretend to be her own mother, married to her father, in order to get her father to give up some secret codes.
  • We Are Everywhere: Both the Covenant and Prophet Five seem to have people everywhere.
  • Wham Episode:
    • "Almost Thirty Years". "The Man" is Irina Derevko, who shoots her daughter. Vaughn is caught in the blast of the Mueller Device.
    • "Phase One". The CIA and other covert organizations bring down the entire Alliance, freeing Sydney from double-agent status. Marshall, Dixon, and the other workers at SD-6 now know they've been working for the enemy. Francie is killed and replaced with a double.
    • "The Telling". Irina jumps off a building and makes her escape. Sydney discovers Francie is a clone and kills Allison, but then wakes up to discover she's missing two entire years.
  • Wham Line: There are a number:
    • "Sydney, get in!" "Dad?!"
    • "I've waited almost thirty years for this." "MOM?!"
    • "Syd... since that night... you were missing. You've been missing for almost two years."
    • "Well, for starters, my name's not Michael Vaughn."
  • When Harry Met Svetlana: CIA Agent Jack Bristow and KGB Honey Trap Irina Derevko seem to be a straight example of the trope in the backstory. However, Jack and Irina both being Double Reverse Quadruple Agents muddy the waters a bit.
    • But they can change in fundamental ways for no obvious reason and with nobody noticing. See Season Four.


Video Example(s):


High Dive Escape - Alias

Sydney escapes the coming guards by diving from the top of a hotel into the pool far below.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (12 votes)

Example of:

Main / HighDiveEscape

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