"Snowman" (season 1, episode 19; originally aired 4/14/2002)
What kind of person can easily lie to someone they love, or someone that loves them? That’s the central theme of “Snowman,” an episode that ends a short-term run on Alias for Friday Night Lights creator Peter Berg. It also starts a long-term run on Jack Bristow slowly going insane in the membrane now that he knows his ex-wife Laura Bristow (or, as we finally learn in this hour, Irina Derevko) is alive and kicking. But while realizing someone you thought cared about you instead was using you is bad enough, learning that someone can both love AND lie to you can be much more devastating.
The hour kicks off with a super fun escape from the Russian Barn of Sin, with Michael Giacchino layering in his best Bond music over a motorcycle escape through the former Soviet countryside. The pair manage to escape with the files obtained from Alexander Khasinau’s central servers, but there’s little of actual use on them for either SD-6 to use in its search for The Man or Syd’s search for her mother. To complicate things, SD-6 has learned about several of Noah Hicks’ off-shore accounts. He tells Syd they are a personal retirement fund for the two of them. He tells SD-6 that they were established as part of his various undercover personas. Much to McCullough’s dismay, Hicks once again beats the lie detector test.
While it seems as if SD-6 is at a dead end, Syd watches video footage found on the server of her mother’s debrief by Khasinau. During the debrief, a 3rd person turns around, and it’s Agent Calder, the man believed to have died in Laura’s fatal crash. Not only is Calder not dead either, but he’s not even Calder: he’s THE CAPE. Ok, kidding, he’s Igor Sergei Valenko, a man that also popped up recently on SD-4 surveillance footage entering a money-laundering operation in Cape Town. The plan: crack yet another server to obtain Calder’s location, which in turn might lead them to Khasinau. They have to act quickly: word has come down that K-Directorate has hired an elusive assassin called “The Snowman” to kill Khasinau in retaliation for killing their former leader.
Syd and Noah go in, thanks to some super swanky noise-cancellation software devised by Marshall. That means the pair can’t hear Paul Oakenfold’s “Ready, Steady, Go,” but we sure can in an excellent, low-budget recreation of the famous scene in Mission: Impossible where Tom Cruise dangled inside a secure CIA room. That noise cancellation creates a terrifically tense scenario where Hicks doesn’t realize the rope holding Syd up is slipping. He’s too busy watching the status of the downloaded files. Luckily for Syd, he catches the rope in time, which cuts the living hell out of his arms while he tries to keep her from touching the ground. Boy, I wonder if that injury will play a part down the line.
Back in Los Angeles: another mission involving Hicks and servers, and another empty result. C+C Music Factory would classify this as “things that make you go hmmmm.” Noah volunteers for a new assignment behind Syd’s back, an assignment Sloane is all too happy to give to him. But he tells Syd he’s actually planning to go to the South Pacific, where he wants her to join him in perpetual surfing lessons and lie-free boinking. She’s intrigued, but too loyal to her personal and professional missions to actually join him.
As Marshall miraculously recovers the information thought lost on Hicks’ laptop, Jack finally sits down with the Laura Bristow video in an act of supreme masochism. She listens to the ways in which she deceived him for a decade: she rifled through his briefcase, she planted bugs on his clothing, she actually thought Miller Lite tasted great and was NOT in fact less filling…the list goes on and on. “Jack Bristow was a fool,” she concludes. The man who was all too recently loathe to seek professional help for his marital issues then actively looks for Dr. Barnett inside CIA headquarters.
Marshall’s detective work reveals Calder’s residence to be in Mackay, Australia. Before she can take off to follow up this new lead, Will and Francie finally confront her about the curious plane ticket in her coat pocket. Syd takes a breath, and then casually spouts out a lie about how her job changed six months ago to cater to more private clients that don’t want paper trails. Part of me thinks she had this story ready to go in an “in case of emergency, break glass” sorta way. But it’s far more interesting to think about how quickly, how easily, and how convincingly Syd could make up that story on the spot given the particular variables at play at that moment. A shot of her in the bathroom immediately after dispensing the effective lie gives great insight into how much self-loathing accompanies such a skill for dissembling.
Speaking of dissembling, Syd gets to Australia only to find that all of Calder’s guards are already dead. Inside, she finds The Snowman already there, and if you didn’t guess that Hicks was the assassin by now, well, you do once Syd managed to overpower him and the bandages from his wounds in Cape Town peeked out from under his sleeves. In short: he got all relevant data from the past two missions, erased it, and planned to earn some retirement money on the day before joining Syd in the South Pacific. He lied to her all along, to be sure. But his lies were primarily ones of omission, which indicates he has had as much trouble reconciling the various parts of his life as Syd. Could they have lived happily ever after had Syd not gone to Mackay? It’s possible. But can happiness truly exist without trust? And if you never learn about the secrets of your partner, can ignorance be bliss or hell?
Deep shit, people. And in the next hour, the lies lovers tell each other, coupled with the secrets they finally choose to share, have even more personal stakes.
"The Solution" (season 1, episode 20; originally aired 4/21/2002)
The fun in long-form narrative storytelling in television is when the building blocks have all been firmly established, at which point the storytellers can raze them all to the ground. It’s not that Alias had been resting on its laurels in past episodes, but there had been a focus on getting people into the proper emotional frame to unleash the craziness of the first season’s endgame. No one’s happy at this point: Syd’s lost another lover, Jack’s lost his marbles over the reemergence of Irina, Sloane’s about to lose Emily, and Will’s about to once again lose his sense of safety. It’s bad enough when the world might end. It’s even worse when you’re not psychologically equipped to prevent it.
Syd starts off the hour as low as we’ve seen her to date. Killing Noah might have been self-defense, but it was self-defense inside a scenario that she helped create. Moreover, as I stated a few paragraphs ago, she’s no longer sure what separates her from those she’s trying to defeat. Not only is there little difference in the way that Sloane lies to Emily about his true job and Syd lies to Will/Francie about hers, but in seeking out her mother, she’s also helping SD-6 take out a prime target in Khasinau.
Then again, Sloane’s lies haven’t entirely concealed his true nature. Emily knows about SD-6, a fact hinted at a few episodes ago but confirmed here inside her hospital bedroom. Because The Alliance is EVERYWHERE, they naturally have surveillance on her room. Jack informs Syd that there’s only one way to treat mention of SD-6, a way with which Syd is all too familiar. Sloane pleads for clemency in the name of “decency” when the head of Alliance security visits Los Angeles, but said head notes that little “decency” was involved in Jean Briault’s murder. Oooh. Burn. This all leads to an UNBELIEVABLY good scene in which Arvin Sloane tries to comfort a wife marked for death. Ron Rifkin is a god in general on Alias, but he really brings it in his final scene with her.
Meanwhile, Will gets another call from his “Deep Throat”-esque contact, who is upset Will hasn’t followed through on publishing his story. He tries to hang up on the contact, but then hears, “It was Jack Bristow,” on the other end of the phone. Ruh row. While house-sitting for Syd and Francie to take care of a rat problem, he draws a mask in magic marker over a picture of Jack’s face. He recognizes the eyes, defecates slightly in his pants, and then tails Jack to a nearby bar. He sits down next to him and says, “There are a few things we need to talk about. And quite frankly, you scare me. So I’d rather talk about them in public.” Heh. Love me some nervous Will. Jack realizes through his conversation there’s a mole inside the CIA, but Devlin’s unwilling to act on Jack’s suspicion that it’s Haladki. Long story short: Will and Jack start working together to root out the mole. In no WAY will this end badly.
The aforementioned rat problem gives Syd at idea to catch Khasinau: instead of looking for him, figure out a way to draw him out. The plan: rob a museum once targeted by SD-6 as a possible location for Rambaldi artifacts, make a big show of it, and try to sell the vial of Magic Rambaldi Ink on the black market. This leads to a fairly fun escape where Syd has to avoid both a Ventilation Shaft of Doom and the Massive Fireball of Terror. Good times for both. The arrange a meet with Sark (!) in Algeria, confident that SD-6 has no idea Syd is doing this during her week off.
But then again, much like the Spanish Inquisition, NOBODY EXPECTS MARSHALL FINKMAN! He’s figured out a way to trace heretofore untraceable calls, and that technology LETS SD-6 spy on Edward Poole’s second cell phone and learn about a second possible vial of Rambaldi Juice. Anxious to get back what was stolen in “The Box,” he tasks Dixon to head up a team and stop the meet. This leads to an incredible 1-2 sequence where 1) Syd and Sark have their first face-to-face fight, even though Syd is wearing a veil and is covered in body paint, and 2) Dixon kicking ass, taking names, and working his way into the meet where he comes face-to-face (kind of) with his partner. For a show that has recently forgotten about kick-ass cliffhangers in recent weeks, this is a frakkin’ doozy.
And next week, we wrap up Season 1. Hide ya kids, hide ya wife, hide ya Page 47s…
Dixon’s “take no BS” attitude towards Noah is awesome. Even if Syd can’t see that Noah is trouble, Dixon can. And that’s why we love him.
Fun With Numbers: Noah at one point deposited $47 million into one of his accounts, and then promptly transferred it to an untraceable off-shore one.
“Snowman” marks the first, but certainly not last, mention of “Project Christmas.”
I didn’t talk about Vaughn’s trip to Bogotá to visit a former victim of The Snowman, mostly because it’s a dull rip-off of the plot of the film Hannibal, which came out a year earlier.
There’s some nice continuity, as well as nice tension, that comes from the fact that while Syd is still keen on taking SD-6 down, she’s not keen in doing anything that would involve the FBI. And who can blame her, post-“Q&A”?
I kept waiting for the exterminator that visits Will to be, you know, AN EXTERMINATOR, if ya know what I mean.
The Alliance’s decision to kill Emily kicks off a HUGE story that really won’t reach total fruition until Season 2. But it’s a dandy of a story.
What’s great about Jack’s accusation of Haladki is that it seems quite plausible that Jack’s just accusing him because the latter is a hugely annoying dick. No wonder Devlin isn’t buying it at first.
Glad to see the news room again, as I’m not sure we’ve seen it since Will visited David McNeil in prison.
Syd tells Francie she had sex with Noah, a person Francie has less than fond feelings for. Afraid Syd might have a relapse, she says, “What if I started dating Charlie again?” Everyone’s reaction watching the show: “NOOOOOOOOO!”
Edward Poole and Walter White have something in common: they both get burned by that damned second cell phone.
There just aren’t enough latajang fights on television anymore. Ya know?
“I can’t believe you didn’t say anything.” “That’s why I wanted to strategize.”
“I highly doubt there are a million. I bet there are fifty, and I’d like the chance to refute them all.”
“Well, that’s never a good thing.”
“Killing is his job. He likes his job.”
“I’m not sure that’s my business, and I know it isn’t yours.”
“26 stitches. New personal record.”
“Mice isn’t better than rats.”
“When you look back…family, your friends…that’s what matters. Work, your job, it won’t seem that important. Even your job. Even working for SD-6.”
“My concern for Sydney is not yours to judge.”
“Focus, Mr. Tippin!”