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ALIAS

DOUBLE AGENT


EPISODE NO. 36
Season 2, episode 14
Series 214
1st release: 02/02/03
2nd release: 04/06/03
Last update: 08/09/03


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REGULAR CAST, GUEST CAST & CREDITS
SYNOPSIS by Sally Dye
COMMENTARY 1 by Adriane Saunders
COMMENTARY 2 by Zero and E
LINKS



REGULAR CAST
Jennifer Garner as Sydney Bristow
Victor Garber as Jack Bristow
Ron Rifkin as Sloane
Merrin Dungey as Francie
Carl Lumbly as Dixon
Kevin Weisman as Marshall
Michael Vartan as Vaughn
Bradley Cooper as Will
Joey Slotnick as CIA Agent Steven Haladki
David Anders as Mr. Sark
Lena Olin as Irina Derevko/Laura Bristow



GUEST CAST
Ethan Hawke (CIA Agent James Lennox)
Terry O'Quinn (Kendall)
Greg Grunberg (Weiss)
Olivia D'Abo (Emma Wallace)
Constance Brenneman (Christine Phillips)
Ira Heiden (Techie #4)
Michael Maestro (Arden Jezek)
Michael Yavnieli (Techie #2)
Joel Guggenheim (Techie #3)
Steve Heinze (Ranking agent)
Bru Miller (Negotiator)
Terry Urdang (Techie #5)
Erik Betts (Guard #2)



CREDITS
Written by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman-Counter
Directed by Ken Olin



Broadcast on ABC, 9-10pm, Sunday nights.

SYNOPSIS:

This synopsis is by Sally Dye.

Teaser

Scenes from previous episodes, culminating with Francie's double standing over her dead body.

In Berlin, a couple are talking in bed. She says, "We should go back to Fiji." He replies, "Yeah, we should. It was so great." He gets up to take a shower, and the woman rushes to her computer. She is about to send an e-mail -- "Abort operation. Lennox is a...." when she hears a sound and gets her gun. She goes into the bathroom, but the man is waiting and knocks her out. He calls Sloane and says he's been compromised. Sloane says to use her to send a message and make it public.

Sydney and Vaughn meet at the former SD-6 hq. Sydney says she still can't believe SD-6 is no more, and that she can now walk into CIA hq by the front door. Vaughn tells her his relationship with Alice is over as of that morning.

In Berlin, the woman from the hotel is thrown from a van onto a crowded street. She is wrapped in explosives. People scatter everywhere.

Weiss introduces a new agent, Christine Phillips, to Kendall, Jack, Sydney and Vaughn. Their conversation is interrupted by TV news footage of the woman on the Berlin street. They recognize her as Emma Wallace, a CIA agent. A negotiator comes on the scene. Kendall puts Sydney on the phone to the ranking agent at the site. She tells him not to make any radio transmissions because they might set off the explosives.

The man from the hotel is in contact with Emma over a transmitter. At his instructions, she begins singing "Pop, Goes the Weasel." Suddenly the explosives are set off, and the blast kills Emma Wallace. Sydney and the others are deeply affected.

Kendall tells the others what Emma's last mission was. She was in deep cover investigating a man named Markovic, who is a scientist working on "Project Helix". They are now worried that her partner, James Lennox, may be a casualty, too. Sydney and Vaughn are to go to Cayo Concha to find out about Project Helix and bring Lennox home, if possible. Sydney is shown Lennox's picture -- it's the man from the hotel.

Act I

Vaughn comes to Sydney's house to pick her up for work. He is interested to see her home for the first time. "Francie" comes in and asks if Sydney is going on another business trip. Sydney introduces her to "Michael, from the bank." "Francie" doesn't seem to make the connection to the crush Sydney had told her about earlier. Sydney looks at her strangely as they leave.

In Cayo Concha, Sydney is in a swimming pool. She attracts the attention of Arden Jezek, Markovic's security chief. He follows her into a cabana, where Vaughn and Sydney overpower him and inject him with a toxin that will cause a heart attack within the hour. If he cooperates, they will give him the antidote. He takes them to where Lennox is being held. Vaughn has Jezek download the info on Project Helix while Sydney goes to rescue Lennox. He is being tortured with lasers that are pointing at his eyes. Sydney takes out the guards and pulls him free. He says he can't see, and Sydney wraps his eyes with gauze. As they are leaving, more guards jump them. Lennox pulls off the gauze and shoots one just as he's about to kill Sydney.

On the plane, Sydney treats Lennox's eyes and he can see again. Sydney and Vaughn discuss the likelihood of Lennox having undergone behavior modification. Sydney defends him, saying that he risked his sight to save her. She goes back to talk to Lennox. He asks about his partner, Emma, and Sydney has to tell him that Emma is dead.

Kendall questions Lennox about Markovic and Project Helix. He tells them that Agent Wallace had learned that Markovic reported to some nameless superior, and that Project Helix was ready for testing. Before Lennox leaves to go to a safe house, he says that he and Emma were engaged.

Act II

Weiss and Christine are analyzing the tapes of Emma's murder. Christine notices a flash of static just before the explosion, which could mean that someone with a detonator was nearby. They decide to check traffic cams and other videos to see if they can see the person who set off the explosion.

Sydney visits Lennox at the safe house. She finds him sitting at a table, drinking. He says he was trying to remember all of Emma's aliases. Sydney tells him that she lost her fiance, too. She says she knows they are supposed to compartmentalize, but "as hard as it is, I would rather feel it, than to not feel anything." Lennox grabs her and kisses her, but then apologizes. Two men come in and tell Lennox he is being taken into federal custody.

Sydney goes to CIA hq and asks what's going on. Jack tells her that part of Project Helix was concerned with a gene splicing procedure that can reshape a person's face and body to resemble someone else identically. The first person to be replicated was James Lennox, and the recipient of the procedure was Dr. Markovic. Then they show Sydney footage from a Berlin traffic cam that shows Lennox in a phone booth nearby when Emma was killed.

Act III

Jack tells about the gene splicing procedure, in which the patient's actual genetic code is altered to shape their physical attributes. The only way to determine which one is the double is by an ocular scan. Sydney still maintains that the man they rescued could not be the man in the video.

The ocular scan reveals that Lennox is who he says he is. Lennox is stunned to hear that he has been duplicated, and that Dr. Markovic was the recipient. He says he now knows why Emma didn't call for an extraction team -- she didn't know he had been captured. Sydney says they have traced the prototype to a train yard in Poland. She is to go there and download the schematics and then destroy the prototype. Lennox says he's going, too.

In Poland, Sydney and Lennox enter the train yard, take out the guards and get into the car containing the prototype. Sydney begins to rig the explosives while Lennox goes to download the schematics. He discovers that he is not the only one the procedure has been done on, but there is no information as to who else has been doubled. The scene switches briefly to LA, where "Francie" mounts a hidden camera inside a TV.

Vaughn gets a call from a man identifying himself as James Lennox. He says the man they have is really Dr. Markovic, and that the ocular scan was misinformation that Markovic had purposely leaked so they would trust him. Jack asks where he is, and he says he is in Poland and intends to destroy the prototype. Jack tells him to stay away, but the man says his communication link is breaking up.

Act IV

Vaughn contacts Sydney on a separate link and tells her about the other man claiming to be Lennox. Jack tells her to disarm the man she's with and then do the same when the other one gets there, and bring them both to the extraction point. Sydney covers Lennox and has him handcuff himself to a pipe. Then she goes out to confront the other Lennox. Meanwhile, the first Lennox frees himself. All three of them confront one another, guns drawn. Sydney can't tell who the real Lennox is, so she takes out the remote detonator. She says, "I hope you like your face, Dr. Markovic. You're going to have it for a long time." Just as she pushes the button, the second Lennox turns to fire at her, and the first Lennox shoots him. The car containing the prototype is blown up.

Back in LA, Sydney says goodbye to Lennox, who says he's going to Fiji. He has never been there, and he and Emma were planning to honeymoon there. He says that Emma was from Fiji, and Sydney says, "I know. I knew her."

Later, Sydney is cooking supper for Vaughn. Vaughn pulls her away from the oven for a kiss. Sydney says dinner is ready, but Vaughn says they can reheat it. They go to the bedroom and make love, while "Francie" watches via the hidden camera.



COMMENTARY 1

This commentary is by Adriane Saunders.

Lovers in bed bookend this episode, a groaner from start to finish. A bad pun for a bad episode. And, that "bad" is NOT good. Extreme makeovers are taken to whole new heights--or depths (lows), depending on viewpoint.

Viewers are expected to believe that an exact DNA duplicate of most anyone is not only possible but a done deal, hence the title "Double Agent". Another bad pun, this time by the scriptwriters. Exact doubles are supposed to be possible with only a few days in a coma to make the DNA switch. Yeah, right. I doubt even Rimbaldi could have managed that. Give me a break!

THE PLOT: SEE impartial SYNOPSIS by Sally Dye ABOVE. All I have to say about the plot for "Double Agent" is "It sucks."

THE PRODUCTION: Not much better. The only exception is the teaser at the beginning with overlapping dialogue and tight action segue. From conversation between Syd and Vaughan the camera shifts to danger. Syd says, "I can actually go to the front door" (meaning the CIA now that SD-6 is no more). Vaughan replies, "And I can actually drive you." This segues to a woman heaved out of a van. She is covered in plastic explosive. This event is televised from Berlin. Syd and Vaughan watch from CIA Headquarters in Los Angeles. The hapless woman wrapped in explosive is recognized as CIA agent Emma Wallace. Fighting tears Wallace recites nursery rhymes. "Pop goes the weasel" she recites before a moment of dead silence, then kaboom. A loud explosion punctuates her death.

Kudos to the actress, Olivia D'Abo, for a touchingly well acted scene. Honest and believable. Well done. Even the script works for the teaser. But, it's all down hill after that.

How to describe the rest of the script, and much of the acting? Trite. Unconvincing. Ridiculous. Heavy handed. Suspenseless. Is that a word? If not, it ought to be for clearly this episode is that: Suspenseless. After the astonishingly "off the charts" fantastically well done episode last week ("Phase One"), this episode called "Double Agent" is shockingly bad.

Example: The trite "drown your sorrows in drink" scene for agent Lennox (the supposedly real one, not the double). Lennox says to Syd, "Beware of the grieving man and his bottle." Beware of the unimaginative scriptwriters and their corny dialogue. Even Lennox's actions, suddenly putting away his bottle to kiss Syd passionately, make no sense. And, the acting stinks.

Pschology and subtlety and tension are all absent. This script is puzzling, coming as it does from scriptwriters Orci and Kurtzman. These two can usually be counted on to write scripts to applaud, not hold my nose to and mutter: "Dumb" as the last word on the whole episode.

Another example: Syd, saving Lennox from eye torture, smells the bottle of liquid being squirted into his eyes. Not only does she know immediately that the liquid is "photo reactive acid", but she just happens to have an anecdote on the plane used for escape. Yeah, right.

Lots of kissing goes on between Syd and Vaughan at the end of this episode--while the other double (besides Lennox), the fake Francie, watches on closed circuit TV. This happens after more corny dialogue and interaction.

The lyrics of the background music spell it out (in case we did not get it earlier in the episode): "Where do we go? Nobody knows. Your guess is as good as mine." Appropriate lyrics for a directionless, generally emotionless episode with a goofy plot. Even the fake Francie watching Syd and Vaughan over closed circuit TV is neither threatening nor suspenseful. Voyeuristic only.

Plotting definitely needs to "pull up its socks" for interest to be maintained, now that SD-6 and the Alliance and Syd and Jack's "double agent" duties are all done and gone. This episode is a yawner. There is no surprise. Surprise requires realism and the unexpected, not preposterous contrivances. Rate "Double Agent" 1 out of 4 stars, if that.



COMMENTARY 2

This commentary is by Zero and E.

"I've never been there before."

THINGS THAT WORKED:

-Hybridization

Alias has always been unclassifiable, written with an offhanded disregard for the boundaries of traditional genre, its own premise an alias in and of itself. From time to time we see the familiar face of legend retold, paradigm resurfacing, reflected in the visage of its heir. This episode, in particular, drew upon classically familiar folklore to tell its story. It was an ancient myth told in its modern incarnation: an individual defied by his own image, a victim to the science of his age. But no Alias creation is as simple as it seems. This hour blended components of the traditional science fiction thriller with a romance and nuance that is strictly Alias. The opening shower scene, a staple of the archetypal horror flick, is also an integral aspect of the show, with a unique history that lends its own sense of foreboding. In Berlin, the stylistic over-saturation of the composition, coupled with the eerie crooning of a hostage awaiting her fate, is effective in a very disturbing way. A SpyFi narrative emerges from the taut suspense, seizing the action and infusing the hour with an underlying internal irony. Amidst the blurring of borrowed genres, we are anchored to the unsteady landscape by the familiar progression of Sydney and Vaughn's relationship and by Sydney's kinship with Agents Lennox and Phillips. This episode, as a buffer, necessarily relied on convention to build empathy. The plot was driven by a character who was not our own but instead a drifter wandering through our world. Nevertheless, the writers told this story with such dexterity that as it unfolded we were entirely engaged in the adventure.

-Pretense

It is ironic that, in an episode in which Sydney finally begins to dismantle her own duality, she should be so haunted by the ectypal blurring of others. She is confronted with Lennox's dilemma in its most literal form: when do the roles we play usurp our identities? Though an individual is more than the sum of his or her actions, those actions will always be a part of who that individual is. So, if a life is spent leaving false imprints on history, how does one stop from disappearing into the folds of that intentional fabrication?

"Nice to put a face with the name."

"It's nice to... see the face of the person who saved my life."

But never have appearances been so deceiving. It is image that evokes identity, but it is history that truly distinguishes. And it's all the difference in the Polish train yard when Sydney stands as Solomon before Lennox and his reflection. A gamble, a calculated risk, everything riding on the bet that there is something fundamentally unlosable about self, that one will sacrifice anything to retain their past.

-What you wish for...

"I couldn't sleep. I was afraid I'd wake up and find out this was a dream."

The unbounded happiness blooms across Sydney's face. She is beaming, glowing with the freedom of a new life. The unfettered innocence, the absolute joy that radiates from Sydney's smile when she learns that Vaughn is hers is amazing to watch. People grow and develop not only through tragedy, but through happiness as well, and we have never wanted what she wants so much as we do right now.

"So this is where you live."
"This is where I live."
"I love it."

There is such a considerate affection to their interaction, a playfulness that acknowledges both the depth and freshness of their relationship: the tortured reluctance with which Vaughn pulls himself away from their kiss and the giddy animation with which Sydney gestures behind his back.

"You're so beautiful."
"Dinner's ready."
"We do have an oven, you know. We can reheat."

Bathed in a warm ambiance, Sydney and Vaughn savor the casual interplay of their bodies. There is something so sensual about the way we follow the pair's hands, the way she raises the wine glass to her lips, the simple motion of her fingers as she pours the salt. The way he lightly touches her wrist as she brings the spoon to his mouth, the gentle pull on her arm as he draws her into his embrace. His fingers on her waist.

-"Beware the grieving man and his bottle."

"Emma used to say that she had spent so much of her life pretending to be other people that she was afraid she might disappear. And I have been sitting here trying to remember all her aliases. And you're right. It's hard to keep track."

The character of James Lennox was well written and well portrayed. Ethan Hawke was at ease in both the physicality and profundity of his role. His persona is set up as a mirror for Sydney's, with the same torment and professional dedication. The scene in the safe house is strangely familiar. Even the kiss is reminiscent of Sydney's own struggles. Watching Sydney see herself in Lennox, looking on as she helps him grieve, we are able to see just how far she has come.

THINGS THAT DIDN'T WORK:

We don't know any of the logistics behind the shuffling of the episodes (when the decision was made, how it affected production and post-production, how the history of the narrative was altered), but some motivation seems lost in translation. Aside from personal reasons (an apparent acquaintance with Agent Wallace?), Sydney's recent accomplishments certainly make HER a prime candidate for a much needed four weeks off. This was the first mission lacking a context within the Alias Universe and, while it was impressively constructed, it could have used a more solid hook into the current state of affairs.

DETAILS WE APPRECIATED:

-We thought it was funny that this was quite possibly (at least from a central character point of view) the first episode in the entire series that COULDN'T be titled "Double Agent." But, of course, as always, very appropriate.

-Mutual infiltration became a prevalent theme in this episode. Sydney, having once played the mole within Sloane's organization, is now plagued by an invasion of Sloane's contrivance via the Helix Project. Similarly, Lennox's own assignment is foiled by the very target of his espionage: Doctor Renzo Markovic.

-The Joint Task Force has certainly extended the provinces of both FBI and CIA operatives within the coalition, but it was a nice touch that the FBI functioned in its more traditional capacity, maintaining jurisdiction over the Alliance's domestic arm: SD-6.

-While Sydney's professional acumen has always impressed her superiors and colleagues, her interaction with Agent Phillips provided the first opportunity for her to act as a mentor. Her compassion for the young agent was admirable and we think the role suits Sydney well.

-"What the hell do you mean 'I've been doubled'?" Lennox's skepticism was perfectly wrapped in absurdity. Another reminder that the characters of this universe are not oblivious to the peculiarity of their lives.

-The shrill intro of "Moving in Stereo" embodied the warped hollowness of Francie's double in a way that was truly uncanny.

-Obfuscated by the labyrinthine layout of the train yard, tinged by hues of murky yellow incandescence, the final showdown between Lennox and himself played with an intense fluidity that was the perfect climax to the narrative's increasingly high-stakes riddle.

-This episode had some compositional symmetry that was pretty impressive. It began and ended in a bedroom, doubles in some way implicated. The echoed use of Fiji at opposite ends of the narrative was spectacular. The revelation of his intended travel destination, that he had never been to Fiji at all, served as the perfect conclusion to Lennox's tale.

-"But as hard as it is, I would rather feel it than to not feel anything."
"I was lucky to have known him for as long as I did."

In an episode in which Sydney is finally allowed to move on from the nightmare she awoke into when her fiancÚ was killed, it is so important that we see that her love for Vaughn is in no way disrespectful of her love for Danny.

-The white wine had great symbolic undertones.

-Action to reflection to projection: the transition from Sydney and Vaughn in the flesh to their blurred forms on the blackened screen to their recorded monochrome image was, quite frankly, a brilliant filmic effect.

-The Helix Project's retrospective nature may have been inadvertent, but we think we might prefer its placement in the narrative as it stands. A more linear perspective might have culminated into a scene that, already heavy, could have easily become entirely impossible to process.

-Conspiracy runs amuck. There was some prodigal background flora afoot and one of the illustrious J-boys seemed overly invested in this little masquerade. Mr. Olin's saga continues with his cryptic thematic implementation of pairs of bare-chested men. The paralleled shirtlessness in each of the three occasions has actually been remarkably clever.

ETC.

Of all the hundreds of questions lingering, there's one that we can't help but ask: What happened to Will?



NON-ORIGINAL MUSIC

The Cars, "Moving in Stereo". Elektra Records

Coldplay, "God Put a Smile Upon Your Face". Capitol Records



LINKS:

Television Without Pity Review

Zentertainment Review




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