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Season 2, episode 11
Series 211
1st release: 01/05/03
2nd release: none to date
Last update: 08/09/03

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SYNOPSIS by Sally Dye
COMMENTARY #1 by Sally Dye
COMMENTARY #2 by Adriane Saunders
COMMENTARY #3 by Zero and E

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

Faye Dunaway (Ariana Kane)
Terry O'Quinn (Kendall)
Ric Young (Suit and Glasses)
James Lesure (CIA Agent Craig Blair)
Ira Heiden (CIA Agent Rick McCarthy)
Elizabeth Penn Payne (CIA print tech)
John Christopher Storey (CIA video tech)
Mark Humphrey (SD-6 tech)
Nelson Mashita (SD-6 optech agent)
George Tovar (Waiter)
Shawn Michael Patrick (SD-6 forensic expert)

Written by John Eisendrath
Directed by Guy Norman Bee

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


This synopsis is by Sally Dye.


Scenes from previous episodes, culminating with Marshall being tortured by the infamous "suit and glasses", who is now confined to a wheelchair.

Sydney and Will discuss the Echelon system, which can eavesdrop on all types of communication. Gerard Cuvee had hacked into the system, but Sydney and Marshall had gotten his files. Sydney tells Will about the mission and how glad she is to know that Marshall is safely in CIA custody now.

The suit and glasses pours a resin down Marshall's throat. Then he threatens to pour down another compound that will harden inside him and puncture his vital organs. He wants to know how to access the Echelon system.

Sydney tells Francie that she has a crush on someone she works with and his name is Michael. Francie wants to know why they're not together, and Sydney says that the "bank's" policy forbids relationships. Francie indignantly tells Sydney she should quit her job.

Vaughn tells Sydney that Marshall has apparently been kidnapped by associates of Gerard Cuvee.

Sloane tells Jack that some of the packets in Marshall's transmission of the Echelon program did not transmit. Sloane plans to send Sydney and Dixon to a facility in Ho Chi Minh City to try and retrieve the missing pieces. Sloane knows that Marshall has been taken, but has no plans to rescue him. All of Marshall's access codes have been changed, so nothing he tells Cuvee can hurt SD-6. Jack is angry, but Sloane just says that Marshall's replacement will be there soon.

Jack relays this info to Vaughn and Kendall. He also tells Sydney that Irina has said she can hack into the Echelon programs. Sydney is briefly surprised -- but pleased -- that Irina is now talking to Jack. Kendall vetoes Irina's involvement, saying that the CIA techs will try first, in spite of the fact that Irina has predicted that anyone who tries it "will discover it is like quicksand".

Sydney's countermission in Vietnam is to download the access codes and then switch them with a corrupted version to give to SD-6.

The "suit and glasses" threatens to kill Marshall's mother if he doesn't reveal where the Echelon software can be found. Marshall gives in and says he can recreate the codes from memory.

Jack finds Ariana Kane in his office checking his computer for evidence of his whereabouts when Sloane's blackmailer made his threats. Jack is angry, but is locked out of his office. He goes to the CIA and puts in motion plans to prove his whereabouts on those dates.

Act I

Vaughn and a team of tech experts create evidence that Jack was in the locations he claimed to be at those times.

Sydney arrives in Vietnam as a microsatellite expert. She presents a lecture to potential buyers. She is wearing special glasses and Dixon sends a subliminal signal that knocks out all the other participants for three minutes. Sydney gets an ID from one of the officials and heads for the server room. She gets there and searches for the correct hard drive, but it is missing. Dixon discovers that it has been sent for repairs and heads for the repair room himself over Sydney's protests that she can still make it. Both Dixon and Sydney get to the repair room and find the hard drive, but Dixon grabs it first, giving Sydney no chance to switch it with the corrupted one.

Back in LA, Sloane is ecstatic to get the hard drive. Dixon asks if there is any word on Marshall, and Sloane says no, but that their efforts and prayers continue. It seems all Sydney can do to keep from rolling her eyes at this statement.

Sydney and Vaughn discuss how SD-6 now has everything it needs to access Echelon. Vaughn says they traced Marshall to a safe house in London, but it was abandoned, and the extraction team was blown up when they tripped a booby trap. Because of this, Kendall has ordered a halt to the search.

Francie and Will discuss Sydney's latest trip. Will says that Sydney's devotion to her job used to bug him, too, but now he realizes how important it is to her. Francie mentions that Sydney told her about a Michael she has a crush on.

Will meets with Vaughn, who tells him that he now has a CIA job as an analyst. He will be paged to go to an office where documents will be waiting for him to review. Will thanks him sincerely, and then says he is going to say something inappropriate. He tells Vaughn that Sydney cares about him (Vaughn) and whatever they have means a great deal to her. He wants to make sure Vaughn respects that.

After his techs have no success finding Cuvee's access point to Echelon -- and, in fact, encounter a virus called "quicksand" -- Kendall finally agrees to let Irina try. She is brought under guard to a terminal and unhandcuffed. She says she needs to send an access code. Kendall wants to know how they will be sure she isn't signalling her organization. Irina: "You won't". Kendall grudgingly gives the go-ahead.

Act II

Ariana Kane examines the videos of Jack and can find no sign that they are faked. She receives a forensics report that shows some brain matter on a gun that Jack had used. She tells Sloane that they are doing DNA tests to see if the brain matter could be Emily's.

Marshall discusses his Pez collection with his guards while supposedly rewriting the Echelon software program.

A tech at SD-6 tells Dixon that the computers are messed up because someone is pinging SD-6 over and over. Dixon wonders who would have the knowledge to do that and still not be able to cover his tracks. He realizes that it must be Marshall. He gets Sydney and they tell Sloane that they have tracked Marshall to Mexico City. They want to go personally to get him, and Sloane agrees, distracted by the fact that the Echelon system is 78% reconstructed.


Jack meets Ariana Kane at an outdoor cafe. She tells him there are two points she needs clarified. One -- she needs his cell phone to match the calls he made to his records. Vaughn and another agent are monitoring the conversation from a nearby van and realize that they will have to reprogram Jack's phone. A waiter gets the phone from Jack's pocket without Ariana seeing him. The second thing -- she wants to know who Stephen Haladki is, because DNA analysis shows his brain matter on a gun used by Jack. In the van, a stunned Vaughn listens as Jack explains that he killed Haladki because he was channeling information to Irina Derevko. A phone with a newly stamped SIM card is substituted for Jack's, and he gives the card to Ariana, then leaves the table and walks away. She notices that the ink is fresh and radios to her agents to move in and apprehend Jack. They scramble to do so, but Jack has disappeared. Back in the CIA van, Jack and Vaughn sit in silence, staring at each other.

In Mexico City, Sydney gets into the building where Marshall is being held. Dixon directs her to the right area through his access to the surveillance cameras.

A tech reports to Sloane that they will be able to access Echelon in two minutes. In Mexico City, Marshall says to tell the boss that the program is now complete.

Act IV

"Suit and glasses" eagerly tries to activate the program that Marshall has written, only to find that it is a game of Pong. Marshall laughs and the man shouts at the guards to "kill him and kill his mother!" Just then Sydney breaks into the room and takes out the guards. She turns and recognizes the man in the wheelchair, then whirls and takes him clean out of the chair with a roundhouse kick to the chest. She and Marshall are about to leave, when Dixon radios that he has been locked out of the security program, and guards are on the way. Sydney holds them off with one of the guards' guns, but they are trapped. Marshall runs to a window and throws a chair through it, then yells at Sydney to come on. Sydney: "Marshall, we're on the 47th floor". Marshall reveals that he is still wearing the jacket with the compressed parachute in it. He hooks the tandem sling around Sydney and announces: "Hi, my name is Marshall J. Flinkman, and I'm here to rescue you!" He and Sydney jump out the window and the parachute floats them to the ground.

Irina locates the correct access point and directs the techs to close it so that SD-6 will be locked out. Back at SD-6, Sloane is on the phone to the Alliance reporting that Echelon is at their disposal when a sad-faced tech comes in and says there is a problam.

Sydney tells Vaughn that Marshall saved her life and she repaid him by bringing him back to SD-6. She recall's Marshall's return, with Sloane all smiles and welcome.

At Sloane's home that evening, Jack appears. He tells Sloane that Ariana Kane is planning to frame him for Emily's murder. Jack gives Sloane some leads he has and Sloane promises that the info will stay between them. Jack leaves. Sloane goes to the phone and dials a number. Ariana answers the phone. Sloane: "Jack Bristow just left my house."


This commentary is by Sally Dye.

I usually just stick to what happens with no interjecting of opinion when I write the synopses of the episodes, but occasionally I feel a need to comment on something that either bugged or intrigued me about an episode. "A Higher Echelon" was one of those episodes.

There were a couple of things in this episode that struck me as totally incongruous, in a series that normally has everything going like clockwork in terms of plot. The first was Sloane's apparently complete disregard for Marshall's fate. I know that Sloane is an evil, conniving sleezeball, and so his lack of concern for an employee's welfare is not what is surprising here. But it has been stated several times that Marshall has a photographic memory, and was in fact, able to hack into SD-6's computers from Mexico City with no trouble at all. Who knows what a wealth of information about the workings of SD-6 could be found in Marshall's brain? And Sloane just writes him off with a "too bad, we'll replace him tomorrow" attitude? Yes, Sloane was mightily distracted by the lure of offering up the Echelon system to the Alliance, but come on! That whole plotline seemed to throw logic out the window in favor of painting Sloane even blacker than he was before -- a totally unnecessary exercise, to be sure. To paraphrase Buffy Summers, "We get it -- he's evil."

The second thing that didn't quite click was the fact that, after going to previously unreachable extremes in faking surveillance footage of Jack Bristow, doctoring plane tickets, putting his fingerprints on steering wheels and bits of his hair on pillowcases in various places around the globe, no one thought to fix his phone records? I know the CIA was just really busy in this ep, but wouldn't someone have thought of that? I like the interaction between Jack and Ariana Kane, but that just made me go "huh?" and distracted me from my usual appreciation of the oneupsmanship that is constantly present in their conversations.

There was one scene in this episode, however, that completely made up for any stumbling in the plot department, and that was the scene where Sydney rescued Marshall -- or was it the other way around? I laughed out loud when Marshall announced that he was there to save Sydney and hooked her to his hidden parachute. The look on Sydney's face was priceless. I hope there are more episodes that feature these two as partners.

Despite my grumbling about the items above, I really liked this episode. If nothing else, "Alias" really has clued in to what makes me want to tune in again next week.


This commentary is by Adriane Saunders.

"There are no protections here, no civil rights, no reasonable doubt." Current U.S. presidential activities aside, this is what Ariana Kane says to Jack Bristow as she denies all his SD-6 privileges. Kane is investigating Jack as a possible perpetrator in the death (the second) of Sloane's wife.

"Access", none, limited or unrestricted, seems to be the theme for this week's episode. Kane trounces Jack's. Syd's mother Irina demands "full". Assistant Director Kendall, doubtful of her trustworthiness, prefers little or none.

SD-6 tech expert Marshall, under guard and duress, fiddles and seemingly reconstructs--from memory--the entire Eschelon operating system code for his Taiwanese captor. Surprise! Surprise! Marshall's reconstructed program is only a computer game and oneupsmanship. Ballsy and smart. Bravo, Marshall.

THE PLOT: Syd, believing Marshall safe, learns otherwise. Marshall has been kidnapped by the same Taiwan teeth torturer (TTT) who extracted teeth from Syd and her friend Will in Season One. TTT coerces Marshall into reconstructing the Eschelon operating system code. Sloane already has the code at SD-6, thanks to Dixon beating Syd to a retrieval in Vietnam.

Ariana Kane targets Jack as a possible perpetrator in the death of Sloanes' wife. The SD-6 gun Jack checked out the day Sloane's wife died (the second time) is found to have "brain matter" on the barrel. That turns out to be Haladki's, the antagonistic--particularly to Vaughan--CIA agent and mole from Season One. Khasinau and presumably Irina--back then "The Man"--were Haladki's real bosses. Regardless, Vaughan is shocked to learn, through Kane's interview with Jack, that Jack killed Haladki.

Ariana Kane catches Jack in a lie and orders SD-6 agents to close in. Jack takes off at a run. Later he asks Sloane's aid to get Kane off his back. Instead, Sloane goes behind his (back) to Kane.

Irina at her own request is granted "full access" to the CIA computer network to crack the Eschelon code before SD-6 gains access to the system. Despite Kendall's suspicions, she succeeds. All done with her usual panache, of course.

Syd flies with Dixon to Mexico City to rescue Marshall. Though Syd arrives in time to prevent Marshall being killed, she in fact ends up being rescued by him. He has a parachutte still in the lining of his coat. (Remember Marshall was afraid to fly, so he came prepared last episode.) The parachute is needed when an escape route is blocked and Syd and Marshall have to smash a window and jump nearly 50 stories to the ground.

THE PRODUCTION: Faye Dunnaway is first rate in the part of Ariana Kane, and her interactions with Jack Bristow are the highlights of the episode. Kane is a formidable opponent, savvy and quick. Wet ink on Jack's SIM card from his cell phone gives him away. That is a clever plot device but a stupid mistake. Rubber stamping plastic? Good luck. Jack escapes Kane's clutches regardles. Fun.

But, otherwise, "Higher Eschelon" would do better closer to the ground. Less talk, more action. Too many talking heads. CNN revisted. Too many replays of "impressions" between characters. More show, less tell please. Surprisingly, the scriptwriter is John Eisendrath, who usually collaberates for riveting scripts. Not this time. The director is new to Alias, Guy Norman Bee.

Vaughan is deeply shocked and troubled, finding out Jack killed CIA agent Haladki (last Season). To make sure viewers "get that", the camera keeps playing to Vaughan's reaction. This includes a pan to Vaughan and Jack facing off in silence. All right, all ready. We get it, we get it. Overkill. Besides, who cares. Haladki was last Season.

Continued underground explanations between Syd and Vaughan. Marshall does not have to be put into a CIA protection program afterall. "It won't always be like this," Syd says to Vaughan. "It will end," he says. Ostensibly, they are talking about Marshall's return to SD-6. A ridiculous exchange.

Two out of four stars for this episode. There is little excitement or energy. Even the actors, with exception of Dunnaway (Kane) and Garber (Jack)--and of course Olin (the inimitable Irina), seem to be going through the motions. This is a carbonated drink with all the fizz gone. Unusual for Alias.


This commentary is by Zero and E.

"Welcome to the CIA."


-Narrative Bravado

This episode was ridiculously intense. The velocity of narrative movement, the sharpness of dialogue in an incredibly tight script, and the ever-present force of the beat fashioned an amplified tension that kept our eyes wide Clockwork-Orange-style for the entire hour. From the opening shot of the orbiting satellite, as we weave through the labyrinth of the server room and dive into the hard lines of communication, an audacious pace is set.

Mr. Eisendrath crafted an immensely suspenseful story that in many ways had very serious implications but, at the same time, its quick wit and cleverness kept us laughing and allowed us to enjoy the idiosyncrasies of this universe. Jack's haste to substantiate counterfeit evidence in his defense, his rushed handling of documents and strangely out-of-context objects, was spectacular, as was Kendall's sarcastic "I just got off the phone with the director again, and he asked me, again, if I knew we were in the intelligence business."

This was some amazing storytelling.


Despite the overriding tension, much of this episode is concerned with the reestablishment and maintenance of the status quo. The attempt to return Marshall to SD-6, the endeavor to sustain a balance of power by withholding Echelon from exterior organizations, and the effort to keep Jack's secrets secret all strain to uphold a secure equilibrium. But, as much as it was about stability, its forward motion left Jack's secrets exposed and placed countless situations in precarious stages. This episode is absolutely brimming with information and misinformation, so we can't even say what we know, what we've learned, only that we're waiting for the storm that's been building for months.

-The Intelligence Community has gone to seed (And there's a grapevine a-growin')

Much of the communication in this episode is indirect, conducted through relay and surveillance. A disappearance of private space is manifest in the unchecked free-flow of information as circumstance and choice further intertwine these characters.


Sydney finally sits down and talks with Francie on an intimate level and for the first time professes her attraction to Vaughn.

"And he's ... I don't know how to describe him ... he's smart, and he's funny. He's so cute."

The conversation is really quite endearing in its simplicity. Francie, once again voicing her concerns about Sydney's "bank-job," reminds us that she is one of the only character's unaware of the her friends' duality. Later, the news is passed on when Francie chats with Will. She quizzes him on his knowledge regarding this "Michael" fellow and Will, proving to be a loyal confidant, denies the acquaintance. The spread of information continues, however, when Will reports to the post office and seeks to clarify Vaughn's intentions.

"And what you guys have or don't have means a great deal to her. I want to make sure you respect that."

Having once reacted jealously to Sydney's personal affairs, Will now seems more interested in his friend's happiness than in the possibility of a more physical relationship. And, though there was no direct encounter between Vaughn and Sydney regarding their relationship, a movement toward a future confrontation has been set into play.

~Access Echelon

The sequence of intel-sharing regarding Quicksand is important if for no other reason than the fact that Jack is now willingly receiving information from Irina and disclosing it to the CIA. The chain of indirect communication is furthered with Sydney's comment during her meeting with her Mother.

"Dad fought for you on this. Don't make him regret it."

The enigmatic smile that creeps across Irina's face, as Sydney informs her of Jack's growing acceptance of her role as an asset, is curiously intriguing.

~"But I do have secrets."

In one of the more spectacularly intense scenes, Jack faces the arsenal of Ms. Ariana Kane. Though she is clearly out for blood, her first shot seems easily parried, with Jack's phone already on its way to CIA alteration. Ms. Kane's second attack elicits a nearly undetectable moment of hesitation.

"Who is Steven Haladki?"

Jack's answer is unfaltering, but anyone who knows what's at stake cannot help but cringe. Inside the CIA van, surveillance of Jack's ensuing revelation causes more than just surprise. Vaughn, distressed and distracted, is undoubtedly caught off guard, and the shock prohibits him from maintaining focus. Meanwhile, his partner makes a costly decision and, though it appears that Jack has successfully evaded exposure, the last, most minute detail fails to be perfect and the flaw is all Ms. Ariana Kane needs. Jack Bristow is hiding something. Sitting across from Vaughn as they make their exit, the two men exchange meaningful glances. Judgment, however, remains unspoken.

~"Do not turn on the lights."

In the final scene, Jack waits in the darkness, as if in quest of sanctuary. But as he hands Sloane the list of leads, Jack must know him well enough to suspect that he will relay the information to Ms. Kane.

"Can I trust you to do that?"
"Of course. This will stay between us."

Under heavy surveillance and with his status as an officer downgraded, this may very well be Jack's best means of redirecting Ms. Kane's suspicions and weakening her vigilance.

-Operation: friend don't need no help

Okay, so maybe Marshall did need some help in the end, but he certainly didn't need the assistance of the ABC promotions department. What we absolutely love about Marshall's scenes is that, even in the most harrowing of moments, he never loses his sense of humor. Throughout, he was clever and brave, burying audacious pranks beneath a feigned ineptitude. How ingenious was his game of ping-pong, one-half clandestine signal and one-half classic arcade, a brazenly extended finger to our old friend Mr. Suit and Glasses? Marshall's obligatory crazed defiance of the epoxy-wielding Taiwanese dentist was superb and absolutely gratifying. It was fantastic that, in the end, Marshall J. Flinkman was the one to save the day.

-Here by my side

Just a few episodes ago, Sloane was defending "his people" to Sark. Suddenly, blinded by his strange obsession with Echelon, he is willing to sacrifice his most loyal agent without hesitation or remorse. And, whatever Sloane's suspicions lead him to believe about Jack, he has turned one of his oldest friends over to his ruin. It has been a while since we have seen Sloane so wholly unfeeling. The humanity that once seemed so inseparable from this man is beginning to erode and we are left to wonder if he can still believe that he is working toward some greater good... or if he ever did.


-Watching Jack cover his tracks with a surly walk across the green screen and some zip-lock-sealed fingerprints was truly classic.

-"Fran, you know how much that used to bug me, right?" Will takes over Sydney's role of justifying the amount of loyalty she dedicates to her job and it's good to hear Francie's concern for Sydney's well being again.

-We love that Will's cover is as a journalist. He's a periodical boy through and through.

-Will's friendly banter with Vaughn is a nice light-hearted lead-in to the more serious tone he takes later on.

-Dixon's "I speak nine languages and Techno is not one of them" was hilarious. It's good to see him back in action.

-The coffee exchange was a magnificent relay of looks. From Kendall to Vaughn to Irina. She DEFINITELY takes her coffee black.

-"It won't always be like this, right?"
"It will end."

From day to day, it is so easy to lose sight of hope amidst the chaos. It is absolutely crucial that Sydney believes that this will eventually all be over, that Vaughn continues to reaffirm her purpose. And it's a beautiful moment, really.


Televsion without Pity. Recap Bring Me A Higher Love! A Higher Echelon - Or just bring me a higher writing staff, because, dudes? Wow. If they weren't high when they wrote it, then they were high when they filmed it. And I wish I'd been high when I watched it. Luckily, I was high when I recapped it. Plot? Um. Yeah. Something about a computer program and Marshall being kidnapped and Jack being in deep shit with the Iguana Face and the sparks! Oooh! Look at the sparks! Pretty pretty.

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