Alias is an American action/drama television series created by J.J. Abrams which was broadcast on ABC from September 30, 2001 to May 22, 2006, spanning five seasons. It starred Jennifer Garner as Sydney Bristow, an agent who had been tricked to believe she was working for the U.S. government but had, in fact, been working for a criminal organization named the Alliance of Twelve. Upon learning this Sydney became a double agent for the real CIA, feeding information from SD-6 to them.
Produced by Touchstone Television and Bad Robot Productions, film production primarily took place in the greater Los Angeles area. Studio shooting primarily took place at the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, California, along with some outdoor shots near some of the studio's famous buildings (such as the original Animation Building or the ABC building, which appeared as a building in Hong Kong in the Season 1 episode "The Coup"). Despite its worldwide locales, only one episode was ever filmed outside the Los Angeles region (Las Vegas, Nevada).
Though the cast remained largely similar throughout the series, several new characters were brought in for the final season. Throughout the series regular characters were Jack Bristow (Victor Garber), Sydney's father who coincedentally also was a double agent for the CIA working in SD-6. Arvin Sloane (Ron Rifkin), the head of SD-6 and Sydney's enemy throughout the series. Michael Vaughn (Michael Vartan) was Sydney's CIA handler before they engaged in a romantic relationship, and Marcus Dixon (Carl Lumbly) was Sydney's field partner at SD-6. Sydney's friends Will Tippin (Bradley Cooper) and Francie Calfo (Merrin Dungey) were featured, concerned about Sydney throughout the first two seasons but were less involved thereafter. Eric Weiss (Greg Grunberg) was another CIA agent with Vaughn, and Marshall Flinkmann (Kevin Weisman) was a computer genius working for SD-6. Sydney's mother Irina Derevko (Lena Olin) was a recurring nemesis, as was Julian Sark (David Anders) a villainous turncoat who was willing to give up any or all information to save him from imprisonment or torture.
Other characters were later into the series. Lauren Reed (Melissa George) married Vaughn after Season 2 when Sydney disappeared for two years, but turned out to be working for The Covenant and Sydney killed her. Sydney's half sister Nadia Santos (Mia Maestro) played a role in the later series, but perished at the hands of her father, Arvin Sloane, due to his obsession with Milo Rambaldi. In the fifth season several new recruits were made to the CIA's branch known as Authorized Personnel Only; Rachel Gibson (Rachel Nicols) and Thomas Grace (Balthazar Getty). Assisting APO was Renée Rienne (Élodie Bouchez), a French operative, and working against them was Kelly Peyton (Amy Acker) who worked with Prophet 5.
Alias included a number of A-list stars who appeared as special guest stars on the show. Some had semi recurring roles, like Isabella Rossellini, while others were in one or two episodes. In both cases, the stars served as important plot line characters. Some of the most notable guests include: David Cronenberg as Dr. Brezzel, Ethan Hawke as James Lennox, Christian Slater as Neil Caplan, Isabella Rossellini as Katya Derevko, Quentin Tarantino as McKenas Cole, Djimon Hounsou as Kazari Bomani, Peggy Lipton as Olivia Reed, Raymond J. Barry as Senator George Reed, Amy Irving as Emily Sloane, Ricky Gervais as Daniel Ryan, Peter Berg as Noah Hicks, Patricia Wettig as CIA psycho-therapist Dr. Judy Barnett, David Carradine as Conrad, Faye Dunaway as Ariana Kane, Roger Moore as Edward Poole, Rutger Hauer as Anthony Geiger, Gina Torres as Anna Espinosa, Sonia Braga as Elena Derevko, Vivica A. Fox as Toni Cummings, Angela Bassett as CIA Director Hayden Chase, Terry O'Quinn as FBI Director Kendall, John Hannah as Martin Shepard, Richard Lewis as Counter Intelligence Analyst Mitchell Yaeger, Jason Segel as Sam Hauser, Griffin Dunne as Leonid Lisenker and Richard Roundtree as Thomas Brill.
- J. J. Abrams—Executive Producer
- John Eisendrath—Executive Producer (Season 1–3)
- Alex Kurtzman—Executive Producer (Season 2–3)
- Roberto Orci—Executive Producer (Season 2–3)
- Jeff Pinkner—Executive Producer (Season 5)
- Jesse Alexander—Executive Producer (Season 5)
- Ken Olin—Executive Producer (and director)
- Michael Giacchino—Composer
- Michael Haro—Coordinating Producer
Animated Alias: Tribunal
The Video Game
- Family — Family relationships abound throughout the show. In the first season this focused mainly on the strained relationship between Sydney and her father, with echoes in Arvin and Emily Sloane's relationship as surrogate parents for Sydney, and her idealization of her supposedly dead mother. The second season saw Sydney having to come to grips with issues surrounding her mother. The third and fourth seasons changed the mostly parent-child family dynamic, and instead introduced issues revolving around spouses and extended family, as Vaughn struggled to save his marriage and renew his relationship with Sydney. We also met the two sisters of Irina Derevko. However, the parent-child dynamic survived as Vaughn learned that his father was more than a simple CIA agent and as Sloane discovered that he had a daughter. The fifth season can be, in some ways, regarded as a "next generation" in the family drama of Alias. Sydney and Vaughn were finally to be married, and Sydney is becoming a mother in her own right. This is literal, as Sydney discovered that she was pregnant, and also figurative as Sydney takes on a parental role in relation to the new agent Rachel.
- Prophecy/Predetermination — A good deal of Alias revolves around the prophecies of Milo Rambaldi. (In a humorous in-joke, producer J.J. Abrams has admitted that the name "Rambaldi" was borrowed from that of Carlo Rambaldi, the Academy award-winning special effects artist who helped create E.T. for Steven Spielberg in 1982.) We are first introduced to a prophecy about a woman who will "render the greatest power unto utter desolation." Later, as Sloane completes part of the Rambaldi prophecy we learn that he has received his own prophetic message. The Rambaldi storyline seemed to come to a close with the conclusion of Elena Derevko's endgame at the end of season four, but the fifth season introduced its own "prophet" (also in pursuit of Rambaldi) in the form of the mysterious organization known as Prophet Five, which ended up being a reference to Rambaldi and the final part of his endgame, immortality, which had been set up in the first season (though this was only one part of his plan. The first part was world peace, which Elena Derevko perverted and attempted in Season 4).
- Trust/Betrayal — Much of the first three seasons of the show revolved around issues of trust and betrayal. Most obvious is the betrayal of Sydney by SD-6 which starts the show. However, the show includes numerous other examples of betrayal including Irina's betrayal of Jack, Sloane's betrayal of the Alliance, Sydney's betrayal of SD-6 and Sydney's lying to her friends. Indeed the first season can be viewed as a story of Sydney learning to trust her father and the second season can be viewed as Sydney struggling with trust issues relating to her mother.
- Private/Non-Governmental Intelligence Agencies — The world of Alias has one of the largest collections of fictional intelligence agencies in the history of espionage fiction. These agencies are clandestine espionage groups that trade secrets and weapons. Fictional spy organizations that have been featured on the show include:
- SD-6: one of twelve Section Disparu cells under the Alliance of Twelve, employing Sydney Bristow in Season 1 under the pretense that it is a black-ops division of the CIA.
- The Alliance of Twelve: a ruthless international organization, originally formed by twelve defectors from various intelligence agencies. Each member of the Alliance of Twelve is believed to be in charge of an SD cell.
- K-Directorate: a private agency based in Russia and staffed by veterans of communist intelligence services. It is featured mostly in Season 1.
- FTL: based in Hong Kong and apparently specialized in more high tech espionage. It was destroyed by Julian Sark in Season 1.
- "The Man" (aka Irina Derevko) ran an unnamed organization which destroyed FTL and co-opted K-Directorate.
- The Covenant was introduced in season three. They had co-opted many agents of other organizations including Sark, McKenas Cole, and even (through brainwashing) Sydney.
- Prophet Five: the organization that oversees The Shed, and is one of the oldest agencies yet to be discovered by the CIA, having been involved in some sort of high level research twenty years ago. It has been running at least one SD-6-like organization, the Shed, which Rachel Gibson was a part of. Prophet Five is in control of a communications network that reveals infiltration of major intelligence agencies such as MI-6 and others. The twelve leaders of Prophet Five were all killed by Kelly Peyton in the series finale.
- The Trust: five US rogue partners, with places high up in the American government.
- Clandestine operations — The government agencies that Sydney Bristow works for are conducting secret operations in various countries regularly. The same applies of course to the mentioned illegal agencies which are battled against. Those clandestine operations deal with collecting the sought-after Rambaldi artifacts, but also with aspects like illegal arms trade or blackmailing. To further their objectives, the CIA or APO, respectively, arrest criminals from other countries and bring them to interrogation facilities of the CIA.
The events of the first season of Alias begin in 2001, the same year the series first aired. A reference to Homeland security midway through the first season suggests the series begins not long before, or not long after September 11. (The series, in fact, premiered 19 days following the attacks.) Though there was reference to such a part of government, the federal Homeland Security department was not established until 2003. (Aside from the Homeland Security reference, there is no explicit reference to 9/11 in the first season; however, there is a reference to Osama bin Laden and a reference to the War on Terror in two episodes in season 2). In season 1, each episode covers roughly the events of one week in Sydney's life, thus each episode is said to take place a week apart, although this pattern was not maintained throughout the series. In several episodes, references were made to actual real world events. For example, in one episode, Sydney suggested to Vaughn that they should catch a L.A. Kings game, and that they'd be taking on the Islanders. This actual game took place roughly around the same time the episode was broadcast on January 20, 2002.
The season 2 finale, which sees Sydney lose two years of her life, would suggest that the series as of the start of season 3 takes place two years ahead of "real world" time, however the series was not always consistent in maintaining this. For example, in season 3 episode 17 (airdate 3/28/04), the date 3/26/04 was shown on Lauren's event calendar. For most of the episodes in Season 3-4, the writers avoided mentioning any current calendar dates in any episode. The one fact that did contradict this was the date on the tombstone of the supposedly dead Irina Derevko, which, when calculated, would suggest that the show was still running on "real world" time rather than 2 years in the future. However, a statement made by Sydney in the fifth season premiere "Prophet 5" regarding the length of time since she first went undercover at SD-6, is in keeping with the established timeline. And finally, the timeline seems to jump back one more time. In the season 5 episode "Out of the Box", character Renee tells Dr. Desantis, the genetic double of her father from the cryogenic box that it is currently 2006. This appears to be the first direct reference to the actual date of events. In another episode of the same season, a hockey magazine received by Sydney indicates the year to be November 2005. This is contradicted, however, by a visual of Nadia Santos' hospital admission bracelet following her recovery in the episode "30 Seconds." The date of admission reads "04-23-05".
No time elapses between the end of season 1 and the beginning of season 2, and there are two years, one month, and several hours between seasons 2 and 3, 3 and 4, and 4 and 5 respectively (in addition, the events of the season 5 premiere episode take place over the course of 4 months). Given that there were roughly three to four months between the airing of the first few seasons, an 8-month interval between the broadcast of seasons 3 and 4, and a 4-month hiatus in the midst of season 5, by the final season Alias would only be a matter of months ahead of real-world time, making the 2006 statement plausible in the timeline. The series finale makes a further jump forward of several years (circa 2014 based upon the age of Sydney's daughter).
The Alias production team has participated in at least two spoofs based upon the series and featuring cast members.
- The first was produced in 2002 for a segment of ABC's Monday Night Football in which Sydney (played as by Jennifer Garner) is ordered by Sloane (Ron Rifkin) to infiltrate the locker room of the Washington Redskins NFL team in order to steal the coach's playbook. Syd disguises herself as a cheerleader and distracts the "Hogettes," a group of Redskins fans, with a glass of beer before stealing the book. Upon returning to SD-6 headquarters, she is horrified to find Sloane wearing a pig mask and oinking. This skit was advertised as being included in the season 2 DVD box set, but it was dropped from the set at the last minute without explanation. Another specially filmed MNF segment featuring Garner was included in the season 3 DVD set, but this was not, strictly speaking, a spoof.
- Another faux Alias "episode" was produced for a 2003 TV special celebrating the 50th anniversary of ABC. Featuring most of the regular cast of the series, the skit began with Jack Bristow preparing Sydney and Vaughn for a mission, and informing them that they will have a new partner - Detective Columbo. Columbo proceeds to wreak havoc at CIA headquarters, accidentally shooting Vaughn with an anesthetic dart and volunteering to wear a skimpy bikini intended for Sydney during the mission. Columbo reveals that his mission is not to aid the CIA but rather to help Walt Disney Company/ABC head Michael Eisner better understand the show. His work completed, Columbo departs, leaving Jack to utter a confused, "Dear God, that was strange."
Other spoofs and humorous references include:
- "Alias: The Lost Episode" was created as a tribute to the show by Efram Potelle and Kyle Rankin's Newborn Pictures, an independent film company. A tribute to the series' beginnings, it is a parody of a typical Season 1 episode, from Sydney's relationship with Francie and Will, to Sydney's sexual tension with her CIA handler Vaughn, to the episode's cliffhanger. The co-writers and directors, who also act in the film (Rankin plays the part of Sydney Bristow), sent the short to J.J. Abrams, who in turn wrote letters of thanks to the cast and crew of the film. Potelle and Rankin later won the second Project Greenlight Competition. Their 15-minute short can be viewed online: ALIAS: The Lost Episode.
- In an episode of Bradley Cooper's sitcom Kitchen Confidential, Michael Vartan guests as a rival French chef. Cooper's character makes a quip along the lines of, "it's almost like we used to work together".
- MADtv created a season 1 spoof.
- In episode 23 of Robot Chicken, the series is re-imagined with the part of Sydney being played by a killer whale ("Whalias"), complete with red hair and lipstick. The sketch features Sydney undercover in a glamorous party at Sea World, pretending to be a prize-winning cellist. A fight scene occurs in typical Alias style.
Alias released a season one soundtrack containing 26 tracks. These tracks were tracks used in the show, including the opening theme. All of them are composed by Michael Giacchino, except for the opening theme which was composed by J.J. Abrams. The tracks share a similar dance genre, however a few tracks, such as 'In the Garden' share more of a slowed down tempo. A second Soundtrack was also released containing music from the second season, but didn't receive as much praise as the first soundtrack. A soundtrack for Alias: The Video Game was also released, but can only be downloaded online, and is composed by Chris Tilton.
A number of original novels based upon the series have been published, primarily for a teenage reading audience. Due to the intricate and story arc-based nature of the series, most novels published have been prequels to the series, some focusing on Sydney in her early missions for SD-6, and others focusing on Vaughn's missions before meeting her. Their canon status with regards to the televised series has yet to be determined. Although aimed at young readers, the books tackle serious subject matter, such as one volume which details the first time Sydney kills someone.
- Recruited - Lynn Mason (2002) ISBN 0-553-49398-1
- A Secret Life - Laura Peyton Roberts (2003) ISBN 0-553-49399-X
- Disappeared - Lynn Mason (2003) ISBN 0-553-49400-7
- Sister Spy - Laura Peyton Roberts (2003) ISBN 0-553-49401-5
- The Pursuit - Elizabeth Skurnick (2003) ISBN 0-553-49402-3
- Close Quarters - Emma Harrison (2003) ISBN 0-553-49403-1
- Father Figure - Laura Peyton Roberts (2003) ISBN 0-553-49404-X
- Free Fall - Christa Roberts (2004) ISBN 0-553-49405-8
- Infiltration - Breen Frazier (2004) ISBN 0-553-49437-6
- Vanishing Act - Sean Gerace (2004) ISBN 0-553-49438-4
- Skin Deep - Cathy Hapka (2004) ISBN 0-553-49439-2
- Shadowed - Elizabeth Skurnick (2004) ISBN 0-553-49440-6
The second series of novels, titled "The APO Series", fit into the season four timeframe and are published by Simon Spotlight Entertainment.
- Two of a Kind? - Greg Cox (April 26, 2005) ISBN 1-4169-0213-9
- Faina - Rudy Gaborno, Chris Hollier (April 26, 2005) ISBN 1-4169-0245-7
- Collateral Damage - Pierce Askegren (June 28, 2005) ISBN 1-4169-0247-3
- Replaced - Emma Harrison ([uly 26, 2005) ISBN 1-4169-0246-5
- The Road Not Taken - Greg Cox (October 4, 2005) ISBN 1-4169-0248-1
- Vigilance - Paul Ruditis (December 6, 2005] ISBN 1-4169-0928-1
- Strategic Reserve - Christina F. York (March 7, 2006) ISBN 1-4169-0946-X
- Once Lost - Kirsten Beyer (April 25, 2006) ISBN 1-4169-0947-8
- Namesakes - Greg Cox (July 11, 2006) ISBN 1-4169-2442-6
- Old Friends - Steven Hanna (September, 2006) ISBN 1-4169-2443-4
- The Ghost - Brian Studlet (November, 2006) ISBN 1-4169-2444-2
- Mind Games - Paul Ruditis (December 2006) ISBN 1-4169-2445-0
- A Touch of Death - Christina York (December 2006) ISBN 1-4169-2446-9