More than fifteen years since its debut, the influence of Alias is still felt in everything from The Blacklist to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to Jessica Jones.
Created by J.J. Abrams, Alias follows double agent Sydney Bristow (Jennifer Garner), who discovers that she’s been working for the shadowy SD-6 and not, as she thought, the CIA. In the beginning, the series’ gravest dangers arose from Sydney’s attempts to keep her secret from loved ones, but by the end of its run, Alias had Sydney defeating evil monsters, foiling centuries-old prophecies and protecting the entire world.
Alias doesn’t get the credit it deserves for its ability to combine elements of science fiction, action-adventure, and the spy thriller, all with a focus on strong female characters. (Plus, it introduced Bradley Cooper to the world.) Over five seasons, Alias’ deft handling of its daring ideas and dedication to character made it a powerful show, even when its narrative strained belief. Here, we rank all 105 episodes.
105. “Q&A” (Episode 1.17)
“Q&A” is a recap episode in disguise, designed to catch up latecomers to the series near the end of Season One. Even worse, “Q&A” talks down to the audience, literally explaining terms like “black ops” and “double agent.” At the very least, the episode allows Sydney’s CIA handler/sometime love interest, Vaughn (Michael Vartan), and her father/fellow double agent, Jack (Victor Garber), to work together to save her, and makes Abrams favorites Terry O’Quinn and Greg Grunberg a larger part of the story, even if they don’t have much to do.
104. “The Nemesis” (Episode 3.06)
Everyone knows Allison/Fake Francie died at the end of Season Two, but what “The Nemesis” presupposes is… maybe she didn’t? Because of this, “The Nemesis” is a very odd episode, one that goes back on a story that already had a fantastic ending and attempts to outdo itself, with poor results. The brutal fight between Sydney and Allison at the end of Season Two is a series highlight, so concluding “The Nemesis” with a similar set piece makes you wonder why they’d even bother going back to the well.
103. “Spirit” (Episode 1.10)
The episode prior to this one (“Mea Culpa”) ends with what appears to be a huge cliffhanger: Sloane (Ron Rifkin) discovers that Sydney is a double agent. But as “Spirit” begins, it showcases one of the issues that plagued Alias throughout its run: easy, convenient solutions to seemingly insurmountable problems. Here, Jack frames another agent to allow Sydney to go free and finishes off the episode by shooting her, but considering how watered down the stakes are now, it’s hard to worry too much about her safety. We all know Sydney will be fine.
102. “The Frame” (Episode 3.17)
In “The Frame,” Vaughn finally decides to break things off with Lauren (Melissa George), but the rest of the episode fizzles out amid strange jumps in logic, reused ideas and the lack of any real stakes. To wit: When Sark (David Anders) tells Lauren she needs to kill her father, she can’t go through with it, at which point Lauren’s mother turns out to also be a Covenant operative and kills her husband. Once again, Alias relies on the unreliable wife to turn on her spouse for the big twist. Sloane’s impending execution and the hope that Sydney and Vaughn will finally get together once and for all just seem like red herrings. There’s a lot of potential in “The Frame,” but it’s overwhelmed by the lack of sense.
101. “Out of the Box” (Episode 5.05)
“Out of the Box” fills in some of the blanks about Renee Rienne (Élodie Bouchez), a new character we know little about. But the entire episode is full of anticlimactic moments. After keeping the identity of the cryogenically frozen person a mystery, it turns out to be Renee’s father, or at least that’s who she thinks it is. When a rescue mission to get him back from Renee occurs, the entire sequence isn’t as exciting as the show seems to think it is. The episode’s only high point comes when Sloane, who’s now working with Gordon Dean (Tyrees Allen), returns to the APO.
100. “…1…” (Episode 5.02)
With Vaughn dead, Nadia (Mía Maestro) in a coma, Sloane in jail and Weiss (Greg Gunberg) leaving the APO, doesn’t exactly have the biggest cast to work with going into the Fifth Season. “…1…” starts to integrate a bunch of new cast members into the show, but, unfortunately, it makes the episode feel like Alias: The New Class. There’s Renee; Vaughn’s other former partner, Thomas (Balthazar Getty); Vaughn’s replacement; and a bunch of new players yet to be introduced, including a cryogenically frozen body. It’s clear that Alias has to do some reorganization at this point, but that still doesn’t keep it from feeling completely forced. It’s a feeling that never quite goes away.
99. “Double Agent” (Episode 2.14)
Originally planned to air before “Phase One,” “Double Agent” is largely out of place. The episode exists primarily to explain why there are two Francies, but in doing so, it creates a mostly generic spy story and wastes guest star Ethan Hawke. “Double Agent” does at least give us a disturbing opening: A spy creepily sings “Pop Goes the Weasel” as she straps a bomb to her back. And now we know that Project Helix could lead to more mistaken identity mishaps.
98. “A Clean Conscience” (Episode 4.17)
Episodes in which Dixon (Carl Lumbly) is the main focus are few and far between. So it’s a shame that in “A Clean Conscience,” Dixon’s A-plot is much less engrossing than the minor stories going on back at APO headquarters. Jack spends most of his screen time peeling away the skin on his hand, then digging into it to find a pill that was put there by his doctor (Michael McKean). Then, Jack and Sloane decide to tell their daughters about the evilest Derevko sister, Elena, who’s been keeping an eye on Sydney and Nadia for years. The episode’s big twist occurs when it turns out Sophia—the woman who ran the orphanage Nadia grew up in and is now staying with Nadia and Sydney—is actually Elena. With hand mutilation and secret evil aunts, it’s hard for Dixon’s story to get the attention and excitement it deserves.
97. “The Shed” (Episode 5.03)
This episode’s main function is to get us involved with two of show’s newest characters, but it only half works. We discover that Rachel Gibson (Rachel Nichols) believes herself to be working for the good guys, even though the opposite is true. It’s a story almost identical to Sydney’s SD-6 days, and watching Sydney and Marshall (Kevin Weisman), who’ve been there, try to explain the truth to Rachel is charming. New APO agent Thomas Grace doesn’t get the same level of attention, often just standing by, watching, or chasing after Rachel for the majority of the episode.
96. “Mockingbird” (Episode 5.04)
“Mockingbird” does its best to play to Alias’ strengths and fall back on formulas it knows will work. Gordon Dean becomes more of a villain for the APO to go after and Sloane’s release makes the enemy side far more capable than it has been in a while. “Mockingbird” also gets back to one of the series’ go-to formats: beginning with the end, then flashing back and working its way forward.
95. “Pandora” (Episode 4.15)
“Pandora” diffuses the many red herrings that have been established in the course of Season Four, the biggest being that Vaughn’s father might still be alive. So much of Vaughn’s story to this point has been exploring the truth about his father, and learning that he was dead all along is a huge letdown. (The revelation that Sloane orchestrated the idea makes it worthwhile, but the strange twist that there are two Sloanes makes this storyline more convoluted than necessary.) “Pandora” neutralizes a lot of the season’s compelling ideas.
94. “Taken” (Episode 3.16)
After an entire season of Dixon behind a desk, “Taken” finally allows him back into the field to save his kidnapped children. The kidnapping never really holds any weight, especially since it’s implied it’s merely a way to distract Dixon, and the use of bombs here does seem strange considering how prominent they were in the previous episode. Yet “Taken” sets up some big threads for the rest of the third season. Sloane is framed as a leak to The Covenant. Irina’s involvement with Sloane and the Rambaldi artifacts is bubbling to the surface. And Jack seems to figure out that Lauren is a likely Covenant agent.
93. “The Awful Truth” (Episode 4.03)
Despite several seasons of long-term storytelling, Season Four gets into smaller, more episodic stories with “The Awful Truth.” In fact, “The Awful Truth” is sort of a slow burn, as Sydney tries to seduce an arms dealer. The episode doesn’t play its premise for huge surprises or tension, and also lets us see how Nadia adjusts after moving in with Sydney. Jack is visibly worried about her existence and deceives her into murder. But hey, what better way to introduce her into the APO, a family filled with deception and backstabbing?
92. “Fait Accompli” (Episode 5.07)
Maybe the biggest strength of “Fait Accompli” is that it tries to keep the new characters at bay and get the show back to what it used to be. Sydney finally goes on a mission again and Sloane plays both sides as he admits to the APO that he’s been working with Dean only to kill him for Prophet Five. For the first time in a while, larger story points from earlier seasons seem to matter. “Fait Accompli” wisely gets Dean out of the way, as he’s been a pretty bland villain, and sets up Prophet Five as a potential successor to The Alliance. But the real star here is Sloane, whose allegiances and true intentions once again become the most charismatic aspect of the show.
91. “The Descent” (Episode 4.20)
Much of Season Four relies on character-based stories over the ongoing arcs that often hinder Alias. But “The Descent” launches back into that larger storytelling as the fourth season comes to a close, and kick-starts a lot of ideas that have been in the background. Elena Derevko is discovered to have been undercover as Sophia for years, Sloane seems to go back to his Rambaldi-loving ways and Irina is still alive. “The Descent” also gives us the background on Sloane and Nadia. But really, the episode’s purpose is to set the table for the big surprises that are coming as Season Four wraps up.
90. “The Orphan” (Episode 4.12)
Given Nadia’s mysterious background, it’s strange how little we know about her until “The Orphan.” Nadia’s backstory of working for a government agency that isn’t what it claims to be is incredibly similar to Sydney and SD-6, but it does add some depth to the newest agent. “The Orphan” does a nice job of combining stories that don’t seem like they would intersect. Nadia’s story melds quite well with Vaughn’s search for his father, while giving some necessary history to both characters.
89. “Nightingale” (Episode 4.14)
“Nightingale” sets up a unique conflict within the APO: Sloane and Jack use Sydney and Vaughn’s search for information about Vaughn’s father against them. This split within the APO is clearly a problem for Jack, but he shows his allegiance when he risks his life and infiltrates a nuclear reactor to save Sydney. The episode is split into two equally gripping halves. The first involves Vaughn getting information on his father from a mysterious man (Michael Kenneth Williams); the second returns Vaughn and Sydney to their old double-agent ways to continue that mission, this time with Jack (and his own motivations) in the mix.
88. “Crossings” (Episode 3.12)
Even though the audience knows the truth about Lauren and her work for The Covenant, Vaughn doesn’t when he picks Sydney over his own wife in “Crossings.” It’s not exactly a huge surprise, and Lauren only reinforces his choice as she cements herself as a villain here. Beyond that, it’s a little weird we’re just now learning that there are three Derevko sisters, including one played by Isabella Rossellini.
87. “Reckoning” (Episode 1.06)
“Reckoning” signals the beginning of several Sydney stories, and the end of several boring secondary plots. For example, Francie (Merrin Dungey) discovers that her boyfriend isn’t cheating on her, just taking singing lessons, and Will’s (Bradley Cooper) one lead in the murder of Sydney’s fiancé, Danny, ends up missing. As for Sydney, she believes that if her father hadn’t been a double agent, her mother would still be alive, and she embarks on her first solo mission without the help of Dixon or Vaughn, leaving her completely alone and trapped. Even more dire is SD-6’s realization that there’s been an information leak, and thus a mole working in their offices.
86. “Reunion” (Episode 3.03)
“Reunion” returns the third season as near to normal as it’s been in a while. Sydney is back at the CIA doing missions with Vaughn, despite all the emotional baggage. This is also the first time we see Sydney and Lauren work together. Sydney is incredibly jealous, and shows it—which seems uncharacteristic of her. She fights with Lauren on several issues, even though she’s two years behind on intelligence. There’s clearly still love between Sydney and Vaughn, but the most enthralling dynamic in “Reunion” is the budding friendship between Sydney and Weiss, which largely seems like Alias setting up a potential relationship that never happens.
85. “Solo” (Episode 5.06)
With Sydney (and Jennifer Garner, in real life) mostly sidelined due to her pregnancy, Alias and the APO have decided to make Rachel her stand-in, and she goes on her first solo mission. “Solo” allows time for Rachel’s familial ties—one of the show’s best resources in character building. Since we never saw Sydney on her first mission, Rachel’s first one is an enjoyable excursion, even if the performances occasionally feel too stiff. But it’s a step in the right direction.
84. “Firebomb” (Episode 2.16)
Sloane is the villain of Alias from the start, but in “Firebomb,” he becomes capital-V Villain. Without appearances to keep up and Alliance members to play to, Sloane and his henchman, Sark, piece together Rambaldi clues and burn people alive to achieve the next step of human evolution. (Yet somehow Sloane creepily kissing Sydney’s head seems like the worst possible thing he could do.) “Firebomb” continues to bring Phase Two together, while Sydney’s life gets more interesting as well. Dixon is finally aiding her and the CIA and she discovers that someone has been bugging her apartment.
83. “Bob” (Episode 5.08)
Reintroducing Sark gives the fifth season a shot of much-needed adrenaline. When Rachel has a fling with him, it’s quite a bit of fun since the audience knows much more about the situation than she does—plus, we get to see him in a new context, and with his ever-changing loyalties, having him work for the good guys is welcome. Between Sark and Rachel, as well as Jack and his MI-6 contact, “Bob” returns to Alias some of the romantic conflict that had gone missing with Vaughn’s death.
82. “Masquerade” (Episode 1.18)
Following the discovery that Sydney’s mother didn’t die, “Masquerade” is a strange episode. It rarely focuses on that big reveal, despite the fact that Sydney’s been frustrated by losing her mom for years. Instead, “Masquerade” introduces us to Special Agent Noah Hicks (Peter Berg), who Sydney dated before he disappeared. Berg and Garner’s chemistry is excellent, but it’s hard to imagine this out-of-nowhere relationship will amount to anything more than a few episodes’ worth of material. “Masquerade” feels like the show stalling.
81. “The Coup” (Episode 1.14)
“The Coup” smartly takes some of the more boring plots, ties them into Sydney’s spy world and transforms them into stories that are somewhat refreshing. First, Sydney discovers that Francie’s fiancé Charlie actually has cheated on her, after an entire subplot proving that he was faithful. Francie and Charlie showing up in Las Vegas, where Sydney is on a mission, turns what could’ve been a bad sitcom plot into a tense, interesting development in their friendship. Sydney also considers dropping out of college, but her father convinces her to press on, strengthening the bond between them. We’re also introduced to Julian Sark, who’ll become one of the more fun characters on the show going forward.
80. “No Hard Feelings” (Episode 5.15)
In “No Hard Feelings,” Alias combines one of the most integral stories in the series’ history with one of its most inconsequential ones. Undercover as Anna Espinosa, Sydney works with Sark to retrieve the final piece of the Rambaldi puzzle, but “No Hard Feelings” lets the air out of this development by shifting the attention repeatedly to Tom and Lauren trying to hot wire a car. If anything, “No Hard Feelings” demonstrates just how much Season Five’s new characters drag down the scope of the larger stories.
79. “The Prophecy” (Episode 1.16)
Despite its titular subject’s importance, “The Prophecy” goes through too many hoops to delay our gratification. In the course of the episode, Sydney faces a series of tests and even breaks into the Vatican to get the answers she needs. In the end, we find out that the prophecy does, in fact, refer to her, and that it could lead to unspeakable destruction. But “The Prophecy” wastes so much time getting there.
78. “A Free Agent” (Episode 2.15)
After the events of “Phase One,” Phase Two begins in earnest with “A Free Agent.” Because of this, Alias becomes a lot tidier (thankfully) and allows the series to become “Sydney vs. Sloane” for a spell. “A Free Agent” tries to clean up some of the mess left behind after “Phase One.” We catch up with Dixon and Marshall after they’ve discovered that SD-6 is not the CIA. Sloane and Sark dedicate themselves fully to the Rambaldi mysteries and engage the help of Neil Caplan (guest star Christian Slater). Perhaps best of all, Sydney graduates from college (yes, she was apparently still in college), finally ending this very dull subplot.
77. “Another Mister Sloane” (Episode 4.16)
For the previous two seasons, Sloane had become quite skilled at hiding his true self behind a façade of goodness. In Season Three, his positive work is a front for his search for Nadia. In Season Four, it isn’t yet clear what Sloane’s ulterior motives might be, but “Another Mister Sloane” proves that his dark, violent, evil side is still very much there. The episode’s goal is to make Sloane a large part of the story again, after spending the majority of the season behind a desk. Sending him into the field with Sydney for the first time and having her on his side is a welcome change, but the return of The Circumference and Sloane’s renewed interest in Rambaldi can only mean bad things ahead.
76. “Prophet Five” (Episode 5.01)
Even though “Michael Vaughn: Bad Guy” is an exciting idea for the fifth season, it doesn’t take long for “Prophet Five” to ensure the idea doesn’t hold any weight. Even more unlikely, though, is Vaughn’s death at the end of the episode: We’ve seen too many characters “die” on the show not to know that this is a fake out. Despite this, Sydney’s goodbye to Vaughn is emotional, and the idea of a pregnant Sydney running around figuring out the truth about her dead fiancé suggests Season Five’s potential.
75. “A Dark Turn” (Episode 2.17)
Irina returns in a huge way, as she and Jack go on missions together and get closer than they’ve been in years. The entire episode is even better a second time, considering how “A Dark Turn” ends. We see Irina and Jack reignite their flame, and then watch as it turns out this has all been part of Irina’s plan for freedom. It’s great to see Olin playing the spy, especially when she has the upper hand for once.
74. “S.O.S.” (Episode 5.10)
“S.O.S.” continues the Lost-like feel to Alias (hell, there’s even an episode of Lost called “S.O.S.”), as Prophet Five captures Sydney and evinces an interest in her unborn baby. Meanwhile, a mole with the highest level of CIA clearance brings back Weiss—if only for a few brief scenes—and the search for the mole gets Jack arrested. As soon as “S.O.S.” focuses on Tom, however, the episode grinds to a halt.
73. “Snowman” (Episode 1.19)
“Snowman” is about the ways that love can blind anyone, even double agents who know a thing or two about lying. After Sydney rekindles her romance with Noah Hicks, she unknowingly kills him when he turns out to be the assassin known as “The Snowman.” It’s a little obvious, but the plot works to show that Sydney can’t even believe the people she trusts completely. Her father knows this, watching old footage of his wife calling him a fool—even as she was betraying him. In “Snowman,” it’s clear to everyone that Sydney is following in Jack’s footsteps, but no one can convince her otherwise until it’s too late.
72. “A Broken Heart” (Episode 1.04)
In the past, when Sydney had rough days at SD-6, she would gather her friends and forget about the insanity she’d lived through. But in “A Broken Heart,” saddened by the death of a friend in Morocco and deceiving her SD-6 partners, she doesn’t have the the support she needs. Francie is wrapped up in worries that her boyfriend is cheating on her. Will is still trying to figure out what their kiss meant. And when Sydney invites her father to dinner, she gets stood up. Because of this, Alias makes Michael Vaughn Sydney’s one true confidant—he’s the only person with whom she can be 100% honest. It’s a smart move on the show’s part and allows for their relationship to blossom without ever feeling forced.
71. “Cipher” (Episode 2.03)
Season Two of Alias is all about combining Sydney’s heretofore separate worlds, and “Cipher” shows just how exciting that can be. Will and Vaughn meet for the first time, and while nothing particularly monumental happens, having the two men who love Sydney finally come face-to-face is a big deal. Despite some very cheesy action sequences—like Sydney luging away from a rocket launch—the real excitement comes from Irina reintroducing herself into her family’s life. She learns about what she missed and discovers that her former husband has been hiding information from their daughter.
70. “The Confession” (Episode 1.11)
The opening of “The Confession” catches on a silly cliffhanger that wants us to think that Jack might actually shoot Sydney. And in the soap opera ending, we find out that Sydney’s mother was a KGB spy who also happened to kill Vaughn’s father. But what matters is the middle, as Sydney has a newfound desire to protect her father and sees him for the excellent spy he is. For the first half of the season, their dynamic has been uneasy, potentially filled with lie after lie, but “The Confession” moves these two closer towards mutual respect. They fear for each other’s safety and have a bond forged by similar jobs and similar secrets to keep.
69. “Parity” (Episode 1.03)
While Sydney’s story in “Parity” is largely about Anna Espinosa, the spy who might be her match, it also deepens our understanding of the men in Sydney’s life. Will continues to research Danny’s death and shares a kiss with Sydney. Jack continues to try to protect her. Sydney even demands that her CIA liaison be Vaughn and only Vaughn, a choice that he’s clearly very happy with. But most important is the first glimpse of Sloane’s obsession with Milo Rambaldi— which will become one of the central features of the entire series.
68. “Trust Me” (Episode 2.02)
“Trust Me” attempts to make us question the loyalties of Irina Derevko now that she’s turned herself in, while also doubling down on Sloane’s capacity for evil. Irina, locked up, is visited by the two people she’s hurt terribly: Sydney and Vaughn. Irina is less villainous than expected—complimentary, even. Meanwhile, Sloane becomes a full-fledged member of the Alliance and starts flaunting his power. “Trust Me” sets up the duality of Irina and further fleshes out the FBI, giving Terry O’Quinn something more to do than recap previous events.
67. “Doppelgänger” (Episode 1.05)
“Doppelgänger” shows for the first time just how difficult life can get for Sydney. Afraid to endanger Dixon, Sydney decides to keep him in the dark—which leads to Dixon unwittingly blowing up a building with a group of CIA agents inside. “Doppelgänger” is also Dixon’s first time to shine. He starts the episode by pulling a bomb out of a man’s chest and ends it with a bang. Sydney’s trouble with playing both sides in “Doppelgänger” also raises Sloane’s suspicions. Until, with the help of her father, she regains Sloane’s trust—for now.
66. “Time Will Tell” (Episode 1.08)
“Time Will Tell” is a deceptively simple episode, one that throws in mundane stories and missions, all while setting up huge ideas in the background. The fact that Sydney has to redo a class paper comes up three times, while her missions are as bland as fixing a clock and investigating a mountain range. But all of this shows the potential brilliance of Rambaldi: We meet a man who hints that he’s been alive for hundreds of years thanks to Rambaldi, and the discovery of Rambalid’s journal promises even more inventions and twists.
65. ”The Enemy Walks In” (Episode 2.01)
Considering Alias was just starting its second season, it’s silly how often the show felt the need to explain to its audience what the hell was happening. As in “Q&A,” Sydney spends the first half of the episode recapping the series’ plot for anyone who might be confused after the show’s hiatus. Despite some easy resolutions to the prior season’s cliffhangers—Vaughn just swam his way out of the wave that hit him in the finale and Will’s disappearance is explained by his heroin addiction— the series begins to set up Season Two’s most exceptional pieces. With Will now in Sydney’s confidence, he has as much romantic potential as Vaughn, and the introduction of Irina Derevko, Sydney’s villainous mother, causes our heroine a whole new set of problems.
64. “Salvation” (Episode 2.06)
After her family’s allegiances are torn apart, “Salvation” puts everyone in Sydney’s life in danger. Irina is awaiting the death penalty, and after Jack admits he framed Irina, he faces jail time. We also learn that, by interacting with the Rambaldi device at the end of Season One, Vaughn and Sydney could contract a deadly disease. Vaughn ends the episode by bleeding under the fingernails, the first sign of the illness, bringing he and Sydney closer than before— even though it might be too late.
63. “Detente” (Episode 4.07)
In “Detente,” the new dynamic of Sydney, Sloane and Nadia finally becomes a problem. Nadia wants to get to know her father, while Sydney still has nothing but contempt for the man. This becomes even more of an issue when Sydney and Nadia go on a mission to capture a deadly chemical. While the first third of this season has been mostly one-off missions, “Detente” is one of the first times we see the past seeping into the present, and hints that what we’ve seen in previous seasons still holds weight in the larger story.
62. “Mea Culpa” (Episode 1.09)
While investigating the death of Danny, Will gets a disguised phone call asking how far he’s willing to go. The same could be said of Alias: In ways that are always compelling, “Mea Culpa” continuously pushes the lengths to which the series might go. Sloane finds out that Sydney is the mole, only to deny it, then accept it. Will realizes he may have gone too far, and Dixon may or may not have figured out that Sydney is a double agent.
61. “The Solution” (Episode 1.20)
After an entire season positioning the characters, “The Solution” signals the payoff to come. Will discovers Jack’s involvement in his kidnapping, Sloane’s wife admits she knows about SD-6—thus sealing her fate—and Dixon gets close to discovering that Sydney is a double agent. After too much backtracking in the previous episodes, Alias gets back to the exciting, mysterious and secret-filled world that it excelled at in the season’s bold beginning.
60. ”Dead Drop” (Episode 2.04)
More than any episode thus far, “Dead Drop” throws the audience deep into the mother/father battle that becomes a large part of Season Two. With Sydney increasingly trusting her mother, Jack decides to frame his ex-wife to bring Sydney’s allegiance back to him. Jack is so certain his wife will hurt Sydney, he goes to extreme lengths to do what he thinks will protect her. In fact, “Dead Drop” has almost everyone trying to help Sydney: Will lies about his SD-6 stories to protect her, and her enemy, Sark, offers her a job as the two fight over the same goals.
59. ”Nocturne” (Episode 4.06)
“Nocture” continues Season Four’s trend of letting all sorts of crazy ideas fly. Sydney is bitten with a hallucinogen, which causes her to see things that don’t exist. “Nocturne” is way too on the nose at points—when Sydney meets the Count, the dealer of the hallucinogenic drug, at a club, Marilyn Manson’s “The Dope Show” is playing—and the ticking-clock search for an antidote has been done on Alias before, but it’s Jack’s concern over his daughter’s life that brings a surprising amount of heart to the episode.
58. “Repercussions” (Episode 3.05)
With the animosity between Lauren and Sydney at an all-time high, “Repercussions” puts them on a mission together. After an injured Vaughn pulls through, Lauren and Sydney grow stronger as coworkers here, and almost come to like each other. Season Three starts off dour, filled with pain and loss, so it’s great that “Repercussions” gives Sydney at least a small win. Plus, when Marshall goes undercover as a gambler, he brings some comic relief to the season and finally shows us the character’s more confident side.
57. “After Six” (Episode 3.13)
“After Six” introduces us to a team that feels like the opposite of Sydney and Vaughn, as Lauren and Sark begin to work together. While Sydney and Vaughn are trying to get the names of Covenant members, Lauren and Sark are killing the people on that list to make it irrelevant. It’s great for Alias to have a real antagonist again, rather than the nebulous idea of The Covenant—especially since both teams seem so equally matched. “After Six” also has a lot of fun as Marshall gets married and his wife goes into labor while he’s navigating Sydney and Vaughn through a series of traps. Quentin Tarantino’s McKenas Cole also returns as a high-ranking member of The Covenant. Every episode could use the smarmy creepiness of McKenas Cole.
56. “Resurrection” (Episode 3.22)
Alias’ Season Three finale is a mixed bag, much like the entire season, and absolutely feels like a step down from previous finales. While “Resurrection” wraps up the Lauren story, it also leaves too many aspects vague. The Covenant remains poorly defined, while the “reveal” of an ending only hints at what is to come, rather than giving the audience something to latch onto. As serious as “Resurrection” wants us to take it, the episode is a combination of silliness and brutal bloodiness that don’t sync up well.
55. “So It Begins” (Episode 1.02)
In its second episode, Alias establishes the stakes, not only for the series, but also for Sydney herself. Sydney’s father reveals that he knew her fiancé was going to die. One of her best friends, Will, investigates the murder of said fiancé. And if that wasn’t enough, there’s even the disarming of a nuclear bomb. Twice.
54. “Passage, Part 1” (Episode 2.08)
Since the arrival of Irina Derevko, it was inevitable that the Bristow family would eventually have to go on a mission together. The constant mistrust between Irina and Jack can’t overshadow the fact that these three work very well together. But the showstopper of “Passage, Part 1” is Olin’s Irina: Her every action could be part of a longer con, or an attempt to mend her backstabbing ways.
53. “The Two” (Episode 3.01)
Season Two ended with some gigantic cliffhangers, including “Why did Vaughn get married?” and “Where has Sydney been for two years?” Strangely, “The Two” spends the majority of the episode around the reveal that Jack is now in prison and Sydney is determined to get her father out. It’s a bit weird that “The Two” presents and solves this problem within the same episode, especially with such huge questions still to be answered. “The Two” does revitalize the characters once more by placing them in completely different situations than when we last saw them, while leaving plenty of plot on the table for the rest of the season.
52. “Page 47” (Episode 1.15)
As the last part of Season One begins, “47” kicks everything up a notch. Will’s fate is in the hands of SD-6 as he gets closer to the truth—and closer to being assassinated—but “Page 47” also takes Rambaldi from possible prophet to a bonkers genius, as Sloane admits his growing obsession. And for some reason, the Rambaldi page Sydney steals happens to have her face on it. “Page 47” is a big step forward in the twisty plots and intricate mysteries that we’ll see as the season wraps up.
51. “The Indicator” (Episode 2.05)
So much of Alias’ second season focuses on Sydney’s past and how she fits into the troubled family she hardly knew. In “The Indicator,” Sydney learns that these wounds are much deeper than she thought. While Jack believed he was protecting his daughter by framing his ex-wife, it actually has the opposite effect. Sydney learns the truth, including that she may have been trained as a child to become a spy. While the first season had Sydney’s allegiances torn between good and evil, her choice between trusting her mother and trusting her father is much more nebulous and unpredictable, particularly after the events of “The Indicator.”
50. “Passage, Part 2” (Episode 2.09)
“Passage, Part 2” takes everything that made the first part terrific and expands it to even greater effect. On their first mission together, we see the love that still exists among the Bristows, alongside the betrayal and pain that tore them apart in the first place. This comes back in a big way when it seems like Irina has double-crossed her family, only for it to be a part of the larger plan. “Passage, Part 2” also hints at how wild the series can get: There’s evidence that Sloane’s wife is still alive after he thought he killed her, and the Bristows’ mission is for a centuries-old Rambaldi flower. As Season Two starts to kick into gear, “Passage, Part 2” is an excellent example of how well Alias can balance its personal relationships with elements of pure fun.
49. “The Abduction” (Episode 2.10)
Sydney’s mission partner is Marshall, which makes “The Abduction” a more light-hearted episode. But “The Abduction” plants the seeds of the big changes coming in “Phase One” and allows Sydney’s various lives to intersect. Vaughn sets up a strategy to get Marshall out of SD-6—which doesn’t go as planned—and Will undergoes a psychological evaluation in the hopes of working for the CIA full time.
48. “A Higher Echelon” (Episode 2.11)
Not surprising given its age, Alias often involves outdated technology. But “A Higher Echelon” remains prescient: SD-6 attempts to wrest control of the Echelon program, which allows its users to listen in on anyone’s phone calls. “A Higher Echelon” also concludes Marshall’s abduction. He doesn’t back down against the bad guys and, in doing so, makes the audience want him to get out of SD-6 as soon as possible. “A Higher Echelon” sets the tension high, making it seem as if everything could explode at any moment.
47. “Ice” (Episode 4.04)
“Ice” takes Rambaldi in a campy direction, with a weapon that freezes people. The introduction to “Ice” is especially silly, since we have no idea what’s going when a man’s leg falls off, and then he shatters into million pieces. Speaking of breaking apart, “Ice” shows how deep Vaughn’s wounds over Lauren go, as he bares his soul to guest star Kelly MacDonald. The “case of the week” dynamic might get old, but Season Four starts off by having a lot of fun.
46. “Endgame” (Episode 2.19)
When Sydney needs help on an unsanctioned mission in Russia, Vaughn joins her regardless of the consequences. Jack’s distrust makes him judge a Russian situation poorly. Most tragically, after accidentally killing Sloane’s wife, Dixon must watch as his own wife is blown up in her car as retaliation. As we’ve seen from the very beginning of Alias, it’s the damage to those close to these spies that constitutes the characters’ biggest obstacle.
45. “Succession” (Episode 3.02)
In “Succession,” Sloane’s determined to be seen as an ally. Jack, back at the CIA and secretly working with Irina, helps hide that Sydney killed an unarmed man. The episode also sets up The Covenant as a potential adversary and Vaughn returns to the CIA. But the biggest step forward for Season Three is the introduction of Lauren Reed, Vaughn’s wife and the woman investigating the death of the man Sydney murdered. “Succession” lays out the season’s plan and some engrossing new character dynamics as well.
44. “Countdown” (Episode 2.20)
Following the deaths of Sloane’s and Dixon’s wives, “Countdown” centers on a Rambaldi mystery that hints at a major cataclysmic event set to occur in 48 hours, leaving the CIA scrambling for answers and showing Dixon’s desperation. “Countdown” features one of Alias’ best guest star lineups, with Jonathan Banks, Danny Trejo and David Carradine, and gives Marshall a love interest/someone that listens to his long diatribes. While the Dixon story remains quite dark, the rest is a ton of fun.
43. “A Missing Link” (Episode 3.04)
Four episodes into the third season, Alias starts to dig into the two missing years of Sydney’s life. For Sydney, those answers can be found in Simon Walker (Justin Theroux), who gathers weapons for The Covenant and knows Sydney as Julia. It’s great Alias is finally interested in the big questions of Sydney’s past, and an intriguing gang that features Theroux and Clifton Collins, Jr. isn’t a bad place to start. We can also see the huge shakeups that Sydney’s arrival causes, from Sloane’s growing hostility to Lauren and Vaughn fighting whenever they are near each other to Sydney stabbing Vaughn to keep their cover. “You never should have betrayed me,” she says. Badass.
42. “Blood Ties” (Episode 3.20)
We’ve known the importance of Rambaldi in the Bristow, Sloane and Derevkos families, but in “Blood Ties,” we learn Vaughn’s father was also a follower of Rambaldi. While the Bristows have never quite gone all in on the Rambaldi mysteries, Sloane will put Rambaldi ahead of his own family. We see this as “Blood Ties” introduces us to Sloane’s daughter and Sydney’s sister, Nadia, a.k.a “The Passenger,” who Sloane uses for his own Rambaldi-obsessed ways. The Rambaldi mysteries are convoluted, but Vaughn boils it down at episode’s end to one key piece of information: If Sydney and Nadia face each other, one will not survive.
41. “Prelude” (Episode 3.07)
After all the secrets, lies and deceptions that begin the third season, “Prelude” gets the characters on the same page. Everyone now knows Sydney murdered Lazerey. This pulls Lauren and Vaughn further apart, brings he and Sydney even closer and shows just how far both Vaughn and Jack will go to protect Sydney. But it’s Lauren’s actions that make “Prelude” the best episode of Season Three so far, as she gives the NSC information leading to Sydney’s capture. “Prelude” feels like Season Three running on all cylinders, giving us exciting set pieces—Sydney and Sloane going undercover; Sydney’s fight in Beijing—and huge plot developments that reshape how the characters see each other.
40. “Unveiled” (Episode 3.18)
In “Unveiled,” the characters finally learn what the audience has known for almost half the season: Lauren, working for The Covenant, is the CIA mole. Even though it’s information we know, “Unveiled” is satisfying to watch: Jack’s suspicions lead to Sydney having her doubts, but the final straw is Vaughn finding Lauren’s cache of getaway materials. Lauren has always felt like a temporary problem—for the CIA, for the love story between Sydney and Vaughn, for Alias in general. “Unveiled,” is the first sign the story’s ready to conclude.
39. “Blowback” (Episode 3.14)
“Blowback” takes a simple idea, and one that J.J. Abrams uses frequently—depicting a scene from multiple perspectives—and pulls it off beautifully. It’s surprising this technique hasn’t been used in prior episodes, but seeing a mission through the eyes of Sydney and Vaughn, then through the eyes of Lauren and Sark, works incredibly well. Despite the huge reveal that Sydney might actually be Sloane’s daughter, “Blowback” is more style than substance, but it doesn’t really matter when an episode is this well crafted and enjoyable.
38. “The Counteragent” (Episode 2.07)
Everyone knew there was a romance brewing between Sydney and Vaughn. Vaughn comes right out and tells Irina how he feels about Sydney, but Sydney shows how she feels through her actions. There’s a genuine disappointment when she meets Alice, Vaughn’s girlfriend, and it’s reflected in her actions to save his life, from trying to find an antidote to the disease that is quickly killing him to deciding to work alongside Sark. “The Counteragent” is a terrific episode of Alias because it gets to the core of what the show does best— balancing the life of a spy with attempts at normalcy, and what that combination could cost.
37. “Full Disclosure” (Episode 3.11)
“Full Disclosure” is essentially one big cop out after another. Was Sydney really an assassin working for The Covenant? Nah, she was undercover with the good guys. Well, did The Covenant wipe Sydney’s memory? Nope, she did that to herself. Finally starting to like Lauren, even though Vaughn and Sydney should probably be together? She’s working for The Covenant, so feel free to hate her. Despite all of this, “Full Disclosure” is exactly what Season Three needed: a gigantic detail dump—one that’s surprisingly enthralling—to kick-start its various threads and prepare for the second half of the season.
36. “Legacy” (Episode 3.21)
“Legacy” gives a peek at what’s to come in Season Four, and, more importantly, shows us the characters’ limits. Vaughn is out for blood trying to find his wife, scaring Sydney in the process. Sloane puts his daughter in grave danger in his quest for Rambaldi answers. But “Legacy” also gives us our first glimpse into who Nadia is, as we begin to sympathize with her and hear about her childhood at an orphanage.
35. “Authorized Personnel Only: Part 1” (Episode 4.01)
After the mixed reactions to Season Three, the fourth season revamps the series once more. In order to do that, “Authorized Personnel Only: Part 1” steals its entire outline from “Phase One,” and actually reverts back to the way Alias was at the very beginning. Sloane is the head of a new black ops division that features the core team once again, Sydney and Jack don’t trust each other as much as they have recently and Dixon is back to being Sydney’s partner. “Authorized Personnel Only: Part 1” tries to return to the glory days of Alias, and it actually sort of works.
34. “The Index” (Episode 4.10)
Considering how important it’s been in seasons past, it’s surprising how infrequently Season Four plays with the series’ complicated family dynamics. “The Index” returns to this. Sloane might be double-crossing the CIA as the family gathers to celebrate Nadia’s birthday. We also discover that Vaughn’s father may still be alive. Jack’s possible involvement brings Alias back to the subject of internal struggles within the agency, and on the whole, “The Index” turns on long-term, not episodic, stories.
33. “I See Dead People” (Episode 5.14)
“I See Dead People” ends one of the series’ longest-running subplots—Sydney’s rivalry with Anna Espinosa. Vaughn and Sydney are finally reunited, putting Vaughn back in play. Sydney pretends to be Anna to infiltrate Prophet Five. Sloane is hiding his true intentions from Prophet Five, seeing visions of Nadia after killing her, and contacting Sark for an unknown purpose. Sydney and Vaughn discover enough information on Prophet Five to take them down—and, by extension, Sloane. With all these pieces in place, it actually feels like it might happen this time.
32. “Search and Rescue” (Episode 4.21)
Previous seasons of Alias have set up gigantic finales, but none on the scale of “Search and Rescue”: Even the series itself seems to realize just how ridiculous a giant Circumference over Russia is. Since there are plans to nuke the Circumference, it’s the smaller stakes that truly matter, as Irina—who is found to be alive—promises to get to know Nadia after all these years and Vaughn finally proposes to Sydney.
31. “30 Seconds” (Episode 5.13)
“Death is a necessary sacrifice,” Sloane says in the final moments of “30 Seconds.” “Necessary to complete the final leg of this journey.” He couldn’t be more correct. “30 Seconds” ends with the deaths of Nadia and Renee, the former at her father’s hands, as he chooses Rambaldi over blood ties. With his focus on Nadia gone, Sloane embraces his inner villain potential and gives in to his Rambaldi whims. Then Anna Espinosa, who’s been genetically altered to look like Sydney, kills Renee.
30. “Authorized Personnel Only: Part 2” (Episode 4.02)
“Authorized Personnel Only: Part 2” brings Alias back to the beginning. Weiss starts his role as the Francie/Will surrogate. Marshall joins the APO. And there’s plenty of distrust among Sydney, Jack and Nadia. With Sydney facing off against a samurai, “Authorized Personnel Only: Part 2” is reminiscent of Tarantino’s Kill Bill films: If “Part 1” was about reorganizing the characters into their old spots, “Part 2” is all about mixing the new placements with the humor, fun and action at which the series always excelled.
29. “In Dreams” (Episode 4.19)
“In Dreams” digs into Sloane’s painful memories and gives us a deeper look into the series’ most notorious villain. We learn about Sloane’s unborn daughter, Jacqueline, and the emptiness that led him to Rambaldi. Despite seasons of Sloane swearing he’s trying to do the right thing and make the correct choices, “In Dreams” is the first time these claims feel honest.
28. “A Man of His Word” (Episode 4.09)
For the first time in ages, Alias lets us sympathize with its villains. With Nadia in a coma, we see that Sloane cares for his daughter, but “A Man of His Word” is Sark’s episode. He breaks down upon seeing Lauren’s body, goes undercover with Sydney and teams up with Anna—an entrancing duo that the show could’ve very well done more with.
27. “The Road Home” (Episode 4.11)
“The Road Home” is a rare opportunity for Alias to examine the casualties that come with being a spy, and the result is intriguing and introspective. While on a mission in Austria, Sydney steals a keycard from an American (Jason Segel), putting his life in danger. We’ve seen Sydney pull this type of move on tons of people, but “The Road Home” is the first to focus on the trouble her actions cause. In Madagascar, Jack meets Sasha Korjev (Corey Stoll), an old arms dealer friend whom Jack must kill. Despite how many contacts and friendships CIA agents make, Alias never deals with how difficult it must be to take out those they’ve gotten close to.
26. “Welcome to Liberty Village” (Episode 4.05)
The premise of “Welcome to Liberty Village” is so overwhelmingly cheesy that the whole idea could’ve been a disaster. Yet the episode is so silly and over the top it’s sort of hard not to love. After Weiss tells them they’re too boring, Sydney and Vaughn are immediately sent on a mission to Russia where they must pretend to be a married couple. The thread from personal story to spy story is all too obvious, as Sydney and Vaughn get a glimpse at what married life could be like, even after they’ve decided to take it slow. The episode’s fantastic writing, by Buffy’s Drew Goddard, somehow makes it all work.
25. “Hourglass” (Episode 3.19)
“Hourglass” gets Alias back to Season One’s secretive antics. The CIA is aware that Lauren is their mole, but the agency keeps her close in order to attack The Covenant. Hell, even the therapist gets in on the action! Sloane becomes more curious than he’s been all season, as we discover his motivation has been to find his daughter. (He’s quite sympathetic in “Hourglass,” as he heads to what he thinks is his execution.) With both CIA and The Covenant knowing the deal with the other side, the exciting “Hourglass” sets up the pieces for the big battle to come.
24. “Maternal Instinct” (Episode 5.11)
“Maternal Instinct” encapsulates the ideas that make Alias great in a single episode. While on a mission with Jack and Irina, Sydney goes into labor. Even though Sydney and Jack discover that Irina has been working with Prophet Five, when the moment comes for Sydney to give birth, it’s family that matters most—not who’s on what side. What Alias boils down to, after all the double-agent rigmarole, is family, both the one we’re born with and the one we create for ourselves. With “Maternal Instinct,” this comes into play in a beautiful way, as Sydney gives birth to a baby girl, surrounded by her mother and father, not caring about anything else.
23. “Echoes” (Episode 4.08)
As much fun as the one-off stories in the first chunk of Season Four are, “Echoes” is the first episode this season that feels like Alias getting back to business. The return of Anna Espinosa is a perfect way to begin this transition and the welcome return of Sark brings an element of sarcasm that you don’t miss until it’s gone. “Echoes” ends in old school Alias fashion, with a cliffhanger, the realization of a Rambaldi prophecy coming true and the potential death of a major character. It’s good to have you back, Alias.
22. “The Horizon” (Episode 5.09)
“The Horizon” is the first truly fascinating episode of Alias’s fifth season, as Sydney is abducted by Project Five and forced to relive moments she shared with Vaughn. As we go through her memories, we see some of the most iconic moments of the entire series and remember how great Vaughn and Sydney were together. With Jack trying desperately to find Sydney, it turns out that Irina is allowing this to happen to her daughter for information about a new weapon. “The Horizon” feels a lot like Lost, as Alias returns to its biggest questions for the first time in a while.
21. “Breaking Point” (Episode 3.08)
For the first third of the series’ third season, it’s almost as if Alias forgets to have fun. “Breaking Point” reverses the trend with a good, old-fashioned prison break to save Sydney from the NSC. To do this, Jack enlists the help of Vaughn, Sloane and guest star Richard Roundtree. “Breaking Point” slyly reshapes what these characters think of each other. Jack starts to like Vaughn. Lauren and Vaughn get on the same side. And Sloane saves Jack’s life. We see these characters begin to trust each other once again. Plus, “Breaking Point” gives us just enough information about Sydney’s missing two years to keep that plotline moving forward, while still remaining largely mysterious. The episode’s willingness to focus on one mission, riveting and full of twists, lifts it into the ranks of Season Three’s best episodes.
20. “Remnants” (Episode 3.10)
Since losing two years of her life at the end of Season Two, Sydney has talked about how she’s lost everyone in her former life and was completely alone in the world she woke up in. So it’s a bit strange that Sydney never tried to seek out Will before now. Still, it’s excellent to catch up with him again in “Remnants.” In many ways, the episode feels like serious fan service, allowing Will and Sydney a night together and then giving Will a chance to get his revenge by killing Fake Francie, Allison Doren.
19. “Truth Takes Time” (Episode 2.18)
Before the conclusion of Season Two whirs into motion, “Truth Takes Time” find everyone at their lowest point. Sydney loses both her mother, Irina, and a mother figure, Emily, while Sloane loses his wife, the one person he was willing to give up his nefarious ways for. What works so well about “Truth Takes Time,” and Season Two of Alias in general, is how these characters play in the gray areas: We come to feel for Sloane, and want to believe that Irina isn’t as bad as her actions might suggest. It’s a testament to the writing and the performances of Alias that no matter how much we know about a character, there’s always be more underneath.
18. “Color-Blind” (Episode 1.07)
“Color-Blind” is the first time in Alias that we see Sydney completely alone on a mission, trapped in a Romanian mental institution. It’s also the first time we see Sydney’s mission intersect with her personal life, as the man she’s trying to get information from turns out to be the man who killed her fiancé. While it doesn’t make any real sense why SD-6 would send Sydney on a mission to investigate the assassin who killed the man she loved, “Color-Blind” makes for one of Sydney’s most exciting missions so far, and a great combination of long-term and short-term story arcs.
17. “The Box (Part 1)” (Episode 1.12)
In the beginning of Alias’ two-part Die Hard-like homage, Sydney wants to quit SD-6 after hearing the truth about her mother and even asks Vaughn on a date. But before she can quit, she meets Tarantino’s McKenas Cole, the episode’s own Hans Gruber. As one would expect, Tarantino is hammy, over-the-top and ridiculously enjoyable as the former SD-6 freelancer seeking revenge. His scenes interrogating Sloane allow Tarantino to go wild with the dialogue (it sounds like he wrote it), a testament one of the most delightful casting choices Alias ever made.
16. “Almost 30 Years” (Episode 1.22)
In the final episode of Season One, Sydney finds The Circumference she’s been searching for: “It’s bigger than I thought.” The thought also applies to where Alias is going, as the first season ends with all sorts of revelations, explanations, and complications—a deepening of the series’ universe. Working as a wonderful bookend to the first season, Will is interrogated by the same man Sydney was in the very first episode, and The Circumference ends up being a much larger version of the device she found in the pilot as well. “Almost 30 Years” adds extra layers to the show’s key relationships, too: Sloane comes clean to his wife, Dixon knows something’s up with Sydney, Vaughn is possibly dead, and “The Man” turns out to be Sydney’s mother, Irina Derevko.
15. “Second Double” (Episode 2.21)
For most of the second season, Will remains in the background. But in a single season, much has changed for the former reporter. At the outset, his cover was as a disgraced writer with a heroin addiction; now he’s on his way to becoming one of the CIA’s top researchers. While his life has been on an upswing, his biggest mistake was starting a relationship with Fake Francie, who’s now framing him to keep up her cover. Will’s stories in the first season were always delightful because of his close relationship with Sydney, and “Second Double” gets back to that in a big way. But there’s also the painful betrayal we see from Will. Despite years of support and love, he tells Sydney that meeting her ruined his life. “Second Double” mixes the personal relationships and spy stories that always make for the series’ best episodes and gives Will some much needed attention.
14. “The Getaway” (Episode 2.12)
At the beginning, “The Getaway” plays like a generic Season One episode. Most of the drama comes from Sydney trying to balance CIA and SD-6 life, her sexual tension with Vaughn and the suspicion that she and her father might be double agents. But then “The Getaway” starts throwing curveballs, like the return of Eric Weiss, who convinces Vaughn to tell Sydney how he feels. This near-death experience mentality to go for what you love permeates the rest of “The Getaway.” Vaughn and Sydney share their first date, which obviously doesn’t go well, and we discover the lengths to which Sloane has gone to keep his wife alive. “The Getaway” plays with our expectations in sly ways and throws some great surprises our way before the mother lode of surprises to come.
13. “Before the Flood” (Episode 4.22)
Alias’s craziest finale throws the majority of the APO into what is, essentially, a Russian zombie apocalypse. “Before the Flood” tries to mend many of the relationships that have been severed throughout the season. Jack makes up with Irina; Irina kills the evil Elena; and Sloane shoots Nadia to save Sydney, ignoring a Rambaldi prophecy in the process. Despite Alias going bigger than it’s ever gone before, the most effective moments come from Sydney and Vaughn. Sydney accepts Vaughn’s proposal, then Vaughn admits that his name is not Michael Vaughn—before being hit by a car. It’s the series’ best cliffhanger, making Sydney question her strongest relationship.
12. “Façade” (Episode 3.15)
“Façade” doesn’t have much impact on the series’ grand design, but the episode uses its one-off arc to orchestrate all of the elements that Alias does best. “Façade” is mostly contained within the CIA office including and gives us another fantastic cameo, this time by Ricky Gervais, as bomb maker Daniel Ryan. Within one episode, we get an entire set made for Ryan to think he’s in a hotel and two tense bomb diffusions. But most important is the way that “Façade” shows us the complications of the series’ villains and allows the series to take a break from large-scale storytelling to hone its finer skills.
11. “Reprisal” (Episode 5.16)
As penultimate episodes go, “Reprisal” is an excellent way to set up the series finale, showing us the true colors of our characters. The episode begins by giving each APO member a final moment in the field and ends by getting rid of Tom, one of the show’s most unnecessary characters. In maybe his finest moment, Marshall tells Sloane how he truly feels about him and doesn’t back down after torture. We also see Sloane’s power and focus, Sark’s reticence and Sydney’s dedication to charting her own path.
10. “The Box (Part 2)” (Episode 1.13)
In the second half of “The Box,” we finally get to see what Vaughn would be like in the field. After wanting to quit in the first half, Sydney comes around and realizes how important she is to taking down SD-6—especially since her father and friends remain trapped. “The Box” features the nervous excitement this show does so well, while setting up the uneasiness that any day, SD-6 could come crumbling to the ground, for better or for worse.
9. “There’s Only One Sydney Bristow” (Episode 5.12)
For Alias’ 100th episode, the show celebrates by getting back to what feels like peak Alias. With a few small changes, “There’s Only One Sydney Bristow” could’ve easily been in the first two seasons, as Anna Espinosa returns to kidnap Will. The entire episode plays like a throwback to those halcyon days—right down to Sydney’s red wig in the pilot—and brings Sydney back into the action. “There’s Only One Sydney Bristow” also points to the future, setting up the final five episodes with Anna getting her DNA changed to look like Sydney, Sloane working toward the “endgame” and the show even taking a few moments to bring the new characters up to speed on Rambaldi—a brief history, of course. “There’s Only One Sydney Bristow” does all this while being one of the most humorous, exciting and enjoyable entries in the series in some time.
8. “Conscious” (Episode 3.09)
“Conscious” is one of the most experimental episodes in the series’ run, so it makes sense that David Cronenberg guests as the eccentric scientist that causes the episode’s strange developments. Through drugs and a questionable procedure, he allows Sydney to go into her dreams and manipulate her own memories. “Conscious” is effective in that the slightest diversion in this dream state causes Sydney’s mind to wander to odd places, jumping from moment to moment and referring to past episodes. “Conscious” mixes crazy fun with legitimate answers, becoming one of the more distinctive and impressively directed episodes of the series.
7. “Rendezvous” (Episode 1.21)
“Rendezvous” brings one of the first season’s central threads to a head with the excellent reveal that Will now knows Sydney’s true job. After an entire season of Sydney wishing she could tell her friends the truth, it’s nice for her to have Will, who responds as kindly as one can expect. “Rendezvous” is marked by this good news/bad news style: After Sloane gets the Alliance to let his wife live since the cancer will probably kill her anyway, Emily’s cancer goes into remission. But what might be most exciting about “Rendezvous” is Alias finally allowing its various worlds to meld together, as family, friends, SD-6 and CIA intersect in fascinating ways.
6. “Truth Be Told” (Episode 1.01)
Looking back at J.J. Abrams’ early TV work, Alias looks like the missing link between the twenty-something life of Felicity and the high sci-fi of Lost. In Alias’s first episode, “Truth Be Told,” writer-director Abrams balances these two sides brilliantly, showing how they inform Sydney Bristow’s actions in both aspects of her life. “Truth Be Told” is an ambitious pilot: It presents us with a reality we’re completely unfamiliar with, only to tell the audience halfway through that everything we’ve seen so far is a lie.
5. “Mirage” (Episode 4.18)
Alias almost never shows the sweetness beneath Jack’s harsh exterior. Occasionally, we’ll see flashes of it, but he rarely puts his guard down. That’s why “Mirage” is so effective: Here, Jack is without his defenses, weakened by the sickness that is making him hallucinate. When Sydney uses her father’s visions to get information about the one doctor who can help him, she plays the part of her mother in the 1980s. This sequence alone almost gives us more information about who Jack is, and the pain he feels, than the rest of the series combined.
4. “All the Time in the World” (Episode 5.17)
Wrapping up a story like Alias is a tall order, especially with all the loose ends that have built up over the last five seasons. Somehow, “All the Time in the World” manages to create a satisfying conclusion, one that (mostly) pulls everything together. This is thanks to the episode’s writers, Jeff Pinkner and Drew Goddard, who get down to the core of what Alias was always about: family. The final episode features Sydney saying goodbye to her mother and father, a resolution to Sloane’s story that offers some answers to the Rambaldi mystery, and the exact ending that Sydney and Vaughn deserve. Sure there’s a lot that still doesn’t make sense, but “All the Time in the World” knows what matters and decides to focus on that.
3. “Tuesday” (Episode 4.13)
Season Four’s move from ongoing arcs to an episodic focus wasn’t exactly embraced by Alias fans. But “Tuesday” is the season’s best example of just how phenomenal this type of storytelling can be. With the APO locked down after a toxin is released and Sydney buried alive in Cuba, Marshall—who happened not to be in the office—is the only one who can save Sydney. The first half of “Tuesday” is exciting and intense, even though it’s obvious that the show won’t kill Sydney, and the second half, with Marshall in the field, is about as hilarious as Alias gets. Thanks to an excellent script by Drew Goddard and Breen Frazier, “Tuesday” pops in all the right ways, shocking and entertaining from beginning to end.
2. “The Telling” (Episode 2.22)
“The Telling,” the Season Two finale, goes nuts with twists, reveals and big surprises that makes for one of the wildest episodes of Alias ever. The first two-thirds deal with double-crosses and Rambaldi puzzles that work even better than usual, while the final third goes for great moment after great moment. Will learns about Fake Francie and the two fight, before she and Sydney completely destroy their apartment in an all-out brawl. Then Sydney wakes up two years later in Hong Kong, where a now-married Vaughn comes to pick her up. Yet the entire endeavor never feels false or forced in any way: Alias episodes rarely get more ambitious, brutal or exciting than “The Telling.”
1. ”Phase One” (Episode 2.13)
“Phase One” isn’t simply the most brilliant episode in Alias history, it’s also the encapsulation of how innovative and exciting television can be. In just one episode, Alias destroys and rebuilds itself, becoming something altogether more captivating in the process.
“Phase One” introduces the series’ key details without sinking into extended plot synopsis, and it’s funnier, more self-aware, even more melodramatic than almost any other episode in the series’ annals. An hour of payoffs and wish fulfillments, “Phase One” ends the CIA’s battle against The Alliance and SD branches halfway through the series’ second season—daring storytelling—and after a season and a half of romantic tension, Sydney and Vaughn finally kiss. (“Phase One” even makes Francie interesting, killing the original Francie and putting Fake Francie in her place.)
Simplifying the series’ tangled narrative, expanding its possibilities, and reimagining its fundamental features, “Phase One” is Alias running on all cylinders.
Ross Bonaime is a D.C.-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can find more of his writing at RossBonaime.com and follow him on Twitter.