The "Alias" Cliffhanger Conundrum

I've been using the lack of summer TV worth watching to catch up with old shows that I loved. The current one on my list was "Alias", which I started over the 4th of July holiday weekend. I'm currently up to Season 4, which means I just passed what I have to consider to be the most frustrating moment in the series for "Alias" fans.

Each of the first four seasons of "Alias" ended on a cliffhanger, and the ones for the first two seasons were both reasonably resolved. However, season 3 ended like this:

Now, in Season 4, we learn that one of those black pages contained the information that Jack (Sydney's father) had asked the CIA for permission to execute Irina Derevko (Sydney's mother) without telling Sydney. And sure, that's something that would upset Sydney, no doubt, but it makes ZERO sense as a resolution to the end of Season 3.

First of all, earlier in the episode, Lauren Reed -- the double-agent who was married to Vaughn and betraying the U.S. government -- had made insinuations to Sydney about who was controlling her. And since Sydney's father wasn't a director at the CIA at the time, that doesn't really make sense with the resolution we were given (nor does it seem likely that Lauren would have had access to that order).

Also, it's painfully clear that the first black page has Sydney's name and date of birth on the front, with Jack listed as the project leader. If the pages at all related to the death of Irina Derevko, there'd be no need for that information. They try to explain it away in Season 4 by having Sydney say "one of the pages" contained that information, but that doesn't explain the rest of the pages (the more interesting mystery) at all, nor does explain why Sydney is emotionally breaking down long before she gets to the later pages.

Most long-term "Alias" fans realize that what happened is between Seasons 3 and 4, it became clear to the creators of the show that they weren't likely to get Lena Olin back anytime soon and they had to write her character out in a convenient way. I even wrote about that exact thing back in 2005. That's fine. But I'd still, five years later, like to know what the ORIGINAL plan was for those pages and that mystery.

When I was rewatching the start of Season 4 the other day, I finally decided to listen to the audio commentary on those first couple of episodes, hoping they'd address this issue, or even acknowledge it, but they don't. All they mention is that they didn't think they'd be able to get Lena Olin back, then talk about how great it was that they did (even though that created ANOTHER continuity issue that was explained away by a stupid cloning story). When re-watching the series so close together, as I am now, it becomes even more obvious that the end of Season 3 was never really resolved properly, which makes it hard to enjoy the beginning of Season 4. That's compounded by the fact that early in Season 4, they went to standalone episodes without any Rambaldi-related backstory. I know they were trying to build a bigger audience, but the episodes themselves are weak, and I'm glad that I'm already into the part of the season where they got back to what they did best.


  1. Ugh, dude I hear you. I remember that pissed me off MASSIVELY when Season 4 started. Now my girlfriend is re-watching all the Alias seasons. Seeing how awesome Seasons one and two are, I'm shuddering as she approaches the end of Season 3. What a painful let down.

    Like you I continue to wonder what the original plan was for Season 4.

  2. Rewatching the series and wondering about this as well. Painfully obvious that they had something else in mind for that cliffhanger. I'm surprised that all these years later it still has never come out in an interview with any of the creators or anything.

    I've also long wondered if the original intention was to have Sloane be Syndey's biological father. They hint at it every couple of episodes in season one. I know eventually it comes out that he has a different daughter with Irina (Nadia), but I wonder if that was always the plan or if they had originally envisioned Sloane being Syd's daddy.

  3. Rewatch it all again and start paying attention in Season 2 when Sydney discovers that she was part of Project Christmas. The first thing they did was hint throughout Season 3 that her missing time was likely a result of Project Xmas. They wanted us to think that... as a diversion from what was really happening. While we were distracted with that Rambaldi/Project Xmas information, we didn't pay enough attention to the REAL point of Season 3: the revenge and betrayal factor which paralleled Jack/Irina. Consider that Jack was reminded of everything that Irina did to him. He was coaxing Vaughn to kill Lauren... now consider that Jack makes an excuse in one of those final few scenes he's in saying "there's something I need to take care of" before he kind of vanishes from sight. When he reappears, we get a cliffhanger which makes us believe those files have everything to do with Project Christmas, when in fact they concern Irina being a security risk and using Sydney (which explains her file also being in the vault). While Jack was MIA during Sydney and Vaughn's ploy to get revenge on Lauren, Jack was so riled up that he got revenge on Irina, using her betrayal as a justification. In actual fact, he was just so angry at her that he found a reason to make it happen.

    They already knew way before Season 3 ended that using Lena Olin in Season 3 would be difficult; she was missing from much of Season 2 because she had to fly back and forth from New York. The fact that they planted a scene where Jack has Vaughn carrying his burden and then conveniently has to go away and "do something" while his fury is rekindled... yeah, they knew what they were doing. In fact, that Season 3 ending was a deliberate rewrite that JJ insisted upon. The original ending had Sydney holding onto both Vaughn and Jack as they dangle over a cliff and she can only save one of them. He didn't like it -- so they went with what we see now. The flaw with killing Irina is that these scenes showing Jack's rage and then going MIA for a short time are fresher before you have to wait 8 months for the continuation, like we did when Season 4 was postponed due to network tampering. That said, I also recommend watching Season 4 in the proper/intended viewing order as listed on wikipedia after the broadcast order. It changes the whole feel of the season and makes it feel like Alias again.


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