Resurrection is the strangest and least effective season finale Alias ever delivers, existing as a visible consequence of how the latter half of Season Three has been structured.
Ostensibly, it has all of the accoutrements you might expect from a finale of television for a cult, genre network show. In the opening five minutes, the CIA Rotunda—our base for the last two seasons—is attacked and partially destroyed, if not as comprehensively as their future operations centre APO in Reprisal. Our villains hit the nerve centre of our characters world, attacking the very institution they represent, and almost murdering Marshall, a character so beloved and sweet, any kind of violence towards him can only be described as pure evil. The episode then focuses on resolving the central emotional and physical conflict at the heart of the season – Lauren’s betrayal of Vaughn, and where Sydney sits as the woman in the very middle of it.
The reason Resurrection is vastly less successful than either Almost Thirty Years or The Telling is that it fails, unlike those episodes, to balance such personal drama with a broader escalation of the mythology, and simply descends into a rather aimless mire of grim violence and retribution than leans more toward a 1970s Michael Winner revenge fantasy picture than anything Alias would normally produce. Almost Thirty Years brought the burgeoning mythology full circle and provided Syd with the prospect of losing Vaughn. The Telling brought the Rambaldi hunt to a crescendo and then devoted a final act to a deeply satisfying, thrilling and cathartic battle between Syd and the woman who had killed and doubled her best friend.
Resurrection sees the Rambaldi story peter out, parked for a future season, before the episode dives headfirst into a dark, bitter, aimless climax topped off with a twist that, even before what comes next, makes very little sense.
The end of Legacy did not directly lead into Resurrection in the manner previous penultimate season episodes did.
Rendezvous provided a climactic shocker of Sark shooting Will, while Second Double had him on the run and was produced to work in many respects alongside The Telling as one ninety minute piece, given they both aired on the same night (despite different episode titles). Legacy ends with suggesting elements to come – Vaughn going after Lauren under the radar, Jack sleeping with Katya (even though nothing more really comes of this) and Nadia in custody. Yet there is no direct pull into the final episode of the season, which allows Resurrection to begin with Lauren, posing as Syd, to attack the Rotunda first in an attempt to steal the Rambaldi equation but ultimately to blow it half to pieces. It reaffirms she and Sark’s villainous credentials while launching the episode with a bang.
We should talk about the mechanism for this: the masks.
Even for Alias, they stretch credulity, even if there is a precedent. Mission Impossible, a franchise that came to bear in 1996 through into 2000, and will later be continued by J.J. Abrams just two years after Resurrection airs, uses the latex mask as a recurring gimmick; particularly in Mission Impossible II, where the masks are used as super spy Ethan Hunt to infiltrate the Australian base of his evil counter part Sean Ambrose, using a voice modulator that allows him to duplicate exactly how the other person sounds. Alias steals this idea entirely for Resurrection, allowing for the fun gimmick of Jennifer Garner playing sinister while Melissa George provides the usual cheesy Lauren bad girl lines. It is, in many ways, the ultimate expression of Alias’ greatest fear.
Since the show began, Alias has been obsessed with doubling, doppelgängers and the adoption of alternate personas. It is part of the series’ very DNA, as Syd adopts a new alias, and Season Four will work to retain that essence once again. At the same time, the greatest fear of Alias as a series concerns the ‘enemy within’ manipulated by the external ‘Other’; the backstory of Irina, symbolising the Russian East, infiltrating Jack’s all-American Western values; SD-6, the wolves in sheep’s clothing, pretending to stand for Western values while in truth being a vast criminal organisation; Julia Thorne, Syd’s enforced alter-ego and dark id made animate; and now Lauren, repeating the Irina refrain, with the difference being she is no Russian agent but rather an Anglo-British agent corrupted by a faceless Other, an extremist terrorist/cultist organisation to attack American institutions. Lauren visibly looking like Syd takes this idea to an ultimate point.
It also ties into how Season Three has explored doubling. Season Two gave us a literal interpretation with Project Helix and Allison Doren, one step away from human cloning; the disposal and replacement of a person by an evil alternate, the ‘Mirror Universe’ version to steal a Star Trek parlance, who can corrupt and destroy the system from within without anyone knowing the truth. Season Three looks inward with Julia, as we saw in Conscious; Syd literally has to destroy the dark side of her subconscious, visualised in the image of Lauren (actually a neat bit of foreshadowing), in order to move on in her personal quest of learning the truth about Julia. Lauren then turning out to be that dark side, the supposedly supportive wife but a woman radicalised by extremists instead, transforms the doubling into something else. It becomes about the destruction of darkness.
Lauren transforming into Syd brings those two aspects together, and sows the seeds for how Season Five, and Anna Espinosa’s transformation, continues that theme.
Resurrection certainly seems to enjoy the idea of Lauren pretending to be Syd, and later Syd pretending to be Lauren, certainly in how it taps into Sark’s deeper sexual fantasies he has always had about Syd, a woman he has never sexually been able to conquer. “I must say, your disguise, it addresses a certain proclivity of mine.” This makes sense in terms of Sark’s character, especially as writer (and by this point showrunner) Jeff Pinkner confirms him later as a dyed in the wool misogynist, given the pass phrase Syd tricks him into giving is “Woman was God’s second mistake” from Friedrich Nietzsche.
As James Moriarty points out, Nietzsche was explaining in his point about the Biblical idea of woman existing to stave off Man’s boredom in the Edenic paradise:
God then created a woman, and that proved to be a success, as with her time of boredom was finally over. However, woman was by nature curious. She persuade a man to eat from the tree of knowledge and god was overwhelmed by fear. By eating from the tree of knowledge, woman invented a science which equaled man with a god and made them enemies. “When a man becomes a scientist he is done with priests and gods!”. So, by making a man eat from the tree of the knowledge, and making him to know reality, entire mankind became failure for a god and it was all because a woman.
If Sark believes Nietzsche, certainly from a misogynist point of view, or maybe as an ‘anti-feminist’ as Nietzsche has been alternatively branded, does he also believe in the writer’s most famous quote? “God is Dead”, which Syd at first guesses as his password. That would appear to be at odds with his own search for Rambaldi, but that has never appeared to be driven particularly by zealotry as opposed to financial gain and power. Season Three muddies those waters because you never truly get a sense of what Sark really wants, beyond propping up the Covenant with his sizeable inheritance. Indeed the only thing Sark seems to want across Season Three, certainly the latter half, is Lauren.
Sark has always been defined in many ways by the female relationships closest to him. It is strongly implied that Irina might have raised him, or had a major hand in that during his formative years, to the point he had a loyalty to her that seemed stronger than other people he has allied with. He has always been intoxicated with the idea of sleeping with Syd (which if you consider the Irina factor is a bit of a queasy notion). It’s unclear at the end of Season Two whether he has emotionally radicalised Allison or the other way around, though one senses the former given how quickly he forgets she ever existed after her death in Remnants.
If anything, Sark is radicalised here by Lauren. He grows more obsessed with her, and ever more jealous whenever she shows any kind of sympathy or concern for Vaughn. He delights in goading Vaughn over owning her, or taking her, in a way Vaughn never could.
“She wasn’t sharing your bed lately, was she? She was in mine… or in my car… or an elevator, or a garage. I remember this one time — this is my favorite — we were engaged in an alley, and she called you to tell you she loved you. That woman was deliciously filthy.” All Sark really has is sex, nonetheless, to define how empty his life is. There is a sadness about his smarm here, a cruelty that can’t hold against Vaughn’s genuine lack of care for the woman he married. “Lauren is going to pay for the damage she’s done to the people I care about, not for having had an affair with you. I don’t give a rat’s ass who she’s sleeping with.” This could seem a trite cover in any other circumstances but Vaughn really means it. His feelings do not extend to jealousy, as coloured they are by rage, but what they have in common is the way they consider Lauren as an object to either be conquered, sexually attained, or even destroyed. She might be twisted, but she is still dehumanised.
Perhaps that’s why Sark has been reading Nietzsche because there is a considerable existential nihilism about Resurrection that is really rather brow beating. Blood Ties was quite bleak, and Legacy had a deterministic fundamentalism about it, but Resurrection just lacks any sense of real hope. You feel like many of the characters involved can never really come back from what they go through here, whether Marshall being shot, Vaughn being pushed to the brink of cold blooded murder, and even Syd ultimately inheriting that space of revenge against all over her moral fortitude.
“I don’t care about any of that now” she tells Jack when he insists that Vaughn’s revenge be his alone. “I want her to die” Syd says. She sounds exhausted, drained physically and emotionally, at what these episodes have put her through. She just wants it to be over, which perhaps reflects Alias’ broad feeling about Season Three at this point. Everyone just wants closure, for the missteps and false alleys the show has gone down to be over and done. Lauren encapsulates all of that in many ways. She has been driven into a corner that leads to her complete dehumanisation.
Weak as it is, and probably a falsehood, Lauren even attempts to provide a counter-narrative when captured by Vaughn: “When the Covenant asked me to marry you, I knew eventually they’d want me to coax you back into the CIA. Two years went by, and I hadn’t heard from them, and by then I’d convinced myself I never would. I prayed I wouldn’t, because I’d fallen in love with you.” She tries to present herself as a woman driven into darkness, driven toward Sark and the Covenant further, by Vaughn’s neglect once Syd returned.
It doesn’t ring true, and sounds like a convenient narrative for Lauren to spin to try and spare her life, but even in the face of this Vaughn is determined to end everything. “I am going to erase you. I’m going to remove any evidence you ever existed.” Is this Vaughn talking or Pinkner? Have the writing staff by this point realised just how fat Alias has traveled from its original mission statement, tone and style? And is the fantasy of this episode, the bleak and vicious fantasy of erasing Lauren, pouring acid on her, scrubbing her from the record, really a fantasy of revenge or of correction?
There could also be with how Vaughn treats Lauren a latent sense of Alias continuing to react to the American trauma of 9/11. The Covenant have frequently taken the guise of an opaque terrorist organisation plotting against American democracy, and Lauren is ultimately the worst kind of enemy in the face of that – a traitor. She betrayed her country, killed a Senator let alone her own father, sold secrets, assassinated diplomats and bombs the CIA itself. She is a one woman terrorist cell, a weapon of mass destruction being used on American targets, and Alias feels laboured with the effect of total, ongoing war and conflict. The Second Iraq War was still rumbling, bin Laden remained out there, Afghanistan was emerging as a new Vietnam for America. Resurrection feels tired of existing in the shadow of these conflicts and haunted by the possibility of echoing history.
That’s what we see in Vaughn, as he morphs into an earlier version of Jack, except he manages to go further and seize an opportunity Jack never did with Irina. “It will eat at him like a cancer. The only cure is to end it, now.” Jack tells Syd, bemoaning losing his chance to do to Irina what he pushes Vaughn to do to Lauren. “And not a day went by that I didn’t regret letting her go. Vaughn will feel the same way. He will end up like me, and I love you too much to let that happen.”
Jack believes that removing the ‘cancer’ of Lauren will free Vaughn, and maybe free Alias as a series on a meta-textual level, but Syd sees it differently as she tells Vaughn: “If you kill her, you will be arrested and charged with her murder. If you’re not, if you get away with it, it’ll haunt you, Michael.” Syd perhaps understands that living with what hurts you, absorbing pain and doing the right thing with it, is how you survive. The fact she is later prepared to abandon that lesson shows just how tied Alias is into a violent confrontation it cannot ignore. Lauren is beyond redemption. The show has no choice but to erase her.
With all of this going on, it is easy to forget how the driving impetus for what Lauren is doing revolves around the Rambaldi mythology, which by Resurrection occupies a very curious space.
Legacy placed Nadia, as the Passenger, in the position of delivering Rambaldi’s message which, inevitably, leads to yet another artefact to be uncovered in the never ending treasure hunt that is the mythology. Yet rather than being the driving force as it has been of the last cluster of episodes, the Rambaldi mythos just quietly slips away in Resurrection, given scant scenes without any actual moment of finding Rambaldi or whatever the artefact truly yields. Almost Thirty Years & The Telling both at least delivered unanswered questions and strange realities as they teased what Rambaldi’s work involved, whereas Resurrection entirely skirts the issue. Even the title, in this context, doesn’t make as much sense as it logically should do. Theoretically, it teases the resurrection of Rambaldi but we never even get close to that. It’s like they had the title, dropped the planned storyline, and then forgot to change what the episode was called!
You could argue, of course, that the title refers to Sloane, but he plays such an incidental role in proceedings given how important he has been to the final quarter of the season, this feels like a reach. We discussed in Hourglass how Alias presented him as a risen Christ, executed ‘on the Cross’ and resurrected from death by his ‘disciple’, Jack, but Legacy suggested he was very much a fallen Angel given how he exploits Nadia in order to receive a message from ‘God’.
Resurrection, if we’re charitable, could be seen as Sloane’s own resurrection of his faith in Rambaldi, the resumption of his quest to find what he claims is God himself – the Sphere of Life containing Rambaldi’s “consciousness, his essence, his soul”. Sloane truly believes Nadia has had a religious experience. “When you were under the influence of the Rambaldi fluid, what you saw, was it not transcendent? Was it not divine?” Sloane believes the mathematical construct of the equation Nadia drew is close to divinity and leads directly to ‘God’, in the form of Rambaldi.
The question is quite what the next step would be even if Sloane gets the Sphere of Life?
The Descent sort of answers this question when we finally see what happened to he and Nadia next, but the answer is likely a different one by that point than the one imagined in Resurrection. The logical path for a consistent Rambaldi mythology is this: the Rambaldi child from Syd’s eggs is created in lab conditions and reared until ready to receive Rambaldi’s consciousness from the Sphere, leading directly to Rambaldi’s literal ‘resurrection’ from death and revival in the modern day where he can, theoretically, bring forth his works. That makes sense and would have welded the two distinct mythologies from Season Three together but Alias never goes down this road, despite all signs pointing there. The Sphere is later factored into the Red Ball side of the mytharc where it makes no logical sense. This is one of the clearest examples of how Alias suffers because it has an ad-hoc mythology as opposed to a narrative that has been fully crafted and thought through.
The final act brings Resurrection’s biggest problems very acutely to bear. It ends where it was always destined to end – a smack down between hero and villain (not before a rubbish turncoat moment for Katya Derevko which instantly undoes everything the series had crafted with her to date), as Syd & Lauren face off in what can only be described as a watered down, much less resonant and emotionally impactful re-tread of the Syd vs Allison fight at the end of The Telling. That punched you in the gut thanks to how well constructed she was as an inside villain, and how beautifully structured the revelation of her was.
Aside from it being superbly directed, it was brutal and tense and supremely satisfying. The Syd vs Lauren fight is empty and nasty and fits the broader episode generally – it means almost nothing, on an emotional level, because Lauren is such a pantomime source of cackling villainy, there is no other option beyond trying to find some catharsis in watching Syd kick seven colours out of her. Yet there isn’t. It just goes through the motions. There are half a dozen fights on Alias better than this that don’t matter to the wider narrative even half as much.
You know there is a problem with your climactic battle when the writers feel the need to fill it with mystery and tease future storylines and revelations just to maintain the interest. That’s what Pinkner does here. Lauren suddenly starts asking questions on behalf of the audience for no good reason. “Do you think the CIA couldn’t find you when you went missing, or that they learned what happened to you by chance?” But they knew. Kendall knew. Dixon even knew! Sure, the suggestion the CIA knew what happened to Syd before she called Kendall is a fresh one, but it has absolutely no context at this stage.
“And if your mother’s really been helping you since she left, why haven’t you ever spoken to her?” On a meta level, this is because Lena Olin at this point wouldn’t reprise the role, but this is one question Alias does find a relatively satisfying answer to eventually in Search and Rescue – just not Authorised Personnel Only, but we will get to all of this soon! “You can’t believe that you and your sister just happened to be agents?” This one supposes a level of distrust in the audience’s assumptions about Syd’s childhood but this is a logical extension after The Indicator and what we learned about Project Christmas.
In some ways, Lauren unfurling these questions is an intriguing way to approach setting these ideas in play, but it comes so out of left field. The only explanation is that Lauren comes into this fight knowing she won’t win, so decides her final act will be to spike Syd’s entire concept of her own life, of everything she knows to be true, as her own final, spiteful vengeance towards a woman she believes stole away the man she had bewitched (or loved, if her words were true to Vaughn).
“We’re both pawns in the same game. The difference between us is I know who controls me.” Lauren declares, the suggestion being they are both connected to the same project Syd later finds in Wittenberg. Was Lauren also part of whatever formative Project Christmas-style CIA created eugenics project Syd appears to have been, and presumably Nadia? Did Senator Reed have his own secrets that Lauren learned that connect him to what Jack it appeared was up to? How did she find out about it? Syd finds in Wittenberg, of course, of something called Project S.A.B (Sydney Anne Bristow) 47, with the date of ‘creation’ being her birth date, and Jack the listed director.
“You were never supposed to have found this” an ominous Jack says, appearing dressed in a supervillains uniform – crisp black roll neck, as if he is a black ops, Section-31 from Star Trek undercover agent. What do we make of all this? The suggestion is, firstly, that Jack is A Bad Guy. Lauren’s hints strongly suggest that perhaps the reason we never knew really who the Covenant were all season is because they connected back to the CIA, or a dark heart of the CIA, controlled possibly by Jack. Sloane seems to know of it, “they cannot be trusted” he tells Nadia. The CIA, not the Covenant.
Resurrection hints that they might be one and the same. Maybe the Russian origins were all smoke and mirrors. Maybe that’s why McKenas Cole was “the man in front of the man” in After Six. Maybe “The Man” in this case was Jack. Maybe he was there in Full Disclosure, in the shadows, watching Syd murder Christopher Ryan alongside the Syndicate-style cadre. Maybe they were also the Trust, who we saw ever so briefly in Blood Ties, but who had a clear Rambaldi interest and sported Senator Reed among their number, let’s not forget.
The question is whether this would have worked. Maybe. It might oddly enough have explained why the Covenant were so all over the place, as being perhaps a tactic by Jack’s CIA group to fool everyone, to never be able to pin down quite who or what the Covenant were, all in the guise of getting the Rambaldi truth Sloane was after. Sloane certainly doesn’t seem to be one of them. He is manipulated by the Trust. He operates seemingly alone. But we can assume Kendall was in on it. Maybe Thomas Brill, given how he nudges Vaughn. Maybe Katya, and by extension Irina, unless Irina worked against Jack and was locked up for her trouble. Maybe even Dixon, given he knew Syd was alive.
While turning Jack into a villain working against his daughter’s best interests, theoretically, would have been a hard pill to swallow after the previous three years, it might have found a more organic way of connecting Season Three’s break from the antagonism of previous years with the building blocks Alias was founded on and cut to the core relationship at the heart of the show.
You can see where they were going with it, in one sense.
Jack’s devotion to Syd and how much he kills, blackmails and breaks every rule in the book to protect her, and how sometimes Syd is more like him than she cares to admit, is deep rooted into Alias’ DNA. Challenging that, questioning it, and having Jack seemingly responsible for her very birth, works in line with Project Christmas. Programming Syd with spy craft is one thing, of course; actively genetically creating her is quite another. It changes the entire fundamental conception of the show’s history, even more than Bill Vaughn stealing away Nadia. Was Irina experimented on secretly? Did she know and was she in fact involved in this with Jack? Was the idea going to be that Irina never actually gave birth to her at all? Either way, it is a huge leap, especially given the 47 tethered to the project has a direct Rambaldi suggestion to Jack’s work. Would this have revealed him as having a long held Rambaldi interest himself? Would he have been such as much a zealot as Sloane, attempting to fulfill prophecy?
In this context, you can see why Pinkner and the writing staff might have changed the plan as Season Four was conceived. We will discuss this further when talking about Authorised Personnel Only, and how Alias employs one of the biggest retcons in television history, but Resurrection was always an episode that went through the narrative grinder. It was supposed to have an entirely different final act than the one we got, an act the writing staff were forced to change at fairly short notice, which perhaps accounts for why what we end up with is rather paltry.
Originally, as has been recounted by series writers including Josh Applebaum, the climactic scene would have seen Syd—quite possibly at the Covenant dig site—forced to choose between saving Vaughn or Jack from falling to their death by cutting the rope of the other. It would have left her with a powerful moral and emotional conundrum, choosing between father or lover, and potentially resulted in the death of a major character. When the idea leaked, the finale was re-broken into the shape we ended up getting.
This original ending arguably would have been more satisfying on a thematic and emotional level, given Season Three particularly has seen Syd comforted by Jack as Vaughn has remained distant thanks to his troubled marriage, and making her choose between the two men in her life she loves the most could have been a powerful, and literal, cliffhanger.
It would have served as a different choice to the Irina revelation at the end of Season One or the missing two years time jump of Season Two, whereas Resurrection instead opts for yet another attempt to ‘blow up’ the series by reconstructing the game with Syd’s discovery. The reason it lacks anywhere near the same elegance is that it fails to impact in the way the previous season cliffhangers did. We understood the power of “Mom?” as the entire season had led us that way. The missing two years was such a shock turn, so incongruous, it strangely worked as a jaw dropper. Here, Syd reads a file we don’t see and Jack is evil. Uh… what? It plays like a twist for a twist’s sake as opposed to an organic or game changing shock.
Resurrection then, ultimately, completely falls apart and exists as a fairly stark metaphor for Season Three as a whole. In stripping the series down to grim and rage fuelled basics, with the undercurrent of a mythology going nowhere fast, it highlights just how far Alias has lost sight of what made it such an enjoyable show. Season Four will work to claw that back but after this finale, in many respects, it is all too little, too late…
Check out our other reviews of Alias Season 3 here: