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On TV Today's Date:

Phase One
original air-date: 01-26-03

Now that sweeps are over and many shows are in re-run hell for the next four weeks, TV addicts like myself are being bombarded by countless reality series and stupid specials that anyone with a microscopic speck of taste would avoid like the plague.

But re-watching this week's Alias repeat of the post-Super Bowl episode "Phase One" has reminded me that there is still good TV being made amongst all the crap producers and studio heads are chumming the waters with these days.

Normally, I would have a heart attack if the writers of a high-quality show like Alias took the entire concept of the show and turned it on its head. But series creator J.J. Abrams managed to do this so effortlessly that it was nothing short of a stroke of pure genius.

Abrams knew that the whole double agent thing would only work for so long. So what does he do? He destroys SD-6 and the Alliance (Spy girl Sydney Bristow's main nemeses) in a mere 44 minutes time, showing us in the process that Arvin Sloane was an even bigger bad than any of us, including Sydney, ever imagined.

Sloane played her like a freaking violin, knowing that she would leak the information about server 47 to the CIA and that the Alliance would crumble as a result, allowing him to do just as he pleases without any higher ups looking over his shoulder. The mastermind got just what he wanted, and so did Abrams…a whole lot of shocked, yet mostly satisfied, fans.

The series' creator also knew that there was only so much more unresolved sexual tension between Sydney and her oh-so-hot handler Vaughn that his viewers could take (think Mulder and Scully) before they would be ready to throw whatever object was closest to them at their
television sets. So, after the super spies successfully squashed SD-6, they shared a kiss worthy of the silver screen, thus beginning a romance that will probably be rocky at best. I mean, four episodes down the road, she's questioning his honesty. Then there's the whole her-mother-killed-his-father thing.

As if the destruction of SD-6 and the Syd-Vaughn hook up weren't enough to totally blow the minds of everyone watching this episode, Abrams had one more trick up his sleeve. Francie, Sydney's in-the-dark best friend, had been little more than filler for the past season and a half of the show. The character was weak; the viewers knew it and so did Abrams.

In order to make her worth watching, Abrams had her share a kiss with reporter-turned-CIA-analyst Will half way through the episode. Then in the last five minutes he had her murdered by a Francie look-a-like who's in cahoots with Sloane and bad boy subordinate Sark.

Now, characters get killed off all the time, but never have I seen one have a more thrilling or mind-boggling exit than this. Plus, Merrin Dungey, who played Francie and now plays her dark double, gets to keep her job and play an even more interesting character as a result. Everyone wins here.

This whole episode was a big risk and whether or not it was in the best interest of the series as a whole has yet to be seen. The episodes that have followed have been just as good as "Phase One," revealing interesting new plot twists every week (Evil Francie sucking information out of a hypnotized, post-coital Will was inspired in my humble opinion).

The latest shocker came at the end of the last new episode "A Dark Turn" when Irina (the lovely and talented Lena Olin), on a CIA sanctioned mission with Spy Daddy Jack (played to perfection by Victor Garber, always at his best when alongside Olin), suddenly switched sides by joining Sloane and handing over a pivotal piece of the Rambaldi manuscript to him.

After telling Sydney that she loves her and kissing ex-husband Jack, could it be that Spy Mommy has been deceiving us all along? We'll have to wait for this Sunday's all-new episode to find out, but one thing's for sure: On Alias, nothing's what it seems, and that's one of the best things about this drama.

So, the Powers That Be can keep throwing their Joe Millionaires and Bachelorettes into the shark-infested waters that are TV Land. As long as there are shows like Alias to act as life rafts, it's smooth sailing as far as this girl's eyes can see.

Rebecca Sparling

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