Series Retrospective: ALIAS – ‘Repercussions’ (3×05 – Review)

In 2018, we began a deep-dive TV review series looking at J.J. Abrams’ Alias, which ran from 2001-2006. Over the next year, we’ll be looking at Season Three’s 22-episode run in detail…

Outside of Reunion, Repercussions probably stands as the least remarkable episode of Alias’ third season yet, operating as it does in the shadow of a far more interesting hour.

A Missing Link expressly tethered Syd’s growing panic over her moral virtue with the primary Covenant narrative and the overarching mythology of her missing time very neatly, ending on a Season One-style cliffhanger which Repercussions immediately has to resolve. We all know Vaughn isn’t dying at this stage of the series or season, and Jesse Alexander’s script has to very swiftly get him out of that life or death situation, though to the episodes credit it does not simply move on to the next mission as Season One’s pulpy tales would have done. The character inter-relationships in Alias have too much lode bearing for that to be possible these days, and part of the titular repercussions lie squarely on Syd facing the consequences of stabbing Vaughn to save his life at the close of the previous hour.

Repercussions isn’t simply about Syd’s actions, however, rather referring to the after-effects of the previous season. This hour of Alias is all about characters having to face the weight of events that took place particularly between these two seasons, and during those missing years. Not just Syd’s alias as Julia Thorne but Sloane’s partnership with African arms dealer Kazari Bomani, or even Jack brutally avoiding the horror of Simon Walker explaining his daughter’s sexual proclivities. The problem is that Repercussions suggests much and actually explains little, a common problem during this season of Alias particularly. What could have been an episode which blew open key points of revelation across the missing time period, or contextualised certain character threads, remains maddeningly unresolved even for Alias.

It is disposable and transitory, part of the necessary plot mechanisms of the season, enlivened primarily by one or two character interactions and set pieces that provide enjoyment.

One of the key factors in how Repercussions feels perhaps more like a Season One episode at points even more than A Missing Link lies in the weakest aspect of the story: Sloane’s arc.

To the episode’s credit, this gets Sloane out of his Zurich office for the first time this season and actively finds a way to involve him in the narrative to a degree the rest of the season struggles with at times.

Thus far, besides the intrigue of his turn into a reformed villain, he has done little bar provide intelligence and fuck psychologically with Lauren, and that’s a far cry from how pivotal he was to Season Two’s final half. Now, granted, Alias would swiftly run out of steam if the ‘hunt down Sloane’ format of the back half of the second season was the entire nature of the show, but equally in Season One during the SD-6 days, Sloane didn’t need to be out of the office causing mischief in order to be a compelling character. His machinations, his marriage and the efforts to keep the truth about Syd & Jack from him had him both closely tethered to the main action, and with plenty of dramatic meat to chew on in the bargain.

Repercussions thinks the same is true of Sloane’s journey in this episode but it fails to hold nearly the same level of depth. Alexander’s script is filled with stylistic re-treads – the car chase in Mexico City evokes a far stronger action set piece in Doppleganger; Sloane’s capture reminded me of Irina’s extraction in Alexander’s last script for the show, funnily enough, A Dark Turn, while the ambiguous result of Sloane’s with Bomani evokes his deal with Sark in The Counteragent. In that sense, Repercussions is akin to an Alias greatest hits package, re-purposing Sloane as the captive rather than the captor, at the mercy of presumably bigger and badder villains. It works as an inversion but never really goes anywhere. 

Side note, but Djimon Hounsou serves as the latest well-known Alias guest-villain following Justin Theroux (also present here, of course), portraying the sharp-suited, intimidating Bomani, described by Weiss as “the most powerful arms dealer in Africa”. Hounsou had risen to fame just a few years earlier in Ridley Scott’s Gladiator, playing noble slave Juba opposite Russell Crowe’s heroic Maximus, but here Hounsou is frankly wasted in a role you suspect the writing staff had bigger plans for before, for whatever reason, they fizzled out. Perhaps Hounsou, in demand as a film actor, was unavailable (the Alias curse in play) or perhaps, despite Bomani’s soliloquy about his brutal childhood in war-torn central Africa that forged his power and world-view, they realised there wasn’t far else to go with the character.

When Bomani does reappear much later in the season, he feels more akin to a perfunctory henchman than a major threat, given compared to Lauren or Sark or even later Lauren’s mother Olivia, he’s had scant characterisation to construct him as a villain. It’s unfortunate.

Bomani here serves more as a plot than character point, designed to underscore the titular repercussions from sudden change, which drives Alexander’s script.

He played a significant role in Sloane’s pardon agreement with the US government, with Sloane giving the man and his organisation up in exchange for immunity. Repercussions does make you suspect the writers are making all of Sloane’s two-year history up as they go along, adding aspects to the basics established in The Two steadily, as Bomani kind of comes out of nowhere as a significant player in, as we later discover, Sloane’s use of the Rambaldi device, even though he’s an entirely new creation. Was this role designed for Irina? You do have to wonder. Imagine Bomani’s part in this season given to Irina, it makes a lot more sense. Sold out by Sloane, imprisoned in a jail in the Ural Mountains so well guarded the Covenant literally tailor an entire bio-weapon to break her out, working with Sark and ready to kill Sloane for his betrayal. It might have trodden Season Two ground but it logically feels the extension of last season, and Irina & Sloane’s relationship, rather than via a fairly random African arms dealer we’re expected to be worried wants Sloane dead.

The result is an ineffective sub-plot, as much like Vaughn at A Missing Link’s cliffhanger, we know Sloane isn’t about to be killed by this guy. Therefore the entire arc becomes about throwing some doubt on Sloane’s veracity as a humanitarian. “I could help you become more powerful than ever” he tells Bomani, assuring him his betrayal was designed as a means to gain legitimacy. Who exactly is he playing by the end? The CIA or the Covenant? The whole point of Repercussions is that we’re not supposed to know and, it’s likely, not even the writers had any idea at this stage. The idea is simply to have the audience question his motives but it feels empty because we’ve already been doing that. Jack openly doesn’t believe he’s changed, Syd neither, and Ron Rifkin still imbues Sloane with enough playful yet sinister psychology as to suggest he’s one step ahead of everyone around him. So what is the point of Repercussions except as a plot manoeuvre? Sloane, by the end, is now the double agent Syd once was, working for both the CIA and the Covenant. “This is classic” a disbelieving Syd says, speaking for the audience.

It is, admittedly, a clever inversion of the SD-6 years, placing a distrust worthy character like Sloane in a role that requires elements of trust, and it allows for a greater tether to Syd’s world and missions than the distant intelligence purveyor in Zurich he has been, but in feels the raison d’etre of the episode almost entirely as opposed to Repercussions have the strength and power to stands on its own as a compelling hour of television. It relies on this gambit to function.

The title also resonates across the episode in terms of Syd and Lauren’s primary interaction, which puts them together properly for the first time this season.

Reunion had their awkward introduction as they danced around the elephant in the room but Repercussions, following Syd stabbing Vaughn and puncturing his lung in the bargain, confronts this head on. Syd tells Lauren the truth out of courtesy and, perhaps signalling her naïveté, expects Lauren to approach it coolly. “Rational thought takes time” Jack later reassures her but if anything this only highlights how prone to a dash of intense sociopathy the Bristow’s are. Syd expects Lauren to compartmentalise what she did as necessary but, instead, she reacts as anyone would do – horrified, emotional and keen to get Syd as far away from she and her husband as possible. Syd’s inability to see why Lauren might want this is telling, and strange, and if anything these scenes confirm the most in my mind that Lauren’s dark turn wasn’t on the cards when this was written. Either that or she’s a far better double agent than Syd ever was!

Alternatively, perhaps these scenes further hint at Lauren’s duplicitousness. She is positively thrilled at Syd’s ‘80s style slo-mo gun play as the car skids a corner, and admits she was field trained by the CIA and does have the skills to operate outside of the office, even if she never normally does. Melissa George plays a thrill-seeking side to Lauren that comes out in the second half of the season when she becomes a bitchy psychopath. Lauren also, after these shenanigans, very quickly forgives and rolls back on her determination to get Syd out of the CIA office; so fast, indeed, that the script doesn’t afford Lauren’s ultimatum any real time to sink in and have any impact. It ameliorates the most interesting scene in the episode, Vaughn’s dream, because it twists and plays with the central overarching anxiety of Syd’s that Julia served to awaken her darkest impulses. Perhaps this too is a sign that Lauren’s willingness to forgive Syd hints at her own darker impulses, precisely when Vaughn is unconsciously afraid that Syd might no longer be the woman he fell in love with.

That dream sequence works well because director Jack Bender doesn’t telegraph it, and while we’ve mainly seen Lauren at Vaughn’s bedside, we could easily buy that Vaughn would wake up and see Syd next to him, and the season has been suggesting they are denying how much they are still in love with one another. How quickly it twists as Syd plunges the knife in with a refrain that mirrors her words at the end of A Missing Link, with a question “How could you do this to me?”, before Vaughn snaps awake to see Lauren instead, works very well. There is a hint of Fatal Attraction about Syd’s psychopath possessiveness in the dream, how murderous her sense of betrayal, which nicely compliments Syd’s own externalised fears. Vaughn knows Syd became Julia, he knows she cosied up with a mercenary like Simon Walker, he knows she killed a Russian diplomat, and now he fears she has become the existential force Alias has displayed anxiety about from the very beginning of the series – the ‘Other’.

Syd has become, in his mind, the enemy within.

We’ll pull more on this thread in a later review because it is central to what happens to Syd in a few episodes time as truths are fully revealed, and Repercussions is an example of how the season, thematically, is working consistently at this stage. Even Jack’s quirky little sub-plot, designed to keep the Julia mystery burning in the background, plays into that fabric to some extent. Victor Garber gets to effect a steely yet eccentric German brogue as a criminal hiring Walker to steal a “fuel-cell motorbike” prototype (alongside the AI code the Yakuza are using toward the end another example of Alias’ propensity for using next-gen tech innovations as retrofitted terrorists or organised crime applications), all as part of a sting to get information from Walker about Julia.

Alexander really twists this in the kind of perverse way that triggers Jack’s worst impulses, as Walker—tipped off as to who he and Syd really are—intentionally tortures Jack with hints at Syd’s sexual proclivities. “You want to know how she likes it?” are Walker’s undignified last words before Jack executes him, a far cry from Walker and Sark guzzling champagne after successfully scoring a win for the Covenant. While it’s almost a shame to off Theroux in the part, it’s a good catalyst for the broader arc in play.

Namely that the mystery of Julia is consuming everyone around it, and the repercussions of her actions in those two missing years are growing further and further apparent. Jack is horrified at the idea Walker might have defiled the daughter he still sees, in many ways, as a little girl needing protection – and worse that Syd, as Julia, might have enjoyed it. Vaughn is unnerved at the idea that maybe the woman he loved might not be who he thinks – which come to think of it is some marvellous, if maybe unintentional, foreshadowing for his character arc to come.

And Syd, in some ways more of a passing observer in this episode as her presence cascades around the lives of those around her, continues to be haunted by the gaps in those two years and what her alter ego may have done. While Repercussions struggles as an episode in its own right, unable to carve out a distinctive niche as A Missing Link did and awkwardly trying to be both ‘part two’ to that story and tell its own tale, it nevertheless works on a thematic basis to keep all of these narrative and character-based plates spinning. This episode is even still establishing and finally, come Prelude, we will start to see forward movement that proceeds to barrel ahead with gusto.

It’s fitting, given how Repercussions largely repackages Alias hits of old, that it’s final set piece ends up as a less-effective re-tread of The Abduction as Marshall goes on mission with Syd, this time as a Texan high roller as opposed to be a nervy British opera goer, and buoyed by a greater sense of confidence this time around. Syd’s face when he slaps her behind is a picture of post-modern, feminist outrage, indeed more would likely be made of such a moment were the episode made now (more likely he simply never would have done it). While the sequence is fun, it also feels strangely tired by this point, as if Alias is aware it is already treading old ground to much lesser effect, and it contributes to how the episode, and the threat, simply peters out by the conclusion. It’s great to see Marshall have more to do (and he gets some great moments in this episode, such as his high school photo or “let’s not tell Mr Sloane about the magnets”), but it feels part of Repercussions greater sum – sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

What comes next is both a reprisal and a time out from the majority of narrative threads, as Alias reconciles with its own recent past while suggesting the manner of how it will end up telling some of its stories in the future…

Check out our other reviews of Alias Season 3 here:

  • The Two
  • Succession
  • Reunion
  • A Missing Link
  • Repercussions
  • The Nemesis
  • Prelude
  • Breaking Point
  • Conscious
  • Remnants
  • Full Disclosure
  • Crossings
  • After Six
  • Blowback
  • Facade
  • Taken
  • The Frame
  • Unveiled
  • Hourglass
  • Blood Ties
  • Legacy
  • Resurrection

Author of books: Myth-Building in Modern Media / Star Trek, History and Us | Writer of words on film/TV/culture | Rotten Tomatoes approved critic: Twitter: @ajblackwriter | Podcast chief: @wmadethis | Occasionally go outside.

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