Television

Mother Superior

In the final season of Alias, Sydney Bristow wants it all.

Jennifer Garner. Click image to expand.
Jennifer Garner

Alias wouldn’t work if it required its star, Jennifer Garner, to do anything remotely subtle or delicate. Rather, ABC’s delicious spy thriller, which returned last night for its final run, calls for a pulp goddess, and Garner is a natural. She may or may not be a decent thespian, but she’s a world-class overactress. Her face—with its cold titanium jaw, the deep eyes that so often seem ready to leak, and that double-decker bus of a mouth—is a gift, and she uses it to achieve expressions of a type and force rarely seen outside of comic books. Caught in close-ups, she turns your TV set into a Lichtenstein.

Yesterday’s episode picked up with Garner’s Sydney Bristow on a cargo freighter in the North Atlantic. She was heavily pregnant, in the hands of terrorists, and her vast lips shuddered as she worried that she would get her baby bumped off. The villains strapped her to a table—not for a delivery but some operation Sydney didn’t comprehend—and every expectant parent’s anxieties underwent a suspense-film makeover: While the needle drawing amniotic fluid bested any Tarantino moment, and the tense strings were straight out of Hitchcock, the maternal terror was all Polanski.

But Rosemary Woodhouse got first-rate prenatal care and merely had to contend with Satan, a careerist husband, and Minnie Castevet. Sydney, on the other hand, faced pregnancy complications and was forced to cope with a vast and shadowy nexus equipped with devastating operational capabilities, state-of-the-art firearms, and really cool leather jackets. The baddies were from a group called “Prophet Five,” or some such? Which turns out to have connections to the top of the CIA? And also to Sydney’s shifty ex-KGB mom? For a casual fan, the double-dealing is too baroque to bother following, and you just have to go with it. (Meanwhile, the casual student of Hollywood inside jokes wants to know whether there was a gag in the disguise that Sydney’s pal Marshall Flinkman wore when he helped execute a nifty infiltration of CIA headquarters. In those chunky eyeglasses and that hipster pouf, he was a dead ringer for Alias maestro J.J. Abrams.)

Sydney escaped Prophet Five, one intrigue led to another, a bazooka took out a chopper rather awesomely, and the next thing you knew, Sydney’s mother and father were at her side as she gave birth to a baby girl in a bullet-riddled Vancouver office building. These super-secret espionage outfits must run some excellent Lamaze classes, because labor lasted no longer than it usually takes Sydney to disarm a nuclear bomb—90 seconds or so. There’s no telling what Benjamin Spock would have had to say about this, but a predelivery speech made by Sydney’s mother resonated with the thinking of another writer on modern maternity who’s been getting much attention of late: “You should know something, Sydney. I never wanted to have a child. The KGB demanded it. … I couldn’t be an agent and a mother. I’d either fail at one or both—and I chose to fail at being a mother.” She paused to plug a bad guy and continued, “In time you’ll learn—you can’t do both.” To which Syd said, “Watch me.” Will Agent Bristow go gunning for Caitlin Flanagan?