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Don't be fooled by the wig that she's got, she's still Jenny with a Glock...

My name is Sydney Bristow. Seven years ago I was recruited by a secret branch of the CIA called SD-6. I was sworn to secrecy, but I couldn't keep it from my fiancé. And when the head of SD-6 found out, he had him killed. That's when I learned the truth: SD-6 is not part of the CIA. I've been working for the very people I thought I was fighting against.
Sydney Bristow, opening narration


Enemy Agent: I have the antidote. However the briefcase is security coded with a secondary system wired to a remote detonator!

Jack Bristow: As I expected.
Alias, The Counteragent

Alias is a Cliché Storm / Troperiffic Spy Drama (2001-2006) by J.J. Abrams about Sydney Bristow (Jennifer Garner), an agent for SD-6, black-ops division of the CIA, who discovers that, whoops, it wasn't a black-ops division of the CIA so much as a faction of a powerful terrorist group called The Alliance; so she becomes a double agent. She then discovers her father, a supposed salesman, is also a double agent for the CIA. Sydney then has to divide her loyalties between a team of good men at SD-6 who simply don't know their boss is the devil, and a team of mostly good men and a few pricks at the real CIA.

Pretty much a show full of Trope Workshop:Impossible Mission episodes, with a twist — Sydney must perform her mission for the CIA, while appearing to be performing her mission for SD-6. There's also a large element of soap opera though, as she learns all kinds of secrets about her parents and their Mysterious Past.

Unusual for its willingness to embrace a fanciful Story Arc about a centuries-old prophecy. The first four seasons all featured a subtle, never explained Myth Arc about an Italian inventor with a penchant for odd drawings and fanciful words. Somehow this 15th century prophet is still relevant today. His designs have been implemented and his writings dissected. And apparently the global intelligence community has nothing better to do than go to war over every piece of technology he might have even glanced at.

Also notable for the fact that the show was ReTooled three separate times. Each time, character relationships and roles changed in fundamental ways.

One of the leaders in Wig, Dress, Accent.

Tropes used in Alias (TV series) include:

  • A-Team Firing: For the first season. Sydney does not kill anyone until this point, apart from a rather contrived situation in which an assassin falls on a knife. After the start of the second season, she's frequently shown shooting people to death.
    • Debatable, Sydney rather brutally breaks a guard's neck near the end of 1x02.
  • Aborted Arc: Originally Irina was supposed to have more of a role in Season 4, but the actress left for contractual reasons.
  • Action Girl: Mainly Sydney, but also Irina, Lauren, Nadia, Rachel, Anna Espinosa and Allison Dorren.
    • Really, it would be easier to name the female characters who aren't Action Girls.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Averted. The suave international terrorist Sark clearly has eyes for Sydney, but she'll have none of it.
  • Ambiguously Brown: So Elena is supposed to be Russian??
  • And I Must Scream Sloane's ultimate fate.
  • Arc Number: 47
  • Arc Words: "Truth takes time". "The Passenger".
  • Attending Your Own Funeral: The Covenant forces Sydney to do this as part of their brainwashing.
  • Back From the Dead: In the series finale Sloane is shot and killed by Sydney. Luckily, his body fell into a vat of special Rambaldi liquid that healed his wounds and brought him back to life.
    • Bigger problem though. He was stuck under a collapsed pillar when Jack blew himself up.
  • Badass: A basic requirement for being a regular character on this show.
    • Especially true of Jack Bristow.
  • Badass Bookworm: Jack, a game theorist chessmaster who will nonetheless disarm you in .5 seconds and shoot you between the eyes.
  • Badass Family: Almost . the characters are related somehow, and sometimes they even go on missions together. It's dangerous enough to mess with Sydney, but if you mess with Sydney and Jack at the same time, you're just asking for trouble. Also, the two-part episode in season 2, "Passage", where Irina goes undercover with Jack and Sydney to India as a family of tourists to recover six stolen nuclear warheads, is a badass family vacation if there ever was one.
  • Bad Guy Bar: A staple trope in Alias.
  • Bait and Switch Gunshot
  • Beard of Sorrow: Jack grows one during the year that he was held in solitary confinement for working with unsanctioned sources to learn the truth behind his daughter's apparent death.
  • Because Destiny Says So: Sydney is The Chosen One according to prophecies of Milo Rambaldi and try as she might she can't escape her destiny. Ah well, at least it's not predictable.
  • Beethoven Was an Alien Spy: Joseph Stalin apparently tried to unravel the Rambaldi mystery.
  • Black Best Friend: Sydney gets two, Francie and Dixon.
  • Blondes Are Evil / Blond Guys Are Evil: Sark and Lauren. Both also qualify for Evil Brit!
  • Bodybag Trick: How Sydney Bristow once sneaked into a Uzbek military base
  • Bound and Gagged: See Attending Your Own Funeral.
  • Boxed Crook: Inverted. Sydney works for the government, but is abducted by criminals to perform certain high-risk jobs for them in Season 2.
  • Bus Crash: In the Season 4 premiere, we learn that Jack killed Irina offscreen at some point between the Season 2 and Season 3 finales. See Aborted Arc. Of course, this being Alias, it later turns out that Jack actually killed a double of Irina.
  • Changeling Fantasy: Nadia, who discovers her parents are actually Irina and Sloane.
  • Character Development: Everyone, mostly.
  • The Chessmaster: Arvin Sloane.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Irina, Sloane and Sark.
  • City of Spies: Los Angeles is home to both SD-6 and the CIA. It also attracts a few other freelancers, such as Sark.
  • Cliff Hanger: Several examples, of which one classic must be Sydney trapped under ice.
  • Clip Show: 1x17, "Q & A," is a Clip Show and Recap Episode, consisting mostly of flashbacks. Sydney is interrogated by the FBI and tells her story up to that point in the series. A couple of the flashbacks have never-before-seen backstory, but most are from the pervious 16 episodes. There's actually a good bit of present-day story as well. But a good 75% of the episode is flashbacks.
  • Continuity Nod / Book Ends: Jack in a car in "Truth Be Told", saving Sydney from an SD-6 assassination attempt, and Sydney in a car from "The Getaway", saving Jack from an SD-6 assassination attempt. Both with "_______, GET IN!" from the driver and a shocked look from the passenger.
  • Conveniently Timed Guard
  • Cut Apart: In "The Horizon", when a pregnant Sydney is kidnapped, her father tracks her down while she's simultaneously making an escape attempt. It seems like he found the right place, but he hasn't, of course; instead he finds something incredibly creepy.
  • The Danza: Michael Vaughn (played by Michael Vartan) and Rachel Gibson (Rachel Nichols).
  • Darker and Edgier: Basically describes the direction of Sydney's character development between Seasons 1 and 2 and onwards.
  • Deadly Rotary Fan: One episode ended on a cliffhanger with Sydney struggling not to get pulled upwards through an air vent into a huge fan.
  • Death by Materialism: Irina had the option of being saved by her daughter, or grabbing the Horizon. She grabs the Horizon, completely ignoring the fact that she's on an unstable and steadily cracking glass pane. It subsequently breaks, and she falls to her death.
  • Death By Origin Story: Syd was perfectly happy with her job(s) and life and had no interest in digging up dirt on SD-6 — until she told her fiance she was a spy for the CIA. He lived maybe 5 microseconds after that.
    • He was fine until he left a message on her answering machine using a wiretapped line. If he'd only paid attention...
  • Death by Sex: Francie.
  • Deep-Cover Agent: Sydney becomes one of these in the Pilot, after learning SD-6 is not the CIA. Also, both her parents - Jack as a heroic example, Irina as a villainous.
    • As well as Lauren in season 3, a villainous example.
  • Die Hard on an X: The season one two-parter, "The Box" featured spooks taking over SD-6 while Sydney and her father were just arriving. They immediately start a Die Hard plan to eliminate the enemy spies.
  • Disney Villain Death: Irina. She easily could've avoided it though...
  • Double Agent: Most of the cast, at some point
    • Sydney and her father worked for the CIA, posed as SD-6 agents
    • Lauren worked for the Covenant, but posed as an NSA agent
    • Sark is always claiming to work for someone or other, but is usually just out for himself
  • Dueling Hackers: Marshall (the resident Omnidisciplinary Nerd) was in a hacking duel at least once, as someone tried to break into SD 6's system.
  • Dysfunction Junction: There's dysfunctional and then there's the Bristow family. The dysfunctionality certainly extends past the Bristows though. Most of the characters lives a marred by the death and/or betrayal of loved ones. It certainly doesn't help when our heroes are forced to work with the bad guys and double-crossers or the people they thought were dead but actually weren't.
  • Elaborate Underground Base: APO
  • Everyone Is Related: At one point six of APO's top eight spies (and two of it's main villains) were biologically or romantically involved.
  • Failure Is the Only Option: Goal: Take Down Sloane.
  • Fake Defector: Sloane
  • Fake Nationality: A lot of it.
    • Fake Russian: Sark is a Russian man with a fake British accent portrayed by American actor David Anders.
      • Actually, Sark's father was Russian but he grew up in Britain, so his character's accent is legitimate. Makes him more of a Fake Brit.
      • None of the actresses playing the Derevko sisters are Russian: Lena Olin (Irina) is Swedish, Isabella Rossellini (Katya) is Italian, and Sonia Braga (Elena) is Brazilian.
    • Gina Torres, who plays half-Russian, half-Spanish Anna Espinosa, is neither Russian nor Spanish.
  • Faking the Dead: Nearly every character does this at least twice.
  • Fan Service: Done, very much with a wink, in "Phase One"- the opening shot of the episode is Sydney in her red underwear and holding a whip. This episode, by the way, was right after the Super Bowl. However, there are many a straight example.
  • Final Season Casting
  • Finger in the Mail: Sloane receives his wife's ring finger through the post as proof she's alive and being held hostage. Turns out to be a Xanatos Gambit by Sloane himself and as part of it, his wife cut off her own finger and posted it to him.
  • First Episode Spoiler: To the point where Nothing Is the Same Anymore after the pilot.
  • Flak Jacket
  • Four Eyes, Zero Soul: Season one's Big Bad, "Suit-and-Glasses".
  • The Generic Guy: Rachel Gibson and Thomas Grace were two characters added in the 5th season to fill in while Jennifer Garner was pregnant (which meant she wasn't up to full Action Girl speed). They were both fine and action-y, but neither one was equal to Sydney.
  • Genius Bruiser: Dixon, an excellent guy to have as backup and whose brains are well-balanced with his brawn.
  • Good All Along
  • Guile Hero: Jack Bristow.
  • The Handler: Vaughn entered the scene as Sydney's handler. Eventually, they become more like partners.
    • Dixon often took the role of handler, too
  • Heel Face Mole: Irina at first.
  • Heel Face Revolving Door: Sloane and Irina both qualify.
    • And Sark has self-stated "flexible loyalties".
  • Hello Boys: "Phase One"
  • ~Hey, It's That Guy!~: More like "Hey It's That Bunch of Guys": Weiss became Matt Parkman and was in Baseketball! Also, Sark became Adam Munroe, Josef Bazhaev, and Uncle John Gilbert!
  • Hilarious Outtakes
  • Homage: There's one to the famous fight scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark in "A Free Agent", complete with a fistfight on an airfield and a Mook going into the propeller of a plane.
  • How We Got Here: Done several times, by necessity.
  • I Have Come Too Far
  • I Have Your Wife: Played with in respect to Emily Sloane, though ultimately subverted, as Sloane was pulling this on himself and Emily was in on the con.
  • Trope Workshop:Impossible Mission
  • Incredibly Obvious Bug: Averted. Marshall loves to show off bugs that look like paper clips or pens, or in once case an actual cockroach.
  • In-Series Nickname: "Arvin Clone."
  • Instant Sedation: Happens a lot.
  • Ironic Nursery Tune: "Pop Goes the Weasel" in Season Two's "Double Agent".
  • Jigsaw Puzzle Plot: The show juggles with its Rambaldi devices, ancient conspiracies, modern spy dramas, and family problems. There's an overarching Myth Arc, but by the fifth season there are too many pieces and they don't all fit it in the same puzzle.
  • Killed Off for Real: Very few people, surprisingly. Danny, in the very first episode, then later the Iceman, Francie, Lauren Reed, Emily Sloane and Diane Dixon. Being a love interest other than Vaughn seems to be deadly. But for almost everyone else, Death Is Cheap.
    • Except for a large number in the last season - Jack, Irina, Thomas, Nadia, and Sloane all bite the big one.
  • Kudzu Plot
  • Late Arrival Spoiler: Oh yes. Everything from the pilot, with its Nothing Is the Same Anymore plot — Sydney's father is a double agent, her fiance is killed by Sloane, and Sydney becoming a double agent herself — but there are a few other things that you will find yourself spoiled for by looking at just about any press for the show:
  • Latex Perfection: Twice in one episode.
  • Layman's Terms: Three Words: "IN ENGLISH, MARSHALL!"
  • Letting Her Hair Down: Sydney.
  • Lingerie Scene: "Phase One," Notable in that this aired literally seconds after the Super Bowl, but a year before the Janet Jackson incident so the Moral Guardians didn't make too much noise.
    • Passage I/II: Jack (and the audience) gets to see Irina Derevko in bra and panties, and she gives her 'husband' a good, long look. Just to established that Irina is still smokin' hot, which she is, and to remind us that Jack isn't over her, which is probably true.
      • More like unquestionably true. The question was what did he (and their daughter) mean to her?
  • Love Triangle: Sydney, Vaughn and Lauren.
    • Implied at times: Jack, Irina, Katya.
  • The Lab Rat: Marshall.
  • MacGuffin: What exactly was Rambaldi trying to achieve again?
  • Magical Defibrillator: At the end of the season 3 episode Facade.
  • Martial Arts Do Not Work That Way: Mostly seen with the female characters, who occasionally use high-flying kicks, backflips and the like. The male characters' fighting styles are generally less flamboyant.
  • The Masquerade Will Kill Your Dating Life: Literally, in many cases, and the first major event in the show.
  • Mata Hari: Most of the cast.
  • The Man Behind the Man: Literally named, "The Man". Played with, though, because "The Man" is actually Irina, a woman.
  • Memory Gambit
  • Mind Screw
  • The Mole: Hoo boy. Sydney and Jack, double agents in SD-6 really working for the CIA. Irina in the CIA for whatever side she was supporting. Sloane in SD-6 and APO for the Covenant and for himself.
  • Mole in Charge: Jack, occasionally. Sloane, in season four.
  • Moscow Centre: Irina Derevko was originally a KGB agent, posing as an American to gain the trust and confidence of Jack Bristow and steal secrets from the CIA.
  • Motifs: A number of them, running throughout the series.
    • Animal Motifs: One of Sydney's call signs after she returned from the "dead" was "Phoenix"; Jack's call signs are all birds ("Blackbird" with SD-6, "Raptor" with the CIA).
    • Esoteric Motifs: The Rambaldi sign, which looks like this: <o>
    • The recurring image of a red ball, suspended in midair, which is revealed to be the Mueller Device, a plague carrier. In "Truth Be Told", Sydney steals one from Taipei. In "Almost Thirty Years", she and Vaughn find a room-sized one in Taipei as well. And in "Search and Rescue", it's revealed that Arvin Sloane and Elena Derevko have built a city-sized one over Svogda, Russia. It's been dubbed by fans "the Happy Fun Ball". No, you should not taunt it.
  • Mysterious Parent: Both of Sydney's and Nadia's count.
  • Mysterious Past: Pretty much everyone's got one.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Melissa George as Lauren Reed. They wrote the character as American, cast an Australian who can do a serviceable American accent, and make her an American raised in England. The result was an Australian accent jumbled in with vague attempts at sounding American and English at different points. Inexplicably her parents, played by Raymond J. Barry and Peggy Lipton, Americans who were supposed to be doing American accents, would randomly use British inflections for no apparent reason. Even by the standards of a show where the accents were questionable much of the time, the Reeds' accents were awful.
  • Obstacle Exposition
  • One-Scene Wonder: Quentin Tarantino, visibly enjoying himself as McKenas Cole. In Season 1 he's more of a Two Episode Wonder, but when he pops up again in Season 3 he fits the trope perfectly.
  • Opening a Can of Clones: Rule of thumb on Alias - even if we've seen a body, they're probably not dead.
  • Pair the Spares: Will Tippin and Francie. Also, much later, Weiss and Sydney's Dead Little Sister, Nadia.
  • Papa Wolf: Do not mess with Sydney or you'll be dealing with Jack, and you will not be in good shape after.
  • Parental Abandonment: During the first season we learn that Sydney's mother apparently died in a car accident when she was six. However, at the end of the Season 1 finale, we learn that she faked her own death and now leads a criminal organization. Upon meeting Sydney for the first time as an adult, she proclaims, "You must have known this day would come. I could have prevented all this, of course. You were so small when you were born. It would have been so easy."
    • Repeatedly. One thing is consistent through all the reboots and changes is that Irina is not trustworthy and won't be there when Sydney needs her. Sydney, of course, repeatedly trusts her over and over and over in spite of this.
    • Jack also counts, considering in the first season, Sydney seems to have no personal relationship with him whatsoever. She describes Jack as cold and emotionally distant, having never been there when she really needed him.
  • Part-Time Hero: Sydney tries this for a few seasons, but over the course of the show all of her non-Spy friends have either also become spies/gone into witness protection, or they are murdered, cloned, or cloned and then murdered, so she's pretty much forced to go all-in.
  • Plucky Comic Relief: Marshall
    • Weiss, too, to an extent.
  • Pound of Flesh Twist: The final episodehas Sloane finally achieving immortality...only for Jack to sacrifice himself in an effort to seal Sloane beneath a mountain for all eternity.
  • Pretty in Mink: Sydney, in a few undercover missions.
  • Ransacked Room: Sydney comes home to one of these after she tells her fiance what she does for a living. Turns out SD-6 staged a break-in and had him killed.
  • The Rashomon
  • Recap Episode: see the entry for Clip Show above.
  • Retool: The show was Retooled several times. By nature, of course, this contains several spoilers.
    • In Season 2, halfway through, Sydney and the CIA bring down the entire Alliance, including SD-6, Sydney starts to work for the real CIA in the open, and her relationships with Vaughn, Sloane, Sark, and Dixon all change, and her relationships with her father and Marshall remain basically the same. Her relationships with Will and Francie both end as a result of this change.
    • In Season 3, after Sydney's 2-year memory hole, faked death, etc. Sydney finds that Vaughn is married, her dad is in jail, Dixon is the director of the LA office of the CIA, Sloane is living in Europe as a philanthropist, and other things.
    • In Season 4, Sydney works for a branch of the CIA called "APO," or Authorized Personnel Only, which is a lot like SD-6. Here, the official team relationships are the same as at the start of the pilot (minus the double-agent part), with the original team of Sydney, Dixon, Sloane, and Marshall back together in their original team roles, along with Jack and Vaughn. However, after three seasons of betrayal and general evil by Sloane, all the personal relationships are extremely frayed.
    • There are other, more minor ReTools, but these are the major ones. Season 5 is sort of a Retool, but it's constantly changing and never settles. The interesting thing is that all of the original characters are maintained (minus Will and Francie) despite all of the changes in the show. The same might be said of any show, but in Alias all of the characters completely change teams at least once and repeatedly betray one another, some of them over and over, in ways that would destroy most real (and even most TV) relationships.
  • She Fu: One of the Trope Codifiers.
  • Shout-Out: One of Marshall's passwords is "Moonglum of Elwher."
  • Significant Monogram: Sydney's dad Jack is a Cold War relic of a superspy with the initials "JB." Hmmm...
  • Sinister Surveillance
  • Something They Would Never Do: This how Sydney knows that Francie is an imposter. Sydney offers her some coffee ice cream, something the real Francie hated, and she accepts.
  • Special Guest: Many.
  • Spot the Imposter: Via Project Helix.
  • Spotting the Thread: Happens several times, given the villains' tendency to clone people close to Sydney and send them in as spies.
  • Spy Drama: Kind of self-explanatory.
  • Spy From Weights and Measures: While working for SD-6, Sydney and associates ostensibly work for Credit Dauphine Bank.
    • Except Jack, who allegedly manufactured airplane parts for Jennings Aerospace.
  • Spy-Versus-Spy: This show is one of the few non-intentional uses of the trope. In the beginning, it was CIA versus SD-6. And SD-6 also had enemies in K-Directorate. Then it became CIA versus the Covenant. And then CIA versus... well, that's when it started getting complicated.
  • Star-Making Role: Jennifer Garner.
  • Storming the Castle: Bringing down SD-6.
  • The Stoic: Jack Bristow, ladies and gentlemen.
    • Not So Stoic: Any time his family is threatened, and most of the time Irina is around.
  • Story Arc
  • Stuffed Into the Fridge: Danny, her fiance in the pilot. Kind of subverted, because it actually is her fault.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Katya Derevko for Irina, because they could get Isabella Rosselini and couldn't afford Lena Olin. Katya has all of Irina's attributes and was rather obviously interchangeable. Extra cool because Jack gets to hook up with her.
  • Taking You with Me: Jack Bristow's final Crowning Moment of Awesome in a long line of them.
  • The Teaser: at times long enough to have their own commercial breaks.
  • Terrorists Without a Cause: Sark routinely changes his alliances, and his true allegiance seems to be only to himself.
    • The same can be said of Irina.
  • Techno Wizard: Marshall. His wife and Distaff Counterpart Carrie, in her brief appearances.
  • There Are No Therapists: Subverted. Dr. Barnett is even a Recurring Character.
  • Time for Plan B
  • Time Skip: One of the biggest WhamLines in the show - "Syd, you've been missing for almost two years."
  • A Tortured Index: Just about everything, usually more than once. This element is used more than fight sequences, as torture sequences involve less choreography.
  • Trash the Set
  • Trickster: Arvin Sloane.
  • Trigger Phrase: In season one, there was a Manchurian Agent who could be activated by reading a specific poem. He turned from sweet, mild mental patient to master-assassin upon completion of the piece.
  • Was Just Leaving: "Authorized Personnel Only: Part 2".
  • Western Terrorists: Sark.
  • Wham! Episode: Every season finale.
    • And the episode "Phase One."
  • Wham! Line: There are a number:
    • "I've waited almost thirty years for this." "MOM?!"
    • "Syd... since that night... you were missing. You've been missing for almost two years."
    • "Well, for starters, my name's not Michael Vaughn."
  • Wig, Dress, Accent: Sydney's favorite method of disguise, occasionally used by other agents.
    • Lampshaded by the TWOP nickname for her - "Spy Barbie".
  • World of Snark: This is a J.J. Abrams show. 'Nuff said.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: The prophecies Rambaldi dreamed up cannot be averted, but they can be misinterpreted.
    • But they can change in fundamental ways for no obvious reason and with nobody noticing. See Season Four.
  • You Can't Go Home Again