In the sixth episode of the fourth season of Alias, NOPE. NO, THANK YOU. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Alias.
Trigger Warning: For talk of phobias (specifically arachnophobia), paranoia, unreality, suicide and drugging.
I’m fine??? This was fine??? I’m definitely okay???
It’s definitely interesting to me that I’m basically watching J.J. Abrams’s work in reverse. In doing so, I can see how future properties or series may have either been inspired by his past projects, or he was merely testing ideas out. Now, that’s not to discredit Jeff Pinkner’s role in writing the script for “Nocturne,” though it’s important to note that Pinkner would later writer for other Abrams projects, too. But this episode, while firmly in the tradition of Alias’s twisting of contemporary spy thrillers with science fiction, could have easily been an episode of Fringe with a few key changes. SERIOUSLY, JUST SWAP OUT SYDNEY AND VAUGHN WITH PETER AND OLIVIA AND IT’S SO PERFECT, RIGHT? Thank you, you’re welcome, write that crossover fanfiction as soon as you can.
I mean… look. The companion scenes that set up the world of the drug Nocturne are just… not okay??? The script manages to combine body horror with paranoia and a healthy dose of phobia scares and JESUS, WHY WAS THIS EPISODE SO RELENTLESSLY INTENSE. And it tricks you with two huge scenes—the death of both CIA agents due to Nocturne’s influence—and then quietly eats away at the audience through Sydney. She’s given a clean bill of health, and it’s a goddamn red herring. Meanwhile, all we are left with is the disturbing imagery of Nancy’s suicide and Jason’s vampire-like rampage. (Seriously, the visuals on that sequence alone felt ripped straight out of a horror movie. I’m having a lot of fun with the fluidity of genre within this show. This episode can exist alongside heists and the Rambaldi plot, and it all still feels like the same show. That’s pretty damn special.) Even if Sydney hadn’t been affected by the Nocturne, she still would have been haunted by Jason’s attack, you know?
So, I’m fascinated by stories where reader/watcher perception is integral to the narrative. We know that Sydney is being poisoned by Nocturne from that very first scene where she spots a spider on sink that seemingly disappears. Though I’m gonna pitch a theory that’s just conjecture: Sydney knew the whole time, but chose to actively deny it the first few instances she hallucinated something. Regardless, the audience operates on a different level of understanding than the characters. We know everything upfront; then Sydney does; then Jack suspects next, until everyone is aware that Nocturne is busy infecting Sydney’s mind. Each falling domino in this sequence is an important story beat, so just from a craft perspective, this was so, so thrilling to watch. This was not an immediate nightmare; it was a slow burn that we always saw coming.
Thus, on the one hand, this is an experience, the type of episode where it’s mostly about how a character deals with a very specific predicament. (Spoiler alert: SYDNEY DEALS WITH IT VERY BADLY.) But there’s an extra layer of meaning to all of this, and I appreciated that Pinkner’s script allowed the audience to fill in some of the spaces between what was stated on screen. For example: it is astounding that Sydney’s scenes work so well as an overstated and exaggerated use of her paranoia towards her father. He has betrayed her quite recently, and their relationship is prickly at best. Thus, as she turns against him, it’s not just a matter of Nocturne changing her brain chemistry. Her existing trauma and mistrust is merely dialed up a notch, so there’s almost a catharsis in watching her act out her feelings.
Of course, it’s even more emotional (and stunning) to see how she deals with Vaughn. Her sense of distrust manifests as an expression of betrayal: How dare Vaughn go off and marry Lauren in her absence! She might tell Vaughn that she’s fine and that she’s moved on, but that accusation was so damn raw, y’all. YET LET US ALL APPRECIATE THAT VAUGHN DOESN’T RISE TO THE BAIT AND HE SUPPORTS SYDNEY THROUGHOUT IT AND HE’S SO SWEET AND????? Hi, everyone, I’ve not shipped a het pairing this hard since Lee Adama and Roslin. My god, I just love that hospital scene in the end. (Well, minus Vaughn handling the spider, what the HELL are you doing!!!!!!!!) It’s so tender and loving, and my heart BURSTS at how supportive he is.
Oh, I still think the show is under-utilizing him, but I am going to call it right now: Dixon utterly rejecting Sloane’s apology and then verbally decimating him is going to be amongst the greatest scenes of this whole damn show. I am thankful that the writers haven’t pushed these characters towards an unwarranted and unearned forgiveness of Sloane. I’ve commented multiple times on video that Sydney’s rejections of Sloane continue to add years to my life. But there’s something particularly brutal and cathartic in watching Dixon refuse to accept that it is his fault that he never suspected that SD-6 wasn’t really CIA. It’s a shitty, victim-blaming bit of logic from Sloane, and Dixon beautifully reverses it on him.
It’s my eternal mood, y’all: rejecting horrible people to their face.
The video for “Nocturne” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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