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'Alias' nostalgia react: The four keys to a successful cliffhanger

Season 1 | Episode 20 | “The Solution” | Aired April 21 2002

For the second time in my Alias watching experience, I felt the distinct and strong urge to keep watching at the end of an episode. It’s not that it’s bad. It’s not even that it isn’t good. It’s good. I like it. I just don’t feel the need to binge it. The pacing of one episode a week feels very natural. But after watching “The Solution,” I had to stop myself from letting Netflix auto play the followup. It got me thinking about what it is that makes an Alias episode effective as a cliffhanger, at least for me. Here’s what I came up with:

1. Sydney must (absolutely must) end the episode in dire peril. Episodes of Alias tend to end with either promises of new secrets to be revealed, revelations that shake the fabric of what you (and Sydney) thought was true, tragedy or Sydney about to die. I love the intrigue and espionage and the tragedies, when they happen, are great (RIP, Noah). But if I’m being honest, I need an almost literal cliffhanger to really feel that extra investment. In “The Solution,” the cliffhanger isn’t Sydney hanging from a cliff (or an air vent—although that one does happen mid-episode), it’s a moment when she’s caught at gun point in the middle of a CIA op during her supposed vacation from SD-6. Thankfully, the person who catches her is Dixon, who is more likely than most from SD-6 not to shoot her in the head or turn her in after the mission. I feel like Dixon has known something was up most of the season, so it’s actually pretty gratifying to see him finally put the pieces together.

2. The mission has to be amazing and involve costumes. It makes me feel like a five year old or a goldfish to admit this, but I’m always much more engaged with Alias when Sydney is wearing elaborate costumes. In fact, the more elaborate the costumes, the more invested I am in the mission. “The Solution” saw Sydney going beyond her usual wigs and tight, club-ready dresses and wearing a veil and dark makeup. The brown face is both offensive and captivating. I couldn’t stop thinking about how shocked I was that the entire disguise was happening at all, especially on network television in this century. Oh, and we get to see Sydney and Vaughn in the field, pretending to be French, which is fun but disconcerting (would the CIA really send a desk jockey out on a dangerous mission that easily? I feel like no).

3. Will Tippin has to be about to die. Will’s story line might not be fast-paced or even consistent, but it’s one of my favorite things about the show. While Sydney’s mishaps frustrate me, Will’s seem more authentic and he is, at times, truly, willfully stupid. His moments of stupidity are tolerable because he’s so sincerely trying to do the right thing. He’s a real civilian bumbling his way through the intelligence world and getting in too deep for his own good. In this episode, for example, his source calls him mysteriously and out-of-the-blue, to let him know that his scary, hooded kidnapper was none other than Jack Bristow. Now, Will is in the worst and best shape he’s ever been in. He’s confronted Jack with his knowledge of SD-6 (which is bad), but he has Jack working with him to learn the identity of his source (who seems to have it out for Jack). This is the buddy cop duo I never realized I wanted to see … and that I’m still not completely sure will work out.

4. There needs to be lots of personal/professional drama. “The Solution” brings in personal drama from non-Sydney characters in brilliant ways. Sloane’s sickly, cancer-ridden wife reveals to Sydney that she knows about SD-6 and, thanks to bugs all day, every day, SD-6 knows it and order a hit on her, proving that at least Danny got the standard treatment after Sydney told him about her real job. Sloane is already pretty sympathetic for a villain, but this was kind of heart-wrenching. His wife is already terminal and he has been asked to approve her assassination. My heart breaks a little just typing it.

But don’t worry. I stayed strong. I’m 20 episodes in and have no intention of letting up now. I’m watching Alias as I would have had to in 2002: One episode per week. At least until the end of season 1. After that, it’s fair game to binge.

TV Families | EW.com
Mark Harris
February 23, 1990 AT 05:00 AM EST

The Bradys are back, with a passel of 90’s hassles. Do they represent the typical American Family? Did they ever? Who does? Stare and compare!

Kind Of Family
TheBradyBunch 1969-74: Blended
The Bradys 1990-: Enormous
Married…With Children 1987-: Postnuclear
Thirtysomething 1987-: Extended
The Flintstones 1960-66: Modern Stone Age

Family Pet
The Brady Bunch: Tiger
The Bradys: Alice
Married…With Children: Buck
Thirtysomething: Grendel
The Flintstones: Dino

Typical Guest Star
The Brady Bunch: Davey Jones
The Bradys: There’s no room
Married…With Children: Sam Kinison
Thirtysomething: Carly Simon
The Flintstones: Ann Margrock

Expression Of Joy
The Brady Bunch: Groovy!
The Bradys: Ritual hugging
Married…With Children: ”Oh, great.”
Thirtysomething: ”Of course I’m happy for you. Really. But what about me? Why does it always have to be about you?
The Flintstones: ”Yabba-dabba doo

Expression Of Rage

The Brady Bunch: ”Hmmm…”
The Bradys: ”If you back away from something you really want, then you’re a quitter!” (the angriest any Brady has ever been)
Married…With Children: ”Aaagh, God, take me from this miserable life!”
Thirtysomething: ”I’m not angry, OK?”
The Flintstones: ”Willllmaaaa!”

Typical Problem
The Brady Bunch: Marcia and her rival both want to be the prom queen.
The Bradys: Bobby gets paralyzed.
Married…With Children: Al doesn’t buy his family Christmas presents.
Thirtysomething: Nancy gets cancer.
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney are staying out too late.

Typical Solution
The Brady Bunch: The prom committee decides to have two queens.
The Bradys: Bobby gets married.
Married…With Children: They hate him.
Thirtysomething: If only we knew…
The Flintstones: Wilma and Betty decide to follow them.

House Style
The Brady Bunch: Conservative but mod, circa ’69
The Bradys: Conservative but mod, circa ’90
Married…With Children: Roach motel
Thirtysomething: Enviable
The Flintstones: Suburban cave

Clothing Style
The Brady Bunch: Early Osmonds
The Bradys: Made in the USA
Married…With Children: Flammable fabrics
Thirtysomething: Eclectic earth tones; nice ties
The Flintstones: One-piece

Most Annoying Character
The Brady Bunch: Alice’s cousin Emma, the substitute housekeeper (too strict)
The Bradys: Marcia’s husband, Wally (chronically unemployable)
Married…With Children: Steve (supercilious)
Thirtysomething: Ellyn (goes through Hope’s drawers, babbles, changes hairstyle every other week, generally mistreats her friends)
The Flintstones: Mr. Slate (bossy)

Attitude Toward Sex
The Brady Bunch: Never heard of it
The Bradys: Omigod — even Cindy does it!
Married…With Children: Peg: Yes. Al: No.
Thirtysomething: They didn’t get all those kids by accident.
The Flintstones: Prehistoric

How Spouses Fight
The Brady Bunch: They don’t.
The Bradys: Infrequently, but it happens
Married…With Children: Tooth and nail
Thirtysomething: They stop talking
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney go bowling while Wilma and Betty max out their charge cards.

How Kids Get Into Trouble
The Brady Bunch: Greg takes a puff of a cigarette.
The Bradys: Carol’s grandson steals her business cards and sticks them in the spokes of Bobby’s wheelchair.
Married…With Children: By committing felonies
Thirtysomething: Ethan plays with a forbidden toy rocket.
The Flintstones: They don’t.

How They’re Punished

The Brady Bunch: ”It’s not what you did, honey — it’s that you couldn’t come to us.”
The Bradys ”Next time, ask.”
Married…With Children: By the authorities
Thirtysomething: It blows up in his face.
The Flintstones: They’re not.

What Family Does For Fun
The Brady Bunch: Takes special three-part vacations to Hawaii and the Grand Canyon
The Bradys: Has flashbacks
Married…With Children: Exchanges insults
Thirtysomething: Talks
The Flintstones: Attends showings of The Monster at the Bedrock Drive-In

Unsolved Mysteries
The Brady Bunch: How exactly did Carol’s first husband and Mike’s first wife die?
The Bradys: What’s with Marcia’s new face and Bobby’s blonde hair
Married…With Children: What kind of hair spray does Peg use?
Thirtysomething: Why did Nancy take Elliot back? What do Gary and Susanna see in each other?
The Flintstones: How does Barney’s shirt stay on if he has no shoulders? Where do Fred and Wilma plug in their TV?

Worst Behavior
The Brady Bunch: The Brady children once made Alice feel under-appreciated.

The Bradys: Marcia’s son Mickey watches Bobby’s car-crash tape for fun.
Married…With Children: The Bundy’s kill their neighbor’s dog.
Thirtysomething: Elliot has an affair and talks about it.
The Flintstones: Characters don’t wear under-clothes.

Best Reason To Watch
The Brady Bunch: This is what life should be.
The Bradys: They’re all grown-ups now!
Married…With Children: Terry Rakolta hates it.
Thirtysomething (Tie) This is your life. This isn’t your life.
The Flintstones: This is what life might have been.

Best Reason Not To Watch
The Brady Bunch: Blurred vision from rerun overdoses.
The Bradys: You’re all grown-ups now.
Married…With Children: She has a point.
Thirtysomething: After a while, you think it’s real.
The Flintstones: The Simpsons

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