Whenever I think that Alias is completely done as a series, an amazing episode comes along and teases me back. There have been a number of great episodes over the last several weeks, but none of them matched the quiet beauty of "Mirage" this week.
Seeing the identity politics play out -- especially when Syd watched an incredibly tender and gentle Jack at the piano with the young "Sydney" -- was heartbreaking (as was Jack's look of betrayal when the CIA technicians crashed in on him to sedate him -- as though he knew that he'd been "betrayed" a second time by Laura/Irina). Even though she was alienated from her youth, after all, being displaced by a random girl who was merely playing her, she still reconnected with the affection that Jack was showing the young "Syd" -- which implies that identity isn't confined to the body. Jack can express kindness to a girl whose relation to Sydney is limited to superficial likenesses, but Sydney can still feel like she's the receptacle of that attention.
Which leads me to wonder: often, in a performance on this sort of emotional level, audiences want to believe that the reason scene is so affecting is because the actors and actresses involved are experiencing those actual emotions, which underscores our desire and belief in verisimilitude. If Jennifer Garner (whose performance this episode is easily her best after a long string of sleepwalking efforts) were to say that the scene where she's watching Jack and young "Syd" at the piano, she was merely acting, such an admission would dilute our appreciation.
The need to believe in genuine emotion in an artificial environment is enacted by this episode, in fact. The scenario -- a recreated 1981 Bristow home complete with breakaway set walls and a production team (Marshall) and director (Sloane) -- becomes the site where Sydney (re)lives a fundamentally fictive scene but she nonetheless extracts genuine emotion from it. This episode then suggests that even though artifice suffuses the entire existence of Alias (and all fictional shows), we can suspend disbelief if certain scenarios and issues are invoked (in this case, the far from normal relationship that Sydney in the same episode says that she has with her dad). The artifice becomes a vehicle through which we can experience the sublime.
Indie rating: Mogwai - "Take Me Somewhere Nice"