Some TV scenes will always have a special place in our hearts for reasons even we can’t explain. They’re the ones we watch over and over until we’re pretty sure our computers or DVRs (or VHS tapes of episodes back in the day) are going to break from being rewound to the same place 100 times in a row. They’re the ones that we think of first when we hear the name of a TV show years after its series finale and remember the times when we were obsessed with that show. They’re the scenes that make us cry because they remind us of just how much we can love a show, a character, or a relationship.
When I think of the years I spent adoring (aka obsessing over) Alias, one of the first scenes I think about is from Season Three’s “Prelude,” when Vaughn helps Sydney escape to Rome and tells her, “even though everything’s changed, some thing don’t.” My 15-year-old self probably watched this scene 50 times within the first week after it aired, and I cried every time.
For those of us who were emotionally invested in Sydney and Vaughn’s relationship, the beginning of Alias’s third season was a rough time. We had to deal with Sydney’s two-year disappearance, Vaughn’s marriage, and the constant presence of his too-perfect wife, Lauren. By the time “Prelude” aired, things were looking pretty hopeless for Sydney and Vaughn “shippers” like myself.
But then this scene happened, and suddenly it was like we could see a light at the end of the tunnel. Some things hadn’t changed, and the biggest one of those things was Vaughn’s willingness to do anything to protect Sydney. When Michael Vartan delivers the line, “I’m not going to lose you twice,” you can feel Vaughn’s guilt over losing Sydney the first time as well as the conviction and love that I’d hoped was still in his heart. Vartan is so good in this scene. Vaughn’s inner conflict feels so real, and I love that—for a brief moment—the conflict goes away and all that’s left is love for the one woman he’d do anything for.
And how could he keep from doing anything for Sydney when she’s as heartbreakingly vulnerable as she is in this scene? When she tells Vaughn that her life is a disaster, I tear up every time. And her reactions to Vaughn throughout this scene are so genuine and beautiful. Her tears feel earned because we’ve been through so much with this couple, and we know how much it means to Sydney to hear the man she’ll always love tell her that he still has her back the way he did so long ago.
Hope is such a beautiful emotion to feel, and that’s what this scene is all about. When I first watched Sydney and Vaughn hold each other like they did so many times before, I felt so much hope. And when I watched Vaughn lean in to Sydney—his desire gorgeously written all over his face—I felt his hope, the hope of a man who wished for one second that he could go back in time to a moment when he could kiss her. And even after Sydney pulled away—her adorable smile trying to shine through her tears—I still felt hope. If they could have this moment, then maybe they could find their way back to each other.
This isn’t the best Alias scene ever. It’s not even the best Sydney/Vaughn scene. But it’s the one that holds the most precious spot in my heart because it gave me hope as a viewer at a time when I was looking for something positive from a relationship that used to make me so happy. Hope is a powerful thing, and that’s what this scene is all about.
I once spent a solid 45 minutes trying to get the perfect screenshot of that moment when they pull away from their hug and they’re almost kissing. I didn’t need it for anything; I just wanted to be able to stare at it whenever I wanted. It’s gorgeous. I think aesthetically it’s my favorite shot in the whole show, the way they look with their noses almost touching, the runway lights in the background. It’s like Casablanca.
I love this scene, Katie. I love it for all the reasons you laid out. It’s hope for Sydney and Vaughn–we don’t know yet what their future will look like, but we know they’ll never stop making these sacrifices for one another, and that’s enough. The way Jennifer Garner smiles through her tears absolutely DEFINES Sydney for me. She makes the exact same face when Vaughn comes to see her in the safe house after her missing two years. It’s just so adorable and heartbreaking, the way she finds ways to smile through the disasters in her life.
I really miss Alias.
I have a notebook full of printed Alias screenshots that I collected during the high point of my obsession, and that is probably my favorite screenshot out of all of them. That whole scene is so beautifully lit and shot.
“The way Jennifer Garner smiles through her tears absolutely DEFINES Sydney for me.” – I feel exactly the same way. I have always seen Sydney as someone who is incredibly strong because she allows herself to be vulnerable but still tries to find the good in the world around her. To find a reason to smile (and love and hope and believe in the good) even when life gives you 1000 reasons to cry is true strength in my mind, and I like to think I learned that lesson from Sydney Bristow.