The only thing better than a great season finale is a great season premiere to build on the foundation laid in that finale. It’s a perfect one-two punch: the shock that often comes with a brilliant finale and the catharsis often granted by an equally brilliant premiere.
In my years as a dedicated TV fan, I’ve seen plenty of great finales and premieres, especially from mythology-heavy shows like Once Upon a Time, Orphan Black, and Lost. However, I’ve never seen a more powerful finale/premiere duo than the knockout combination of Alias’s “The Telling”/“The Two.” Those two episodes set the standard for me in terms of shocking cliffhangers and premieres that dealt perfectly with their fallout.
Alias’s second season was pure brilliance. And its finale was exactly the kind of ending such a phenomenal season deserved. It featured one twist after another (“Francie doesn’t like coffee ice cream…”) until the final minutes gave way to what I still consider the most blindsiding cliffhanger I’ve ever watched.
The way that last scene put you in Sydney Bristow’s shoes was unsettling, disorienting, and absolutely necessary. From the unfamiliar scar on her stomach to Vaughn’s obviously tense demeanor and noticeable ring, the audience was meant to be on the same page as Sydney—confused and looking for answers. And when the answer came, it was one both we and Sydney never expected: She’d been missing for almost two years.
Ending that finale not with Vaughn’s words but with Sydney’s reaction to them—accompanied by Michael Giacchino’s hauntingly discordant score (which hinted at what he would one day do so well on Lost)—allowed the audience to feel not just total shock but also total heartbreak. What made this cliffhanger work on such a masterful level was that it stayed with you emotionally as well as intellectually. As soon as the episode ended, I didn’t start theorizing; I started sobbing.
Jennifer Garner excelled at so many things during her time playing Sidney Bristow, but the thing she was best at was making you genuinely feel for this woman in a way you would feel for a friend. She made Sydney—a superspy—feel heartbreakingly normal. And that ability to anchor the plot twists and cliffhangers swirling around her in real, honest emotions was used to its most affecting degree in both “The Telling” and “The Two.” The plot twist of Sydney going missing mattered to us not just because it was cool but because it mattered to Sydney. We were confused, but we knew we weren’t alone; Sydney was right there with us, struggling to comprehend a world in which everything had changed.
After a summer filled with enough theorizing (and, let’s be honest, fan fiction reading) to make even my fangirl head spin, “The Two” put us back in Sydney’s shoes to give us the catharsis we so desperately needed after “The Telling.” It gave us some (but not many) answers, and the most important to Sydney in that moment was also the most important one for many of the fans—because it was the most personal: The ring Vaughn was wearing was a wedding ring, and no, he didn’t marry Sydney without her remembering it (like many of us had hoped).
The best thing about “The Two” was that it allowed Sydney to react once again like a real woman would to her situation—with confusion, vulnerability, and a deep sense of anger. It allowed her to work through the emotions that “The Telling” stirred up, and, in doing so, it allowed us as viewers to do the same.
When Sydney finally saw her father (who’d been imprisoned during those missing two years), what struck me the most was that Sydney was allowed to act like a girl who just needed her dad—like we all would if we were in her shoes. And I’ll never forget being so relieved to see Jack Bristow focus on comforting his daughter on the one thing he knew was hurting her the most. In telling her that Vaughn was just a boy who never deserved her, Jack Bristow gave the audience another character to relate to. We related to Sydney in her heartbreak and confusion, but we related to Jack in his protectiveness.
Jack Bristow’s simple but powerful takedown of Vaughn was just the beginning of the emotional release we as an audience experienced while watching “The Two.” Later on in the episode, Sydney unleashed what might be the most righteously angry monologue in recent television history, as she told Vaughn he would never be getting closure from her because he committed the unforgivable sin of losing faith in her and in their relationship.
Garner had her fair share of high points while playing Sydney, but this is a standout. It was raw and brutally honest, and so much of its impact came from the way we had been hurting right along with Sydney from those last moments of “The Telling” through this monologue. It took all of the emotions the fanbase had be storing up through the summer—the confusion, the betrayal, and the sense of wasted time—and allowed Sydney to speak those emotions in the most powerful way imaginable. So many cliffhangers are dropped without ever letting us see the emotional fallout, but “The Telling” and “The Two” allowed us to do exactly that. There may have been a hundred plot points left unresolved at the end of “The Two,” but the most important emotional beats played out onscreen in the most honest ways possible, and that’s exactly what I want from a season premiere.
Do you have a favorite all-time finale/premiere combination? Or are there any premieres you’ve watched this season that did for you what “The Two” did for me?