Monday, May 22, 2006

Farewell, Jack Bristow

On last night's final episode of "Alias," one of my all-time favorite television characters went to be with the angels. But not before ensuring - in his final, glorious, heroic act - that the most evil man on earth would spend eternity buried alive in a cave in Mongolia.

That sentence makes no sense whatsoever if you aren't an "Alias" fan. Otherwise you already know that: 1) Sloane is the most evil man on earth; 2) Sloane finally obtained his long-sought Rambaldi device, and with its power was made immortal; and 3) Jack Bristow blew himself up in the Mongolian cave where the Rambaldi device was found, leaving Sloane half-buried and doomed to live forever under the rubble.

OK, I guess you had to be there.

In four years of watching "Alias" (I missed the first season, but caught it later in reruns), I have never once understood what the hell was going on. I watched Sydney put on miniskirts and wigs and kickbox her way out of the bad guy's clutches again and again. I listened to characters yammer on and on about the mysterious Rambaldi and his prophecies. I puzzled over scenes that took place in Tibetan monasteries for no discernible reason. And I tried in vain to keep up with the evil-genius alliances that cropped up week after week, each with some scary new bomb or bio-weapon and a plan to take over the world. Couldn't make heads or tails out of any of it - not even for a minute. I do know, however, that not one of those evil alliances succeeded in their quest for world domination. Sydney, Vaughn, and the other cute, hot, young things of the CIA kicked the bad guys' butts every time. But those youngsters weren't the reason I was tuning in to "Alias" every week.

My "Alias" addiction was fueled by one man and one man alone: Jack Bristow.

Who is, of course, played by Victor Garber.

I first fell in love with Victor Garber when I was 13, and he was the rainbow-suspendered hippie Jesus of the movie "Godspell." He was all of 23 when he made that film, and he was the most beautiful young man on earth. (I think the picture above confirms this - in spite of the enormous Afro and the faux teardrops painted beneath his eyes.) But the years passed, I stopped obsessively listening to my "Godspell" movie soundtrack album, and I outgrew my puppy lust. Meanwhile, Victor was working mostly on Broadway. By the 90s, he was turning in memorable supporting performances in hit movies like "Sleepless in Seattle," "The First Wives' Club" and "Titanic" and I rediscovered the beautiful boy of my teenage crush, all grown up into a tall, handsome - well, let's just say it - HOT man. But he's never been as sexy as when playing the silver-haired CIA spy daddy/bad ass that is Jack Bristow.

But this isn't just about lust. (It is mostly about lust. But, really, there is more.) Jack Bristow is a fascinating and complex character: a double agent who dishes out torture and orders executions with expressionless sangfroid; a once-loving husband still obsessed with avenging his wife's betrayal and duplicity (she turned out be be a KGB agent); a father fiercely protective of the daughter he tried to discourage from going into his line of work; and, in the final season, a doting grandfather. Jack Bristow is a field day for an actor of Victor's caliber. He shows you every layer and nuance of Jack's inner torment, and yet for all the world remains deadpan, inscrutable, and often downright scary.

I remember one scene from season 2 (the best season of the series IMHO). Irina, in her jail cell, taunts Jack with her recollection of their brief marriage as a trial and a sham. The camera cuts to Victor listening, and on his face, you can see every emotion that the taunt elicits - hurt, betrayal, anger, contempt. The whole history of their relationship plays out on his face in just a few seconds. Moments like that are what kept me coming back to "Alias" week after week.

I just regret that they couldn't fit in one more face-off between Jack and Irina in that last show. It could have been dynamite.

(Photos from

No comments: