As long-term fans know, Alias started off a series that was frequently sort of silly but nevertheless grounded in some semblance of reality, before becoming this tonally batshit espionage sci-fi show full of prophecies and clones and zombies and ice rays. If memory serves correct, they actually manage to pull most of that off... for real. But I always pinpoint The Box as the first push of insanity for this show, and that's primarily due to guest star Quentin Tarantino and his scenery-chewing archness. This isn't a nondescript vaguely-Middle Eastern antagonist, but a wacky, volatile character, naturally blessed (or arguably cursed) by Tarantino's assaulting vocal pattern, spitting out dialogue like a machine gun with an impossible number of bullets. But it works, crazy and all.
Every show does the 'hostage crisis' episode, so much that I'm inherently difficult to win over when that plot device is resurrected by a TV series, even if it's a show I'm a huge fan of. But it's hard not to adore The Box, with its ability to make SD-6 this impenetrable labyrinth of stuck elevators, surveillance cameras and locked doors, ventilation shafts just big enough for agents to silently crawl through. It's also a ton of fun seeing Sydney and Jack working together to save the day, Jack particularly impressing with the Morse code and the blinking light on the security camera, alerting a captive Marshall to create a distraction.
McKenas Cole is, as I already implied, a huge bag of crazy, but you can understand his bitterness. He works a little like another Sydney doppelganger, somebody betrayed by those he trusted, but ending up partnering with additional bad guys, rather than with the actual agents he thought he was working for already. He swiftly turns the tables on Sloane, too, and it's ironic to see him strapped down and tortured so soon after a run of episodes in which Sloane's actions were similarly aggressive with the torture.
Will's subplot feels like a strange distraction this week, especially as it's the only story not confined to both spy headquarters. Regardless of that jarring quality, it's fun seeing him continue to delve into this mystery, especially as it now seems to be unfolding whether he wants it to or not. Maybe that's the reason for its inclusion, though? While everybody else on the show is being contained and trapped, his world is opening up when he really doesn't want it to. Levels, people!
Being Part 1, most of this episode naturally sets the scene for the histrionics of next week (the Vaughn subplot, in particular, feels like it's headed somewhere interesting), but it features a real energy all of its own, primarily due to Tarantino and the fact that he's a very different villain for this show. It's a strong development. A-
Guest stars Quentin Tarantino (McKenas Cole); Joey Slotnick (Steven Haladki); Agnes Bruckner (Kelly McNeil); Sarah Shahi (Jenny); Patricia Wettig (Dr. Judy Barnett)
Writers Jesse Alexander, John Eisendrath Director Jack Bender