It doesn't quite stick an aggressive pause on the show's propulsion, but Masquerade does initially come off as a little jarring, as it so swiftly returns to the safe Alias equilibrium that had previously been put on the backburner. This is mostly a result of Peter Berg's Hicks character, a remnant from Sydney's past. The two of them were SD-6 agents around the same time, discreetly fell in love, and were torn apart by job promotions and various miscommunications. Hicks represents both Syd's pre-pilot past as well as her potentially romantic future and it's obviously an important story to tell -- her first nervous footsteps into post-Danny sexuality. But it doesn't have as much emotional pull as it probably could have done, and I'm not sure whose fault that is.
Peter Berg is fine in the role, even if it is hard to create a ton of audience goodwill based on vague descriptions of two character's romantic history. There's also the Vaughn problem, as we've been seeing his and Sydney's quiet courtship for at least a couple of months now. So Hicks can't help but read as an 'in between' character, not somebody we're supposed to actively root for. There's fun to be had this week, sure, especially during the retrieval of the information core housing all kinds of intel goodness courtesy of "The Man", but nothing's particularly striking enough to raise the episode above 'fine' territory.
At least the show has a built-in well of intrigue that helps salvage even the less successful episodes, namely Jack and Sloane. They've become somewhat dueling father figures over the last couple of weeks, especially as Sydney has begun to actively use Sloane instead of being merely combative towards him. Asking him for assistance in finding her mother understandably upsets Jack, who hits the bottle and escapes his responsibilities.
I love Syd and Jack, and Jack's sense of guilt is played wonderfully. We're also now seeing the dutiful husband persona, the man devastated by his wife's betrayal and still holding so much inner rage over everything she did to him. It's an important decision to make Laura's deceit Jack's story as much as it is Sydney's, and Victor Garber is so good at generally holding the cards close to his chest that seeing him explode is ridiculously effective. You just want to hug him. And then be scared for your life because you glimpsed him being all vulnerable.
There's also a brief moment with Will and Francie, who discover that Sydney's been lying about some of her travels. I have no problem with Francie getting calm 'home' scenes, but Will has struggled since his investigation wrapped up, so it makes sense that the show is once again giving him something to do. I continue to like these two and what they bring to the show, and clearly the writers are playing to their strengths with their subplots, what with the friendly banter and the low-key frustration with Syd. But... yeah, something needs to happen there.
Masquerade comes at a point when many of the long-running arcs have reached a natural plateau, the show having to create short arcs to fill time before the finale. It isn't a great episode by any means, but the strength of the Spy Family dynamic makes up for it. B-
Guest stars Peter Berg (Noah Hicks); Angus Scrimm (Calvin McCullough); Patricia Wettig (Dr. Judy Barnett)
Writers Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman Director Craig Zisk