When it premiered 15 years ago, Alias was a spy show with a slightly spooky twist in that there were fantastical devices and prophecies, too. It stayed fun for a few seasons, and then the mythology became very dense. And it turns out that no one had any idea what any of it meant.
TV Line has a fabulous oral history of the entire run of Alias. If you’re a fan, the whole thing is a must-read. But near the middle, everyone gets asked if they understood the mythology, and every single person gives a different variation on “No fucking way.”
J.J. Abrams explained that he wanted the Rambaldi plot from the beginning because he didn’t want the Sydney to always be dealing with the run-of-the-mill spy stuff like computer chips and data. But it doesn’t sound like the thought went beyond “let’s do a cool thing.” Abrams said:
It was all about just how impossible it is to comprehend, which was sort of the fun of the show. It was never about a particular storyline from the beginning. It was showing how confused she had to be. We had ideas where it was going to go, but nothing that was in any way written in stone. The better idea wins. And you never have the better idea at the very beginning.
Which may have worked for the writers, but man did it throw the cast for a loop:
JOSH APPELBAUM, co-executive producer: Are you asking me did I have a handle on it, or did the rest of the world? Because they understood it better than I did. I’m only half kidding.
JENNIFER GARNER: Victor had no handle on it. Sometimes I could piece together a bit of the Rambaldi plot. Sometimes I was pretty fluent in it, but definitely a lot of the time, it went over my head.
VICTOR GARBER:I had no idea what was going on, but I’m doing a show now [DC’s Legends of Tomorrow] that I have no idea what’s going on. [Laughs] I’m not very smart.
JENNIFER GARNER:[Ron] couldn’t [keep track of it]. He really couldn’t. He was so good at saying it, though.
RON RIFKIN: No f–king handle on it at all… Then poor Mia Maestro [as Nadia]… She had to fall through that glass floor. Oh, it was just terrible.
Oh, well that’s just an executive producer and three of the stars. Surely someone—
KEVIN WEISMAN: I’m going to go with yes. I got it. Of course I got it. I’m f–king Marshall, of course I got it and it was awesome. My favorite thing was the big red ball. The big red ball was kickass.
CARL LUMBLY: I rather appreciated the fact that the whole show at times felt kind of non-linear. It felt like even though it was chaotic, it seemed like there must be some invisible order to it that we just couldn’t pierce, and that’s what’s compelling to me.
GREG GRUNBERG: I didn’t understand any of it. I still don’t. I don’t get it.
Oh, well those people played characters who weren’t completely involved in the Rambaldi plot. Someone must have—
MICHAEL VARTAN: If I’m going to be honest, I had no idea what the hell was going on.
DAVID ANDERS: Yeah, it was pretty high science fiction. The red ball, and I don’t know, there was a device that incinerated a bunch of people in a church or something like that? I’m trying to recollect. I mean, there’s so much that I forget.
VARTAN: There were definitely times during the show when we were just saying our lines, just trying to be believable, but deep down inside had no idea what we were walking about.
Oh, okay then. So no one knew what they were talking about. Well, at least they and the fans were on the same page.
Read the whole story at TV Line, including Jennifer Garner musing on the episode were Sydney became a vampire.