One week a month, Watch This offers television recommendations inspired by the week’s new releases or premieres. This week: In honor of the return of Fox’s Wayward Pines, our favorite episodes about weird towns.
Alias, “Welcome To Liberty Village” (season four, episode five; originally aired 1/26/2005)
The fourth season of Alias represents the show’s creative nadir. Even season five—in which ass-kicking spy hunter Sydney Bristow (Jennifer Garner) is in the late stages of her pregnancy—had the virtue of being the show’s last hurrah. But Alias excelled at telling taut, clever episodic stories even as the broader narrative was weighed down by murky mythology and leaned too heavily on the weakest branches of Sydney’s family tree. “Welcome To Liberty Village” is one of the show’s last home runs, a thrilling romp in a town that looks like America but acts like the world’s most dangerous work orientation.
Liberty Village has all the markers of a quaint, just-outside-the-city enclave, including the meticulous landscaping and intrusive neighbors. But Liberty Village is actually a kind of Potemkin suburbia, a facade designed to look like an average American town when it’s actually a training camp for Russian sleeper spies. Every charming split-level is home to a latter-day Philip and Elizabeth Jennings, with the same mission of infiltrating the United States as an unassuming married couple. If Philip and Elizabeth were to see Liberty Village—a fully rendered mini-town in the otherwise barren Petrozavodsk, Russia—they could only scoff at how much easier spies these days have it.
Life in Liberty Village isn’t quite as easy for Sydney and her colleague and future husband Michael Vaughn (Michael Vartan), who must infiltrate the village as Russian operatives posing as typical American rat-racers. The mission isolates them in an especially desolate part of Russia, so there’s no immediate way to extract them if they get into hot water. And while Sydney and Michael’s history as actual Americans (and a actual romantic couple) should help them stand out among the recruits, they actually find themselves behind the curve. “Right now, your job is to prove you belong,” says Tom (Jim Pirri). “We need to be sure that you can portray Americans convincingly.”
David and Karen Parker, Sydney and Vaughn’s Manchurian alter egos, have the nuances of the English language down, unlike some of their new neighbors. “We’ll later go over the recipe,” says one of the neighborhood wives as she hands the Parkers her three-layer casserole. Then she catches her slip-up as the other recruits glare at her. “We’ll go over the recipe later,” she says. What the Parkers lack, to their detriment, is the American warmth expected of them in both their fake lives and their real ones.
Drew Goddard’s sharp script weaves in Sydney and Michael’s intimacy problems, a result of the tortured start to their relationship. Now they’re finally together and taking it slow, so they’re not the affectionate couple they need to be to pass themselves off as a happy American couple, though failing to do so could get them killed. They work to break through their barriers not just for the sake of the mission, but so they’ll have a stronger relationship to come home to. Nothing solidifies a bond like shared adversity, and Liberty Village has plenty of those, including a visit to a car showroom that devolves into a gun fight with a neighborhood couple. Sydney and Michael came to Liberty Village to retrieve an electromagnetic pulse weapon, but they stayed for the relationship counseling.
Availability: “Welcome To Liberty Village” is available for streaming on Netflix and for purchase on DVD and digital video.