So, about Irina Derevko…

So the impromptu Alias marathon is going along way faster than I expected it to, and last night I watched the season 2 premiere, The Enemy Walks In.

The enemy being, of course, one Irina Derevko.

So this seems like a good time to pause and post about something I’ve been thinking about since I rewatched episode 11, The Confession, in which Sydney first learns the truth about her mother. And basically what I’ve been thinking is more than any single other element, more than even Sydney herself, it’s Irina that truly defined Alias. Or maybe not even Irina herself, as the character she came to be as embodied by Lena Olin (and by the way, this character is my favorite female character in any medium), but rather it was the idea of Irina, the idea of this woman that wasn’t actually the loving mother Sydney remember but who was actually someone much more mysterious, dangerous, and powerful; someone Sydney couldn’t decide whether to love or hate. And as the audience, we were the same. When she betrayed, there was the little seed of hope that there was a reason for it that she just couldn’t share, and when she came as an ally there was always the nagging little doubt that maybe in the end she was only in it for herself; and it was that mystery and duality that made the character so fascinating.*

*Spoiler alert! Personally, I would have been happy if the last we’d seen of Irina was in season 5 after she delivered Sydney’s baby. In my opinion, her last appearance did her a huge disservice by stripping away the mystery and flattening the layers.

But I’m digressing here, because the point I wanted to make wasn’t about Irina herself as a character, fascinating though she is, but rather about why I think that it was the idea of her that defined Alias. Honestly, yes, Alias, was defined by a lot of things, by all the wigs and sexy, nonsensica disguises, (for good or will) by Rambaldi, by Sydney’s double life in the first couple of seasons, by her relationship with her father, and if you’re a shipper, yes, by her relationship with Vaughn. If Laura Bristow had remained the perfect lost mother, Alias was already an extremely fun to watch show.

But throw in that one wrench: Laura Bristow was actually Irina Derevko, a KGB agent responsible for a dozen agents’ deaths, and everything, well it didn’t change, exactly, but it evolved. It went up on another level. There was already great family drama between Syd and Jack, but throw in just the idea of Irina, and that dynamic starts to shift. And Syd herself is put on a new path, both externally, with the search for Irina and where it leads, and internally, in how she starts to question what she thought to be true, although the show only scratches the surface of this during season 1.

Really, learning about Irina was what really set the course for where the show would go and how it would get there, definitely for the first two seasons, which are by far the best of it; but even later, when the show kind of got derailed with Sydney’s lost years, the Lauren fiasco and when the Rambaldi element got out of hand, the ghost of this woman was always there, always implicit, always promising a link we didn’t know. “Truth takes time”, she said, and it lingered even when she wasn’t there. Directly or indirectly, there is nothing in the Alias universe that wasn’t touched in some way by Irina’s existence. The idea of her was a driving force for the story.

And it’s interesting to look back on, because at the time the revelation was surprising, wasn’t it? OMFG, HER MOTHER WAS ALSO A SPY!! So these days, when Chuck (a show I enjoy, by the way, in case it’s not clear) ends the season with the revelation that Chuck’s mother was also part of the spy world, it’s not so much OMFG as it is oh, so it’s like THAT. Because there is already the Irina reference, and I don’t think it diminishes Chuck to say that this was probably a homage to Alias‘ “SpyMommy”.

6 thoughts on “So, about Irina Derevko…

  1. you’re probably more than eloquent enough with words for the two of us. i sometimes have a hard time coming up with a response.

    it makes me wonder how often you’ve watched the entire series… this makes me feel a little sad that i’d chosen this summer to whore out my set to a friend. for all re-runs of alias, i’ve focused mostly on the good old days of season 1… but, yes, irina is always there somehow. everything pretty much comes down to her.

    i was a sydney-vaughn shipper.. up until they decided to give vaughn his own family emo-ness.

    i have yet to watch chuck but have been wanting to since last year… maybe i should hop on that bandwagon soon… (along with dollhouse, post-run)

    1. Oh, I always appreciate comments, even if it’s just flailing at each other. :D

      I started Alias on a weekend season 2 marathon (didn’t watch all of season 2, but I loved what I saw), just before local cable started on season 3 (it was a year behind the US) and I “caught the bus”. A few months later, I started buying the DVDs, and at that point I watched it all the way through once, I think season 4 was released just as I was finishing and so went on to that. And then I watched 5 as it aired in the US. Since I’ve rewatched eps here and there and rewatched season 2 at least once, or at least most of it.

      Season 2 is my favorite because of Irina.

      As for shipping… I think it was because I really started in season 3, I was never really into Syd/Vaughn, but watching season 1 in particular I can TOTALLY understand why so many people loved the pairing so much. Myself, I was totally into Jack/Irina. And then in season 5, I was all over Sark/Rachel.

  2. haha, i was under the impression that you’d already watched the entire series 3 times over since i started following your blog. ;)

    jack/irina always reminds me of a pair of old cats… go figure. but they are loverly together.. and apart…(despite the fact that i probably wouldn’t want them for my own)

    sark was quite an interest, but i couldn’t really get that much into rachel. XD

    1. There’s very few things I rewatch all the way through, most things I just pick through, going to my favorite parts, or whatever I’m in the mood for.

      Yeah, a lot of people didn’t like Rachel. I actually liked Rachel more than I liked Sydney. But Sydney herself was never why I watched the show. :D;;;

  3. Oh my, I could make SUCH a long reply but I’ll try to refrain to only several pages. :) Irina Derevko is one of the greatest female characters ever written. They completely destroyed all of Alias in Season 5, so Irina was recreated and murdered at the end. Disregard the way she was rewritten, it was out of character and utter crap.

    Season 2 and Season 4 were who she was. She loved her daughter but had an obsession greater than herself and her love for the family she had been forced to create.

    I loved the way Irina and Sydney were with each other. They were one of the most magical relationships of the show, a mother/daughter relationship usually tends to be, and there was something in Irina’s eyes that was different when she looked at Sydney that was softer, easier, than when her eyes were looking at anyone else.

    It was beautiful.

    Season 4 was the beginning of the downfall, I wasn’t happy with Irina having another daughter, ESPECIALLY Nadia, what a waste of space, a total b****, and then Season 5, boring as hell and completely betraying all of the characters.

    But the first three seasons, really the first two, are and will always be television history.

    And Sydney and Irina, oh my god! Greatest women ever!

    1. Alias at its best was seasons 1 and 2, and everything else was never really up to its standard, but I did enjoy the series, overall, to the end. I do think season 3 in particular created a lot of problems that dragged it down and were never really solved, and in particular it’s season 3 makes me not really like the Sydney and Vaughn relationship. I personally liked Nadia (frankly, the vitriol that have for her is really surprising to me, and I’m not sure it’s called for), but I do believe the intention was to make her Jack’s daughter, but that the plotline was dropped for whatever reason. As for season 5, I think that the problems it had were actually carried over from previous seasons; in spite of this I enjoyed it. It’s actually only what they chose to do with Irina in the finale that I really have a problem with, because I do agree they made a very rich character one dimensional; but up until that final scene, I don’t really have any particularly huge problems with it. But you know, YMMV. :)

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