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The Ending Of Alias Finally Explained

It's been well over a decade since the thrilling and mysterious spy series Alias aired its final episode, which in many ways provided more questions than answers. What started as a simple story of a grad student recruited as a spy for a criminal organization posing as the CIA — okay, we suppose it was never that simple — only became more complex and complicated over the course of its five seasons, weaving centuries-old prophecies, ghosts, immortality, and magical MacGuffins into its already mind-bending narrative. 

By the time Alias hit the end of its run, its mythology had spiraled out into an unwieldy beast that couldn't be fully contained by even the most ambitious 43-minute series finale. Even many Alias fans who'd faithfully kept up with the show from the beginning found themselves scratching their heads and asking "huh?" by the time the final, confusing episode, titled "All the Time in the World," wrapped up its final few minutes. Fortunately, if you've never quite been able to figure out the ending of Alias, we're here to help. Below, we've broken down where Sydney Bristow (Jennifer Garner) and her myriad friends and enemies wound up, what they were attempting to do, and what it all means.

What was Sloane trying to do at the end of Alias?

Although Alias was bursting at the seams with memorable villains, none played more of a central role throughout the show's lifetime than Arvin Sloane (Ron Rifkin), Sydney's erstwhile mentor and boss turned eventual arch-nemesis. So it was fitting that the ending of the series revolved largely around Sloane's master plan, which combined his series-long obsession with 15th-century philosopher Milo Rambaldi and his thirst for power.

Using the assets he'd seized when he had his associate Kelly Peyton (Amy Acker) slaughter the members of rival criminal organization Prophet Five, Sloane purchased two nuclear missiles, intending to launch them at two highly populated cities in order to profit off the reconstruction efforts. Simultaneously, Sloane traveled to Rambaldi's tomb in Mongolia with the Horizon — a spherical Rambaldi artifact that had been stolen earlier in the season by Sydney's mother and Sloane's fellow criminal mastermind, Irina Derevko (Lena Olin, who later joined the cast of Mindhunter). By placing the Horizon on Rambaldi's tomb, Sloane activated Rambaldi's greatest device and achieved immortality. Considering the devastation that would've resulted from Sloane's missiles, the rebuilding efforts would've taken decades, far beyond Sloane's natural lifespan. However, by gaining immortality through the Rambaldi device, Sloane would've had "all the time in the world" to amass a fortune as the cities he destroyed were rebuilt.

What was the deal with Rambaldi?

So what's up with this Rambaldi guy? Well, Milo Rambaldi was a philosopher, inventor, alchemist, and prophet who lived in the late 15th century. He had a vision of world peace, which he hoped to bring about through his invention of various devices, which were all designed to work together in service of his ultimate endgame. Throughout the centuries following his death, many individuals and organizations attempted to accumulate the works of Rambaldi, although rarely with the intent of realizing his vision of world peace. Sloane, Irina, and the various organizations they worked for, with, and against were all far more interested in using Rambaldi's achievements to consolidate their own power.

Over the course of Alias, many of Sydney's missions focused on recovering these Rambaldi devices, along with some of his writings and other inventions. Among the many Rambaldi devices revealed throughout the series were the Mueller Device (intended to promote aggression and incite a purging of all the evil in the world), the Orchid (which would encourage peace among the survivors), and the Horizon (which would allow them all to live together in harmony forever). 

Additionally, Sydney found herself and her family at the center of several of Rambaldi's prophecies. For example, Rambaldi wrote of a "Chosen One" destined to bring forth his works, which could've referred to either Sydney or her mother Irina, as well as a "Passenger" destined to battle the Chosen One, who turned out to be Sydney's half-sister, Nadia Santos (Mía Maestro).

What happened to Sydney at the end of Alias?

After tracking Sloane to Mt. Subasio in central Italy, Sydney confronted her former employer in an ice cave in the penultimate episode. However, Sloane shot the ground she was standing on and triggered a cave-in, which nearly killed her. Sloane escaped, but Sydney was revived by Michael Vaughn (Michael Vartan), and she then tracked Sloane to Rambaldi's tomb in Mongolia with the help of Vaughn, her father Jack Bristow (Victor Garber of CW fame), and her allies Marshall (Kevin Weisman), Dixon (Carl Lumbly), and Rachel (Rachel Nichols).

Face to face with Sloane once more, Sydney seized the Horizon, but Sloane shot Jack to get her to drop it. In retribution, Sydney blasted Sloane, seemingly killing him, before calling for help for her father. However, Jack convinced her to leave him and go after her mom, who intended to launch the nuclear missiles after getting the Horizon from Sark (David Anders). Sydney then confronted her mother in Hong Kong, and after a violent struggle, Irina chose power over Sydney once more and fell to her death in her attempt to grasp the Horizon.

With Irina and Sloane dead and the missile launch stopped, Sydney gave up her work for the CIA, married Vaughn, and retired to the beach with their daughter, Isabelle. Several years later, Sydney and Vaughn had a second child, a son whom they named Jack, after his grandfather. Every few years, Dixon attempted to woo Sydney back to the CIA, but she routinely turned him down.

Where did Vaughn end up?

Over the course of Alias, CIA agent Michael Vaughn grew quite a bit. He started as Sydney's handler while she worked as a double agent at SD-6. Then he became a romantic partner after they brought SD-6 down. Then he morphed into a chilly acquaintance after he got married and became a French teacher during the two years when he thought Sydney was dead. And finally, he became Sydney's fiancé and the father of her child after his wife was revealed to be a Covenant spy and subsequently died. After rejoining the CIA and getting engaged to Sydney, Vaughn was seemingly killed by Prophet Five, and he was presumed dead for much of Alias' final season. However, it was ultimately revealed that Vaughn's death had been a ruse designed by Jack Bristow (with Sydney's knowledge) to protect Vaughn from Prophet Five, which would stop at nothing to silence him.

It turned out that Vaughn's real name was André Michaux, and that his father once worked with Prophet Five. Before the start of the series, Vaughn was approached by a woman whose father worked with Vaughn's at the aforementioned criminal organization, and the two had been working together ever since to uncover more information about the secret group. And after Vaughn was revealed to be alive, he and Sydney teamed up for one final mission following the destruction of Prophet Five, and Vaughn was instrumental in stopping the missile launch while Sydney fought with Irina. At the end of the series, Vaughn retired to the beach along with Sydney and their two kids.

What became of Sloane?

After finally assembling the final Rambaldi device in the Alias finale, Sloane shot Jack to distract Sydney and to force her to drop the Horizon, but he was then shot multiple times by Sydney in retribution. As a result, Sloane fell into the fluid that made up the Rambaldi sphere, and while he certainly seemed dead, it was later revealed that he was made immortal by the Rambaldi device. At first, Sloane was elated, having achieved his ultimate goal, and he tried to share his joy with the apparition of his dead daughter, Nadia, whom Sloane had accidentally killed earlier in the final season in the name of his Rambaldi obsession.

However, before Sloane could leave Rambaldi's tomb, he was confronted by a mortally wounded Jack Bristow, who'd strapped explosives to his chest. Realizing that an immortal Sloane would mean that his daughter would never be safe, Jack decided to sacrifice himself to save Sydney. He detonated the C-4 and caused a cave-in, which blocked off the entrance to the tomb and caused Sloane to be pinned underneath a massive pile of rubble. Still immortal, Sloane would never die from his injuries, but he also wasn't strong enough to dig himself out, leaving him trapped and alone in the dark for all eternity.

What was Jack's fate?

After being fatally shot by Sloane, Jack realized he was dying, but he pretended to be stable in order to convince Sydney to go on without him. Before they parted ways — for the last time, although Sydney didn't know it yet — Jack told her that while he never wanted this sort of life for her, there was no one else in the world who could do what she could do. He then struggled to his feet just long enough to send his daughter off, then collapsed as soon as she was out of sight.

With the last of his strength, Jack used his final few moments to return to the underground chamber where Sloane was and trigger the explosion that trapped the immortal villain underground forever. Jack Bristow's final words — "You beat death, Arvin, but you couldn't beat me" — brought to an end the power struggle that had been going on between them since the beginning of the series, as well as their ongoing battle for Sydney's affections. Jack was far from a perfect father, but in his final act, he demonstrated once and for all how much he loved and cared for his daughter, making him the only one of the several parental figures in her life that ever truly put her first.

What happened to Sydney's allies?

While Sydney could often seem like a one-woman army, she actually had a lot of assistance over the course of Alias. Some of her allies, such as her best friend Francie (Merrin Dungey) and her sister Nadia were tragically killed earlier in the series, while others such as Will Tippin (Bradley Cooper) and Eric Weiss (Greg Grunberg) left the series before it reached its conclusion. Will was forced into witness protection after the end of season two, although he returned a couple times, and he was last seen asking Sydney to be his best man midway through season five. As for Weiss, he accepted a promotion early in season five working for the Department of Special Research in Washington, D.C., and he was last seen helping Sydney's team escape after breaking into CIA headquarters in Langley, VA.

Rachel, Marshall, and Dixon all stuck with Sydney through the Alias finale, and the series' final moments let us know what happened to each character after they helped Sydney complete her last mission for APO. We learned that Marshall and his wife Carrie (Amanda Foreman) had three boys, with another on the way, although we don't know for sure whether Marshall was still with the CIA. Dixon — known to Sydney and Vaughn's children as "Uncle Dixon" — had been promoted to deputy director and regularly holds the door open for Sydney and Vaughn to return. And during a regular visit to Sydney and Vaughn's beach house, Dixon mentioned that Rachel was in the midst of a deep cover mission.

What happened to Sydney's opponents?

While Sloane was the most prominent villain throughout Alias' run, the series had a number of other sinister antagonists who routinely found themselves facing off against the heroic Sydney Bristow. By far, the baddie with the most personal tie to Sydney was her mother, Irina Derevko, an undercover KGB agent who faked her death when Sydney was six in order to return to Russia. Irina showed up repeatedly throughout the series, and in the finale, she was revealed to be working with Sloane. Plus, we also learned she wanted to achieve immortality through the Horizon. However, after a fight with Sydney, Irina chose the Horizon over her daughter, and she wound up falling to her death as a result.

As for Sydney's rival super spy, Anna Espinosa (Gina Torres), she underwent a procedure midway through season five that made her look exactly like Sydney, but she was subsequently shot and killed by the real deal hero. And after murdering the members of Prophet Five, Kelly Peyton was kidnapped by Sydney's team in the Alias finale and interrogated into giving up the information that led Sydney to Sloane. It's implied that after assisting APO, Peyton went to prison. As for charismatic pragmatist Julian Sark, he survived the series only slightly the worse for wear after being shot in the leg by Vaughn. After giving Vaughn the missile launch codes he needed, Sark escaped, and in the closing minutes of Alias, Dixon revealed that Sark was back to his old antics and that the CIA was, once again, hot on his trail.

Was Sloane really haunted by Nadia?

Sloane had a complicated relationship with his daughter Nadia, who was first introduced to the series at the end of season three. As the daughter of Irina Derevko, Nadia was Sydney's half-sister, and she spent most of her time on the series attempting to forge the familial bonds that she'd been denied for most of her life. Nadia also had mystical ties to Rambaldi, as she was the "Passenger" he'd foretold in his writings, and she alone was able to uncover the location of certain Rambaldi artifacts.

Although Sloane claimed to love his daughter, his obsession with Rambaldi ultimately won out, and he accidentally killed Nadia when she tried to force him to choose her over a Rambaldi artifact. Since her death, Nadia's spirit seemed to haunt Sloane, sometimes offering encouragement and sometimes caution. In the finale, after Sloane was trapped in Rambaldi's tomb, he comforted himself by saying that at least he still had her, but then Nadia faded away, leaving him alone. It's never made fully clear whether Nadia was a hallucination caused by Sloane's own mind, or if it was really her, perhaps mystically linked to Sloane through their shared Rambaldi connection, although she did say at one point that she was only haunting him because he wanted her to, suggesting that she was a manifestation of his subconscious. Whether she was real or not, Nadia's abandonment of Sloane in Rambaldi's tomb was a fitting payback for the father who repeatedly abandoned her for Rambaldi while she was still alive.

What was up with the flashbacks at the end of Alias?

Although Alias never leaned as heavily into flashbacks as that other J.J. Abrams-created show, the series finale featured a number of glimpses into Sydney's past, beginning with her mother's "death" when she was six and proceeding through Sydney's completion of the Project Christmas puzzle as a child, which showed her high aptitude for spywork. We also got to see her eventual recruitment to SD-6 and Jack's attempts to convince her to quit once he realized where she was working.

Although these are all pieces of Sydney's past, the character at the center of the flashbacks was actually her father, Jack. We've always known that Jack didn't want a life of lies, danger, and espionage for his daughter, but at the end of the series, we saw how inevitable it all felt to him, despite his reluctance. In sacrificing himself at the end of the episode and giving his blessing to Sydney to do what she must to save the world, Jack finally accepted Sydney's chosen path, which had always been the source of the tension between them. The relevance of the flashbacks became especially clear when we saw Sydney's daughter, Isabelle, demonstrating spy abilities in the episode's final moments, making it clear that Sydney may find herself in a similar position to her father soon enough.

How was the theme of family significant to the ending of Alias?

Despite the face-swapping and prophecies and constant triple-crossing, Alias always had a strong theme of family at its core. Never was this clearer than in the finale, which zeroed in on the relationships between Sydney and her two biological parents, contrasting the selflessness of one parent with the selfishness of the other. Sydney lost both of her parents in "All the Time in the World," but while Jack sacrificed himself to save Sydney, Irina turned away from her daughter, despite Sydney's pleas, in pursuit of more power. Both parents claimed to love their child, but only Jack walked the walk, showing Sydney once and for all what true parental love looks like ... and what it doesn't.

Nadia's spirit turning away from Sloane after he was buried alive in Rambaldi's tomb also tied into the family theme, echoing the pain of abandonment that the real Nadia felt when her father refused to choose her over Rambaldi, just as Irina did to Sydney. But while the Alias finale showed how devastating it can feel to be rejected by relatives, it also emphasized the importance of the family we choose, ending on the supportive family Sydney had made with Vaughn and her friends, showing that family doesn't have to be biological, and it can look like just about anything.

How did the ending of Alias explore fate and free will?

Alias was always a series with a strong sense of destiny, due in large part to the show's emphasis on the centuries-old prophecies of Rambaldi, many of which came to pass during the course of the series. "All the Time in the World" drove those themes home as it flashed back through Sydney's past, detailing the factors that led to Sydney choosing the path that led her to where she wound up in the finale, despite her father's attempts to dissuade her, making her course feel almost fated. Meanwhile, Arvin Sloane's journey throughout Alias was always about twisting fate to his advantage, as he tried to use the prophecies of Rambaldi to bolster his own power instead of bringing about Rambaldi's desired future.

However, Alias made a strong case in its final episode for free will's ability to overcome the power of fate. Sloane believed he was fated to live forever, and perhaps he was, but Jack still managed to thwart him by permanently trapping him underground, a possibility neither Sloane nor Rambaldi ever saw coming. And while Sydney's daughter Isabelle assembled the same Project Christmas puzzle at the end of the episode that Sydney completed as a child, hinting that Sydney's daughter may be destined to follow in her mother's footsteps, Isabelle chose instead to knock over and discard the tower once she assembled it, implying that although Isabelle has the same potential as Sydney did at her age, she'll choose a different path.