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Alias ABC, 9-10 pm STARTS SEPTEMBER 29

When we last saw Sydney Bristow in the May finale of Alias, our favorite superspy had been knocked out and chained to a chair — the trapped prey of a most dangerous enemy (”Mommmm?”) — while a tsunami of giant-red-ball juice (it’s a long story) swallowed up her CIA contact, Vaughn. However dire the situation may have seemed, this much was clear: Things couldn’t get any worse.

On a tepid August night inside a glum industrial warehouse in San Pedro, Calif., they just did.

Barbed wire cordons off a makeshift surgical workshop. Forceps, saws, and scalpels lie on the countertops, along with a tray of moist eyeballs. Brains and intestines float in jars of colored liquids. Mangled human bodies stretch across steel gurneys. And there, on the center slab in this little shop of horrors, lies a dazed, half-naked Vaughn (Michael Vartan), bruises around his eye, wrists secured in restraints, an IV tube poking out of his arm. A well-known nemesis is about to turn him into formaldehyde fodder…unless Sydney (Jennifer Garner) can suck up a bullet wound, shake off a clock- cleaning, ram a needleful of adrenaline into his heart, and scoot him out of here — all while dressed in a platinum shag wig, sequined black cocktail dress, and three-inch heels.

”I can tell this is going to go well,” chuckles Garner, practicing her hypodermic technique as the camera readies to roll.

”Jennifer, jam that needle in him,” instructs the episode’s director, Ken Olin. ”And when she jams it in,” he continues, turning to the helpless Vartan, ”you have to really yell. Like it f — -ing hurts.”

”Oh, you’ll need some earplugs,” Vartan warns. He cranes his head toward Garner and says reassuringly: ”Do it as hard as you want.”

A big shot of adrenaline may be just what Alias needs right now. Sure, the whip-smart spy-fi serial enjoyed a fine first season, holding its own among 18- to 49-year-olds in a tough Sunday slot, and dazzling critics with its filmic cunning (it netted 11 Emmy nominations, and catapulted Garner into next-level stardom — hello, Golden Globe and lead role in Daredevil opposite Ben Affleck). Yet the show hasn’t recruited the throngs of people that struggling ABC had hoped for, ranking only No. 55 in the Nielsens with 9.7 million viewers. But now — armed with a key cast addition (security clearance granted: Lena Olin), deeper yet easier-to-follow story lines, fresh world-spanning missions (get ready to chill in a Siberian ice cave), and jacked-up network promotion — Alias could very well be in prime position to crack the ratings code. ”It feels like the live-up-to-our-own-buzz year,” declares Garner. ”We’re so all business.” Adds Bradley Cooper, a.k.a. Syd’s reporter pal, Will Tippin: ”There’s no question this is the year. Are we going to put ourselves on the map and take it to the next level? It’s make it or break it.”

For those not keeping the series under heavy surveillance, here’s your necessary intel: Sydney is a grad student-cum-double agent, snooping for the CIA by penetrating SD-6 — a branch of an evil global organization lorded over by the Machiavellian Arvin Sloane (Ron Rifkin), who had her fiance snuffed out after she spilled too much to him. Her two confidants remain her distant dad, Jack (Victor Garber), who plays the same double-dip spy game, and puppy-dog loyal Vaughn, with whom she swaps classified secrets and subtextual romantic gazes. Though she hasn’t been able to share any of this with Will, he’s been rooting around the death of Sydney’s fiance and has now stumbled into her undercover life. Making matters even stickier, Sydney’s long-thought-dead mom — a lethal KGB agent named Irina Derevko — has mysteriously resurfaced during the mad dash to retrieve the scattered works of Rambaldi, an enigmatic 15th-century inventor who was planning something so big we couldn’t possibly fit it in this paragraph (even if we did understand it). All of these plot points (plus about 600 others) are packed into Alias’ fantastical kaleidoscope of impossible missions, ultra-fab outfits, wicked gizmos, techno beats, and wigs. Lots and lots of wigs.

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