I'm Still Not Over... Alias' 'Francie doesn't like coffee ice cream'
Still crying over a fictional character’s death from a movie you saw years ago? Having trouble letting go of that one episode of your favorite series? Grieving a gone-too-soon show? We are, too — so with this column, EW staffers pay tribute to something in the pop culture world they’re still not over. This week, Kelly Connolly remembers an iconic line from the season 2 finale of Alias.
Alias, as Buster Bluth knew, was a show about a spy. For five seasons, J.J. Abrams’ sci-fi-adjacent, make-you-fall-off-your-couch espionage thrill ride rose and fell on the experience of one CIA agent: Jennifer Garner’s Sydney Bristow. And the show was never more gripping than when Sydney’s life was undone by a spoonful of coffee ice cream.
If it seemed like the premise of Alias kept simplifying, that’s because it did. Sydney’s triple life (grad school; working as a double agent for the CIA; maintaining her cover at SD-6, a branch of an international crime ring populated by employees who believed they were doing black ops for the CIA) became a double life when SD-6 was destroyed halfway through season 2. She got her master’s degree two episodes later, and the deception seemed downright manageable: All she had to do was spy and lie to her friends about it.
But there are some complications, Alias knew, that make life easier, and as she lost the relationships that helped her come up for air, Sydney was submerged in a twisted underworld. By the season 2 finale, her best friend Francie (Merrin Dungey) had been replaced by an identical double. Their disgraced reporter friend, Will (Bradley Cooper), who’d been dating Francie, put the pieces together and left Sydney a voicemail, but his girlfriend rewarded his curiosity by stabbing him and leaving him for dead in the bathtub.
After a long day of globe-trotting, Sydney settled on the couch with “Francie,” digging into a pint of ice cream as she listened to the messages on her cell. A frantic Will whispered that Francie was the double. Sydney’s expression barely shifted. She offered her friend a spoonful of ice cream, her friend accepted, and Sydney excused herself to “change out of these clothes.”
And then, as Sydney grabbed the gun from under her bed, Alt-Francie appeared in her doorway, aiming her own weapon: “I just remembered — Francie doesn’t like coffee ice cream.”
Has there ever been a better line? Of anything?
Hear this: If Alias had aired in a different social media climate, “Francie doesn’t like coffee ice cream” would have been 2003’s “Not great, Bob.” This line should have been the “You know nothing, Jon Snow” of the early millennium. It’s universal in its specificity. It invokes ice cream and carries a whiff of talking about yourself in the third person. It has never failed me.
But this line is also Alias firing on all cylinders, weaving resonant character beats into the most outrageous spy business. Alias was a show about a spy in the sense that it was about how a person could be a spy. The whip-quick twists came with a human cost; inversely, the everyday took on heightened significance. Because Sydney knew her roommate’s taste in ice cream, she gave herself an extra 60 seconds to prepare to take her down — in a brutal, drawn-out fight that was also the series’ best.
With everything out in the open, Sydney looked up at Alt-Francie. “No, she doesn’t,” she replied. Allison, the woman wearing Francie’s face, kept Francie in present tense in the way an actor would a character. Sydney kept Francie in present tense because Francie was her friend. Sydney Bristow was defined by, sometimes exploited for, and ultimately successful because of her empathy. Far from the James Bond model of isolated superspies who recharge on flings, Alias built its story around a woman who cared, modeling a female protagonist who kicked ass and was still allowed to cry about it later.
Two years later, but that’s another story.