Alias' Jennifer Garner and Michael Vartan
The countdown to Alias' hotly anticipated series finale officially got under way last week when new mum Jennifer Garner returned to the set to begin work on the show's last 10 or so episodes. And although ABC has yet to announce when (or where) the spy drama will complete its run (what's up with that?), there's every reason to believe that the 5-year-old series will go out the same way it came in: with a huge bang and a ton of hype. Not one to diminish expectations, executive producer Jeff Pinkner declares, "We want every episode from here to the end to top the one before it." OK, if ever there's a statement that demands a few follow-up Qs, it's that one. So, let's get to it.

Ausiello: What are some of the big returns you have planned?
Pinkner:
Lena Olin's coming back for the 99th episode, which is our second one back.

Ausiello: Really? Just for the 99th?
Pinkner:
Well, no, she's actually going to be back for a couple.

Ausiello: Will she be in the 100th?
Pinkner:
No, but Espinosa (Gina Torres) will be.

Ausiello: And Bradley Cooper (Will), too, right?
Pinkner:
Yes.

Ausiello: How is he reintroduced?
Pinkner:
Sydney's baby is born in the 99th, and for the 100th, we jump a month [ahead] and she's taking time off from work. [Will] is the thing that pulls her back into the field while she's on maternity leave. The bad guys realize that the best way to hurt Sydney is through her friends.

Ausiello: Will the 100th be a self-contained episode or part of this season's arc?
Pinkner:
Both. The 100th episode is absolutely an episode that somebody who, even if they only checked in on the show a couple of times, can appreciate. But it also continues the story that we've been telling all season.

Ausiello: What's the basic plot?
Pinkner:
The title is "There's Only One Sydney Bristow," and it's very much a love letter to her, and also to Jennifer for all the amazing things she has done and brought to the show. One of the themes running through the show is Sydney's concern that, because she's been in these people's lives, their lives have been much harder than they would have otherwise been. Will never would have been abducted or tortured by evil people [had he] not come to know Syd. And she's very much struggling with the life that she's bringing her baby into. The message of the episode is that these people are far better off for having known her and the world's a far better place with her being a part of it.

Ausiello: Bradley is just in this one episode?
Pinkner:
Yes, but that's less out of our desire to have him and more because he's off to Broadway to be in a play [with Julia Roberts].

Ausiello: How many episodes is Michael Vartan (Vaughn) returning for?
Pinkner:
I think he's going to come back for five, if not six.

Ausiello: What can you tell me about that?
Pinkner:
As we've said from the beginning, the rumors of [Vaughn's] death were nothing more than rumors. In this world, don't take anything at face value. We'll know by the end of the 99th episode exactly where he is and if he's alive or not.

Ausiello: J.J. Abrams told me at the Golden Globes that there's a chance he might write and direct the series finale. Where do things stand with that?
Pinkner:
We've been talking about it. Hopefully, he will. And the only reason [that would prevent him from doing so] would be Mission: Impossible 3 concerns and duties. It's possible he will direct it; it's possible he will write or cowrite it. He will certainly be weighing in.

Ausiello: Do you know what the final scene of the final episode will be?
Pinkner:
We do. We know at least the back half of the episode. We know the windup of the series. We know what's going to happen to most of the characters.

Ausiello: Who else is returning?
Pinkner:
The plan is to have David Anders back. Mia Maestro will be back for several more. It's possible that we haven't seen the end of Francie.

Ausiello: How are you going to do that?
Pinkner:
Oh, we have our ways. (Laughs) It actually ties in to the design of the season in an odd way. We don't know if she'll be available, but we have a story we want to tell with her.

Ausiello: What about Terry O'Quinn?
Pinkner:
I don't think so, only because he's such an integral part of Lost. We wrote an episode for him to come back last year and he was just about to board a plane, and it just became impossible. He's too big a part of that show.

Ausiello: Anything else you can tease?
Pinkner:
There's a big restructuring of our world in the 101st episode. And Devlin will make a return. We find out more about the Prophet 5 conspiracy in the next couple of episodes, and then we start to take them down. And as I've said before, this season, as much as it's about Sydney dealing with losing Vaughn and questions of motherhood, it's also about Sloane's struggle between Rambaldi and this question of faith and his love for his daughter.

Ausiello: Last question. What are you hearing about when/where Alias will return?
Pinkner:
My understanding is we will not be on Thursday nights. But no final decision — or at least no official announcement — has been made yet.