Alias creator J.J. Abrams is even busier than a jet-setting CIA operative these days. Besides launching the ABC hit

Lost, he's preparing to direct The World's Biggest Box-Office Star (that would be Tom Cruise) in Mission Impossible 3 next summer. But never fear, Sydney Bristow fans: Abrams remains committed to his wildly entertaining spy drama, whose fourth season begins in January, partly because of his jam-packed schedule. "When I went away to [direct the pilot episode of] Lost," he says, "I got away from Alias enough to look at it in a way that was surprising again." So what's coming up for Syd? Here, we attempt to pry a few top-secret details out of the notoriously tight-lipped writer.

TV Guide Online: Many fans were thrilled when Vaughn (Michael Vartan) shot his wicked wife Lauren (Melissa George) in last May's finale. Is she really dead?
J.J. Abrams:
Melissa is not coming back at the moment. I know some fans were frustrated, but I'm ultimately proud of last year. I'm being optimistic here, but I think Season 3 will actually improve, in retrospect, because we'll see where it went. The stories we're telling now use the best of last year to build the foundation of what happens now.

TVGO: So where does the show go next?
I think one of the biggest mistakes I made last year was to let story and plot dictate episodes rather than have our characters run the show. There was no more Sydney as a real, normal person. [This season] we'll get a sense of her as a person, not just a suit. Part of it will be through her relationship with Vaughn, part of it will be seeing her at home, part of it will be through her relationship with her sister, played by Mia Maestro. She will be a regular this season.

TVGO: What kind of relationship will Syd have with her sis?
It won't be without its issues. Ultimately, it'll be very relatable, the kinds of things siblings experience, but transposed onto that sort of odd universe of Alias.

TVGO: According to the Rambaldi prophecy, aren't they a danger to each other?
All siblings are somewhat a danger to each other.

TVGO: Rumor has it your old SD-6 gang will somehow be reunited. True?
We will see the characters return to the dynamic that worked best for them. Sloane will no longer be a peripheral character. Vaughn will no longer be the kind of meandering betrayer of Sydney. Marshall won't just be another mouthpiece in conference-room scenes. Dixon will no longer be the authority figure. And Jack will no longer just be the milquetoast dad.

TVGO: The mysterious info Sydney found in that Wittenberg bank will undoubtedly strain her relationship with Dad.
That cliff-hanger figures prominently in the two-hour premiere. By the end of it, you will know what Jack did and what the ramifications are.

TVGO: Will Syd's mother (Lena Olin) be back?
I tried so many times [to get] Lena back, but I think, at the end of the day, it's just not gonna happen. I want her back; it just seems like something she doesn't wanna do.

TVGO: Angela Bassett guest-stars in the season premiere as a new CIA honcho. Will any other biggies pop up?
I would love Bradley Cooper [who played Will] to come back. We just talked about it, and it's something we're gonna try to do. David Anders [who plays Sark] will be back, but not as a regular.