We’re coming in on the new V series a little late, so I wanted to do a little run down on where the show has taken us, especially as compared with the previous incarnation. (A post about the April 13 episode “John May,” directed by ST:TNG’s Jonathan Frakes, will be up shortly!)
In addition to comparisons with the previous V, comparisons to Battlestar Galactia are inevitable, as it was another SF show with a successful reboot. It had its share of gender-bending and controversy, and ultimately became a show that stood on its own and didn’t need the legacy to prop it up. We can only hope V will have the same success (and it won’t close on such a WTF? series ender. But that’s a BSG issue that I won’t get into here.)
Like BSG, the reboot of V has gender switches, although the characters don’t have the same names and personalities, which probably is why there was no outcry. The resistance leader/single parent is female now (Erica Evans), the V leader is female (Anna), the reporter who finds himself as the propaganda voice for the Vs is male (Chad Decker), and the confused teen that gets involved with a V is male (Tyler Evans). Tyler’s story will be interesting, since a wrenching unintended pregnancy has much more weight (heh) on a girl than a boy, but we have yet to see if the V’s plan for Tyler includes impregnating Anna’s daughter, Lisa. We do already have an unintended human/V pregnancy from a sleeper fifth column V, Ryan, who unintentionally gets his girlfriend pregnant. “I thought we couldn’t breed with the humans!” he complains to a V ally. “Didn’t you see Jurassic Park?” she (should have) said.
We have a priest, Father Jack Landry, like the old V, but unlike the old V, Jack is not a fucking idealistic moron, and also happens to be young(ish) and hot. He also doesn’t seem to need to spout scripture at every opportunity to try to guide the humans on the holy path. I am wondering if they’re going to build sexual tension between Erica and Father Jack. I'm seeing it, but maybe it's just wishful thinking.
Another similarity the shows have is an odd controversy seen only by a few. Personally, I wondered why no one freaked when the humans (the good guys) in BSG worshipped twelve gods and the Cylons (genocidal bad guys) worshipped the One True God. Sounded an awful lot like an anti-Christian sentiment to me, but I don’t recall seeing anyone angry about it. V’s controversy (and this is something I read online, it never occurred to me personally) is that it launched on the one-year anniversary of President Obama’s presidential victory, the Vs are bringing hope, change, and universal health care, they’re beautiful and young and ultimately dark and twisted underneath. Some object that it’s a clear comparison to the Obama administration. Considering that the first V miniseries also presented the Vs as bringing hope and promising medical and other technology, it seems to be a far-fetched controversy.
And hey, the show is SF, and it has a female protagonist and female antagonist. How did they get the suits to approve that? Awesome.
Pilot: The Vs arrive! While the miniseries built the tension and fear, the pilot moved much faster to establish the Vs as looking like us, talking like us, and ultimately being pretty people offering us pretty presents. They quickly establish curiosity and blind devotion in most humans. Erica Evans, single mom and FBI agent is skeptical, but her son, Tyler, is among the blind devotees of the aliens. We meet Ryan, a V who resolves to break up with his girlfriend for her safety, but she finds the engagement ring he’d purchased so they get engaged instead. Dimpled TV reporter Chad gets an exclusive interview with the Vs and is immediately uncomfortable with their polite demand that he present them in a positive light. Erica then finds her way to a V resistance meeting, along with Father Jack, who was told by a dying man to attend. Vs arrive and violently break up the meeting, killing several. Erica kills an attacker who’s, oops, her partner. The blow to his head tears his skin, revealing reptilian skin.
(Aside: Can SF producers stop giving Alan Tudyk sinister bit roles? First there was Alpha in Dollhouse and now Erica’s partner in V. He’s so talented, but every time I get excited about seeing him, he’s bumped off or escapes. Put him back in a series, please.)
The show establishes itself as a faster-paced story, choosing to reveal the Vs’ face early on instead of drawing out the tension. I wasn’t sure I agreed with that choice, because the uncertainty of the miniseries made it more interesting, but I found that it worked for me. It’s a TV show, after all, and the pacing is going to be different from a miniseries. There are still plenty of stories to tell.
“There Is No Normal Anymore”: Right after the broken-up meeting, Erica tries to alert 911 to the massacre, but the Vs have already tapped into phone lines. (I saw Independence Day, so I’m forced to suspend disbelief about human/alien computer technology working seamlessly with each other.) Jack and Erica escape a second attack and she tells him to trust no one. Tyler gets more obsessed with Vs since he finds a gorgeous young V and begins his first day as a Hitler Youth—I mean Youth Ambassador—but gets kicked out of the program after a fight. Ryan tries to get medical help from a fellow sleeper V, but is knocked out because the paranoid guy trusts no one. I guess he should have been Erica’s ally, because Father Jack takes the info the dying man gave him in the pilot and takes them to the FBI. She yells at him, wondering what part of “trust no one” did he not understand? (Okay, maybe Father Jack isn’t as street smart as I mentioned earlier.) He gets his feelings hurt and goes away. The Vs gain visas to travel within the US. Chad tries to find his journalistic integrity and present another side of the V arrival, pissing off Anna. Erica and Jack make up and share a big list of everyone who’s ever contacted the government about aliens. And in a dramatic scene, Dale, Erica’s partner, wakes up on a V ship. (Yay Alan Tudyk!)
Like poor Robin in the original series, Tyler is drowning in the teen hormonal sea that’s rife with new experiences and pretty love interests. He’s hiding his ambassadorship from his mom, and manages to be both just as stupid, but far less petulant than Robin, so his unfolding story is fun to watch. Also, seeing Chad struggle with the story that can make a career in direct contract with his integrity is quite good. It could be his boyish good looks, but I fully expect Anna to chew him up and spit him out.
“A Bright New Day”: The Vs go on a grand quest to work on their public image, as the widow of a man who died when they arrived is gaining a small following supporting her outrage. Anna fixes a fake assassination attempt, with the a V as the fake gunman, who’s captured by Erica. Anna meets with the widow privately and gains her support and trust. (Which makes one wonder if these V are doing personality changing the way the miniseries did.) Erica discovers the V have surveillance in all the Youth Ambassador uniforms, but misses the picture of her son looking as his new uniform as Lisa allows him back into the program. Dale is awake but can’t figure out how he got there, but after some memory enhancement, remembers Erica was the one who hurt him. He vows to kill her, but the doctor, Joshua, says she’ll be a good ally so he kills Dale, revealing himself as Fifth Column. Father Jack searches for Georgie a man convinced his family was killed by aliens, and Ryan seeks Cyrus, another V. Cyrus wants to go back to the home ship and hopes revealing Fifth Column Vs will get him into Anna’s good graces. Ryan gets free and later they find Cyrus’s charred remains in a hideout with “JOHN MAY LIVES” on the wall. John May is a legendary, possibly dead, Fifth Column member. Father Jack finds Georgie and convinces him he’s on his side. Georgie brings Ryan to Father Jack and Erica, and we have our resistance.
This episode is about manipulation, as Anna works to get the public on her side while Lisa works to make Tyler her grateful puppy dog. Joshua manipulates Dale into revealing the person strong enough to put him down, then kills him. If we already didn’t think they were sinister enough, this episode surely shows that their skills to play people like puppets is formidable.
“It’s Only the Beginning”: The V manage to get their lizard claws deeper into Tyler, who’s frustrated with his mother’s distraction with work. He ends up on the mother ship, meeting Anna and ignoring his mom’s phone calls. Meanwhile, Valerie, Ryan’s fiancé, gets into the new V healing centers (Tyler, her patient, pulled strings) to check out her heart condition, and discovers she’s pregnant. Incidentally, it’s not revealed if the V realize it’s a hybrid baby. Anna finds out about Dale’s murder and learns about the Fifth Column. She demands to know who murdered him, or else she will pick someone random to punish. A Fifth Column member speaks before Joshua can, and Anna tells Joshua to skin him alive as punishment. Chad visits a healing center and they tell him he’ll be dead of a aneurism in six months. The V tout a new vitamin injection, but Ryan and Georgie tell Erica it’s no such thing, so they find a V scientist to interrogate, but he kills himself before they can get anything out of him. In the struggle, Erica discovers Ryan is a V. She’s understandably pissed, but accepts his explanation as truth. They find a warehouse filled with R6, a V serum designed to go into the flu shot. The blow up the warehouse after a battle with some V soldiers. One of the soldiers escapes and stabs Father Jack in his church. At the very end, we learn there’s a massive V fleet on its way to earth.
It could be that I’m a Father Jack fan, but I love what this episode shows us about him. Georgie is injured and Jack calmly stabilizes him. Later we learn he was a soldier once. He just leveled up from Catholic priest to WARRIOR CLERIC complete with weapons skills and healing spells. We wonder about the healing centers, if they know Valerie’s baby’s secret, if they are lying to Chad to get him back on the V’s side. I am finding myself oddly bored by Georgie, whose tense manner and tragic history are somehow failing to hook me, unlike the other resistance members.
“Welcome to the War”: Now things get interesting! Okay, well,they were interesting before, but now we have our warrior cleric, Jack, rushed by the pro-V priest in his church to the healing centers where he is healed miraculously, and given a shot of R6, much to Jack’s horror. Meanwhile, Erica is attacked by a V in her apartment, but kills him after a struggle. She is determined to get her son off the ship, and, as he’s being mentally mined for memories, she speaks to a hologram of him. Ryan takes the R6 sample to a V doctor and talks to her about the pregnancy. She advises that the Vs can never know about the baby. The Vs express annoyance at the loss of their R6, and the clear indication that a strong rebellion is building on earth. They offer to “help” the FBI by revealing who blew up the warehouse and instead of revealing Erica, they show the print of a wanted mercenary, Kyle Hobbes. In the first character-breaking action, Erica deicides then that Hobbes would be the best ally for them and seeks him out. Anna and Lisa mention how the humans are odd with their emotions, and send Tyler home to sever his relationship with his mom. Georgie springs Father Jack from the healing center, and he doesn’t reveal his R6 exposure. Ryan discovers the R6 isn’t harmful, but instead transmits, allowing the Vs to spy on humans (kinda like high school laptops in Philly.) When Anna learns the Fifth Column are likely behind Hobbes’ disappearance, she says no problem, she’ll make her own army. She chooses a strapping young lad from one of the other ships, goes into her Bliss chamber, mounts him, and then eats him because, “my eggs need nourishment.”
(Incidentally, when I was pregnant I found a sausage biscuit from McDonald’s and some folic acid nourished me pretty well.)
Elizabeth Mitchell’s acting shines in this episode. She’s a very tough character, no-nonsese FBI who has beaten and stabbed at least two Vs to death in hand-to-hand combat. But when she realizes the V are watching her through Tyler’s jacket, she has to play worried mom and not a cavalier. It’s clear she hates this, because even though she is a worried mom, she usually approaches it with sardonic wit and the same no-nonsense, tough intelligence. You could say it was Erica’s worry over her son that made her ally with Hobbes, but I still find it odd an FBI agent would think that’s a good idea. It’s also a clumsy way to parallel V: The Final Battle when they brought in the mercenary weapons expert Ham Tyler to provide weapons and internal strife to the resistance. My biggest issue with this episode is the sex scene at the end. I said it with the previous V, and I’ll say it again. I don’t buy that they’d wear their skin all the time in the privacy of their own ship. And sheesh, she got naked to titillate the audience, but from the V perspective she was still WEARING A FULL BODY SUIT. Sexy! I know TV execs likely looked at the options: see naked Morena Baccarin from behind, or lizard sex? When you put it like that, it’s a no-brainer. Still, I didn’t buy it.
“Pound of Flesh”: We’ve seen before Anna’s oddly erotic connection to all the Vs through Bliss where she enters her chamber and exudes light that seems to give, well, mindless bliss to all the Vs. She hears that the Fifth Column are becoming immune to the Bliss, and showing emotion such as empathy. She has Joshua create a machine reminiscent of Clockwork Orange to show the Vs horrific images and gauge their reactions. If they have an emotional response, then she has decided they are Fifth Column and need to die. The Vs announce a program to allow humans to come live aboard the ships in a program they call “Live Aboard” and I call “Stocking the Pantry.” Hobbes decides the way to get the other Fifth Column members around the world to join them is to hijack Anna’s message feed to put a subversive message within. Ryan has Valerie see his buddy the V doctor who shows her fake ultrasound pictures and warns Ryan the baby could likely kill her, as its draining her phosphorous. She needs concentrated amounts to counteract, and for some reason, only the Vs have that. Ryan sneaks aboard with forged papers to steal the phosphorous and hack Anna’s announcement but is discovered by a guard and tested by Joshua. They welcome him into the Fifth Column and offer to help. Erica takes Tyler to stay with his dad for a while, and his dad tells her “he has to know who he is,” implying he may not be Tyler’s father. Anna sends Lisa to visit Tyler at his Dad’s place after Erica leaves. She also demands everyone found by Joshua to exhibit emotion either commit suicide or be skinned alive. Georgie goes aboard the mothership to help out Ryan, and distracts the guards to let him escape on a shuttle. Georgie is blamed for hacking the feed, and tortured. Back on earth, we see Valerie’s baby has a tail.
I am not sure how the Vs can have what is clearly an emotional response to Anna’s Bliss, and yet have no empathy or love. Perhaps re-watching will help me figure that out. I’m also trying to accept the physiological issues with lizards putting on human suits and, well, looking as hot as they do instead of looking like the bug in Men In Black. And if Valerie’s baby is any indication, the Vs have tails. Which makes you wonder where they keep them. And if, in people like Ryan, they’ve been tucked away, without moving, for years. Wouldn’t you get a cramp?
Whew. Six episodes down, and a (hopefully) full season ahead. I’m curious about Tyler’s parents’ secret, because with all the alien stuff going on, “your dad it’s your real dad” seems pretty benign, at least to the audience. I hope they give Hobbes a little more personality than “mercenary thug” who is, by the way, working to get as much background information on his allies as he can. There’s also the question of how long Erica can work at the FBI before they suspect her (or the Vs make them suspect her) of illegal acts like blowing up buildings, medicine, and allying with a known wanted criminal.