V – A Retrospective, Pt. 2

In preparation for the return of the new V television series, I decided to get reacquainted with the old, as it originally aired when I was ten years old (so it’s been a while). I remember the peeling of skin and the flashing lizard tongues, Marc Singer’s manly chest and… that’s about it. So I figured since I’ll be covering the new series V for Tor.com, I’ll get immersed in classic V. This is Part 2; see Part 1 about V: The Miniseries.

Any geek has learned that labeling something “final” (Final Battle, Final Fantasy, etc) is pretty much saying “the followup/sequel/next chapter will be along soon.” And so it is with V: The Final Battle, a miniseries to follow V: the Miniseries, and the prelude to V: The Series.

When we last left our human rebels, we had young Robin, the teen seduced by Dreamy Lizard Boy (a.k.a. Brian), realizing she was pregnant. Our rebel heroes, Mike Donovan and Julie Parrish, had defended their base against a V attack (brought on by the panicked betrayal of scientist Robert Maxwell, and so far, in the several hours of story, we have never gotten a hint that anyone discovered his betrayal, or that he feels guilt for causing his own wife’s death.) The future, while not necessarily bright, at least exists for a human rebellion.

So now it’s months later, the rebellion has changed locations, and we have heavily pregnant Robin still in denial about the lizard-ness of the Visitors. We have rebels trying and failing at raids, and we have rebel spies deep in the V bases. The rebels capture simple, friendly Visitor Willie and his human girlfriend, Harmony, and the humans examine Willie. Robin sees that his human skin really is false and freaks, demanding an immediate abortion. Juliet tries, but the doctors discover the fetus has tapped into Robin’s nervous system like a wee lizard hacker parasite, threatening to kill the host if it is threatened. The pregnancy continues. Word gets out that John, the V leader, is coming down for a major press conference, and the rebels finally pull off a reasonable raid with the help of the Fifth Column, rebel Vs, broadcasting live their attack and tearing off John’s false face. Nearly everyone gets away  except for Juliet, who’s captured and taken to the V mother ship for conditioning.

Unlike every other human subjected to the V, Juliet manages to resist her programming, and the rebels rescue her. They then thwart an attempt by the V to take all of California’s water. This is where a couple of minor characters teach us the rule, “never propose right before a major military/rebel operation, because one of you will die.” The V discover they have Donovan’s son, so they do an exchange for Donovan. Donovan, of course, is like a lard-slathered-pig in the hands of the V, who are never able to keep him in custody longer than an hour or two. Through truth serum he gives up his Fifth Column ally but then they both easily escape. Robin goes into labor and delivers a girl with a forked tongue and a reptilian boy.

Now, let me digress here for a moment. I will fully admit that the acting has gone downhill in this miniseries compared to the last. Marc Singer, in particular, unbuttoned one more button on his shirt and seemed to take a class on how to be a worse actor. It’s also horribly choreographed, with fistfights that turn out to be “I’m going to hit you, then wait, wide open, while you hit me back, then I’ll hit you again.” The effects are, at times, literally hand puppets, most glaringly during Juliet’s conditioning and during Robin’s delivery. But I will give them this; even with just a hand puppet, they managed to create a birth scene that creeps me out to this day. That lizard baby is horrifying.

Because the story is uninteresting with a baby, the writers decided to have the girl (named Elizabeth, which is a name often nicknamed to Lizard Breath. Cute, guys. Subtle.) age at a rapid rate, shedding her human skin as she grows. She’s the equivalent of a two-year-old at the point where her brother, who’s not grown at all (I did wonder what they fed the little monster), turns gray and dies. But hey! There’s something good that comes out of the seduction and forced pregnancy of a teen! The scientists discover the bacteria that killed the baby could be cultivated, and they create a sample of red dust and find a V to test it on. Lo and behold, they find Brian, Elizabeth’s father, and imprison him. Now, Robin has not been much of an interesting character thus far, being a spoiled, lovestruck, petulant teen. Going into hiding isn’t fair! But she’s compelling in her near-insane calm determination as she murders Brian with the red dust, right in front of Elizabeth.

Oh well. At least we know it works now!

The naive, well-meaning priest kidnaps Elizabeth and takes her to the Visitors. He shows Diana the Bible, which she reads and decides it is a powerful book, showing her that she has vulnerabilities. This pisses her off so much that she kills the priest. Donovan keeps trying to bond with his son, but decides his disinterest in his father is either puberty or conditioning by the V. Nah, gotta be puberty. They give him false information just in case, and he runs to the V and sings like a canary—no, a canary would have had more personality. The boy was dead inside, caring only for serving the V and eating cake. If acting ability were genetic, you could tell for sure he was Singer’s boy.

So the V have false information, and the rebels have created enough red dust in their little secret lab to ship, unnoticed, all over the world. (Hand wave, hand wave, just trust us that we managed that, ‘kay?) The climax takes place on the ship with the inoculated Fifth Column and our rebel heroes there to take over. The other ships have left, realizing the the Earth’s bio system is poisonous to them, but the power-mad Diana has taken over the LA ship and won’t leave, choosing instead to kill John and start a thermonuclear device countdown. We discover, uh oh, Juliet has, in fact, been compromised as Diana is able to control her telepathically. She escapes while Elizabeth saves the day by becoming a Twilight vampire and getting all sparkly, turning off the device.

Yay! We’re saved! And we have our own space ship, too! Only, Diana still lives, so that whole “final battle” thing feels like a misnomer.

While the story did suffer from the aforementioned bad acting, hand puppets, and horrid choreography, it was still compelling enough to hold me for the length of the miniseries. I can see the ideas starting to limp along, though, and have that “they should have ended it here” feeling. The problems I mentioned that V: The Miniseries had, especially the one of racial stereotyping, were all but gone in this series. Sancho and Elias were still in the story, but not as caricatures of their races. Still would have been nice to see some other non-white characters.

There are some answers I’d love. The practical side of me understands that we can’t see the V as themselves on the ships because the makeup and costuming would have been outrageous, but we never get a story reason for the always-in-human-skin V. You’d think it would at least get hot wearing a full biological suit of skin over your own. And back to the subject of race, we did have one black V character, which made me wonder if the V had different races, or if that V was just looking at the catalog of human skin and said, “Ooh, I like that one.”

The comments on the first retrospective were awesome. Regarding the physiology of the V, for some reason, I found myself able to suspend disbelief in a lot of those areas: we’ve already accepted that the immovable lizard faces with no lips or human teeth are covered by very sophisticated musculature and lips. So I allowed for the rest, the ability to kiss and not reveal their forked tongue or their poison sacs—although the only one that showed poison was Elizabeth when she bit the other girl for her dolly; and while we’re talking about that, why did no one ever mention that beyond, “oh dear, this little girl is not like the others, never mind that we already knew that because she’s four weeks old and looks like a five year old.” As for the sex, well, frankly I just didn’t want to think about it. But I guess they did have full body skin suits, although you’d wonder why they’d worry about genitals. Was it a “just in case” scenario? 

The Nazi metaphors weren’t as heavy-handed in this miniseries either, since the V had already pretty much taken over, and we were shown less of a fascist state and more of the interior of the rebel hideout. The two human traitors, Mike Donovan’s mother, Eleanor, and Daniel (the Jewish boy—irony!—who was once in love with Robin) were well and truly evil with nothing left to redeem them, and they both died stupid deaths. Although I regret not seeing Daniel served to the V as their main course for the evening.

I do admit that part of what makes me love these miniseries is that they were some of the first science fiction I clearly remember watching and thinking, “this is amazing!” Part of my delight is simply finding out that the stories hold up a lot better than I feared they would.

Now, do I dare attempt V: The Series, or do I heed the cries of my friends who tell me it just gets horrible from here on out? Thoughts? 

Coming soon: discussion on V, the 2010 series.

Mur Lafferty is an author and podcaster. She is the host and producer of the Tor.com Story Podcast and I Should Be Writing and the author of Playing For Keeps, among other things. You can find all of her projects at Murverse.com.


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