In one week, we will gather here to discuss the calendar year’s final episode of the brand new V. You might want to dress in dark colors, because our meeting might take on the mournful tenor of a wake. ABC will reportedly make a decision on ordering more episodes of the sci-fi reboot based on ratings and audience reaction to this first ”pod” of episodes. Based on what I’ve seen so far, I’d say it’s a toss-up. Last week’s episode was mediocre — but last night’s episode was an improvement. I enjoyed the mounting intrigue about the Vs — their 20-year history of human infiltration, their addictive, possibly mystical ”Bliss,” their uncanny knack for media manipulation and their nifty video camera coats. I want to know more about this mythical John May and the doomed history of the original Fifth Column resistance. Ryan — the reptilian extra-terrestrial in disguise determined to stop his species from doing whatever it is they intend to do with Earth — morphed into a dangerous, cold-blooded rebel leader. His pal Georgie — something of a raving wahoo in the pilot — took on tragic pallor (we learned his family had been killed by the Vs) and became infinitely more interesting. And Anna and Lisa are mother-daughter! I wonder what the family resemblance looks like underneath their respective flesh-suits.
Yet V is much better at suggesting rich stores of mythology than actually telling stories. I totally predicted the big twist in the episode’s assassination plot the minute the story line was introduced? which is to say, last week, during the previews for last night’s episode. Yep, it was that obvious. And I have to agree with Ken Tucker: that Tyler-Lisa story line is all kinds of painful. I want to skip ahead to the revelation of purpose behind Lisa’s seductive mission and be done with it. The biggest problem with the show remains the human leads: Chad, Father Jack, and Erica remain bland ciphers, made interesting only by their casting. If V has a future, they’ll each need an injection of better writing, ASAP.
The brisk, visually slick episode opened with Father Jack taking confession from believers struggling with their faith as a consequence of the Vs’ arrival. ”Are they daemons or angels?” asked one seeker, face surreally distorted behind the perforated confessional booth screen. [Note the spelling of daemons, different from demons. There’s a difference between the two — but I’ll let you do the Wikipedia research this week.] Some yearned to see God amid the paradigm-shifting upheaval; others implicitly questioned the need for God when the Vs were so capable of answering our prayers with cutting edge technology. Father Jack winced. He had no answers, or rather he was afraid to give the answers that he knew — that the Vs were dangerous lizards in disguise. That would have freaked his flock even further.
Needing to unburden his own soul, Father Jack dropped by Erica’s house to commiserate with his fellow V-hater. I bought it when he said: ”I wanna be able to be useful and look them in the eye and say ‘God loves you.”’ It makes sense to me that even a priest can doubt the validity of his God’s promises during times of tumult and catastrophe. But I didn’t buy it when he said: ”Why don’t they annihilate us and get it over with?” Even though this sentiment was consistent with an episode that doted on the theme of cynicism, making Father Jack sound like a mortally wounded dog yelping to be put down rang wrong. I think his faith would be made of stronger, smarter stuff, no matter how shaken.
NEXT: Erica gets the picture
While Father McWimpy kvetched, Erica bitched. The Visitors had been granted diplomatic privileges within the United States (dig their blood-red tourist visas) without the kind of vetting that’s become standard in our War on Terror era. ”It’s like 9/11 never happened,” she complained. Here was a perfect example of the kind of series that I thought V was going to be but sadly isn’t. It would have been really interesting to have actually attempted to dramatize how America would deal with something like uninvited alien visitation in a post-9/11 world. How would you conduct a background check? What limits should be put on their freedoms? Should there be limits on their freedoms? (I had similar feelings about the aforementioned spiritual angst: instead of a confessional booth round-up, why not spend a whole story line or episode digging deeper and exploring a single character’s frazzled faith?)
Last week, Erica obtained a list of people who had phoned the FBI over the years with allegedly crazy tips about evil aliens living among us; Erica hoped the list could lead to V-savvy non-crazies willing to join the nascent resistance movement. Erica got called into work to help investigate a death threat against the Vs and left Father Jack alone, in her house, with full access to an FBI computer database, to finish the work of searching for allies. (I kept wondering if Father Jack was going to get snoopy and rummage her drawers or what would happen if the FBI found out she allowed a civilian to sift through their files. FBI Special Agent Evans sure is a trusting soul.)
Nonetheless, the separate Erica and Jack story lines that unspooled from there and had some good moments. While investigating and ultimately foiling the (staged) assassination attempt on V No. 2 Marcus, Erica snuck into the Vs’ global surveillance room. She found a dense nest of holographic projections that could be touched and flicked — an Apple Store of the future. She saw herself in one of the floating windows and figured out that a V coat hanging from a door was spying on her; apparently those silver bars on the breast pocket contain cameras. It was a visually cool sequence that milked great tension out of watching Elizabeth Mitchell’s Erica silently puzzle the whole thing out. Meanwhile, Father Jack tracked down Georgie, and we got a peek into the V-hater’s tragic, vengeance-inspiring past, making for some meaty dramatic scenes between actors Joel Gretsch and David Richmond-Peck. By the end of the episode, the core of the Resistance had been formed: Erica, Father Jack, Georgie, and Ryan. And now this Fantastic Four gets one whole episode together before V disappears, maybe forever. Bummer. In retrospect, there’s no reason why they couldn’t have forged their team-up at the end of the pilot. We gained nothing from watching the characters individually wrestle with the whole thing for an additional two hours/two weeks. That we did really makes me worry: Do the writers have enough story to fuel their enterprise?
NEXT: Dale, we hardly knew ye
Speaking of bad ideas or lack of ideas altogether: Tyler and Lisa. I tolerated their bubbling romance the past couple weeks because I liked the metaphors for teen rebellion and pop culture hero worship. That ended for me. I had speculated that Lisa’s move last week to break off with Tyler was actually a femme fatale move designed to stoke his obsession with her. Point for me! We learned at episode’s end she’s definitely winding the boy up for something, but before we got to that intriguing twist, we got the reconciliation date (facilitated by Tyler’s pal Brandon) at the pizza parlor (groan) and then the make-out session in Tyler’s room, which was interrupted by Erica’s arrival home. (You knew that was going to happen.) It was a semi-clever idea to have Lisa slip out of her V togs to cover Tyler’s lie that he had given up his V fixation, as her uniform would have busted all that up. Why it was semi-stupid (besides the convenient excuse to exploit the actress’ sexy assets, which did not go completely unappreciated by this leering piggish male): What the heck was Lisa going to wear on her way out? We don’t know how Tyler managed to successfully navigate that dilemma, because V chose not to dramatize it. It’s that old screenwriting rule: when storytelling logic gets in the way of a semi-clever idea and the chance to flash some skin, just cut away and let the viewer do the hard work of putting it together. We don’t mind. Skin!
The episode’s best stuff flowed through Ryan, who attempted to recruit old ally Cyrus to the new resistance, and Anna, who not only had to sweat the assassination threat but deal with image-tarnishing grief being stirred up by the wife of a fighter pilot that incidentally perished during the Vs’ arrival. What we learned:
THE VISITORS HAVE BEEN HERE FOR AT LEAST 20 YEARS Dale, the V sleeper agent played by the great Alan Tudyk, was revived with a spotty memory as a result of being brained and staked during the pilot. (Quipped V medic Joshua: ”If you were human they would have killed you. Joke’s on them, right?”) As he tried to remember what happened to him, we learned that Human-Hating Alien Dale had been living undercover for two decades. We also learned from him that he wasn’t the only V that had infiltrated the FBI. (Maybe Erica’s boss, Paul Kendrick, is a V after all. Or maybe it’s that other agent, Sarita Malik, seen last week but MIA last night.) Joshua was revealed to be a human sympathizer, a member of an underground alien resistance called The Fifth Column, and he killed Dale to stop him from resuming his mission and killing Erica. Nonetheless, I remain convinced that there’s room for Tudyk on this show. And my theory still holds: I think the Vs abducted humans and replaced them with alien doppelgangers sporting cloned flesh from their human originals — and I think those abductees are still alive. Which means there should be a Good Human Dale somewhere — a juicy cliffhanger reveal for next week’s pod finale, don’t you think?
THE FIFTH COLUMN IS LED BY JOHN MAY But who is John May? Where is John May? Sounds like a juicy role, ripe for stunt casting — though I wonder if John May is more of a mythical figure, a guise that’s passed down and adopted by new resistance leaders.
NEXT: Burning questions
THE VISITORS ARE HOOKED ON ”BLISS” Ryan’s quest to recruit his old Fifth Column comrade Cyrus backfired when Cyrus ratted him out to the Vs by pushing a panic button. Why? Because he wanted to be ”reconnected.” Because he missed ”The Bliss” too much. Neither of these cryptic concepts were explained, though Ryan likened ”Bliss” to drugs by calling Cyrus a junkie. Perhaps Bliss is the equivalent to Soma in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World — a pacifying dream drug for an empty, corrupt utopia. Or maybe Bliss is something like shared consciousness or spiritual experience — a feeling of interconnectedness that the Vs possess that promotes community at the expense of individuality.
WHAT’S WITH THE ASH? Ryan fought with Cyrus and got the best of him, but we didn’t actually see him pull the trigger on the gun that he put to Cyrus’ face. When Marcus and co. showed up to investigate what had happened to Cyrus, they found a body-shaped pile of ash. Did Ryan scorch him so the Vs couldn’t revive him and download his brain? Or do V corpses disintegrate if not quickly attended to? Regardless, I found myself wondering last night: Are all the Vs reptilian in physiology? Maybe there’s some variation within the species. Maybe they’ve evolved in the time since Ryan and Dale were dropped on Earth. It would be a nice twist next week if Erica goes to rip away Anna’s face and instead of seeing lizard, she sees… Hippo? Gibbon? Heather Locklear?
WHAT HAPPENED TO MARY FAULKNER? She was the fighter pilot’s wife. Anna got her before she could give a press conference — and when Mary finally got to the microphone, she struck a note of forgiveness and acceptance. But was that the real Mary tub-thumping for hope and cultural renewal? The skeptical among us will suspect that Anna replaced her with a disguised V — but we never actually saw that, did we? We know she’s got cunning: staging the assassination attempt on Marcus to curry public sympathy was her idea. We know that she shares Marcus’ belief that protest needs to be squashed — though we don’t yet know if she approves of Marcus’ violent tactics. And we have reason to doubt her sincerity: I love the scene where she was rehearsing her empathy for Mary. Nonetheless, go back and rewatch the series: Anna has not yet done anything that proves she’s nothing less than a benevolent idealist who is keenly aware that the biggest obstacle to promoting peace on earth is mankind’s deeply ingrained cynicism. She likened it to ”infection,” a ”contagious” plague that must be cured. And what did Erica’s V cop partner tell her? That we humans are an inherently ”distrustful” species? So maybe Anna abducted Mary — or maybe she took her to private room and laid on the empathy, phony or otherwise, and simply won her over. Yes, I know, I know: as you all reminded me in the message boards last week, in the original V, the Anna equivalent was pure, guinea-pig eating evil. But who says this new V is going the same way? Personally, I think it would be kinda lame if it did.
Not that the new V is immune to being lame in its own right. What do you think, people? Is the show good enough to merit your continued interest? If so, what’s your take on Bliss, Anna’s intentions, and the plan she and Lisa have in store for Tyler? Share your thoughts below — and we’ll see you next week.