By Darren Franich
Updated July 30, 2020 at 04:38 PM EDT
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  • NBC

Image Credit: Jack Rowand/ABCIf V were a child, it would be an alien-human hybrid toddler who scores extremely well on aptitude tests but suffers from severe personality disorders because of emotionally distant parents. V was supposed to stand next to FlashForward in ABC’s beautiful dream of a schedule full of fan-crazy serialized shows, big-myth sci-fi headtrips that could replace the outgoing Lost. Perhaps because FlashForward had some questionable opening numbers, production on V shut down for a full month, with a planned four-month break to come after just four episodes.

It was a weird way to launch a show, and it looked even weirder when V‘s first episode debuted with massive numbers. Interest in the show declined over that first month, though, and that gave a weird feeling of déjà vu to V’s return last night. Yet again, we’ve experienced a massive publicity campaign, with the 22nd letter in the alphabet plastered on billboards and buses. Yet again, FlashForward has debuted first (also returning after a long break), and yet again, FlashForward is suffering from low ratings.

There were flaws in V‘s first four episodes. But there was genius there, too, and if last night’s episode didn’t exactly solve some of the show’s problems, it also served as a good reminder of just what an incisive, pulpy little show this new iteration of V can be. I use the word “little” because I think V is staking a very different ground than its ABC brethren. Lost and FlashForward are both globe-spanning epics in the adventure tradition. V is more intimate — more claustrophobic. It feels noirish, right down to the way that the cameras are usually placed either below or above the actors.

The problem, I think, is that V is currently a show split in three, and the three parts of the show feel like they’re radically disparate in quality:

The Good: Charm Offensive

Morena Baccarin is the most consistently entertaining part of the show. She plays Anna, the V leader, like a combination of royalty and devious politician. To me, the show is never so good as when it’s focusing on Anna and the nuts and bolts of her ongoing publicity campaign to sell her species to the human race. It helps that most of Anna’s scenes take place on the V mother ship, which is full of eye-popping special effects. Sure, all the actors look like they’re stiffly walking through a thin greenscreen platform. But that stiffness kind of makes sense for the Vs, who are literally walking in bodies that don’t quite belong to them.

On last night’s episode, we saw Ann turn a potential setback (the destruction of the factory containing flu vaccine) into a twisted publicity triumph. She sent in her adorable assistant Marcus with what he claimed was a magic V machine that could reveal who blew up the warehouse. The machine was a fake — apparently, not even the Vs have tech that advanced — but it allowed them to finger a potential enemy, the gun-runner Kyle Hobbs.

Meanwhile, we also saw Anna work her magic on Scott Wolf’s Chad Decker, the reporter who violates so many journalistic principles that he could make the zombified corpse of H. L. Mencken blow its own head off. I liked the resolution to Chad’s brain-aneurysm plotline: He will do a full tour of the V healing facilities for the cameras. In fact, I like everything about Scott Wolf on this show. Unfortunately, he keeps on getting pushed aside to make room for…

The Bad: La Resistance

Elizabeth Mitchell? Wonderful actress. Makes every line sound a little bit wry, makes killer one-liners really sing. “He’s a pair of lizard-skin boots now?” That’s funny. Morris Chestnut? Intense actor who brings a light touch to a difficult part. Chestnut really made me believe in V back in the second episode, when he spat out the line, “The Bliss is how she controlled us!” I had no idea what that meant, but I liked it.

The problem is, once you get past these two interesting characters, the Resistance side of V gets a little bit shaky. Father Jack has a laundry-list of somewhat cliché character traits (A priest whose faith has been shaken! Also, he was a soldier, or something!), and Georgie has hobo facial hair and not much else.

Whereas Anna’s machinations are all complex and smart, most of the Resistance’s plans are right out of the bargain-Bauer handbook: Shoot! Explode! Work with morally ambiguous arms dealers! They just aren’t as smart, and the show seems to be making their job way too easy.

Take that Kyle Hobbs guy. The Vs framed him because they were worried he was going to be a threat, I guess just because he has access to a lot of weapons and he’s not beholden to any government. I’m not sure why they would purposefully antagonize someone like that, when they could feasibly just send one of their flying glow-balls of death into his apartment. But let’s go with it.

Anyway, Erica had an inkling that her dead V partner might have been tracking Kyle and his ilk. So she went and checked his computer, typed a couple things, and then found a folder marked “Kyle Hobbs — Last Known Address.” That was easy! Then she went and knocked on his door, and Hobbs was kind enough to let her in, even though he knew she was a federal agent. Wouldn’t you know it, Hobbs is the kind of loosey-goosey top-secret arms dealer who’ll work for anyone who’s willing to pay. Thanks, Anna!

Late in the episode, Father Jack delivered the worst line of the night. By way of explaining to Hobbs why the Resistance was Resisting, he gave a quick SparkNotes summation of every character’s son: “His way of life. My faith. Revenge for a family slaughtered. Her son.” Hobbs, sensing his audience, responded in the same expository fashion: “And you’re trying to hire me, a known thief, to do your bidding.” I forget the rest of the dialogue in that scene, but I think it was another five minutes of describing exactly what was happening, right then, in case the viewers at home forgot they were watching TV.

There’s clearly some cool stuff in the Resistance subplot. I like how Father Jack has now been compromised by Vitamin R6. But to me, the coolest rebel is Doctor Joshua, the Fifth Columnite on the Mothership. My eyes glaze over when the Resistance meets in Father Jack’s Church for some hushed dialogue and some bad planning, but I love watching Joshua huddle in the background of scenes on the ship and try to look impassive.

I got the same kick from the moment at the end of the episode when Erica was about to tell her son what she knew about the Vs… and then looked in horror as he took out his V uniform, complete with the shirt camera. She quickly changed up her whole demeanor and played up the crazy-mama thing for her V audience: “I;m just afraid of losing you.” V is at its best when it’s showing how these people have to keep their suspicions a secret, even from their own family.

The Ugly: Copulation Station (What’s Your Equation?)

Back in November, Lourdes Benedicto did exactly three things on V: Got pregnant, stayed pregnant, and talked about being pregnant. Well, last night, we got some intriguing signs that bearing a human/alien hybrid is exactly as weird as it sounds. She’s hungry all the time, and not just for carbs. Hands up, everyone who thought she was actually going to eat the dead rodent! That scene, a clear reference to the famous guinea-pig eating sequence from the original V miniseries, was the weirdest thing that V has done yet…

…That is, until the final moments of the episode. Anna had been talking about “building an army.” I assumed that was metaphorical, that she meant to “build an army” of V-loving humans. But she was being extremely, extremely literal. After rounding up the best of the best soldiers from the 29 ships, she sniffed out a tall beefy fella and declared him the best of the best of the etc.

Cut to: Anna’s foggily lit chambers. Mr. Beefcake has a glazed expression on his face, and no clothes on. Anna lowers herself onto him and pushes his face away. Moments pass. Awkward moments. (Parents: If you want your kids to never have sex, make them watch this scene three times a day.) Anna stands up. “My army is to be born.” Mr. Beefcake was so happy! Alas, Ann didn’t want the father to be someone she would have to see socially. “Now, my eggs need nourishment,” she explained, right before megajaws sprouted from her cute little Baccarin mouth.

This is all gross, but also awesome, and I’m tempted to say that V would feel a bit less bland if it let its sci-fi freak flag fly a little bit more. By comparison, the revelation that Vs are “designed for efficiency” and have no emotions feels beyond cliché four decades post-Spock and two decades post-Data. However, I should note that Laura Vandervoort is shockingly good at playing a character with no emotions.

What did you think of V’s return, viewers? Are you going to stick with this show even if Georgie still refuses to shave? Do you agree with me that the Resistance subplot is lagging? And should the pregnant chick just cowboy up and eat the darn rat, already?

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