By Darren Franich
Updated January 05, 2011 at 06:00 AM EST

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Image Credit: Jeff Petry/ABCThe premise of V is so inherently juicy — those nice well-mannered aliens secretly want to kill us all! — so it was a real bummer that season 1 of the sci-fi reboot turned into such a go-nowhere slog. But a new creative team, headed up by showrunner Jonathan Rosenbaum, managed to inject some thrill juice in the season finale, and although last night’s premiere was far from perfect, it was the show’s most consistent outing yet. It was darker, funnier, faster than last season. Best of all, it was weirder: In one pivotal scene, the show took a decisive (and seriously gross) step into full-on sci-fi grotesquerie.

Let’s run down what we saw last night, and consider what it portends for this ten-episode second season:

The Good:

Last season was all talk and no walk: Anna talked about her secret plot, the rebels talked about their secret plot, Tyler talked about how much he loved the Visitors, Father Jack talked about how much he loved God, and Hobbes’ tight black shirt kept quiet out of general embarrassment. Last night started with the world in immediate crisis: the skies have turned red, and everyone’s freaking out. It jolted all the characters out of their reverie. (It also gave the episode an awesome, red-tinted look that I was sort of hoping would stick around for awhile.)

The plot is thickening for the rebels. Ryan was sent Earthside by Anna, but his loyalties are gloriously unclear now that Anna has his daughter. No mention was made of Hobbes’ divided loyalties — we learned that he was working with Marcus in the season 1 finale — but that certainly weighs heavily on the proceedings. (Is there anyone in the Fifth Column who isn’t secretly a double agent?) Meanwhile, the show gamely tried to mix together two half-formed characters — Scott Wolf’s Chad Decker and Joel Gretsch’s Father Jack — and make one complete plotline (Chad is seeking redemption, and Father Jack is trying to guide him towards rebellion.) It didn’t quite work, and I suspect the show might have missed a great opportunity to implement a cast-sharpening Death Orgy.

Still, I admire the fact that V‘s aren’t just trying to completely alter the show right away, Seaquest 2032-style. They’re going to make Father Jack work or die trying, doggone it! And I’m intrigued by the addition of Bret Harrison, late of Reaper. He brings a new energy to the Fifth Column, since he’s basically the only rebel who’s not incredibly moody.

The Bad

Speaking of incredibly moody: Please, V, don’t keep teasing us with the notion of Tyler dying if you aren’t going to really commit. First, in the opening dream sequence, we saw his face melt. Then, at an anti-V riot, he was injured…badly, we thought for a second. But soon enough, the show was back to chanting that old folk song, “Tyler is the Most Important Person in the World.” There is something wonderfully bizarre about the Tyler/Lisa romance — particularly the beyond creepy visual of Anna peeking in on the teenagers’ makeout sesh — but Tyler is looking more and more like the Young Anakin Skywalker of the V-verse, perpetually bumbling into evil and accidentally changing the fate of the galaxy.

Beyond Tyler and his awful hair, there was a deeper uncertainty about the season premiere. I like how Anna turned a PR nightmare into a huge triumph — the horrifying red rain was actually a life-bringing force, making flowers grow in the desert. But I was disappointed to see how quickly all of humanity seemed to be convinced: “Oh, it was all a misunderstanding! Of course. We love you again.” It felt like a reset button was pushed, bringing the show back to zero.

The Ugly

Last season, my biggest gripe was that V didn’t seem to really want to be a science-fiction show. Well, last night’s premiere doubled as a totally gross creature feature, complete with intriguing looks at the Visitors’ bodies. We got to see Ryan’s baby, floating in a bacta tank and looking for all the world like a cute dinosaur from The Land Before Time brought horribly to life.

Even better, though, was the scene where Anna had a serious conversation with her captains. Anna said some intense words about loyalty, about truth. Then, she turned towards one captain. A long lizard tail emerged from her backside, and of all things, it slapped the captain. That was funny. Then the tail stabbed him, sending red blood flying all around the deck. That was freaky. Then we caught a look at the captain, with his human mask half-torn off and one big lizard eye peeking out. And then Anna’s lizard tail stabbed him right through the heart. And, in a moment that was more vital than pretty much anything in season one, Anna licked the blood off her lips.

Viewers, did you like what you saw on the V season premiere? Did you dig that Visitor Skeleton? What else does the show have to do to convince you that it’s worth watching? (UPDATE: As some commenters have noted, original V femme fatale Jane Badler appeared at the end of the episode as Anna’s mother. Hooray! Next week: She talks, maybe!)

Follow Darren on Twitter: @EWDarrenFranich

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Elizabeth Mitchell talks V 2.o

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