'V' recap: The Beginning of the End
I wanted to like it. Really, I tried. But I didn’t, and now it’s all over, at least for me. My understanding is that ABC could possibly air up to nine more episodes of V next spring, but I don’t think I’ll be watching them — not unless whoever replaces me as the writer of this recap can convince me that the show has become born again good. The winter finale was not without its interesting ideas, though most of them felt borrowed from other, better shows. Agent Evans, Father Jack, Georgie and Ryan formed the nucleus of a new resistance (or is that terror cell?) to fight back against The Visitors’ insidious plans to tamper with the world’s supply of flu vaccine. (Shades of: The X-Files) But to what end? To brainwash us? Kill us? Pre-digest us into puddles of nutritious liquid mush so we can be better sucked by neon messiah Anna and her Blissed-out lizards-in-disguise followers? The role reversal of identifying with underground rebels/terrorists trying to subvert an occupying force of aliens felt very Battlestar Galactica season 3 to me, while making Anna a (possibly) malevolent pseudo deity who keeps her people enthralled (and in her thrall) with psychically/spiritually-administered calm and euphoria (the Bliss) felt very Angel season 4. I have no problem with recycled ideas. I just have a problem with recycled ideas that are executed without a fresh point of view and pushed through with clunky plotting and phony drama. V has some good things going for it. The Vs are compelling antagonists. The backstory of their infiltration of Earth prep sounds intriguing. And I like the cast (if not their characters), and especially Morena Baccarin, who’s literally willing to bare her all (or at least just the backside of her all) for this show. Imagine what they could do with better scripts. I hope they get them.
The episode opened with the nascent resistance debating how best to attack the Vs. Tragedy-scarred Georgie wanted to capture a V and cut one open on global TV and expose their true slimy selves. Father Jack advocated a more careful, strategic approach. Meanwhile, Ryan shuddered. Being a V himself, he was unnerved by Georgie’s Alien Autopsy plan. After the meeting broke up, Ryan got up in Georgie’s grill: ”I better not ever hear you talk about skinning a V again!” Two things: (1) Hearing V‘s characters use the terms ”V” or ”Vs” has always bugged me. Is calling them ”aliens” politically incorrect in their world (not a bad idea) or is the show trying to avoid being too overtly sci-fi? (2) Ryan’s emotional reaction to the skinning pitch was interesting. Combine that with the moment when Anna ordered Joshua to skin a Fifth Columner, and you got the sense that getting scalped out of a skin suit is about as awful as being disconnected from the Bliss for a V. Yes, it must be extremely painful. But I also wondered if there’s something more involved, like an emotional attachment, as if for at least some of these Vs, the human suits have become an essential part of their identity. Could it be that many Vs are self-haters ashamed of their lizardy genes? Do they yearn to be human? (Speaking of Joshua’s dissection of his fellow rebel: ARRRGHH! WHY DIDN’T THEY SHOW IT?! WHY NOT EVEN JUST A LITTLE PEEK?! I now join those of you who’ve been grousing about this since the beginning: How come the show didn’t give us any more of peek of what lies beneath the Vs? It felt to me as if the show was actually trying to minimize that mystery over the course of the four episodes. What was missing from this last episode of V’s first ”pod” was one really great reveal — something that defined the pod and sent us out buzzing. A more substantial glimpse of V physiology could have sufficed.)
NEXT: Bad medicine
The kinda-sorta Fantastic Four found focus and their first mission after Ryan caught Anna on TV telling Chad about the Vs’ newest gift to humanity: a ”vitamin supplement” designed to super-charge the immune system and stave off various forms of cancer and disease, and even staunch aging. How about protection from a holiday flu virus? ”I’m afraid even we haven’t cracked the common cold.” (An cleverly implied nod to HG Wells’ War of The Worlds. I won’t spoil it if you don’t know it.) Anna wasn’t telling the whole truth, of course, as our heroes later learned. Ryan clicked to the news. He recalled busting a V cell that was working on ”an injection” for humans. Anna’s gambit must be the fulfillment of that program. Father Jack and Erica pressed him on the intent and purpose of Operation: Bad B-12, but Ryan couldn’t — or wouldn’t — elaborate. But he did indicate that the Vs’ plan wasn’t as simple as extermination-via-inoculation. ”This is part of something that is just… much bigger,” he insisted cryptically, and all but badgered his allies (and the viewers) into accepting as little information as possible.
The good guys tracked down a V chemist that worked on the clandestine injection enterprise. They were only supposed to follow him, but Georgie went rogue: He wanted to abduct the chemist and use him as Exhibit A in his Filet-o-V plan. But the chemist shot and wounded Georgie, and then, after getting shot himself, gulped down on a suicide pill before he could spill any details. Said suicide pill turns Vs into piles of ash — so now we know what that’s all about.
As the chemist turned to char, Erica figured out that Ryan was a V. They moved their confrontation/conversation outside, within earshot of pedestrians. That bugged me. They couldn’t have found a more private place? Like her house? It also bugged me that she didn’t bombard him with the billion questions I would have bombarded him with. Where do you come from? Does your planet have a name? What’s your world like? What do you really look like underneath that skin? What do the Vs really want? Why are you opposing them? What’s your favorite food, movie and album? Do you have a ‘Lost’ theory? Would you like to hear some of mine? And more. But apparently, this hyper-competent FBI agent was perfectly content to accept a few terse, hyper-defensive non-illuminating retorts to the few completely reasonable questions she had, and then decided to let it go and trust him completely. Yeah, that absolutely makes sense. Oh, wait: IT ABSOLUTELY DOES NOT.
Anyway, they found some papers in the chemist’s briefcase that led them to a warehouse that should have been guarded like Fort Knox, given that it was a key hub in the aliens’ injection conspiracy — but knocking out one guard at the gate was all it took for Ryan, Erica and Father Jack to gain access. Groan. Inside, they discovered a V lab and the big twist: the Vs were planning to spike the world’s supply of influenza vaccine with their mystery injection. Ryan figured Anna’s claim of wanting to give the world a miracle drug for this, that, and the other thing — but not for the flu — was a smokescreen designed to obscure their real intentions. There was some knowing chatter that sounded as if V was trying to forge a connection to H1N1 fears and the current debate over the good-for-you-ness of vaccines. Okay — but I still wanted some more details about the true nature of the injection conspiracy.
NEXT: Cliffhanger central
Anyway, after nattering on about how the predictability of human beings is mankind’s fatal flaw in their conflict with the Vs, our ragtag trio managed to fend off the V security detail that eventually arrived and then blew up the warehouse — and then walked away super-casual and self-congratulatory, ambling down the street talking openly of the ”punch” they landed on Anna with all the carefree ease of three chums who actually hadn’t just perpetrated an act of terrorism. Shouldn’t they have been sticking to the shadows? Shouldn’t they have been scared s—less despite their victory? Or because of their victory? Yes, yes, and yes. But maybe being stupid is all part of the new ”being unpredictable” strategy. It was a contrived happy ending fake-out designed to set us up for a dark sucker-punch: In the final act, we saw faith-challenged Father Jack — a former Army chaplain, we learned — eyeballing his service revolver and mulling Georgie’s words: ”You’re going to have to decide who you are: a priest or a soldier.” He was then duped into entering his sanctuary and then stabbed by a V assassin. Cliffhanger No. 1: We left Father Jack bleeding out in his church, fate uncertain.
Father Jack wasn’t the only one who got a health crisis at episode’s end. While reporting a piece for his news program about the V’s miracle-peddling medical centers, where patients can receive four-dimensional MRIs that can reveal future maladies, Chad learned he was destined to suffer a deadly brain aneurysm. Creepy-manipulative No. 2 Marcus offered to push Chad to the front of the treatment line… provided he was willing to continue promoting V propaganda. Also on the medical front: Ryan’s girlfriend learned she was pregnant. We saw that coming the second she complained of feeling like crud in the first act, but the episode made us wait until the end to confirm it. Of course, in the original V series, there was the classic moment when a human-alien coupling resulted in twins — one perfectly humanoid, one perfectly reptilian. Think the new V will go down the same road?
NEXT: Tyler’s seduction
The episode’s best stuff, as usual, involved Anna. Once again, we were left to ponder and debate her true motivations. She was hellbent on squashing the Fifth Column subterfuge and the unsettling re-emergence of its mythical leader, John May. She ordered Joshua to launch an investigation into the murder of sleeper agent Dale Maddox — not knowing Joshua was the murderer himself. (Or did she?) She knew the culprit was one of the medical staff and was more than willing to go cruel and unusual to smoke out the traitor. ”The innocent will suffer,” she warned. When Joshua’s boy Friday — also Fifth Column — stepped forward to take the bullet, Anna seemed to take satisfaction in issuing the sentence. ”Skin him,” she sneered.
At the same time, Anna and her daughter, Lisa, pushed forward with their plans for Agent Evans’ son, Tyler — a plan which, like the Vs’ injection conspiracy, went maddeningly unexplained, although we got the sense that Tyler’s increasing estrangement from his mother played right into their hands. Anna ramped up the seduction by inviting Tyler to the mothership and letting look at her engines. I mean that literally, though I was kinda hoping it would actually happen figuratively. ”Don’t’ worry, she won’t bite,” Lisa said of her mother — another coy nod to the original series and specifically its legendary guinea pig swallowing moment. Everything we saw of Anna last night made her seem like a suspicious figure — even when she stripped down and bestowed ”Bliss” to her people. Is this how she maintains power — by keeping her followers hooked on psychic/spiritual Xstacy, or at least telepathic nudie pics of herself?
Still — and I know this perspective of mine frustrates a lot of you — I remain unconvinced that Anna is the villain we are being encouraged to think she is. Because once again, if you go back and look at everything she said and did (or didn’t say and didn’t do), she becomes open to interpretation. She could very well be a megalomaniacal wannabe goddess bent on adding a new world of spiritual slaves to her empire. (Or her menu.) But she could be a severely pragmatic idealist on fire to redeem the universe and isn’t about to let mankind’s cynicism get in the way of giving the world the salvation it needs. In the episode’s final image, we saw an armada of spaceships — hundreds of them, just like Anna’s — in deep space, presumably en route to Earth. The assumption: Anna’s fleet is the advance team, softening us for the hard-core invasion to come. But remember what we learned in the second episode? All of this is happening earlier than expected. Could it be that Anna wants to save Earth from a separate faction of her species? Maybe this super-duper ”vitamin supplement” that she’s trying to sneak into human beings is designed to strengthen mankind for the war to come? And to further turn all of this on its head… what if the Fifth Column isn’t a rebel/resistance force, but actually part of the evil empire that Anna is trying to subvert? Which would mean that Ryan isn’t a good guy resistance leader — he’s a bad guy stormtrooper, and clueless Erica and Father Jack are helping him thwart Earth’s only hope for staving off alien armageddon: Anna.
Wow. The more I speculate, the more I’m beginning to wonder if I like V a lot better than I think I do. That I don’t know makes me even more frustrated with it. Regardless: I cede the floor. Did you like V‘s winter finale? Was this ”pod” a creative success? Are you already counting down the days to V‘s scheduled return in March — or do you think you’ll pass on the return engagement? The message boards await your answers. Two final notes: (1) To all those who like V and would call themselves fans, I know that reading a recap written by a disliker/non-fan isn’t all that fun, and even kind of infuriating. So I appreciate your indulgence — and I accept your bitterness and scorn. (2) I hope to see you all over at the Lost and FlashForward recaps in the weeks to come — and I hope also hope you all have a Happy Thanksgiving.