Jeff Jensen sizes up the series' second episode as the Visitors settle in
GET TO KNOW YOUR NEW ALIEN INVADERS — ER, NEIGHBORS!
In advance of the main course of recap, I offer an appetizer platter of observations — three things we learned about The Visitors in last night’s V.
THEY’RE EARLY! Gone-native alien Ryan (Morris Chestnut) — needing a patch for the painful rip to his human skin suit sustained during last week’s ill-fated resistance confab — sought help from a fellow incognito ET named Angelo. As the mechanic-cum-surgeon squirted Fasting Acting Miracle-Gro Flesh gel into Ryan’s gash with a Flash Gordon cocking gun, their conversation turned to the monolithic star destroyers parked in Earth’s atmosphere. Newsflash! Those mothers ain’t supposed to be here? yet. The timetable was accelerated. Why?
THEY’VE GOT THEIR OWN GITMO! Marcus (Christopher Shyer), second in command to alien leader Anna (Morena Baccarin), tortured a would-be member of The Resistance at an undisclosed, dramatically lit location. The Vs’ version of water-boarding: stripping you down to your bulging cod piece, then strapping you to a giant porcelain birdbath (or bidet; you choose) and casting illusions of your worst fears on your tummy. In this poor rebel’s case: snakes. The lingering question: Is Anna aware of these clandestine renditions and black site beat-downs — or is Marcus running a conspiracy behind her exquisitely dressed back? Bolstering the latter possibility:
ANNA AND MARCUS DON’T SEE EYE-TO-FLUTTERY EYE ON HOW TO SERVE MANKIND Anna had a sharp exchange with Marcus while flipping though a holographic catalogue of Earthly couture. She selected a white kimono and coolly noted, ”’I’m told in Japan this both conveys the respect of tradition and the allure of submission.” Marcus: ”I’m not sure that’s the message you want to send.” Anna shot him a withering gaze. ”You still don’t understand humanity.” Talk of ”submission” is the kind of thing we’d expect to hear from diabolical reptilian monsters intent on dosing mankind with paralyzing kindness and then eating us alive for dinner. But if you believe as I do that Anna is a sincere reformer determined to improve our woeful condition, we could also interpret her to mean that engaging Earthlings and coaxing them to change requires tact and deference. Regardless, Marcus didn’t agree. My guess is that he regards humanity as a planet of damn dirty apes that need to whipped and rifle-butted into being obedient little monkeys. Schism! Shades of: The Jacob/Man in Black debate about rehabbing and managing unruly, sinful man in the season finale of Lost. [This recap’s obligatory forced Lost connection has now been fulfilled.]
Having dazzled us last week with extravagant spaceships and enticingly exotic extra-terrestrials, V‘s second episode scaled back the pricy pseudo-cinematic ambition and shifted to a more sustainable gear — a Trust No One paranoid thriller like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, tailored for a culture coached to worry about sleeper cells in the suburbs. (Be honest: How many of you really sweat that?) Where the pilot was briskly paced and meaty with ideas, ”There Is No Normal Anymore” was slow and small and missing much of the Big Picture musing on the Vs’ global impact that gave this otherwise ho-hum alien invasion yarn its promising point of distinction. Yeah, there was a throwaway line here and there about an alien-inspired psychotherapy boom or geopolitical significance of the United States, but I wanted more, and I was disappointed. All week, ABC promoted V with the Muse song ”Uprising,” which I thought was a perfect fit: this new V should be mythic and melodramatic, politically charged and comic book fantastic, brilliantly produced and raucously thrilling. Alas, ”? No Normal Anymore” didn’t quite get there. This show needs to be more interesting, more fun — Battlestar Galactica, but with less bleakness. (Not that bleak can’t be fun. In fact, in my more pessimistic moods about V, I nurture the fantasy of NBC pulling the now-complete BSG out of mothballs and putting it up V. If broadcast TV is really that interested in politically charged, philosophically provocative humans vs. aliens sci-fi saga, why not show them — and V — how it should be done?)
For now, I watch on faith, buoyed by glimmers of hope. Elizabeth Mitchell can make me believe in anything. The Visitors — embodied by inscrutable Anna — continue to be a metaphor and mystery worthy of parsing and theorizing. My take: Anna is sincere about wanting to bring peace, love, and universal health care to the world — but her advisors are conspiring against her. (A lengthy elaboration of this theory, complete with time travel head-hurtyness, can be found at the close of this recap.) And has the subject of V‘s much-discussed political subtext shifted? Forget the Obama allegory. After last night, I’m now wondering if Anna = NaIve Commander-in-Chief and Marcus = Hawkish Vice President Who’s Puppet-Mastering His Boss From His Secret Torture Chamber Bunker. I’m not trying to ruffle Left or Right feathers — I’m just saying that I suspect V is engineered to reflect the political energies of the whole decade, not just the past year.
NEXT: A priest and an FBI agent walk into a bar…
But the most encouraging development was the apparent return of allegedly dead Dale, a.k.a. Erica’s treacherous, lizard-in-disguise partner, played by the marvelous Alan Tudyk. In the second episode’s final scene, we saw Dale popping back to life. But was that truly Evil Alien Dale — or could that have been Human Good Dale, abducted long ago by the V conspiracy as part of their invasion prep plans? We did indeed see a scar on his noggin and we must assume for now that this was the devious double agent that Erica whacked upside the head last week. But here’s another explanation. At some point in Earth’s recent past, the Vs sent an advance team that abducted scads of earthlings and replaced them with alien doppelgangers. They never killed the humans they snatched. They kept them as stock for cloning human tissue for their skin costumes. And maybe they operated on their brains to download memories into their alien twins. Or maybe the Vs implanted, like, tiny little transmitters that allow the doubles to continuously tap the brains of the captive humans for the thoughts and stuff they need to pull off their ruse. Yes! Tiny little transmitters! Scar explained! Good Dale lives! Awesome Mitchell-Tudyk chemistry soon to be restored! (But then there was the next episode preview that seemed to have him talking like one of the Visitors…so there’s that.)
”You’re an FBI agent?” ”You’re a friggin’priest?!” — Father Jack and Erica, upon discovering each other’s outrageously shocking professions. Seriously: ”Friggin”’?
The episode began with a much-needed do-over. It occurred to me in hindsight that V‘s pilot blundered its final moment by having Erica and Father Jack (Joel Gretsch) heroically resolving to fight the Vs. No! Erica had just learned that her brother-tight partner of seven years was a psycho reptile — she should have been reality-rocked and emotionally shattered. The second episode corrected that dramatic error with an extension of the same scene, improved with requisite tears and achy-breaky quivering from Mitchell.
From their rooftop perch, scanning the horizon like Batman and Robin, Erica and Father Jack spied one of the V’s beagle-shaped shuttles pooping from the underbelly of a mothership and sneaky-sneaking to the scene of the ill-fated resistance meeting. It was a black-op mop-up team, tasked with dragging away the casualties and the survivors. Erica tried to expose them by calling in an anonymous tip to the cops, but the Marcus Cabal intercepted the communication and sicced one of their crystalline floating death baubles on them. (An EW Micro List: The Deadliest Flying Balls In Pop Culture! No. 1 The Tall Man’s stiletto orb, Phantasm; No. 2: Ben Kenobi’s use-the-Force training thingie, Star Wars; No. 3: Rover, The Prisoner.) Erica — who clearly wears the pants in her budding alliance with Father Jack — pulled a Pujols and went yard on the Faberge spitball with some lumber. Father Jack wanted to spill what they knew to the authorities, not knowing that Erica herself was FBI; Erica nixed the suggestion, worried law enforcement was infested with incognito Dales. Her orders: ”Go home! Act normal! Don’t trust anyone! Anyone!” FUN FACT! The address of the warehouse, 4400 Pier Avenue, was no doubt a nod to Gretsch’s old show The 4400, created by V‘s exec producer, Scott Peters.
Paranoia ensued. Erica reported to FBI HQ the next morning hyper-attuned to the possibility that all her colleagues could be scaly subversives in well-fed American flesh. Her anxious acuity was dramatized with melodramatic evil eyes cast in her direction in superslomo head turns. Groan. Their scrutiny had another explanation: Dale’s wife had reported him missing, and Erica’s hard-ass superior Paul and her fellow agents were certain she knew something about it; after all, as the episode reminded us frequently last night, she and Dale had been partners for seven years. Erica spun and lied and butt-covered, pitching Paul on a truthful-in-essence crock that Dale was a double agent in bed with terrorists. Paul was incredulous. So was I: the whole story line felt contrived. Sure, it was a logical extension of the pilot, but a weak showcase for the series. Mitchell, bless her, coaxed me into swallowing it. I loved when Paul asked her how she thinks her specious yarn sounded and she quickly quipped: ”Awesome. Air tight.” I have sung praises to Mitchell’s naturalism and dry wit over the years in the Lost recap; I suspect she’ll be calling upon those gifts even more to help push the hokum of her new series. ONE MORE THOUGHT: Is Paul an alien? I’m thinking: No.
NEXT: Look at Chad, acting like a big boy
Meanwhile, Father Jack had his cilice in a twist over an ethical dilemma. With the U.S. government trying to decide if it should establish formal diplomatic ties with the Vs, allowing them free movement throughout the country, the hunky holy man felt compelled to share at least some of what he knew about the duplicitous Vs to the authorities, particularly the incriminating photos slipped to him by Bleeding Guy from last week. He did, and then regretted it, and then un-regretted it: Father Jack was a little all over the place, but cohered into Mr. Resistance Leader by the end. I think playing ‘heroic man of action’ suits Gretsch more comfortably than ‘tortured man of faith.’ And can starchy grow a sense of humor, too? Sheesh. Nonetheless, I hope V doesn’t shrink away from spiritual themes. While I bagged on the pilot for being too expository, heavy-handed and dim about the whole ‘Can God and aliens co-exist?” question, I’d rather see the show grapple awkwardly with religion than not deal with it at all. ONE MORE THOUGHT: Is Father Jack’s pro-alien superior Father Travis an alien? I’m thinking: Yes.
”I have to show Anna she’s not the only one to get what she wants. When I’m done she’ll be the one calling me!” — Chad Decker, resolving to get anchorman tough with the Vs.
The lamest story line belonged to Scott Wolf’s respect-starved newsreader. Last week, I said Chad was ”a good character.” This week, I deem him ”goofy.” Still smarting from selling out his journalistic integrity by playing PR puppet for the Vs, Chad concocted a scheme to earn back his dignity and show the Vs who’s boss. With polls showing the Vs’ popularity at a tenuous 50%, Chad took aim at tilting the scales by? moderating a point-counterpoint between pro-V and con-V talking heads! That’s showing ’em, Party of Five‘s Bailey! Personally, I would have wanted to witness and hear at least some of this debate, which instead transpired off camera, especially after we learned that the pro-V rep was so compelling that it gave the Vs a boost in the polls. Anna’s second-in-command was pissed with Chad for being so reckless with their public perception and threatened to cut off his future access to Anna; Chad claimed he did what he did to help the Vs but also warned them they’d be stupid to alienate someone so capable of shaping popular opinion. He then clucked about how their next engagement would be on his terms. The camera then lingered on Marcus and Anna as they watched a self-satisfied Chad strut off, their faces betraying bemusement. Had the scene lasted a couple seconds more, I think we would have seen the aliens burst into laughter over Chad’s tough guy bluster. But I was laughing for them: by not giving me a scene that dramatically demonstrated his anchorman super-powers and how dangerous he could really be to the Vs, his (apparent) power play victory meant nothing to me. ONE MORE THOUGHT: Chad was basically telling the Vs that he’d be more than happy to promulgate ruling party propaganda, just as long as they could do it in a way that would allow him to feel like a credible journalist. In other words, he’s no different from your typical Fox News anchor circa the Bush years. I think the clock is ticking on Bill O’Reilly’s alleged fandom of this show?
NEXT: Love stories
The episode’s other two arcs tracked our resident love-struck boys. Chestnut’s Ryan — provisionally engaged to Valerie — hooked up with Angelo for skin suit R/X. Apparently, they had been part of the Vs’ advance team but turned against their people, participating in a resistance movement that went bad. I’m still intrigued by this backstory and look forward to learning more about it. Ryan got tut-tutted by Angelo for shacking up with a human — and then he got dosed with knock-out drugs by Angelo, so paranoid by the early-arriving armada that he couldn’t even trust his old comrade. (In Angelo’s defense, Ryan didn’t really inspire trustworthiness after he indelicately pressed Angelo for a list of names of other like-minded Vs.) I was struck by the schisms-within-schisms within the larger population of Visitors. There’s surely division between Anna and Marcus on human engagement, and there’s division between the gone-native Vs over whether to help the humans or hide in the hills. It all makes for good intrigue and much story fodder — but how about some smarter beats than the moment at the end, when Ryan and Valerie discovered that upside-down portrait in their house, a warning from Angelo to Ryan about his vulnerability. I thought that was a pretty creepy bit of business, and I didn’t believe Valerie could have been easily distracted from the freakyness by Ryan’s neck-nuzzling. It just made her look like a gullible airhead. ONE MORE THOUGHT: Is Valerie an alien? I’m thinking no — Ryan probably has enough shall we say intimate knowledge of his girlfriend to know the difference. But I do think she’s not long for this show: Ryan needs to be more radicalized to become a full-on resistance leader, and I’ve seen enough political thrillers to know that only two things can turn men into raging warriors: God and murdered loved ones.
”Wow. Space girls are funny.” — Tyler
And then there was Erica’s son, Tyler (Logan Huffman), who last week fell under the spell of these — how did Erica put it last night? — ”exciting and kinda cool” Visitors and joined their ”Peace Ambassadors” club. Membership includes a retro-mod jacket reminiscent of Patrick McGoohan’s blazer in The Prisoner. (Yes, I want one.) Tyler became smitten with sexy teen V Lisa, and boldly worked up the ”brass clankers” to make some moves on her. I liked the moment when he showed her pictures from his life stored on his iPhone, including the many images of his motorcycle. ”You really like your bike!” Lisa chirped. It was funny, maybe unintentionally so, but I got the sense that Lisa was taken by the youthful, even innocent enthusiasm represented by a boy in love with his bike, and that possibility adds an intriguing shade to the Vs in general. (I did find it ironic that she would be so obtuse about how to operate Tyler’s iPhone. The girl has warp drive, and she can’t figure out a camera app?) I was even more intrigued when Lisa broke off with Tyler after watching him punch the anti-V bully that was harassing his best friend Brandon. More shading and intrigue: is such violence, no matter how heroically intentioned anathema to the mainline ‘we are of peace’ V culture? Or was her break-up part of a tricky femme fatale’s wind up, designed to warp Tyler into a dangerously obsessed V zealot? Erica later praised her son for cooling his V fixation, but she’s one clueless Mom who clearly never had the benefit of being lusted over by a boy back in high school. And so we left Tyler in his room, door closed, gazing at his iPhone snapshot of Lisa, stewing in the broody, lusty mire of his increasingly sticky situation?.
NEXT: Doc Jensen’s V theory
And that was episode 2 of the new, rebooted V. We are now halfway through an initial pod of four episodes; if ABC deems the series worthy, we’ll get another nine in March, after the conclusion of the Winter Olympics. Hence one more reason why I’m so hard on this promising show: by all accounts, the pressure’s on these four installments to connect and impress in order to earn prolonged life. But what did you think? Did ”There Is No Normal Anymore” earn a below average grade in your book — or did you feel it was superlative entertainment? And do you find yourself as obsessed about the Vs and speculating about their origins and true agenda? Here’s my theory, which came to me while mowing the lawn last Saturday. Call it ”The Vicious Circle of Vendetta Hypothesis,” and it goes like this:
All of V hinges on a time loop. Eventually, the humans will get the best of the Vs and take control of their spaceships and travel to the Vs’ home planet to finish the fight on their turf — the idea/fear being that unless we conquer if not exterminate these barbaric lizards, they will continue to terrorize Earth. The twist is that the Vs’ ships use wormholes to travel through space — and if you know your sci-fi (see: Contact; Star Trek), you know that wormholes are shortcuts through space and time. And so the humans will arrive on Planet V in the distant past, before the Vs ever got the idea of invading Earth. The humans will be conflicted. The leader — a beautiful, charismatic woman who radiates peace; i.e., Elizabeth Mitchell’s character — will have an epiphany: Hey! We have an opportunity to change time! Instead of squashing these lizard-people, why don’t we try to rehabilitate their culture and inspire them to become more peaceful lizard-people! But cynical, militaristic members in her leadership team will oppose her and execute a conspiracy to push forward with the warmongering. In the end, Planet V will repel Enemy Earth. And then — ironic trippy logic alert! — it will be the V’s turn to think: Unless we take the fight back to Earth and conquer and subjugate them, they will continue to terrorize us! And then they travel to Earth via wormhole and arrive in our distant past, before Earth even knew of the Vs. A familiar epiphany fires in the mind of the Vs’ beautiful, charismatic leader, i.e., Baccarin’s Anna: Hey! We have an opportunity to change time! Instead of squashing these lizard-people, why don’t we try to rehabilitate their culture and inspire them to become more peaceful lizard-people! And so the cycle begins anew…
(It all sounded really good in my head when I came up with it while mowing the lawn.)
Until next week! Now: Chatter!