Thursday, January 6, 2011

Review: V "Red Rain"

Non Spoiler Review:
V picks up four days after the red sky was unleashed during Anna's fit of pique, and the world is in chaos without any explanation from the Visitors. With civil unrest on the ground, Anna deals with dissent in her own ranks among the captains who question her displays of emotion. The Fifth Column struggles to get a handle on the red sky and tracks down a scientist who may be of some help (and who the Visitors are after to silence).

After a long hiatus, season two picks up with a brisk pace to bring plot points up to date. It wasn't lacking in action or exposition and provided some long-awaited and surprising reveals about the Visitors. But we still suffer from banal writing, outrageous plot devices and a host of head scratching moments that would insult the intelligence of anyone over 10 years-old.

If one can accept the ludicrous actions of some of the characters and simply look at the story, then V has gotten off to a decent start and shows some promise, but given the ending of this episode, the series balances precariously between a renewed sense of direction, or heading irrevocably towards camp in high heels and fishnets (I kid you not. Read on).

Sydney. Scientist of everything.
Spoilers Now!
Erica is roused from a nightmare where Anna has killed Tyler for murdering her children. She awakes to an office in chaos. With no word from the Visitors on what's going on, the FBI is busy dealing with unrest, and Anna has refused to acknowledge any petitions from world leaders for an explanation.

On the mother ship, Marcus briefs Anna on several items—scientist Ellis Watts is close to uncovering the truth of the skies, so she orders him eliminated. Marcus also advises that the captains are thinking Anna is losing control and experiencing emotions. They are en route to see her. And then she's advised there's a situation with their prisoner, Ryan (whom we last left with a new baby and enjoying Anna's bliss).

Ryan's made his way to the nursery, where we get a totally unexpected glimpse of the hybrid baby in the incubation tank. It's kind of lizardy and flat-faced. Anna storms in with her soldiers and apprehends him.

Apparently Ryan's rejected her bliss after all, and just wants to take his daughter. Anna wants to know how this first hybrid baby was conceived (it's simple!), but won't tolerate this sudden betrayal. She orders him taken down to Earth to be among the humans he loves, never to return. But she'll keep the baby. He's hauled off, but Anna gloats (wait, no...that would be an emotion) that her plan is for him to rejoin the Fifth Column so she can use him to destroy it from within. With his child, she believes she can control him.

Chad continues to deliver his newscasts, advising a terrified public that war with the Visitors is looming if no answers are forthcoming from them. Visitors from the embassy evacuate to the motherships due to the unrest and growing violence. Ryan returns in the midst of this, meeting up with Jack, Erica and Hobbes. Of course they're shocked to see him, but he quickly brings them up to speed on Val's death, the baby, and being released. They have the shortest conversation ever debating if they should trust him, and only Jack suggests that his loyalties might be compromised given his baby is on the mother ship. But everyone else seems okay with that, including Mr. I-Don't-Trust-Nobody-Hobbes.

Meanwhile, Chad confesses to Father Jack what he witnessed on the mother ship among the live aboard selectees—that Anna is torturing them with some kind of needle machine. Despite his confession to being used by the visitors as their mouthpiece (and that Anna likely gave Chad a brain tumor rather than cured it), Jack tells him he needs to earn his trust (Good for Jack for being the only voice of reason in the Fifth Column at the moment). So Chad gives him a video of several interviews with the live aboards, all testifying to the same nightmare of being tortured. Chad wants to prove his loyalty and bring down Anna by showing the video, but Jack urges him to keep it under wraps and remain as their spy with Anna aboard the mother ship. 

Anna meets with the ship captains to explain everything is going according to plan. She alleviates their concern that she has not succumbed to human emotion, and goes about whipping one of them with her lizard tail until he's dead. She holds up his half-torn face and we get another unexpected reveal of what the Visitors look like.

Erica is called to the Visitor embassy where Tyler is caught in a riot. He's injured, and Erica tells a Visitor guard that Anna will want him looked after right away given his relationship with her daughter. The Visitor gets confirmation that she and Tyler can come aboard the evacuation shuttle, just as the skies open up and begin to rain red—suitably apocalyptic.

Aboard the mother ship, Erica is met by Lisa and confesses she used the situation as an excuse to see her (Nice parenting, Erica. Anna would be proud). Lisa can't shed any light on the situation as she doesn't know what her mother is doing and with Joshua dead, the Fifth column is in tatters. Lisa thinks Marcus may know, but will do her best to uncover the truth.

Lisa heads off to go through Marcus' security files which are easily accessible and unguarded (much like the incubation chamber for the hybrid baby, or the holding cells, or...), finding reference to Doctor Watts and the tracker that has been sent to kill him.

Anna arrives as Tyler is mended, and Erica thanks her but uses the opportunity to ask troublesome questions. Anna refuses to answer, prompting Erica to react angrily about trying to protect Anna when she doesn't know what's going on. Anna acquiesces and agrees to show her what Red Sky is.

The mother ship video communication opens up and Anna addresses the masses. Red Sky is like the blue energy and healing centers...a gift to mankind. Red Sky will heal the oceans, make barren lands fertile and reverse global warming. Of course, everyone cheers at this, lay down their protest signs and go home.  Everything is quickly forgiven as the rain washes out the red and the skies return to normal.

Tyler thinks Erica should apologize to Anna but Anna's okay with her concern—they're both mothers after all. Lisa returns and Tyler wants to stay on board awhile. Erica agrees and leaves them, and as Lisa hugs Erica good-bye she whispers the news of the scientist to her (right in front of her mother!). Anna takes her daughter aside and advises her to perform all her duties with Tyler now that he's aboard.

Ryan, Hobbes and Erica go to the university to meet with Dr. Watts, and are pointed to his office by a young doctor, Sydney. But a tracker is spotted and Ryan springs into hot pursuit before their cover is blown. A chase ensues and he and Hobbes catch him. Ryan force feeds him the suicide pill and he evaporates away, but Sydney has witnessed it all.

Erica brings Sydney up to speed that the Visitors are not really of peace, but are here to kill them all for some reason and they need to find Dr. Watts because he may have found out something. But, oh, wait, Sydney thinks it might be him they're after and brings them back to the lab because he has a freaky piecemeal skeleton that might be of interest.

He tells them he was on a dig at a 50 year-old grave site in New Mexico where multiple human remains were uncovered, but also fragments of a very inhuman skeleton among them. He calls it Alpha, and Ryan confirms that's one of his kind.

Sydney seems to take all this information in stride, given he figured the skeleton for being alien anyway. Ryan explains they used human DNA to reconstruct their human appearance, and Erica says they need his help, not as a fighter, but as a scientist—so he's officially drafted. He's okay with that too.

Sydney suggests that Watts was on the Visitor's radar because Sydney discovered a compound in Red Sky that matched one found in the alien skeleton. But he used Dr. Watt's computer to run the tests (whoops, that sucks). The compound is not from earth but Ryan recognizes it as a form of phosphorus found on their home planet. Visitors need phosphorus to reproduce as it forms a protective shell around their eggs. Now it is apparent that Red Sky has been elevating the levels of phosphorus in humans. For breeding, perhaps?

This revelation unnerves Erica even more, as she explains when she was pregnant she had abnormally high amounts of phosphorus in her blood. The alien skeleton is proof the Visitors have been on Earth for some time, and she wonders if the Visitors experimented on her when she was pregnant (that would explain the paternity problems). Josh says he would need to run blood tests on her and her son. She gives him her blood to start.

Lisa spends some time seducing Tyler, who needs no encouragement. Anna advises Lisa that Tyler is essential to their future. There are traitors among them, but their medical technicians have revived Joshua and he will soon be interrogated (So much for Marcus being Fifth Column). In a panic, Lisa goes to see Joshua (who is unguarded, of course, but still recovering). His reaction to her is one of alarm. Her excessive emotion is unbefitting a future queen, he tells her. Lisa is confused, but he doesn't remember anything at all of what's happened.

Marcus advises Anna that their plans are back on track, but the soldiers that survived the bombing (initially twelve) have taken a turn for the worse. Anna visits the surviving six, but they've sustained trauma and will be flawed. Anna holds one of their lizardy hands and looks very sentimental about the whole situation. When Marcus arrives she says their death caused her prior outburst and so she euthanizes them all, but still seems a little emotional about the whole thing as she walks away.

She then descends into a dark, cavernous, reptile-friendly area of the ship. A cocoon like structure stands in the middle and out comes a woman in a red dress (Jane Badler! She looks great for her age).

"Hello, mother," Anna says.

What Worked:
The explanation for Red Sky (at least the cover story) that it's fixing global warming wasn't too surprising. But the real reason at least sounds cool and creepy—the Visitors are  going to use humans as hosts for their eggs. This is a nice new addition to the mythology (beyond the tried and true food and water tropes for alien invaders).

We also got the addition of an actual scientist to the group, which is essential to the defeat of the Visitors, because it's going to have to be through some biological warfare that humans can hope to defeat them. Poor Dr. Watts, though, is likely going to be knocked off all because his student used his computer. No one seemed concerned.

We also get further hints of the longevity of the Visitors' activity on earth. This is a slippery slope, though, as the increasing omnipresence of the Visitors in human affairs only makes it more inconceivable that they can be brought down by the humans.

While Jane Badler is a great addition just for the camp factor alone, she could bring some much-needed life to the show, or could take it into complete absurdity. So the jury is still out on how she handles the poor writing.

Anna's new BFF.
Skipping What Didn't Work and Jumping to Rant:
Oh, boy, where to start? How about Visitor emotions? What are they? Have the writer's put any thought into their society aside from using Mr. Spock as a role model for all the actors? Are we just assuming these are cold-blooded reptiles and leaving it at that (except when the script requires Visitors to have emotional outbursts, like making an example of one of the captains, or euthanizing babies?) What is it about humans that's sparking emotion in the aliens? Is it just our irresistible mammalian cuddliness?

We've seen precious little of Visitor society to build a bigger picture of what's going on or even make us care. The same goes for Anna's status among the Visitors. She's a queen. But is she the queen of all Visitors or just the invading force? She appears to be able to kill her subjects arbitrarily without consequence, yet the captains seem emboldened to demand some answers from her. Does anyone have power to remove her should she refuse? Right now all these plotlines are meaningless without a broader scope and explanation to their society.

As much as I like Dr. Sydney's introduction, he's a TV scientist, which means he's a SCIENTIST of everything. Right now we've got biology and chemistry, with some anthropology and archaeology thrown in. His reaction to Erica's infodump about the Visitors and the potential fate of the human race is absorbed with barely a reaction (which means he's either a psychopath, or just being written badly).

Why is Erica taking it upon herself as a lowly FBI agent to make contact with the Visitors? Surely there are embassies and diplomats in place worldwide with greater authority than her (UN Secretary General, perhaps?). There's no indication of what's going on, no presidential address to the people—aside from Chad's newscast. Everyone is running around like an idiot and then she uses her son's wound to get aboard the mother ship? If this is an indication that her character is going to take a darker turn in the war with the Visitors, then I'm all for it.

The survival of 12 (then six) V soldiers seemed to hint they would be of use in the future. But why waste all the screen time setting all this up when Anna just kills them? Just to show Anna's emotions?

"I used to be bad-ass. Now I'm just badly written."
The dialogue is lifeless—it states the obvious or provides simplistic answers or information just to further along the plot. Much of it can be interchanged between characters and we'd not notice the difference. There are so many great actors on the series just being wasted.

Only Jack appears wary of Ryan's return that his loyalties may be divided. No one thinks he could have been brainwashed or at least tracked (including paranoid Hobbes)? Then again, the entire Fifth Column has no problem hanging out together at Jack's church. Meanwhile Chad thinks he can bring Anna down by revealing the tape to the world. Does he expect humanity to be able to repel the Visitors militarily?

Lisa whispers crucial intel to Erica right in front of Anna? Seriously. Let's hope the Visitors don't have acute hearing. But then again, she can just walk into Marcus' computer and pull data off it, then go and visit Joshua without anyone noticing.

And Joshua. Amnesia. Really?

Visitor inner beauty.
Now to my particular nitpick this episode. Visitor human skin is pretty durable and seems to be able to handle a lot of hidden and misshapen appendages. We have a huge mouth of teeth, long claws and now a stretchable spiked tail, all of which can emerge with little problem. Now that we've seen bits of the Visitor skeleton there needs to be some explaining about how all this is held together. Especially with this (spoiler!) shot of what they really look like under there (?!)

How uncomfortable is that? What's going on with their toes and fingers? The skin appears to heal itself if Anna can throw out her tail at a whim. But it's just human flesh. No wonder they're angry with their bodies contorted in an unnatural position. There is going to have to be some explanation why outfitting their entire race in false skin is worth all this trouble.

Then we get to Anna's mother, Diana, kept deep in the bowels of the mother ship where it looks to be very much like reptile paradise with a generally cavernous and swampy decor. Yet Diana emerges from her cocoon not only in human flesh, but heels, fishnet stockings and an evening gown.

Tthat's just my initial thoughts from the first episode. Given there are only about ten episodes this season, it's likely the revelations are going to continue to come fast and furious. But V is already neck and neck with The Event for absurdity, so it's sad that a show with such potential to be a dark science fiction masterpiece has already run off the rails and the best we can hope for is less thought-provoking entertainment. I'll remain a loyal watcher to see it through to its end, given my loyalty to its predecessor, the concept, and the actors, but I pine for the show that could have been.

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