So, yeah, "V" kind of headed in a direction that felt vaguely interesting as it opened tonight's episode. I was down with the idea that we were being dropped into the story in medias res. I didn't need to learn just why the Fifth Column members were taking out a V shuttle. I knew that because I'd WATCHED THE SHOW BEFORE. And while the promos for the episode completely spoiled the big twist here - the shuttle was full of HUMANS - I still liked the way the series stuck with the characters as they realized they'd become everything they least wanted to be. If they didn't value human life, what made them any better than the V's? It's a provocative question to build an episode around, and it suggested that the series might be willing to dabble in philosophical weight given enough time.

But then the episode brought up the text "12 Hours Earlier," and I groaned.

[Full recap of Tuesday's (May 4) "V" after the break...]

I absolutely understand why TV producers go this route. It's much harder to catch an audience's attention and hold it nowadays than it was in the days of only three networks. The proper build of a storyline is almost antithetical to the advertiser-supported broadcast model. Getting and keeping that audience means sucker punching them with the biggest thing you have some of the time, but to keep the story from flying entirely off the rails, you often have to dig in and go back to earlier in the day, promising the audience that you'll circle back around and get to that point again. Genre shows are uniquely susceptible to this device. So are ratings-deprived shows. (Famously, the always on-the-bubble "Alias" used this device in what seemed like every other episode for a while there.) Since "V" is both, it's perhaps no surprise that this device has turned up twice - twice! - in the first season.

 

So, yeah, the first 15-20 minutes of the episode ended up being an elaborate stall. This is just here, mostly, to get us to where we need to be. Here's the thing, though: We ALREADY KNOW where we need to be. There's really nothing here that helps set up anything that comes after the shuttle goes down. This is just here because someone in the production process was worried that no one would understand what was going on if we just immediately cut to the Fifth Column taking down a shuttle. But, honestly, would anyone have been confused? Wouldn't it have been more exciting to cut to the Fifth Column members trying to figure out just where their intelligence had gone wrong, woozy and unable to cope?

 

Because, honestly, the middle section of this episode, where the Fifth Column members try to erase the evidence of their connection to the attack all the while dealing with their moral complicity in an awful act of terrorism, is pretty good. There are some dodges here - of COURSE Anna loaded up the shuttle with human corpses, rather than sending actual humans to death because ... well ... because ... well, that was her plan! But for the most part, this is a nicely squirmy look at what happens when those who are at war bring down the wrong target and are responsible for deaths on their own side. The consequences of friendly fire are such a downer of a subject that I give the show points for even going there at all, even if it chickened out.

 

Now, the series doesn't really know how to pull all of these strands together in the end. The way the Fifth Column gets away with it seems absurdly easy and relies on no one at the FBI ever putting security cameras anywhere. The Lisa and Tyler drama comes to an abrupt stop in a plotline that relies on assuming that Anna would have absolutely no interest on ever checking in on the two's lovers trysts, particularly when their pairing is apparently so important to her plan. And everybody in the Fifth Column seems a little too cool with going out and shooting down more shuttles and with Jack's leak. You'd think they'd still be trying to process the roller coaster of emotions just a little more.

 

But, yeah, that middle half hour of the episode or so is probably the best the show has been in quite some time. Now, this is largely by default - if that middle half hour gets, like, a C+ or a B-, the rest of the show has been mired at D status so long that it only seems that much better because it's not completely incompetent - but there's a real attempt to play the actual emotions these people might feel, both the horror at the thought of being terrorists and the relief at finding out that this is yet another facet of Anna's elaborate plan we still know too little about. Heck, even the stuff up on board the V ship mostly makes sense this week, as Anna's surprise at finding out that the Fifth Column plans to hit the shuttle full of her trackers (which really shouldn't be surprising, but whatever) causes her to do some pretty rash things. It all works out for her in the end - it always does - but she's created a scenario where at least one person is now far more skeptical of her than he was before.

 

Because if nothing else, this episode cements Chad as one of the show's more interesting characters. Now, the series has taken a while to figure out what to do with him, but having him end up as the indirect information link between the Fifth Column and the V's finally manages to pull this off, even if the reasons he's doing so seem completely arbitrary. Sure, Anna asked him to look into the Fifth Column, but the fact that he landed at Father Jack suggests that either he's the greatest journalist ever or the world of "V" has only five people in it. Nevertheless, seeing Scott Wolf wrestle with what he's doing, with the pieces of the puzzle he's starting to put together, suggest a better show where he was the human lead and not a bunch of cops.

 

I think I like the Chad plot because he's the only person here who seems at all interested in finding out the truth. Anna knows the truth. Erica and her team accept the truth as a matter of faith. And many of the characters just don't terribly care to figure it out on their own. The series works, in fits and starts, when the characters push closer to the truth. It falls apart when the characters just act the way they do because the story simply wants them to. I don't know that "V" can be salvaged, but an episode like tonight's suggests a way forward. Have the characters do things that make them uncomfortable. That's what warfare is. Have them try to get closer to the truth. That's what journalism is. And have the characters always be two steps away from getting caught and scrambling to not have that happen. That's what suspense is. Anything else is just window dressing, and the show should get rid of it.

 

Some other thoughts:

 

***Lisa and Tyler break up! The world says ... "All right" then gives a quizzical shrug.

 

***On the other hand, Anna commanding her servants to break both of Lisa's legs was pretty awesome. Probably my favorite moment for her in a ... long time.

 

So what did you think? Was this a step in the right direction? Or too little too late?