Recap: 'V' - 'Heretic's Fork'
Do you have any idea how hard it is to pay attention to "V" when there wasn't a new "Lost" before it? I, honestly, thought it would make it easier. There wouldn't be that constant comparison of "V" to a show that actually does most of the things "V" acts like it wants to do. There wouldn't be the slowly waning adrenaline rush of ONE OF THE LAST NEW EPISODES OF "LOST" EVER clouding the judgment. It would be that much easier to overlook some of the flaws "V" has and just let go. Instead, it somehow became even harder. I don't know what it was, but I would have turned off this episode of "V" were I not subjecting myself to it for the sake of you, gentle readers. Actually, I know exactly what it was: "Lost" gives me the hope every week that science fiction TV can be done well. And while "V" slowly smothers that hope, that hope is always present when I begin. No such hope existed this week, and the episode struck me as particularly bland.
[More on Tuesday's (April 27) "V" after the break...]
In fact, I'm going to say this: If ABC is going to renew one of "FlashForward" or "V," I'd rather they renew "FlashForward." Both shows have big problems. Both shows should probably be put out to pasture. And both shows have squandered whatever early promise they had. But, by God, "FlashForward" can occasionally come up with a striking visual moment or a cool plot idea, even if the series is focused on the wrong characters. (It should be, of course, focused on those propagating the conspiracy rather than the people caught up in it, as the last new episode proved beyond a shadow of a doubt.) I think "V" is probably a better series, episode for episode, but it's also an immeasurably duller series. It's not really TRYING anything, whereas "FlashForward" really thinks it's saying something profound and is, thus, pretty much completely bugnuts on a week to week basis. I'll take unbridled and unrealized ambition beyond a really dull remake of a show I didn't like all that much in the first place any day.
I realize that it's kind of a cliche to say this about a remake, but I really feel like "V" needs to be more creative. I never quite completed my point about the series' problems with its portrayal of the V's last week, and I think they still stand. I started off saying that the V's are emotionless, and that's something that's increasingly boring to me, since it's supposed to be weird and alien and un-human, but it's really just the sort of thing you've seen before. And that inability to find any new way to portray aliens hampers the show at every turn, keeping it from making the aliens an allegory for anything.
Look at the plot where Anna sends one of her soldiers down to Earth to track down Ryan and Val. Anna's right-hand guy says that if humans got a sense of the destruction a soldier was capable of, they might start to suspect the V's, and Anna says she's not worried because right-hand guy will keep it under wraps. I mean, I start hearing about how there's HUGE DESTRUCTION on its way, and I expect that the show will really turn it up a notch, that we'll see a guy who's just capable of causing so many problems that he's pretty much a last resort for Anna. Now, saying that you're about to unleash the badassiest of the badasses on your series is pretty much a guaranteed recipe for disaster - see also the uber-vamps on "Buffy" and the super soldiers on "The X-Files" - since there's no way the level of destruction can possibly live up to what viewers imagine. But the V soldier was, I thought, particularly lame.
Here's what the soldier does: He twists the neck of the guy who's helping Ryan, Val and the magic doctor hide. Then he knifes the girl who's helping them hide in the gut. Then, he falls through a ceiling. He does all of this quickly and ruthlessly, and you can tell it's supposed to be sort of badass, but it really, really isn't. It's just the sort of thing you see on pretty much every TV action show since "24" debuted. Basically, the soldier's power is that he fights really well. That's what makes him scary. He fights really well, and he doesn't have emotions, so he can kill without remorse. But here's the thing: RYAN also fights really well. Hell, every time we've seen ANY V fight, we've seen them fight remarkably well. They're strong and fast and fit. This doesn't create any sort of urgency in the audience. The series doesn't even bother making the soldier super-fast or super-strong. He's just another alien.
The Ryan parts are usually my favorite, and I liked the idea of having the big on-the-lam plot revolve around whether or not Val would forgive Ryan for never telling her he was a V, even if I didn't like the execution of it. So if I didn't like that storyline very much, you can just about imagine how I felt about the rest of the episode, which mostly devolved into a torture debate. Now, I trust that everyone on "V" has seen the "Flesh and Bone" episode of "Battlestar Galactica." I trust that they've all seen how awesome that episode was, how it so easily twisted the question of whether or not we torture people who may have valuable information and examined it from every angle. It's truly one of the moments in that show when a young series went from being really good to being that extra level of awesome that made that series what it was.
There's no sense of that whatsoever in "V," largely because the characters outsource any torture to Hobbes, who is just Jack Bauer with a British accent. And God love him, Jack Bauer is our main character. He's the guy we have to decide just how thoroughly we'll embrace the methods of, the guy who stands between us and certain destruction and says, "Will you let me do what I have to?" Regardless of how you feel about the politics of "24" (I mostly dislike them), it's a strikingly moral choice the series forces on its viewers, and it's one of the reasons the show is so good. Similarly, "Galactica" had Starbuck, one of the series' best and most identifiable characters, carrying out the torture of a suspected Cylon and it made the ethics of the situation even trickier. "V" pretty much just treats Hobbes' torture of the guy as a fait accompli, so when the big ending of the episode focuses on Hobbes deciding to torture the guy after all, there's basically nothing interesting to it. It's a weak sigh of a cliffhanger, when the cliffhangers have been the thing working on the show all this time
Look, I don't ask for a lot out of you "V." I just want to see some fights and some spaceships and some lizard dudes. You could give me all of that! You TRY to give me all of that! But you remain stubbornly convinced that what's making this show work is the intimate character drama and the weighty considerations of Very Important Things. Critics are supposed to advocate for challenging, ingenious television, but I can't help but feel that everything about "V" would be better if it was just about 10 degrees stupider than it is.
Some other thoughts:
*** Chad went up to have his aneurysm taken care of and he got a lead about the Fifth Column and ... zzzzzzzzzzzz ...
*** Did you ever notice just how similar Elizabeth Mitchell and Laura VanderVoort look? You'd notice if they shared a scene together, which they did, and if it was boring, which it was. Really makes you think hm?
*** On the other hand, Anna is clearly on to her daughter's burgeoning emotions, so that might be promising. I'm all for attractive women pummeling each other. It saved "Dynasty," and it can save this show. Give it a chance, ABC!
OK, all right, I'll bite, "V." Just what is Chad's game, readers?