Recap: 'V' - 'We Can't Win'
Here's something I don't get, "V." Actually, here's something I don't get, science fiction. Why are all of the aliens you throw at me emotionless automatons, marching ever forward in their attempt to overthrow the human race? I get that this was probably horrifying the first time it popped up last century sometime, but since then, it's become a huge cliche, and it ends up creating monsters that are rather hard to invest in, monsters that are more types than actual characters to be horrified by. More often than not, the evil aliens are emotionless simply because that's what everyone thinks aliens should be like, and the number of stories that flip this on its ear is pretty small. You've got Spock, who's a logical force for good, and then you have a few works where the aliens are just bloodthirsty or something. But for the most part, it's just a long parade of aliens who don't feel a thing.
[Full recap of Tuesday's (April 20) "V" after the break...]
Aliens, generally, are just a way to confront the things that scare us most about ourselves. Because we really don't have any idea of just what a culture that evolved on another planet where we have no idea of the physical properties of the world would be like, we end up creating cultures that are roughly like cultures we've known on our own planet. There are a million alien Nazi rip-offs out there, and there are just as many cultures where there are two kinds of aliens, and the one kind of aliens picks on the others, and it's ALL ABOUT RACISM, SEE? The aliens in the original "V" were pretty handy Nazi metaphors, and that thorough grounding in the world of the French resistance in World War II made the whole thing work (to say nothing of the gerbil devouring).
The aliens in "V" more often than not feel like symbols standing in for, well, other aliens. The show made a few attempts to equate them to the Obama administration or the forces of democratic socialism or whatever in the first few episodes, but it always did so half-heartedly. Now, it's mostly just decided to make them aliens that are exactly like every other alien culture you've ever seen, and it's also shying away from letting them be truly evil. Seriously, now that Lisa is turning good, the only wholly evil alien is Anna, and that makes it hard to take the others seriously. The fact that these aliens are evil is just supposed to be understood. We've seen them try to keep humanity and the Fifth Column down, but that's kind of a self-preservation thing, no? The series has never given us a REAL reason to doubt the V's beyond the fact that they were bad guys in the original series.
I think this stems from the fact that "V" thinks it's a show with a complicated mythology, but it's actually a show that's pretty simple on the most basic of levels. The aliens are here. They're evil. And they have a plan. The thing is, I'm pretty sure 95 percent of the show's problems could be cleared up by just revealing everything that the show is keeping back for the season finale or whenever it wants to reveal them. I feel like new showrunner Scott Rosenbaum has a general idea of where he's heading with this, and I understand that it takes forever to change direction on a show like this. But there's no good reason that we don't know what the ultimate plan the V's have for humanity is. We're just supposed to accept the fact that they're terrible aliens, as though the show were terrified of moral complexity or just letting us know what the hell is going on.
I keep saying from week to week that the show seems like it's figuring out what it wants to do in some storylines and seems like it's slipping back in other storylines. But the things that do or don't work change so often from week to week that I'm not sure if any of this is working on a consistent basis. The one thing that I'm certain I'm enjoying is Morris Chestnut's work, as he seems to be taking a pretty ill-defined character and making him fun to watch. Seriously, do we know why Ryan betrayed the V's beyond the whole, "HE SUDDENLY GOT EMOTIONS!!!" deal? This whole idea that emotions separate the good V's from the bad V's strikes me as a way-too-easy answer to these questions of what makes an alien alien. I've seen it before, "V," and I'd like if we had some new twists in store.
Anyway, what worked for me tonight were a handful of scenes. I liked the scene where Alex was sent out to draw the fire of the V (who turned out to be a human, actually) and Hobbes tried to talk him through it. It was a low-rent version of that scene where Jason Bourne did the same thing with a guy in a train station in one of those movies, but it was fun, and it had some nice pacing. I also liked the idea that Lisa is developing emotions and she doesn't know what to do with them. It was obvious the show was going here from the first, but I always like to have a sense of forward momentum. And I liked the story of where Val was escaping to and how the V's ended up learning that, yeah, she's got an alien baby growing inside of her. All of this feels like it's pushing the story forward in interesting directions. All of this is less than a quarter of the episode.
It feels weird to say this, since Morena Baccarin was one of the big things I praised in the pilot, but Anna just doesn't work as a character. At all. She's too mysterious, and Baccarin often seems to be flailing without a direction to play other than coyly evil. The story where she is going to give humanity blue energy and the director of the UN is suspicious of her and Chad just isn't sure what to think was a snooze. It's yet another week where Chad's loyalties are tested and he comes down on the side of the V's out of pure self-interest. Yawn.
But even worse was the story of the team trying to stop Fifth Column members from getting killed. The resistance always threatens to turn interesting and then turns into a cop show, and every week, I complain about it. This week was particularly egregious, because that final scene at the docks was the sort of thing that could have been a great capper to the storyline and was, instead, a radically improved ending to a dull, dull, dull storyline. We need to see these guys executing well thought-out plans, not bumbling toward sheer moments of luck. And that's what's really keeping "V" down. It's about people who don't think things through. It's about people who react to an alien invasion - an invasion that humanity can't win - by talking about maybe doing some stuff someday.
Some other thoughts:
*** OK, I also liked the story of the two Fifth Column guys up on the ship thinking that Lisa could be turned in time and keeping her in her mother's good graces.
*** Somebody on some comments board for this show a few weeks ago said that he was only watching in case Laura VanderVoort took off her shirt again. Well, guy I don't remember the name of, this was the episode for you.
*** In general, the pop music they pick on this show is pretty awful.
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