V: “A Bright New Day”

Five for Fighting


“A Bright New Day”
ABC, Tuesdays, 8PM
Written by Diego Gutierrez & Christine Roum
Directed by Frederick E.O. Toye

I finally figured out, I think, why they keep using that archaic term, “Fifth Column” for the resistance. The term, ironically enough, was coined by a Fascist general during the Spanish civil war in 1936, to refer to a group of conspirators who would rise to undermine the Republican government from within. The Visitors are commonly referred to as Vs. V is the Roman numeral for five, as in fifth. So V = Five = Fifth Column. Cute.

Swine flu hysteria makes headlines all over the US, but according to the producers of V, the aliens are allowed visas to freely mix with the population of Earth. Either the World Health Organization is full of Visitors, or someone muzzled them. The latter possibility is intriguing, actually.

Someone needs to send Special Agent Evans back to school. Her idea of “security” needs a serious overhaul. I can understand why, in an opening scene, she’s working at home—she doesn’t trust her colleagues at the Bureau. Father Jack drops by to complain of his uselessness, and Erica shows him that she is going through lists of people who contacted the FBI with warnings about the Visitors, and then entering their names into an FBI database. Since she’s already aware the Bureau has been infiltrated, it makes no sense to put sensitive information where a mole can find it. But no, she goes further than this: she leaves Jack alone in the house with full access to her logged-in account at the FBI. Yikes. And this woman was on a terrorist task force?

Jack, being the big beautiful brainless bleeding heart that he is, finds a picture of Warehouse Gregory and dashes off to find him. Of course my first thought was did you shut down the computer and hide the files?? After all of Erica’s nagging at him last week to “trust no one”, it turns out that she trusts just about everyone. As anyone could have predicted, Tyler waltzes in not long after with an actual V agent in tow, the lovely Lisa the Lizard (Laura Vandervoort, Smallville). She’s already shown him the surveillance room in the spaceship, so even if he doesn’t know he’s on camera all the time, he knows that their surveillance is pervasive. And he has no problem bringing home a stranger to the house where his mom, the FBI agent, lives. “Tyler” may be Lizard for “too stupid to eat”.

The bulk of this episode dealt with the beginnings, or rather the rebuilding, of a resistance movement. We get hints that Ryan, among others, was part of a resistance movement that fell apart. His old pal Warehouse George hardly trusts him any more. Ryan goes in search of an old comrade in arms, only to find that he’s turned. Cyrus (Michael Filipowich, CSI: Miami), who is apparently another lizard, misses the “bliss”. Whether this is a drug, hypnotism, group sex, or whatever, it appears to be a major bonding/control agent among the Visitors. And Anna controls it. So now we get to stretch our metaphor from infiltrating commies to junkies. Nice. Cyrus calls the mothership, violence ensues, and Ryan gets the drop on him. Score one for Ryan.

We get some heavy-handed irony (as in, beaten over the head with anvils) when Erica is assigned to locate and capture a man who has called in a death threat against the Visitors. Teamed with a V security guard, she coordinates a disarmingly old-fashioned bank of surveillance cameras, sets up a perimeter, and starts scanning the crowd. It doesn’t take her long to find a dead V security man missing his uniform, or much longer to track the would-be assassin, spot him, and take him down as he’s drawing a bead on Marcus (Christopher Shyer, Kyle XY), Anna’s right hand man. Erica’s surprised—but shouldn’t be—when the perp is marched to a holding cell in the mothership, rather than to human security. The site coordinator for the FBI tells her it’s “complicated”. I could almost see the word “Guantanamo” behind Erica’s eyes. I think this is not the first parallel we’re going to see between Visitors and certain recent world events.

Behind those locked doors, Marcus enlists the help of V doctor Joshua (Mark Hildreth, The Tudors) in reviving the memories of Erica’s recently resurrected partner, Dale (Alan Tudyk, Firefly). Apparently lizard brains don’t react to blunt force trauma any better than human brains. While Dale slowly remembers what happened to him in the warehouse, Anna deals with a growing threat to the Visitors’ image: war widows. One Mary Falkner (Michelle Harrison, Fringe), the widow of the Air Force pilot we saw falling in the, uh, pilot, is launching a protest movement against the Visitors. Am I the only one who sees echoes of Cindy Sheehan in this character? Her attempt to hold a rally in front of the Visitors’ Peace Headquarters is short-circuited when Anna intercepts her for a little private chat. I’m not sure whether the Mary who came out of that interview was the same one who went in, but she was much more forgiving.

The best thing about this episode was how fast the paranoia got ramped up. First we get Joshua, who first picks Dale’s brain and then kills him with a goodbye message that reveals he’s in the resistance (looks like the Visitors have trust issues as well). We get to see Anna practicing her compassion; apparently she has learned that once you can fake sincerity, you’re halfway home. Then we get Anna thanking the would-be assassin for his work—of course he was a V. Finally, after Lisa’s attempted seduction of Tyler is foiled by Erica’s return home, Lisa reports to Anna and calls her “mother”. If the writers keep up this level of twist, cross, and double-cross, it’s going to make the original Prisoner look tame by comparison.

This is the third of the four episodes we will see this year before the show goes on hiatus. While this episode improved on the last, I am still somewhat disappointed. I wanted to see lizards. I wanted to see more alien tech. What I got was a surveillance room that looked almost as sophisticated as the National Security Agency’s listening posts (oh, you know they’re out there). I guess if we can’t have scaly aliens with cat-eyes, maybe we can make do with rampant paranoia. There’s certainly a rich lode of metaphor to mine here—resistance to mind control, whether it’s PR or drugs or groupthink or just plain inertia, is always a hot topic. Then there’s the whole bliss/control issue, as well as the brewing civil war. It’s certainly a complicated enough setup to warrant more than four episodes. If I can’t get lizards in designer outfits, at least I can hope for some intrigue, some paranoia, some cross-cultural contamination. If only the writers can lose the Tyler storyline…

Well paced, better written, and marginally better acted, this episode shows the series starting to gel. If the fourth episode is this strong, it may be enough to hold viewers for the several months between episodes. However, it’s anyone’s call; the show is already on production hiatus, several production members have been switched out, and there’s a fair amount of re-visioning going on behind the scenes, apparently. The Vth episode of V, in 2010, may be a totally different show.

V raked in only 9.3 million viewers, down 16% from last week. And last week was down 26% from the premiere. Perhaps the best we can say of these numbers is that the rate of free fall has slowed. It has gone from a 5.0 share on its debut night to 3.7 last week and 3.1 this week. I would like to think that some of the falloff is due to viewers time-shifting the show via VCR and DVR (that’s how I watch it); however, the only numbers the networks seem to care about are the timeslot numbers, and in that respect,V came in third in a field of four. Not good. Maybe the show needs to kick in those anti-grav engines for a little lift.