V: “There Is No Normal Anymore”



“There Is No Normal Anymore”
ABC, Tuesdays 8PM
Written by Scott Peters & Sam Egan
Directed by Yves Simoneau

“You space girls are funny!” —Tyler Evans

The alliance between science fiction and television has been a shaky one for most of the last 20 years, Battlestar Galactica notwithstanding. It’s not just that practical considerations of television production force compromises on showrunners that undercut the actual science in science fiction (such as inventing transporters in Star Trek to reduce travel time for the characters). It’s that television has, especially in the last few years, so relentlessly dumbed-down science fiction that it is devolving into Saturday morning cartoons. So I find it ironic that, if V is following the plot of the original series, we are about to see made manifest the cultural tide of anti-intellectualism that has been drowning TV since the late ’90s.

My first thought during the pilot for V was, why aren’t the Visitors using their overwhelmingly superior technology to wipe out humans and just take what they want? Why try to befriend us at all? In the original series, the purpose of their visit was basically to enslave, and eventually eat, humanity. I don’t know if that’s the case in this series, but if it is, they’re going about it the right way. The first inkling we got of the ruthless lizard-brain behind the smooth exterior of Anna (Morena Baccarin) was when she refused to let reporter Chad Decker (Scott Wolf) ask unfriendly questions. The first thing a tyrant does is shut off all dispute, so alarm bells are already ringing by the time someone uses the words “invasion”, “sleeper cell”, or “resistance”. Their first insidious assault has been on the media, who are supposed to be the eyes and ears of the people. Their next attack will be against scientists, the class of thinkers most thoroughly trained in the art of questioning what they see. Next I suppose, as Shakespeare suggests, that they will kill all the lawyers.

Interestingly enough, the heroes opposing this agenda are not reporters, scientists, or lawyers. They are an FBI agent and a priest. On one level, this seems to reflect the knee-jerk tendency of network shows these days to cast everything as a police procedural (FlashForward, I’m looking at you). On the other hand, it kind of makes sense to split the human forces into brainy (the priest, who is trained to analyze and weigh moral questions) and brawny (the cop). As Chris Carter showed us 16 years ago, it also makes good artistic sense to cast these roles against expectation, with the male character being the intuitive, questioning thinker and the female character being the rational, legalistic action hero. In tonight’s episode, for example, when Erica and Father Jack are being pursued by a killer ball (anyone else reminded of Phantasm?), it’s not the big, brawny priest who takes it out, but the blond with the baseball bat who shatters it with a home-run swing. Brava!

Unfortunately, the character of Erica needs to smarten up a lot more than this, and she needs to do it fast. She is talking to too many characters she shouldn’t (her boss, for one) even after warning the priest not to do so. He, accustomed to keeping secrets, is dying to let one out, so much so that he actually goes to the FBI with the photos given him in the pilot. This gives us one of the better exchanges of the night:

Jack: You’re an FBI agent?

Erica: You’re a frickin’ priest?

At home, Erica is the worst mom in the history of warrior moms ever. I actually start to miss Lena Headey’s Sarah Connor, who at least was smart enough to take her son into her confidence and start training him to fight the future. Erica is so lost to common sense that she doesn’t even tell her own son that the Visitors are lizards. She relies on telling her son not to play with the nasty Visitors because Mommy said so. No explanation, nothing. She deserves a son this stupid.

The character of Tyler Evans is so annoying I want him to be eaten by Anna very soon. I am so, so tired of the emo teen who does not listen to Mommy, gets into trouble, and has to be rescued. I can’t even tell them apart any more—is this Eastwick or Stargate Universe? I can accept that a seventeen-year-old boy may be so hormonally charged that he gets drawn into the Visitor camp by a pretty girl. But has this kid never played a video game with aliens in it? Never seen Independence Day or War of the Worlds? Never watched Battlestar Galactica? Testosterone does not have to make a man blind. I hate it when a character is made to act like an idiot for the sake of the plot.

One character who acted like a fool for the sake of the plot in the pilot seems to be getting his groove back. Reporter Chad Decker may or may not have noble motives for turning on Anna (is it an ethical turnabout, or just revenge for being humiliated?), but he succeeds brilliantly. He hosts a talk show with a voice of the opposition—exactly the kind of thing Anna did not want to see. And then he rationalizes it to her. (If Chad really wanted to open up the debate, he’d have invited Lou Dobbs to his newscast, who would tell the world the Visitors are actually from Kenya.) Now I’m hoping he’ll meet up with Father Jack and Anna, and form the basis for a classic sleeper cell (three people). It would be a nice way to close out these initial four episodes.

This episode worked a little better for me than the pilot. While Erica is still talking to too many people, and Father Jack is proving too slow on the uptake to me, it is still gelling better than the too-quickly-paced pilot. Morena Baccarin continues to actually rock my screen—her Anna is creepy and sensual, chilling and deceptive. The smile that never quite reaches her eyes, the reptilian, unblinking stare, the voice that never loses control, are all effective and spooky. I like the glimpses of alien technology, especially Anna’s magic wardrobe mirror (in stores this Christmas?). My only real problem this time out was the lack of story—what, exactly, was the plot of this episode? It sort of went nowhere. It played more like the continuation of the pilot. Which maybe makes sense if this is a mini-series, not a series. The fact that we only have four episodes before hiatus forces it to play more like a miniseries than a series, but the pacing isn’t holding up. To make some of this premise work, we need to fly past some questions. As Anna makes plain, it does not pay to question this story too closely.

Apparently, there are too many unanswered questions for a large share of last week’s audience. The second V episode drew only 10.6 million viewers for a 3.7 rating among adults 18-49. That is a 29% drop-off from last week, the largest fall from a premiere for any scripted show this season. It’s still good numbers, but an ominous trend.