Wednesday, November 4, 2009

NEW!: V (2009) 1:1 – Pilot

Overall: 7.8 (Hindsight Revision: 6.8)

Timely messages make this first episode of the re-imagined V enjoyable, but the show is weakened by the hastiness of its plot.

Cut for spoilers.

Plot Synopsis:

An ordinary weekday on Earth is disrupted by the arrival of twenty-nine gigantic motherships. As humanity holds its breath in anticipation of an Independence Day scenario, the aliens, who call themselves the Visitors, immediately announce their supposedly benign intentions: the Visitors’ High Commander, Anna, explains in a world-wide broadcast that her race has need of resources found on Earth and that they are willing to share their technology in exchange. “We are of peace, always,” Anna assures the masses. The crowds in New York, overcome with relief, respond with applause.

Not everyone is quite so overjoyed, however. Although the arrival of the Visitors sparks an upswing in Church attendance, Father Jack Landry of St. Josephine’s is deeply skeptical that these aliens represent the salvation of mankind. Also skeptical is FBI agent Erica Evans, who continues to keep a close eye on the activities of known terrorist cells even as Anna arrives to speak at the U.N. Erica’s son, Tyler, is fully taken in by the Visitors’ beauty and charisma, however, and he watches with rapt attention as Anna once again assures the media at the U.N. that the Visitors treasure friendship with Earth. The press accosts her after her statement, but ambitious journalist Chad Decker intervenes and throws Anna a softball, which she fields with disarming humor. Chad, in a later broadcast, not-so-subtly castigates the press for being hard on the Visitors, and Anna, watching from her mothership, chooses Chad to be her exclusive interviewer.

Three weeks pass. People flock to the Visitors’ healing centers and rush to see the Visitors’ motherships. Chad reports that some protests have broken out, but he also notes that the economies of the host cities have gotten a boost from the increased tourism. Concurrently, Erica continues to pursue a terrorist cell that has shown a spike in chatter since the arrival of the Visitors and follows a lead to a facility on Long Island, where she finds a man dead and with him, a store of C4 explosive and fake travel documents. Meanwhile, Ryan Nichols, who before the Visitors’ arrival was shopping for an engagement ring, receives a call from an old friend, who begs him for his help – a call he chooses to ignore – and Tyler visits the New York mothership, where he is immediately wowed by both the ship and Lisa, a gorgeous member of the New York chapter of the Peace Ambassadors Program.

Father Jack urges his congregation to think carefully before embracing the Visitors. His fellow priest lightly scolds him for not emphasizing that the Visitors are a part of God’s plan as per the Vatican’s statement on the matter. Father Jack thinks it’s too much of a coincidence that the Visitors have arrived just when humanity needs them most and fears that the admiration of some may morph into worship and devotion. Just then, a disabled parishioner wheels in and shows a stunned Father Jack that he has been completely healed by the Visitors.

Father Jack’s fears seem to be confirmed by the behavior of Tyler, who has begun spray-painting V’s around town and obsessively following V chatter on the net. Erica confronts her son about his recent activities, and Tyler defends his tagging as “spreading hope.” Erica, thinking family troubles must be at the root of her son’s acting out, asks him if he’s angry that his father isn’t here, and Tyler puts the blame on her for being “out of touch.”

At work, Erica identifies the dead man they discovered on Long Island and gets a warrant to search his house. When they arrive at the residence, however, Erica and Dale, her partner, quickly discover that it has been ransacked; it’s clear the Bureau has a leak. Erica finds the dead man’s phone and discovers that the last message the man received was a text with information regarding a secret meeting of a sleeper cell. Erica suspects the message is more than it appears. Concurrently, a man named Georgie runs down Ryan; he once again begs Ryan to help, and Ryan refuses, saying he’s about to get engaged and doesn’t want to go back to his old life. Georgie slips a little paper into Ryan’s pocket, telling him it’s the directions to his hideout. And meanwhile, at St. Josephine’s, a mortally wounded man shoves a bloody envelope into Father Jack’s hands and tells him to take it to the people at the address on the envelope. Events seem to be funneling different people to the very same gathering.

Chad is informed of his selection as Anna’s personal interviewer. The opportunity turns out to be something other than a blessing, however, when Anna demands that Chad stick to softballs similar to the one he threw at the U.N. Chad at first resists, but Anna assures him that his cooperation will be a boon to his career. As Chad becomes a propaganda shill conducts his interview, Georgie tells Father Jack, Erica, and all the others who have gathered at his hideout - an out-of-the-way warehouse - that the Visitors have been here for years, sowing disruptions of all kinds so that they can swoop in and position themselves as the saviors of mankind. He tells the assembled that the Visitors are, on the contrary, planning an all-out genocide. Erica demands proof, and Father Jack presents photos of Visitors who have infiltrated Earth, one of whom Erica identifies as a wanted terrorist. Erica is now convinced.

After the above reveal, Georgie’s resistance cell is attacked by the Visitors – and one of the attackers is Dale. Erica slashes Dale’s face and discovers a lizard eye beneath; Dale then grabs her one last time, and she delivers her death blow. In the meantime, Ryan has also showed up, and after fighting off the Visitors, he grabs Georgie and flees the warehouse. Georgie is ready to lose hope, but Ryan shows him that he is, in fact, a Visitor – one who has rebelled – and that there is hope after all. Ryan tells Georgie that he plans to leave his girlfriend, both to protect her and to serve the rebel cause. But when he goes home, his girlfriend, Val, tells him she’s found his engagement ring. Ryan hugs Val and tells her he loves her.

Chad is none too pleased to have been muzzled and is bitter when Visitor Christopher informs him that he will be the Visitors’ media liaison from now on; however, Chad can’t quite bring himself to abandon the career opportunity and doesn’t decline the appointment. In the meantime, Erica and Father Jack decide to start a full-fledged resistance, while Tyler joins the Visitors’ Peace Ambassadors Program, happy to be a part of something big.

Writing: 7

I enjoyed this pilot overall, but I do have a few reservations. As you can see from the synopsis above, quite a lot is crammed into this episode, and I’m concerned that the rapid reveal of the conspiracy in this incarnation of V might be a mistake in the long run. The original series took quite a few hours to build up suspicion about the Visitors, thereby mirroring the usual manner in which populations come to accept fascism. Here, however, we learn of the Visitors’ evil intentions before the end of the first hour – and to get there, the writers chuck three weeks of canon time down the memory hole. That leaves us with a sizeable gap in our understanding when it comes to the popular adulation we see. True, there is mention of miraculous health clinics, but certainly that can’t be all. In short: why the rush to get to the resistance?

In my opinion, the truly interesting story is found in the acceptance – and sometimes worship – of the crowds. Why not linger there for a while? Why not closely examine the social dynamics that lead to the embrace of charismatic and media-savvy leaders regardless of the worth – or lack thereof – of what they’re peddling? The writers certainly touch upon this topic with both Chad and Tyler – whose storylines I love – but they could be much bolder in their social criticism. Bottom line, the show needs to slow down and savor its themes.

Acting: 8

We have a pretty solid cast here. In particular, I’d keep my eye on Scott Wolf. His reaction takes when Anna bluntly informs Chad that he is to be nothing more than an organ of propaganda are delicious, as are his reactions to Christopher later. He looks as if he’s swallowed something poisonous.

Message: 8.5

This score would be higher if the storyline – as noted above – weren’t so rushed. After all, there is a lot of juicy red meat here. The writers definitely do take aim at journalists who distort the truth – and the leaders who expect and/or depend on them to do so – and pretty savagely satirize brainwashing youth movements. We also hear one Visitor – Christopher – express an opinion about truth and morality – namely, that it can be set aside for “the greater good” – that comes straight out of the radical playbook. And we may have at least one positive religious role model in Father Jack. The upshot: this show has a lot of thematic potential that I dearly hope will be realized. I for one would love to see something on air that decisively answers all the Dear Leader nonsense cluttering our mainstream media and invading our schools.

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