For those of you that weren’t born in the Eighties, this version of V is based off of an epic Science Fiction miniseries starring Mark Singer, Faye Grant, and Jane Balder. The basic plot remains the same: alien visitors, or V’s, come to Earth with a message of peace and unity. Bizarrely, they look just like humans, but their technology is incredibly more advanced than our own. However, humanity soon learns that this is all a ploy and that the Vs are actually reptilian refugees from a dead planet looking to take over ours.
The original V was a great miniseries that still occupies a warm place in the hearts of Science Fiction fans so understandably there was a great sense of anticipation surrounding this remake, especially when it was revealed that Firefly actors Morena Baccarin and Alan Tudyk were members of the cast.
For me, all that excitement disappeared after the first episode.
The problem with V is that it tries far too hard to be politically and socially relevant. At the very beginning of the first episode one of the first things we see on screen is text asking “Where were you when JFK was assassinated?” and “Where were you on 9/11?” and “Where were you this morning?” in a blatant, ham-fisted attempt to steal a sense of gravity from those real situations. Pretty early on it becomes clear that the alien invasion and the human’s response to it is an allegory for Islamic terrorism.
The main protagonist, Erica (played by Elizabeth Mitchell), is an FBI counter-terrorism agent that becomes a terrorist once she discovers the V’s true goals. She ends up working with a group of rag-tag freedom fighters including a Catholic priest, a Weathermen-type anarchist, and a rogue V. How this small group will form a credible threat to a worldwide alien invasion strains logic, but more on that in a moment.
One of the more disturbing aspects of this show is its validation of knee-jerk xenophobia. Erica and Father Jack instantly distrust the V’s; Erica because of the mindset her job puts her in, and Father Jack because of a vague fear that people will begin worshiping the Vs instead of God. That they both turn out to be right is beside the point. Given the overt allusions to 9/11, this validation of xenophobia raises all kinds of disturbing questions. The whole I-don’t-trust-them-because-they’re-different attitude is incredibly prevalent in all human societies (not just American), and can be very destructive. Unfortunately, this show inadvertently justifies this point of view.
The message is problematic even more by the ways that the analogy breaks down. In the extras, the writers and producers discuss how they wanted to update the V story for modern audiences, and one of the ways they did that was by connecting it to 9/11. This is all well and good, but I honestly don’t know which side is supposed to represent the United States (or perhaps the Western world in general) and which side the Islamic fundamentalists. Offhand, I would choose the V’s for the fundamentalists and the humans for the United States, but when I actually thought about it, that really doesn’t make sense.
First of all, the V’s share many more similarities with the United States than with the fundamentalists. Like the U.S., they are technologically advanced and a true global superpower. One could easily link their idea that strength of arms gives them a right to whatever they want with the United States’ doctrine of Manifest Destiny. On the flip side, the so-called Fifth Columnists are small, disorganized, technologically un-advanced, and full of righteous hatred for their enemies. Second, and most importantly, the humans are the ones that engage in terrorist acts. Sure, they can justify it by saying that they are trying to protect their people from a vast invading force, but so could any Islamic fundamentalist. As much as we hate to admit it, what that comes down to is a matter of perception.
It could be that the show is intentionally trying to problematize the whole terrorist issue by switching the roles in their analogy, but if that’s the case then they’re not doing a very good job presenting this moral quandary. The question of what it would take to force a group of people to resort to terrorism is a fascinating one that’s full of dramatic potential, but in order to fulfill that potential there needs to be a sense of moral ambiguity. Neither side can be purely good or purely evil in order for it to work, but that’s how the humans and the Vs are portrayed in this series. Although there are some “good” Vs, the vast majority are unemotional reptilian monsters.
Those are some of the larger issue problems I had with the series, but there are also several points of faulty logic in the plot. Going back to the point I made earlier, I just don’t believe that the Fifth Column is a credible threat to the V’s. Honestly, it seemed like the invaders won in the first five minutes of the show. Vast, powerful ships hover over every major city of the world, and the majority of the human population welcomes them. Some even begin to worship them, just as Father Jack feared. The Vs did what no other invading army has been able to do on this planet: win over the hearts and minds of over 90% of a subjugated populace—and the beauty of it is that those 90% don’t even know that they have been conquered.
I’m not saying that the Fifth Column can’t overcome this, but from what I’ve seen of them so far, I find it hard to believe that they can. They’re disorganized, untrusting, and—to be blunt—stupid. The group simply doesn’t have the intelligence or the equipment to win.
Not only that, the protagonists are just plain unlikable. Erica is a terrible mother to a bratty teen, and Father Jack is bland to the point where he fades into the background. The only character I liked was Ryan the renegade V, but he did something so incredibly stupid in the season finale that I lost all respect for him.
I don’t have much respect for the V’s, either, especially their leader, Anna (Morena Baccarin). For all the brilliance of their invasion she apparently can’t think of something as simple as installing cameras in her ship. If Anna had cameras in every room in every ship, the Fifth Column would be done for. It’s not like they don’t have the technology, or even the basic idea—cameras are installed in the jackets of every Visitor goodwill ambassador. Anna knows that there are Fifth Columnists on her ship, so this isn’t some kind of blindspot on her part, and considering she basically runs a Fascist society, she doesn’t have to worry about infringing on a V’s civil liberties. You can’t walk around Chicago or London without being videotaped, but apparently you can run willy-nilly through a V spaceship and sabotage to your heart’s content. As far as I’m concerned she deserves to lose just for that.
This first season of V is very disappointing. In its attempt to be more modern and relevant, the show became a confusing, illogical, and un-entertaining mess. With any luck, Season Two will be better, but I’m not holding my breath.
The show is presented in a “matted” widescreen with no aspect ratios given and the audio in Dolby Digital Surround 5.1. English, French, and Spanish subtitles are provided for the hearing impaired and non-English speakers. There were no problems with either the audio or the video.
There are plenty of extras on this DVD set, the best being “The World of V” where the creators, writers, and actors talk about what the story of V means in the 21st century. While I don’t agree with their assessment of the significance of their story to what’s going on right now with terrorism, it’s interesting to hear what they were trying to achieve.
Breaking Story: The World of V (Taking a Fresh Perspective on the V Mythology)
The Actor’s Journey from Human to V (Cast Members on the Techniques, Challenges and Rewards of Reimagining a Classic Tale for a New Generation)
An Alien in Human Skin: The Makeup VX of V (Revealing the Face of Special-Effects Makeup Application and Execution)
Executive Producers Commentary on Episode 11, “Fruition”
The Visual Effects of V (A Primer on the Series’ Jaw-Dropping Visuals Includes a Fascinating Tour of FX Powerhouse ZOIC Studios)
I really wanted to enjoy this show, but there wasn’t anything here that grabbed my attention. The original series was fun, scary, and exciting—all of the things that the new series isn’t. I hate to be so critical of it given that I like many of the actors involved, but this show just left me cold. Not recommended.
Warner Bros. presents V (The Complete First Season). Starring: Elizabeth Mitchell, Morris Chestnut, Joel Gretsch, Logan Huffman, Lourdes Benedicto, Laura Vandervoort, Morena Baccarin, and Scott Wolf. Running time: 520 minutes. Rating: NR. Released on DVD and Blu-ray: November 2, 2010.