Moody, weird, and genuinely scary, the premiere episode of new ABC series "V" has us convinced that there's life after Battlestar Galactica. We saw the whole thing at Comic-Con and have a spoiler-free report.
Based on an early-1980s miniseries, "V" is about what happens when dozens of gigantic alien ships arrive on Earth, hovering over major cities. A beautiful woman alien called Anna, played by Morena "Firefly" Baccarin, broadcasts the visitors' messages from an enormous screen built into the bodies of the ships. She assures the people of Earth that the aliens want only to harvest chemicals from our waste products, which she says are valuable to them. In exchange, they'll share technology with humans - especially medical technology, which they'll set up in thousands of free clinics across the globe.
The only ones who doubt the good intentions of these preternaturally beautiful aliens are DHS agent Erica Evans and Catholic priest Jack Landry (played by 4400 alum Joel Gretsch). Erica and her partner Dale (the excellent Alan Tudyk) immediately start investigating them, and Jack gives a cautionary speech to his congregation about how humans should wait to judge the aliens by their acts rather than their words.
We see immediately that the aliens are masters of propaganda, using viral videos on YouTube to inspire teenagers (including Erica's son Tyler) to spraypaint "V" on walls and giving slick TV interviews on the condition that no critical questions are asked. Chad Decker (Scott Wolf) plays a TV reporter who gets sucked into the aliens' propaganda machine because he wants to score the ultimate interview with Anna - and caves when she says she'll stop the interview if he asks probing questions. So at least in the first episode, the battle lines are drawn this way: DHS and church question the vistors; media-munching teens and reporters suck up to the visitors. Eventually, Tyler is drawn to join the youth outreach corps of the visitors, against the wishes of his mother.
Things heat up when Erica and Dale realize that the visitors seem to be connected with terrorist cells who are stockpiling C-4 in massive amounts. It seems the visitors have been among humans for years, and we're not sure what their goals are. We're also introduced to some underground V-fighters via another main character, salaryman Morris Chestnut, who has some unexplained connections with these anti-V groups.
Especially in the first half, the premiere was gripping and eerie. The ships look great, and Morina Baccarin makes Anna incredibly menacing - mainly because she is always smiling so sweetly.
Created by Scott "The 4400" Peters, the show clearly owes a lot to the original miniseries, especially in its depiction of how the alien "visitors" use the media - big media as well as virals online - to manipulate humans. But the original "V" dealt with themes of fascism, even including a Holocaust survivor character who comments on how the alien takeover reminds him of World War II. The reboot doesn't touch on any of that. It's explicitly about terrorism, and the aliens are actually referred to at one point as terrorists.
What this does, at least in the opening episode, is subtly shift the aliens from being superpowered, top-down authoritarians ala Hitler, to being diffuse, sleeper-cell style menaces who strike out from among the general population. This fits with the idea that the aliens hide their true, reptilian nature beneath human masks. But it also doesn't quite work, because it seems obvious the visitors are so incredibly powerful that they shouldn't need terrorist cells to take over the planet. They can just brandish their mega-ships and uber-technology to control all governments.
I think this problem is part of what makes the second half of the premiere episode a little choppy and confusing. A lot of plot developments happen really quickly and somewhat inexplicably, although you'll be left wanting to see more. This is a pilot, after all, so some slapdashery can be forgiven in the service of setting up what looks like it will be an exciting, conspiracy-driven actioner. It's also quite possible that we'll find out why the visitors need to be sneaky. Maybe their powers aren't quite as vast as they seem.
"V" drops midseason this winter on ABC with a 13-episode run, which means it will last longer than the two miniseries it's based on. I'm looking forward to watching the plot unfold.