While watching last night's V episode, something sort of clicked into place for me, about why the new series just isn't quite working: our heroes are creating a resistance group, rather than a public-relations campaign.
Seriously, twice during last night's episode, someone asked a really simple question: "Name one bad thing the Visitors have done since they got here." And both times, Erica looked like she'd just been asked the capital of Lithuania. This shouldn't be a hard question to answer — and yes, I know that Tyler has the fancy jacket with the spy camera in it, and she doesn't want to tip her hand. But still. Dude.
And meanwhile, you get Ryan telling his girlfriend Valerie that the Visitors are everywhere, and they've infiltrated the police, the government, the phone company, the pizza company, etc. etc. (Which makes me wonder: When was the last time we actually saw this instead of being told it? I know that Erica's partner was a V infiltrator, but has there been anybody since then?) And so they don't know who they can trust, and the Vs have a secret advantage.
Okay, sure. So the part I don't get is... why run a resistance campaign? If you're fighting against people whose two main weapons are a PR offensive and secrecy, why not fight them by exposing their secrets to the world?
You run a resistance against a successful invasion — which this isn't... yet, anyway. You run a resistance against a government that's turned despotic. You do not run a resistance movement against people who claim to come in peace but are actually up to something nefarious but nebulous. It's the wrong set of tactics. Blowing shit up and killing people is not going to win the PR war.
The alien leader, Anna, knows this — which is why she's been moderately careful to avoid slaughtering humans when there are witnesses or TV cameras nearby. She's obsessed with getting Chad Decker to be her media slutmonkey, and even when she sends her supersoldier to hunt down Ryan and Valerie, she's canny enough to have a cleanup crew on standby to eliminate any damage.
So are we supposed to be scratching our heads and wondering why the resistance is so inept? As various people have pointed out, the resistance members have had dead or injured Visitors on their hands several times, and they've never thought to un-skin them in front of a handy television camera. But it goes beyond that — the resistance doesn't have any plan or idea for changing public opinion. Instead, it's a "dogfight," as Ryan puts it.
And it's obvious why the show is doing this — it wants to ask questions about terrorism and torture and what tactics are too extreme. In the preview for next week's episode, the Necessary Evil guy with the beard, who's so boring I can't be bothered to look up his name, even says "We're terrorists now." Just in case you missed it. You know the interesting thing about terrorists? They cause terror. It's even in their name. The main reason you employ terrorism is to intimidate the civilian population of a democracy.
Last time I checked, Erica and her friends were not trying to strike fear into the people of the United States. And trying to strike fear into Anna and her people, who are safely on their motherships, seems like a bit of a waste of time.
As for the torture thing, it feels weirdly shoehorned into an episode that didn't need it — that random captive guy is just there so that Erica, Father Jack and Beardy McEvil can grope the dilemma. Oh sure, captive guy has the address of the Fifth Column member that Ryan has gone into hiding with — because Ryan didn't trust Erica with that information, but it was on a hard drive which captive guy stole, and Ryan was dumb enough to tell Erica the last name of the people he didn't want her knowing about. And they have to torture captive guy so that they can magically transport themselves from Manhattan to Nyack so they can shoot the "V soldier" in the nick of time, television episode-style, and save Valerie and the hybrid baby. It all makes perfect sense.
So this episode did logical gymnastics just to set up a plot where we ask, "Is torture justified?" And the answer? I have no clue. Yes, I guess. Torture is justified, but only if it's from the Inquisition, because that ties in with Father Jack being Catholic.
I feel like there are two problems with this show's approach to the whole terrorism/torture thing:
1) It doesn't make sense, given that they're not fighting an occupying force or their own government. See above.
2) It's not 2005, and we're not as obsessed with Abu Ghraib as we were five years ago. This stuff worked when BSG did it, partly because it was a different era. Plus, BSG did it first. Also, it helps to have actual moral complexity, rather than fake complexity.
I'm going to say something I never thought I would say about a television series: This show is trying too hard to be like Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.
Regular readers of this site will know that I have a fervent admiration for T:SCC, despite some uneven episodes, and dearly wish it was still on the air. I would brave the Nasty Catholic Fork Of Neck Pain to be recapping an episode of T:SCC instead of V right now. But I feel like V is borrowing a lot of stuff from T:SCC, and not in a good way. V's writing staff includes T:SCC veterans Natalie Chaidez and John Wirth, and in fact Wirth co-wrote last night's episode.
But stuff worked in Sarah Connor Chronicles that I don't think is working here. For one thing, Sarah Connor took place in a world where almost nobody believed there were robots from the future trying to kill people. In V, everybody believes there are aliens from outer space in our midst — so the kind of paranoid "resistance cell" thing that worked so well in Sarah Connor just doesn't work here. It just seems genuinely nutty and counter-intuitive, for reasons I mentioned above. The Visitors want secrecy, so give them the opposite.
And then there's Tyler, Erica's son, who is reminding me uncomfortably of the moments when I couldn't quite get into Thomas Dekker's portrayal of John Connor. He's doing the same bratty "rebelling against his mom" thing, with the same floppy hairdo and weird jaw acting. The difference is, John Connor is John Connor — we know he's going to grow up to be a legend, and we also know that he's on our side and when the chips are down, he's going to set aside his drama and do the right thing. With Tyler, we only know he's vaguely "special," and his destiny seems to be to become infinitely more annoying every time he's on screen. Oh, and as commenter Honu_Harry points out, the "Soldier V" is basically a Terminator.
I can't believe I'm asking for a show to be less like Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, not to mention less like the best parts of Battlestar Galactica. But I am. This show needs to find its own identity, and a storyline that actually makes use of the "they've infiltrated the government, and they're smarter at manipulating the media than we are" thing.
I'm not even going to get into the thing where Anna says Ryan and Valerie's hybrid baby is dangerous because it can feel love. I don't even know what to say about that.
So what did you guys think?