What does it mean to be human? It's a question science fiction's been asking since the first stories of aliens and strange encounters. But, as last night's V proved, to comprehend that question, you need to know who's asking. Spoilers...
Seriously, think about it — when a show like Star Trek features a non-human character asking what it means to be human, you automatically understand what and why they're asking. You know who Mr. Spock is, what culture he comes from, and how Vulcan society differs from ours. Ditto for Data, Seven of Nine, or the holographic Doctor, or Odo, or whoever. Star Trek managed to deal with questions about the nature of humanity without stretching the bounds of what you can do on television too far, because we could understand where its non-human characters are coming from.
But after a whole year of V, I still don't understand what Anna means when she talks about "human emotion." Seriously, what does she mean? How is human emotion different from what her lizard people experience? The Visitors clearly aren't emotionless — they want Earth, which means they experience desire, and we've seen Anna get pissed off several times, even apart from her meltdown after her eggs were destroyed. They experience "Bliss," which appears to be an emotional state. So what exactly is the difference between Visitor emotions and human emotions? (And no, I don't think this show can get away with saying the Visitors' feelings are so different as to be incomprehensible to humans — we haven't seen any evidence of that.)
So in last night's episode, Anna faces a bit of a leadership crisis, and suddenly we're supposed to care about Visitor politics. Because Anna freaked out and released the Red Sky, which does just what it sounds like, the captains of the other ships are concerned that she's experiencing human emotion. So Anna has to prove that she's not emotional, by beating someone to death with her tail. Okay, sure.
There's nothing wrong, I suppose, with having a monolithic alien culture where no thought whatsoever has gone into the functioning of the society — television science fiction is full of those. Where you run into trouble, though, is when you expect us to care about the politics. Like, what exactly will happen if Anna fails to convince the captains of the other V ships that she's still got a tight grip? Will they depose her and replace her with Lisa? Or something else? Anna's the queen of their entire species, right? So would they really be challenging her like that?
Meanwhile, the Red Sky thing is freaking out all the humans, too. And in further proof that the Visitors are Democrats, we see them being picketed by the Westboro Baptist Church, with a God Hates Vs sign:
The Red Rain also pushes Chad Decker to go visit Father Jack and talk about how this time he really, really believes the Vs are evil and he wants to be a Fifth Columnist. And Erica Evans literally stands around the FBI office for a few scenes, watching television and saying "We need to get up on that ship" over and over. Who is "We," Erica? The FBI doesn't really have jurisdiction aboard an alien mothership, last time I checked. Aren't there higher authorities in the U.S. government than just one FBI field office, who might be involved in asking the aliens why they turned the sky red? But nobody in the FBI looks at Erica like she's a crazy woman, they all just sort of nod or shrug.
Finally, Erica forgets that he's been adamant that her son Tyler must have nothing to do with the Visitors, and uses the fact that he got a minor head injury from the Westboro Baptist Church as a ruse to get on board the mothership. Once there, Erica badgers Anna into going on Ship-o-vision and telling everybody the "real" reason for the Red Sky: to fix the environment. (See? She is definitely a Democrat.) And somehow, this one speech completely changes everybody's feelings about the rain of blood, and they all forgive Anna.
Oh, so back to the whole "nature of humanity" thing. Meanwhile, Ryan's lizard-human hybrid baby is being held aboard the Mothership so they can do a bajillion tests on it. And Ryan tells Anna that the baby was born from the one thing Anna will never understand: Love. (Actually, another thought occurs to me. If Anna can't understand human emotions at all, how is she so good at manipulating ours?) And Anna banishes Ryan back to Earth, where he rejoins the Fifth Column, who all get over their suspicion at his return from the Mothership in a few seconds.
So then we meet Dr. Sidney Miller (Reaper's Brett Harrison), who is a doctor of Science. Seriously, he studies archeology, biology, chemistry, environmental science, and a few dozen other things. And he's not only got a V skeleton from 50+ years ago, he's also studied the composition of the Red Rain and discovered its secrets. So Anna sends a Hoodie Guy after Sidney, but the cavalry saves him.
Random bit of great dialogue, from Beardy McTerrorist: "We don't need your fists. We need your brain. And if you say no, we'll kill you. Ah, relax. I'm kidding. Maybe."
Random aside: Does anybody else giggle a bit whenever they mention the Blue Energy? It sounds like an R&B quartet from 1974, wearing disco suits. It's all part of Anna's plan!
So then Chad Decker comes back to Jack and shows him a ton of interviews from people who've lived aboard the V ships, talking about how they were tortured and experimented on. (Or at least, they all have had the same suspiciously detailed nightmare.) But instead of encouraging Chad to blow the whistle and mention that he, himself, saw people being experimented on in the same inhuman way, Father Jack convinces Chad to hold off — because skulking around and playing freedom fighter is better than just exposing Anna's benevolent facade for the fakery it is. (Sure, I get that Anna could destroy the human race if she wanted — but she obviously doesn't want to, and exposing her deception wouldn't make her any more dangerous than she already is.)
The scene where the Fifth Column discusses what to do about Chad Decker's interviews is so ridiculously underwritten, I want to slap the television screen:
Jack: Chad wants to go public, expose Anna to the world. He wants to join the fight.
Erica: The best thing he can do is preserve his access to Anna. He's closer to her than any human.
Jack: Well, I don't think he's going to do that. He's terrified of her.
Erica: What if it backfires?
Jack: Man, I don't know.
Ryan: That's a risk I'm willing to take. My daughter's up there.
Erica: Ryan, we will do whatever it takes to find your daughter.
And then they segue into a short, cryptic conversation about Ryan's daughter. And that's it — that's the whole debate about letting Chad blow the whistle on Anna. Whut? And Father Jack explains further to Chad, saying that Anna could wipe us out at any moment, so "We need to be strategic. When we throw our first punch, it needs to be a knock-out blow." Which still makes no sense to me, no matter how many times I rewatch.
So then we get to this week's WTF Anna moment: Her watching her daughter make out with Tyler:
And then Anna inspects the last handful of survivors of her dead babies, and vows never to look at them again because they caused her outburst of human emotion. (And I'm wondering if the human skin the Visitors wear is supposed to be causing this infection of emotion? It's mentioned at one point, when she's with the captains.) And at this point, we learn the true reason for Red Sky — to make the human race fit for interbreeding with the Visitors, or maybe to make us able to carry their young. Which is a neat idea, and you have to admire the show giving an answer to the question so quickly. Plus, it sort of makes sense — Erica destroyed Anna's babies, so in response, she made the human race able to carry her next set of offspring.
And there's a hint that when Erica was pregnant with Tyler, she had elevated levels of phosphorous in her blood — meaning she may have been an early experiment with human-alien breeding. Whoa!
And finally, Anna's quest to eradicate human emotion leads her to her mother — and it's Jane Badler! Wearing fishnet stockings and ridonkulously shiny high-heeled red pumps, inside of a weird giant corn husk. Awesome!
So all in all, this was sort of a weak opening episode, although it was nice that we got answers fairly quickly about what the Red Sky was about. You know a show is struggling when it opens a crucial episode with a pointless dream sequence and then goes into a long stretch of people talking about how they need to do something. Perhaps, there's a human emotional state called excitement that the writers of V might attempt to familiarize themselves.