Rockne S. O'Bannon helped create the classic "aliens among us" series Alien Nation, and his show Farscape frequently dealt with cultural differences among aliens. So it was a pleasant surprise to see O'Bannon writing an episode of ABC's V remake. He wasn't exactly able to rescue the show from its usual incoherence, but at least there were a number of thought-provoking moments.
Religion has always been one of the more interesting topics that that the new V series has tried to deal with — by making one of its main characters a Catholic priest, V seemed to be preparing to say something about religion and society. But although we've seen a lot of Father Jack as a public figure lately, and there's been a lot of talk about Anna trying to destroy the human soul, last night's episode was the first time we've really dealt with religion as a social institution in ages.
Back in the early episodes of the show, we were told the Catholic Church had endorsed the Visitors, and at one point early on it seemed like Father Jack might get defrocked for speaking against them. But now it turns out things were always a bit more complicated than that — and now we find out that the Vatican actually has reservations about embracing these aliens. This sets up a meeting of social/religious leaders, in which Anna learns something about the nature of faith, and whether you need miracles to sustain it.
So in one of the episode's two main plots, Anna goes to Rome, with Chad Decker in tow, to sweet-talk the Cardinals. And the episode managed to work in a few neat moments — chief among them the one where Anna gets her first glimpse of the human idea of Hell. It turns out that one of the Cardinals is actually a V sleeper agent, and Anna winds up strong-arming him into coming with her.
And when the Vatican balks at throwing its support behind Anna, she threatens to unleash so many "miracles" that the church's followers will flock to her instead of the church. And she does a weird thing with blue energy that I still can't quite make out, even after watching it a few times. The combination of the threat of future miracles and the weird blue energy trick is enough to change the Cardinals' minds, because apparently they're really easily impressed.
And then, in the episode's other big plot, three human "peace ambassadors" are murdered by the radical element of the Fifth Column, and Erica is upset because her son Tyler could have been one of the victims. (Insert your own snarky comment about being disappointed that he wasn't.) So Erica vows to track down radical Fifth Column leader Eli Cohn — but first, she's got to bamboozle yet another new partner, this time an old friend from her academy days. When Erica finally gets to Cohn, he offers to give her a couple of scapegoats for the "peace ambassadors" murders, and she folds like an Autobot becoming a Camaro.
Oh, and Tyler freaks out and vandalizes Father Jack's church.
This wasn't exactly a great hour of television, and I'm still not clear on why the Catholic Church decided to become Anna's butt-weasels just because she showed them some blue lights. Or why Erica and her gang decided to team up with Eli Cohn just because he offered them a couple of patsies. It seemed like that television thing of people making decisions that the plot required them to make.
But it was a bit of a step up from other recent episodes, mostly because there were some nice character moments scattered here and there — like the revelation that Father Jack killed two men in Iraq when he was an Army chaplain, which felt like the kind of grounding detail that his character sorely needs. Or the introduction of an old friend of Erica's, who actually has a real history with her and can both bond with her and make her uncomfortable. And the way in which Anna seemed genuinely bummed and jealous over Father Moureau's fervent devotion to Anna's mom. This show's biggest weakness has always been its characters, and at least last night they got a few moments of realness here and there.
But of course, seeing O'Bannon writing an episode of V just made us long for his own creation, the greatly superior Farscape. Give John Crichton a few hours, he'd make short work of these lizard people.