Thursday, 13 January 2011

'V' 2.2 – "Serpent's Tooth"

Thursday, 13 January 2011

The problems with plot and characters are still there, but there's two things keeping V watchable right now: a brisker pace, and definition about what the stakes actually are. This helps pull you through the show's weak moments (most scenes involving the resistance) and horribly blunt attempts to be deep -- such as a silly theological discussion about "the human soul", which a grieving Ryan (Morris Chestnut) wants to take solace in by finding religion with Father Jack (Joel Gretsch), intercut with Anna (Morena Baccarin) plotting to eradicate the soul (the perceived root of emotion) through medical science.

Fans of the 1983 miniseries will have got a kick from "Serpent's Tooth", which includes the return of original star Jane Badler, here playing Anna's mother Diana; the erstwhile Queen of the V's, who was apparently usurped by her daughter fifteen years ago and secretly imprisoned, but retains valuable knowledge of humanity's foibles. It's revealed that Anna's masterplan is to procreate with humanity, assumedly because her species are close to extinction, with Earth the only viable option in terms of proximity. Anna's also infertile after her "spawning" last season, meaning her daughter Lisa (Laura Vandervoort) is now key to the future of their race. Lisa's assignment to get close to Tyler (Logan Huffman) thus makes more sense, as Tyler's probably a genetic match for V-kind, seeing as his mother Erica (Elizabeth Mitchell) was likely experimented on by V's while pregnant -- hence her high levels of phosphorous. Tyler is basically the most fertile man in the world when it comes to giving sperm an alien queen can use to successfully spawn.

A lot of that was explained or extrapolated from an information dump between Anna and Diana, who appears to be locked in a high-tech oubliette deep inside the Mothership. Badler (looking like a middle-aged Ruth Wilson, or is it me?) was surprisingly good in this role, and her presence adds an extra level to V's mother-daughter theme. It's not clear if Anna seized power because her mother turned soft, or if Diana's just as wicked but with greater understanding of mankind, but it's an interesting new facet to the show. Badler brings a fun mix of cheesy melodrama to things, not to mention a pneumatic chest.

The actual storylines this week were fairly engaging, if slightly thin overall. Anna decided to "skin" Ryan's hybrid daughter, then make her sick and duly blackmail Ryan into rejoining her to defeat the Fifth Column resistance. Ryan, having developed human emotions, found it difficult to sever a paternal attachment to his daughter, and was further conflicted because Father Jack insisted emotions are a positive thing he needs to trust and develop. There was even the odd suggestion that Anna's a kind of deity who, unlike God, actually speaks to her children, when Ryan's prayers at the grave of his girlfriend Valerie were interrupted by a psychic transmission from the divinely lit Anna. A moment that was too on-the-nose, inspiring some amused groans, but at least V's trying to find some subtext and depth.

Elsewhere, newsman Chad (Scott Wolf) was trying to use his trusted position with the V's to surreptitiously help people, such as the first human woman who's going to be helped through her pregnancy by V technology. He also became the target of the Fifth Column resistance, who appear to be far more organized and willing to accept human casualties in their efforts to defeat the V's than Erica's ragtag resistance group. Indeed, Hobbes (Charles Mesure) would rather they follow the Fifth Column's example and get involved in coordinated global suicide bombings. Erica and Agent Malik (Rekha Sharma), an undercover V agent, were assigned to investigate a thwarted attempt to kill Chad, during which both women became suspicious of the other's identity and allegiance.

So the positive we're left with here is simple: the reason for the V's presence on Earth and their goal has been made clear, which means there's less haziness to the story. Now that each side's plans and motives are clear, it's much easier to care about everything. They just need to explain why Erica and Lisa, who now have no secrets between them, are so reluctant to tell Tyler the truth. Maybe Lisa thinks she can better protect him if he's still of value to her mother, and Erica knows her son's importance gives her easier access to the Mothership.

Overall, "Serpent's Tooth" was pretty good, despite the fact so few of the human characters are interesting people in their own right. This is a key flaw of V, because it means the standout moments are entirely related to exploration of the premise (info you could read in a summary), or scenes of visual interest (such as Anna reenacting the iconic rat-eating scene from the '80s series, albeit with shoddy CGI assistance). V could do with humans equally as compelling as Anna's character, and it's a pity Elizabeth Mitchell doesn't seem to be delivering on that. Maybe she's an actress (rather like Fringe's Anna Torv) who really needs strong material to work with, as she's unable to spin gold from straw.

This episode dropped to a ratings low of 5.8m (V's fifth worst performance), which simply isn't good enough. I can't see this show getting a third season now, so I hope the writers saw the writing on the wall when ABC cut their season order, and will resolve the story over the remaining 8 episodes.

WRITER: Gregg Hurwitz
DIRECTOR: Steve Shill
TRANSMISSION: 11 January 2011, ABC, 9/8c