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Vale Georgie, our rebel hothead who throws in the towel this week, having been tortured in all manner of ways by Anna.  His last defilement had been watching the memories of the V who killed his family, which is one of Anna’s sadistic ways to prey on humankind’s greatest weakness – love.

This episode is all about love, and it’s the best so far.  After all, personal stories are what drive any show, even ones about aliens.  Indeed, we’re almost OD’ing on the intimate details of our rebel friends this week.

I’ve struggled to show too much interest in Tyler’s back story.  Maybe it’s those unfeasibly good looks, or his manifest lack of acting ability, but something’s just not been working for me.  This week, however, we’re hit with a big, juicy Tyler bombshell: he had an accident when he was 12, and then his parents spontaneously broke up, a turn of events for which he always blamed himself.  Turns out they’d been asked at the hospital to give blood to save Tyler and the tests showed that daddy’s blood wasn’t a match.

By overhearing Tyler’s dad talking about it, Lisa (Tyler’s alien girlfriend) is able to use the information as a wedge to drive Tyler away from his parents and into the loving embrace of the Vs.  It’s a device the writers have used to push Tyler’s conversion along, but it’s also a great human drama.  The confrontation between Tyler and Erica shines like few other moments so far in this show.  Elizabeth Mitchell, who plays Erica, is a cut above the cast and she effortlessly rises to the occasion as the mother who realises she’s losing hold of her little boy.

Meanwhile Ryan has a lotta ‘splaining to do on a couple of fronts.  While he’s out of town, Valerie uncovers a secret safe, gets the safe company in to unlock it and finds some interesting little tidbits.  It’s post-9/11 America, so I’m not sure whether Val will be more appalled by the revelation that she’s carrying an alien baby, or by the fact that her husband has a French passport.  Ce ne possible, ca!  Now Val’s going to turn tail (hey, she’s got one growing inside her after all) and run, which will allow Ryan and Anna to play “first one to find her keeps the bebe”.

Ryan’s a little preoccupied, however, leading our band of rebels to John May’s old house.  While Ryan is asking John’s step son, James, for the communication device that John used to contact the alien ships, Erica and Hobbes realise that James’ girlfriend is way too hot to be human.  Obviously they do what any of us would: they kill her lizardy ass, forcing Ryan to reveal all to James:  his girlfriend has a tail, John May is actually dead, and Ryan killed him.  It’s unclear if Ryan means “killed” in the legal 20-years-to-life sense, or “killed” in the “by forcing him to rejoin the rebels, I effectively got him killed” sense.  Judging by the fact that James doesn’t immediately jump Ryan, I’m assuming it’s the latter but there’s room for more in later episodes.

Regardless of John May’s true fate, the rebels have successfully got the press to investigate the “John May Lives” message they embedded into Anna’s broadcast during episode 6.  Anna is close to showing some anger about John May’s comeback – she evidently knows he’s dead, and understands that his value is as a clarion call for the fifth column – but she promises to avenge this victory with a thousand defeats, courtesy of her still-germinating army of children.

As the episode concludes, our small rebel coterie stands in Father Jack’s house, toasting the front pages of newspapers asking “Who is John May?” and farewelling their brave friend Georgie who has gone home to his family.  A rebel is dead. Long live the rebellion.

You can watch episode six of V here on the wordpress site movielova

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Aired Australia – 4 April  2010
Aired USA – 30 March 2010

If V is going through something of an ideological trough right now, at least the action keeps coming.

The Vs get close to our nascent rebel group in this episode, when the sole survivor of the warehouse invasion tracks down Fr Jack and stabs him in the church.  From there he heads on over to Erica’s house where he becomes the latest V to underestimate just what a hard-arsed bee-atch Erica is.   This V was obviously dumb enough to deserve death, however, failing as he did to kill Fr Jack and instructing Erica on the whereabouts of his heart after she missed it with her first attempt.

I don’t think I’ve mentioned this before, but Elizabeth Mitchell does a great job as Erica, but that won’t come as any surprise to anyone who watched Lost.  She’s got a real steel about her despite her all-American mom looks and she easily carries this show as a hard-arsed leader of the rebel pack. The jury’s still a little out on the other start of the show, Morena Baccarin, who plays alien leader Anna.  Much more of her personality remains hidden from us at this stage, and I’m not yet convinced that she will be able to throw the switch Vaudevillian evil when the time comes.  In fact, her few attempts – including a bizarre ending to this episode – have been a little worrisome.

As for her character, we get a bit more of an insight into the autocracy Anna is running when Ryan tells Erica that the V who tried to kill her clearly acted alone because there’s no way he would have reported to Anna about the warehouse until he’d cleaned up his mess.  That Anna. Butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth.

Speaking of eating, a highlight of this episode is Valerie, pregnant with the baby of Ryan (who, for debutants, is a Visitor-turned-traitor), craving a dead rat.  Even those of us who didn’t see the original series know that rat eating aliens will be coming to our small screen soon, so the scene was a great teaser.

Anyway, it seems that our rebels are causing an outsized amount of grief for Anna.  One blown up warehouse, a single murder onboard Anna’s ship and some blabbering about this rebel leader guy (John May, who so far has not shown his face) have been enough to bring her quivering to her knees.  She doesn’t want the cops to investigate that warehouse ho-down to closely, so Anna uses bogus technology to frame the world’s most wanted terrorist – Hobbes – for the crime (what’s with the achingly-obvious references to the world’s great spruikers of freedom and democracy? Lost had Locke, and now V has Hobbes).

Naturally Erica – who is still maintaining her charade by turning up to the FBI for work  – smells a rat (boom tish) and tracks down Hobbes, thinking she could do with his know-how.  He’s not really interested in their namby-pamby ideological battle, at least not until Ryan peels back an eyeball to reveal a green one underneath.  Yeah, baby.  When Erica later confesses to Fr Jack that she’s made a deal with the devil by enlisting the terrorist, it’s a much more subtle reference to recent events than the lame attempts in earlier episodes to compare Anna to Obama.  Erica’s enemy’s enemy is now her friend, in the best tradition of US military policy. But you don’t need to worry  – Hobbes is not one of those crazy-assed Muslim terrorists.  He’s a cracking’ good fella from Down Unda, mate. Just the kind of guy you can count on in a crisis.

In addition to throwing out the red herring about the warehouse bombing, Anna’s tactic for crushing rebellion is to manufacture an army by picking out a hot looking, buff V and mating with him before eating him, kind of like a preying mantis.  Presumably she’s going to give birth to a whole production line of his offspring and the poor little blighters should be suitably psychotic because they grew up without their dad around to raise them.

Or not.  According to Anna, the Vs are not burdened by pesky “emotional imprints”, which makes them stronger than us.  She makes this observation as she and her daughter watch Erica’s son Tyler undergoing some sort of download of his memories so that they can use him in their nefarious plans, and it’s the most important revelation of the week. Because if it’s really true that Vs don’t have emotions, how do we explain Ryan’s love of his rat-carrying girlfriend, Valerie? Stay tuned.

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Aired Australia – 28 March 2010
Aired USA – 24 November 2009

If you discovered a traitor in your midst, what would you do?  I think most of us would plump for skinning said traitor alive, wouldn’t we?  No?  Well, that’s apparently what the Vs do.  Each week we piece together a little more about what makes the Vs tick, and this week we find out that they are particularly brutal to those who do the wrong thing.

When the Visitors’ leader, Anna, discovers that her undercover agent Dale Maddox was killed on board the mother ship just before he could reveal the identity of his attempted murderer, she orders an investigation.  She thinks her lieutenant, Joshua (Mark Hildreth), is responsible (he is, see episode 3) but when another fifth columnist steps forward to claim responsibility, Anna instead orders Joshua to skin him.  Unfortunately we don’t see what happens while the hapless victim screams.  Does skinning just involve removing the human tissue over the top? Does it kill you, or is it just torture?

We also find out what The Bliss is this week.  After a particularly bad day at the office, Anna strips nude (yay), dunks herself in a bath and starts broadcasting a message using her mind.  Every V, whether they are on the mother ship or out there undercover in the big, wide world, looks towards the heavens and listens in ecstacy.   We know that the harmony between the Vs is on a knife’s edge: there’s a fired-up resistance movement, and Anna and her right-hand man Marcus don’t agree on tactics, suggesting that Anna could lose control of her peeps if she doesn’t play her cards right.  The Bliss is Anna’s way of keeping control.  It seems, however, that the Vs have to choose to receive the Bliss.  The traitor Nichols mentioned it in episode 3, likening it to a drug, and he doesn’t appear to be affected by Anna’s announcement.

Mind control is obviously what the Vs are all about, but they’re using old-fashioned methods with the humans.  This week’s major PR announcement is the opening of the first health clinics to treat people.  They’re very impressive, and are even able to treat maladies which haven’t appeared yet, Nick Riviera style.  But what’s most impressive is that they just rolled it out in four weeks.  It’ll take the Democrats years just to bring down health insurance premiums, never mind open new hospitals.  They’ve also announced a cure-all vaccine like some quack 19th-century doctors.

Meanwhile our ragtag band of V traitors and human resistors take their first scalp, when they ambush a V working undercover as a doctor specialising in virology.   They shoot the dirty dog in a carpark, and he calls Ryan Nichols a traitor as he dies, simultaneously revealing to Erica that Ryan is a V and affirming that he’s obviously a good V.

The centrepiece of the week’s episode is the group’s audacious raid on a dockside warehouse where the Vs are producing a vaccine.  It lacks suspense, partly because of the ridiculous ease with which they penetrate the warehouse and destroy the shipment.  The scenario works on another level, however.  Our ragtag band discovers that here at the warehouse they are lacing old-fashioned flu shots with a vaccine, but not the one they’ve publicly announced.  Erica realises that the public vaccine is probably just a harmless multivitamin, because the US Government will inevitably test it.  Meanwhile this virulent medicine will be put into the flu shots and shipped all over the world to wreak havoc.

We are so predictable, Erica laments.  They knew how humans would react to the announcement of a vaccine, and they exploited that weakness to release the real vaccine out of sight. The ol’ three card trick. From now on we need to be unpredictable, Erica tells the fellas.  Just how, well this is a series.  There’s plenty of time to see how Erica, Jack, Georgie and Ryan bring the crazy.

The other big news in this week’s episode is that Valerie is pregnant.  Valerie is a human. Her bloke – Ryan – is a V.  Can’t wait to see that baby.

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Aired Australia – 21 March 2010
Aired USA – 17 November 2009

Although this week’s episode didn’t replicate the sphincter-clenching thrills of last week, it started to fill in some important holes for us, and also posed a few new questions.  Particularly, who is John May, and what is the fifth column?

When Erica’s former FBI partner Dale Maddox – the undercover alien who she almost killed in episode 1 – wakes up on the mother ship, it seems like her days are numbered.  At first he can’t remember what happened to him, but a fellow alien jogs his memory until he recalls the moment Erica ran him through with a sharp metal stake.  Dale immediately goes goggle-eyed at the thought of revenge, but his fellow visitor tells him that Dale won’t be killing Erica because she will make a very handy ally for the resistance.  As Dale struggles, the V pops a needle full of poison in his arm and whispers “the fifth column says hello” while Dale shudders and dies.  Oooh, the traitor Vs are even on the mother ship.

As we know by now, a number of undercover visitors – including regular character Ryan Nichols – defected to form a resistance movement some time in the past, and gradually joined up with earthling resistors, such as Georgie Sutton.  The visitor resistance was led by a bloke called John May, but we know nothing more than that about him so far.

It seems that the Anna and her 29 space ships full of visitors have made their entrance as the resistance is at its lowest ebb, its peak period having been some years before.  These traitors and their fellow human rebels are like the Eritrean insurgents in the late 1980s, pushed deep into hiding after years of futile resistance, suffering deep losses and facing an enemy that seems more powerful than ever.  But don’t worry – those pesky Eritreans fought back and ultimately won, and these rebels will do the same. Naturally.  This resistance movement, and especially its alien traitors, is one of the series’ most intriguing aspects.  Most alien movies and TV shows rely on a pretty simple narrative: aliens on one side, humans on the other.  In these scenarios, it’s not unusual to see the humans start to fracture and fight among themselves as the aliens pile the pressure on, but feuding aliens is almost unheard of.  Using the concept of traitors requires greater nuance: the aliens might be uniformly attractive, but they’re not uniformly bad.  So, sure: any human could actually be a visitor in disguise, but any visitor could be an undercover rebel.  Gold star for the creators.

The other insights in this episode relate to the way the aliens are going about world domination.  The Vs are running a slick PR machine, which gets a workout when a widow whose husband died in the kerfuffle following the Vs’ arrival wants to speak out against them.  Anna buttonholes the widow just before she is due to speak to an international audience.  She expresses her sympathy and bends the woman’s ear about the importance of harmony and peace.  We’ve seen Anna weep in front of the mirror as she practices the same speech moments earlier.  It’s the same standard fare that makes me wince when I hear politicians deliver it – sincere regret, deepest sympathies, all of that rubbish – so the scene seemed a little formulaic for my tastes.  It doesn’t get any better when the aggrieved widow subsequently tells the world’s media that the Vs have taught her about the importance of “hope” and “trust”.  I guess the writers get the point across: the visitors are very good at PR.  Nevertheless, they’re not quite up to the PR gold standard of Hill and Knowlton’s 1991 Iraqi-soldiers-ripping-Kuwaiti-kids-out-of-incubators story.  The writers’ persistence with this whole Obama mind-control theme remains the series’ only real weak point so far.  It’s just too clunky and obvious to be effective.

In the week’s other main developments, Erica is assigned to protecting the Vs, where she stumbles across a surveillance room showing hundreds of images which turn out to be coming from the lapels of the jackets worn by the visitors.  Because they have finally been given the green light to roam around New York, those cameras will soon be everywhere. And because the jackets are also worn by human “ambassadors”, whose number now includes Erica’s son Tyler (not that Erica knows it yet), the noose around Erica’s neck seems to be once again tightening.  Indeed, the episode ends with Tyler’s budding love interest – the visitor Lisa (Laura Vandevoort) – telling Anna, who she addresses as “mother”, that Tyler is the one.  Erica on one side, Tyler on the other. Bring it.

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Aired Australia – 14 March 2010
Aired USA – 10 November 2009

After watching Episode 2, I realise that I need not have fretted about my decision to commit a large chunk of my time to reviewing the entire first season of V.  This week’s instalment was an hour-long edge-of-the-seat thriller, even though no aliens or humans were harmed in the making of this program.

The episode opens where the last one finished, with FBI agent Erica and Catholic priest Father Jack on the roof of a building, having escaped the alien ambush of their resistance cell’s meeting.  When they go back to watch the visitors clean up the carnage, they’re hunted down by one of the visitors’ high-tech nail bombs, which Erica naturally smashes into a million bits just before detonation.

The machinations within the FBI are what give this episode its fizz.  Erica’s FBI partner Dale Maddox was an undercover visitor, until she ran him through with a metal stake, so  it’s prudent to assume that the FBI is crawling with them.  What better place for an undercover visitor to be than in the FBI?  So it’s great TV when Erica walks the halls of her office the next morning and everyone is looking at her.  We’ve all been there: walking into a room and wondering ‘ is it just my imagination, or are they all looking at me? Do they know about that deep, dark secret of mine?’ Is Erica’s boss, Paul, a visitor or are his unfeasibly good looks just a coincidence? Are the members of the FBI’s Visitor Threat Assessment Joint Task Force visitors themselves?  That would make sense, kind of like drug traffickers running the DEA.

So, as Erica says to Father Jack: You. Can’t. Trust. Anyone.  Ah, music to our ears.  Bring on the fear, the paranoia and the painful deaths, although they’ll need to wait for another week or two, probably until Dale Maddox gets back on his feet. Turns out he’s recovering on the mother ship, ready to turn Anna in as soon as he wakes up.  Meanwhile the turncoat visitor Ryan Nichols – who was also at that resistance cell meeting – gets a call from another turncoat, Angelo.  Angelo tells Ryan all about Ryan’s fiancée to make the point that if he can find out so much about her, then the visitors can find it out.  So Ryan faces a choice: he can stay and risk his fiance’s life or, if he truly loves her, get the hell out and run for the hills. It’s good stuff.

The other enjoyable aspect of this episode is our first real glimpse behind the wizard’s curtain as we witness alien leader Anna discussing diplomatic wrangling with her handler, Marcus (Christopher Shyer).  She is patient and calculating, and when the over-anxious Marcus suggests that she not work so hard on seeming submissive for the Japanese, she replies  “You still don’t understand humanity”.  Hopefully as the series progresses we’ll see cracks in the unity of the visitors.  Perhaps not all of them agree with Anna’s diplomatic approach.

In other news (boom, boom), TV anchor Chad Decker finally grows a pair of balls and asks some hard questions about the visitors, before telling Anna that their next interview will be on his terms.  It’s like a fantasy where the snivelling Hollywood reporter finally lays down the law to the celebrity publicist.  And whose side is Chad on anyway?  When Anna tells Chad she’s disappointed with him for muddying their reputation, he tells her that the US government will feel more comfortable if it feels like it’s hearing both sides of the story, and that this will encourage it to set up diplomatic relations with the visitors.  When Chad’s prediction comes true, Anna is impressed.   PR at it’s best.

This episode has the essential ingredients you hope for in a series: it’s fast, well-written, well-acted and, above all, it leaves you hanging out for more.

TV Series Review – V, Episode 1

Aired Australia – 7 March 2010
Aired USA – 3 November 2009

Aliens have been visiting Hollywood backlots for a good 50 years now, so we action/sci-fi fans get a little shiver down our spines when a fresh new concept comes along. And Hollywood producers get so excited that they flog it to death and then remake it at the earliest opportunity. Hence V, the blockbuster 1983 series and the 2009…erm…cult classic? We’ll see.

So, we begin with the “visitors”, as the aliens call themselves, making a conspicuous arrival on earth and proclaiming that they have come in peace to do what those in the international aid industry call a “technology transfer”. The visitors need water and “a mineral commonly available on earth” and offer in return lots of fun gadgets that Apple hasn’t invented yet. Then we learn that the visitors’ arrival is not really the first contact. They’ve been living among us for years, inhabiting invariably hot bodies and preparing for the day when they take over the earth. As the hot people always do.

When our visitors arrive, they come in huge ships which settle over 29 of the world’s major cities. Actually, 28 plus the pyramids, which the visitors of course constructed 4500 years ago and are probably just checking in on.* The sequence is not so much an homage to Independence Day as a blatant rip-off, but with a smaller budget and a much smaller screen to show it all on. As they peer upwards at the ships, the masses in the streets look as underwhelmed as we are. It’s not a promising beginning.

The show begins to pick up as we witness the visitors’ first days on earth through the eyes of five people: FBI Agent Erica Evans (Elizabeth Mitchell) and her oversexed teenaged son Tyler (Logan Huffman), young priest Fr Jack Landry (Joel Gretsch), wannabe TV anchor Chad Decker (Scott Wolf) and banker with a shady past Ryan Nichols (Morris Chestnut).

Erica’s work tracking terrorist cells drives the story. She notices that terrorist chatter on the internet falls silent when the visitors arrive, which I thought was a clever touch. There is one pocket, however, which starts chattering like schoolgirls, and we soon learn that it’s a resistance cell which has been fighting the visitors for years. When she infiltrates the cell, Erica meets Fr Jack, who’s also come along undercover as a civilian. Fr Jack’s main role in the series is clearly to let us explore the effect aliens might have on religious belief, because those little green fuckers aren’t in the bible. Hollywood seems to have missed the email reporting that most Americans worship in evangelical churches these days, so Fr Jack’s a good ol’ preacher with a dog collar. Nevertheless, his discussions with his fellow priest provide some philosophical ballast to the first episode as Fr Jack, the young cynic, is challenged by the old idealist determined to believe that the visitors are all part of God’s plan. Also at the meeting of the resistance cell is Ryan Nichols, who turns out to be a lapsed rebel, and so we have our good guys – Ryan, Fr Jack and Erica – ready to fight the good fight.

On the other side of the ledger are the visitors – led by Anna (Morena Baccarin) – and their human enablers, principally Tyler Evans, who quickly falls for one of the hot young visitors, and pretty boy Chad Decker. Chad’s going nowhere in TV land until he catches a break by sticking up for the visitors in a doorstop interview and is rewarded with a one-on-one encounter with Anna. From there his career skyrockets.

Like any sci-fi show, V sets itself up as a commentary on modern society, and so far it’s not a very good one. The lowlight comes when Anna, on a roll from a wave of positive publicity, promises to start up free healing clinics, ensuring “universal health care”. (If she can do it without adding to the budget deficit, maybe the Republicans will even jump on board.) It’s been said that the show is a critique of the Obama administration, but Anna’s preferential treatment of Chad Decker could just as easily be mimicking the Bush Administration and its close relationship with Fox News. The visitors have been here for decades, long before Obama came along, exploiting positions of power to  instigate disasters and start unnecessary wars, so George Bush and Tony Blair are aliens too! Whatever their aim, the producers should stick closer to the core of the show, which is obviously an alien-human smackdown. Or at least that’s my view.

Despite the weaknesses, there was enough in the second half of the pilot to suggest that this show has legs. If it can lose the simplistic allegories about US politics, its exploration of hope and change could be worth watching. But the most promising aspect of the show is the same thing that apparently made the original series of V great – a mismatched battle between a huge force of occupiers and a small band of fanatical resistors. As long as they lay off the Iraq War references.

* OK, so the pyramids are in Cairo, but they’re way on the outskirts. It would be like the mothership going to New York and hovering over Staten Island.

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