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V: The Arrival – Episode Recap

I’d like to welcome back our newest guest author S. Divnich, who will be covering “V” here on The Disney Blog. – Ed.

It seems like we’ve been waiting forever, but the Visitors finally showed up last night with the premiere of V, ABC’s newest sci-fi offering.

The episode opened with an attempt to make it personal – captions reading “Where were you when JFK was assassinated? Where were you on 9/11?” led into “Where were you this morning?” So right off the bat, anyone who has not seen any advance info about this show is going to know – something big’s about to happen.

Tuesday, 6:30 a.m. Having asked “Where were you?” the first block shows us where (and who) our main players are. FBI Agent Erica Evans (Elizabeth Mitchell) awakens to her house shaking. She finds her son Tyler (Logan Huffman) is not in his bed and gets him on the cell, to find he’s in the ER, and barely feeling bad about it. This theme is going to play strong on this show – Erica wants to protect her son, but he’s not going to make it easy for her.

Newsman Chad Decker (Scott Wolf) is showering and heading into work. Ryan Nicholls (Morris Chestnut) is buying an engagement ring. Father Jack is opening the church doors. Val, Ryan’s girlfriend, is at home. It’s difficult to show simultaneous action on a TV show, and the pace felt a little off. We get a shaking water glass next to Erica right off the bat, but it’s several minutes before we see Val’s shaking coffee cup, FJ’s shaking light fixture, Ryan’s ring jumping around on the counter. Regardless, things start to shake, rattle and roll, and you can tell they’re not earthquake-savvy Californians – rather than run to the nearest doorway, Val seems to try to stop her bookshelves from falling over first.

In the street, Ryan does what so many of us have done since 9/11, what must be second-nature to New Yorkers by now – he looks to the sky to see what’s falling. The writers don’t disappoint – the fighter jet falling out of the sky gave me a lurch of déjà vu that was most unpleasant. Eight years later, and not even American, and I can recall the footage from 9/11 in a heartbeat. It brings a tear to my eye every time.

The giant Mother Ships darken the sky and all hell breaks loose. They could have saved some money by inserting footage from movies past – as one onscreen citizen put it, “This IS Independence Day.” And Deep Impact, and The Day After Tomorrow, and so many other running-from-the-end-of-the-world scenes. Conveniently placed TVs show newscasters reporting similar Mother Ships hovering over 29 major cities around the world.

The introduction of Visitors is very cool compared to the 1983 version (more on the comparison later). The bottom of the Mother Ships morphs into a giant movie-screen type thing. On the ground, we see Erica’s maternal “get behind my arm kid, I’ll protect you” gesture with Tyler. Erica’s a mother bear, through and through. And then, like a benevolent supreme being from on high, Anna’s smiling face gazes down on the planet.

Anna’s message is heard in the appropriate languages around the world, and it’s one of hope, promise, and reassurance. We need this, we’ll give you this in return. The actual wording seemed very close to what I remember from the 1983 miniseries, although one thing caught my notice – these Visitors are being upfront about taking the water. Twenty-five years ago, that was the big secret –they wanted to suck the planet dry. Here, they admit to wanting the water – so I’m wondering, what do they REALLY want? Anna winds up her message with a mantra that will be repeated throughout the episode: “We are of peace.”

The response is frightening – people in the street clap and cheer and issue a collective sigh of relief. We can’t even agree on how to share the water in the Great Lakes among North Americans, but hey, we’ll send the water skyward ‘cause you’re pretty and you’re promising better health care and better technology than an iPhone. Um, kay.

Wednesday. FJ and his co-priest (didn’t catch his name) are arguing about the Vatican’s declaration that the Visitors are God’s creatures. FJ is suspicious, but his senior reminds him they are there to minister to their congregation. FJ laments about their congregation of 4, but when the two of them enter the sanctuary, they’re floored to see a full house. Foxhole faith at its best – in times of crisis, everyone believes in God.

Erica talks with partner Dale on the phone; he’s wondering how she can focus on work at a time like this. “Visitors drop by for a drink,” she says. This is different. She’s noticed that terrorist chatter dropped like a stone when the Visitors arrived – all except one cell, which appears to be stockpiling C-4 explosives. On TV, we all watch Anna arrive at the UN, flirt with Chad and dismiss any critical inquiry from the rest of the media. From the look on Tyler’s face as he watches, he’s pretty close to drinking the Kool-Aid.

Chad is the first to use the term “V’s”. I don’t like it. It seems contrived and for us traditionalists, who remember that the spray-painted V stood for “Victory”, I think it’s going to be hard to get used to.

Three weeks later. Chad tells us from the news desk that cities with Mother Ships have become destinations – there’s a rise in tourism, V merchandise sales, etc. Whoo hoo – health care, technology AND jobs? These guys MUST be all right.

Erica’s got a lead on that chatty terrorist cell – one that brings her and Dale to an underground tunnel on Long Island, and straight to a dead guy, false documents and the C-4. Looks like someone tipped off the bad guys before Erica got there. Erica’s FBI outfit – particularly the baseball cap – just didn’t seem to fit on her. Like our famous Juliet from Lost, however, the girl knows how to posture with a gun.

Ryan’s getting mysterious phone calls from Georgie (David Richmond-Peck), and he’s trying to ignore them. “That’s not who I am anymore,” he insists. Val’s getting suspicious though.

Tyler and Brandon have scored a ride on the Magic Carpet – er, V transport craft – and head for a tour of the Mother Ship. There they meet V Lisa, who’s oh-so-pretty – like a really dangerous Barbie doll. “Join the Peace Ambassadors,” she pouts. Saving the world, hanging with pretty girls AND a cool uniform? Tyler’s hooked, and I’m not liking him very much right now.

FJ warns from the pulpit of the dangers of trusting too much too quickly. In spite of the nodding heads in the pews, his superior takes him to task for it. The V’s are doing good, they’re a blessing in disguise (oh, if only you knew!). But FJ warns with one of the best lines of the night: “Under the right conditions, gratitude can turn to worship. And worship can turn to devotion.”

The Meeting. Our principals are now on a collision course with each other. Erica and Dale execute another search, again to find their prey has eluded them. But there’s a clue! A text message giving directions to “a meeting.” FJ receives a bloody envelope from an injured parishioner with instructions to attend “a meeting.” And Georgie corners Ryan and begs him to attend “a meeting.” We know an awful lot must be going to happen at this meeting, since we’re moving into the last block of the episode.

Meanwhile, Chad has been handpicked to conduct a live interview with Anna to quell some of the protesting and reassure the Earthlings that “we are of peace.” Anna lets Chad know right up front – no negativity or the interview’s not happening. Chad struggles with his conscience, but his ego wins – he’ll play by the rules.

Scenes from the meeting are interspersed with scenes of Anna’s interview. While the Supreme V talks of discarding negativity and embracing change – and incidentally promises universal health care – Georgie informs those gathered of the V’s true nature. Meeting-goers are first required to prove they’re human through and through – gah. You have to be mighty brave, or scared, or both to say, “Sure, I’ll let you take a scalpel to me in this dark and dingy warehouse.” The V’s, Georgie claims, are responsible for the unease we were feeling when they arrived. The wars, the strife, the flat economy, they started it all. It’s classic manipulation – unsettle a population and then present yourself as their Savior. FJ provides the proof – photographs of Erica’s dead guy. She realizes her sleeper cell is a V cell.

Pandemonium ensues at the warehouse when a techy little orb zooms in and explodes. The scene is very dark – it’s hard to tell how many baddies there are, and what they look like. Erica’s partner has her in a chokehold and she brains him with an iron bar – hey, that’s not his own skin! He’s a V! While Erica’s fighting to save HER skin, we see her tormented teen is forging Mom’s signature so he can sign up with the Vs. Ingrate. Ryan appears to help save the day at the warehouse, and reveals to Georgie his own secret – he’s a V too. But he’s a good guy – a traitor to his own. There’s more like him, and they’re going to help the Earthmen fight back. Just as soon as he breaks up with Val. Which he later can’t bring himself to do – so now we know where the expected inter-species romance is going to come from.

The interview is over, and Anna’s creepy sidekick offers Chad a pep talk. Compromising one’s principles for the greater good is not shameful, it’s noble. Chad’s the lucky one – he’s going to be famous!

Later, Erica and FJ share a moment where they discuss the necessity of fighting this new evil. “They’ve got the most powerful weapon there is,” says Erica. “Devotion.” FJ looks terrified, but vindicated, at this echoing of his own words.

We end with the Visitors welcoming their new Peace Ambassadors, Tyler among them. “It’s the dawn of a new day,” the announcer says, as Anna watches it all with a satisfied smile.

The inevitable comparisons

It is impossible for anyone who watched the 1983 series to watch the new V without comparing it to the old. For large numbers of viewers, myself included, there were few surprises. I watched my daughter watch the reveal that lizards lurk under those pretty faces, and she seemed more grossed out than truly shocked. The scene just didn’t seem as dramatic as watching Jane Badler’s Diana unhinge her jaws and swallow a guinea pig. Perhaps the producers downplayed the reveal on purpose – we already knew, so why try to make it a big deal? And the “huge ships hovering over the major cities” has been done and redone so many times in various forms the last 20 years, even that didn’t seem to raise my kid’s eyebrows.

This series is much darker, literally, than the first V. The citizens of Earth seem downtrodden and desperate, the future is bleak – I don’t recall anything similar being implied when the 1983 Visitors invaded. In that sense, V gives us a clearer context of how the human race can be so susceptible to promises of hope. Special effects-wise, it’s been generally agreed that CGI and other modern film techniques have eliminated the cheesiness often seen in portrayals of aliens and outer space. But again, it’s dark – these Mother Ships are gray, metallic, cold. They look creepy – in 1983 they looked sleek and bright, lots of white, implying newness and innocence. But then, on the inside, where the original had a very utilitarian feel, these Mother Ships appear to house a paradise.

And I miss the red jumpsuits, dark glasses and forage caps – our new V’s uniforms all have similar lines to one another, and they’re all gray or subdued colors, but they don’t look alien or out-of-place. The alien-ness – the aversion to light, the vibration in voice – is gone. It’s been replaced with flat, unemotional responses and facial expressions. In Anna’s words, “We’ve learned to process emotion quickly and discard all negativity.” In some ways, that’s even more alien. Diana was a power-hungry bully, and prone to deadly temper tantrums, but she was also capable of embarrassment and frustration. Anna’s quiet satisfaction sends a chill up your spine, but you’re not sure you can explain why.

I think the comparisons will fall by the wayside quickly. The big secret (such as it was) was out by the end of the first episode. It’s clear that this is a “re-imagining” as opposed to a remake and now that we’ve met all the principals we can settle in for a great, character-driven show. I’m really wondering what the V’s are really after – across the universe is a long way to travel just to brainwash folks. What’s in it for them in the long run?

The other comparison

Elizabeth Mitchell as Erica Evans is going to rock. For most of the episode, I couldn’t help but think “Juliet” every time I saw her, (in fact, when she brained her partner with the bar I was all, “Go, Juliet.”) but that had pretty much faded by the second viewing. I loved the sarcasm when she was giving it to Tyler for his tagging, and she’s done a good job of letting us know that Erica has layers. I hope Mitchell gets the opportunity to expand on her portrayal of other emotions like frustration and fear – she’s got determination down pat. I didn’t like Lost’s Juliet until –ok, I admit it, I still don’t. But Erica’s becoming a fave.

Three more episodes ‘til the break. Like the summer romance you know is going to end when everyone goes back to school, it’s natural to resist getting too attached. As much as I’m liking V so far, I’m still holding back a little; but one more episode and I think I might be a bona fide fan.

When not leading the resistance, S. Divnich Haggert can be found at Once I Was A Writer.

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