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“V” Episode 2: There is no normal anymore

Although record numbers tuned in for the premiere last week, Episode 2 saw those ratings fall 30%. And while the collective complaint of the first episode was the lightning speed with which it moved and how much was packed in, I found last night’s episode excruciatingly slow. There was, in my humble opinion, very little forward movement to this episode – we have very little new info about what our sneaky lizards are up to and our newly founded resistance members Erica and Jack seemed a little shell-shocked.

But perhaps the plot this week is a reflection of how it usually is in times of sweeping crisis or change – hurry up and wait. Initial enthusiasm and excitement quickly gives way to the need-some-time-to process-this reality of most things in life.

And indeed, our heroes, at least, need some time to process all that they’ve experienced since the Visitors came calling. It provides some convenient filler while the question of the episode is decided: Will the US agree to diplomatic relations with the Visitors or not?

The episode starts exactly where we left off last week. Father Jack and Erica’s take-a-breath moment outside the warehouse is interrupted by the arrival of another one of those creepy Visitor vehicles containing the V clean-up team. Erica dials 911 from a handy payphone. Is it common, in an industrial area of Brooklyn to find a working payphone? In my experience with trying to find a payphone in that type of area, that’s about as likely as reptilian aliens dropping in for lunch. Oh, right.

Erica’s attempt shows us just how far-reaching the invasion really is: the call goes right to Visitor Central, and another one of those orb-things quickly pinpoints our heroes’ location. That’s what I call a smart bomb. The address of the warehouse, 4400 Pier Avenue makes a nice eyewink to Joel Gretsch, who plays Father Jack and V’s executive producer Scott Peters.

Consumed with a new mistrust for everything that walks, a nerve-wracked Erica makes it home in one piece, begs her son to avoid the Visitors (too late Erica!) and struggles through the next day or so to maintain the façade. We can tell that Erica is trying to hold it together as she answers the FBI’s questions about Dale’s disappearance; she’s impatient, hostile, and having a hard time making eye contact. In fact, her upset is so obvious, I wonder why none of the FBI can see it. For an FBI agent, she’s a terrible liar.

Meanwhile, FJ has a visit from the FBI – the Visitor Threat Assessment Joint Task Force, to be exact. Inquiring minds want to know about the guy who bled all over the pews. Seems he’s on the FBI’s weirdo list for claiming the presence of aliens on earth. FJ claims ignorance, then wonders if he’s done the right thing. “Don’t upset the apple cart,” warns his senior (if this character has a name, I haven’t caught it yet).

FJ, of course, decides to do just that. He brings the mysterious photos to the VTAJTF, where he promptly bumps into Erica. “You’re an FBI agent?” he asks. “You’re a freakin’ priest?” she fires back. Having believed six impossible things before breakfast (thank you Lewis Carroll), I wonder why they’re both so incredulous.

In the hallway the two argue, which seems to be an alarming disregard for discretion and secrecy. With the lizards having infiltrated the FBI, I don’t think I’d be comfortable having that conversation in the middle of an empty field in Kansas, let alone the FBI’s hallway. FJ defends his actions, and Erica hisses (almost snake-like) “What part of don’t trust anyone do you not understand?”

Chad is having morning-after regrets about his interview with Anna. His assistant reassures him that trading ethics for access isn’t so bad. But Chad holds himself responsible for the Visitors static poll numbers. Perhaps there’s a way he can turn the tide – and show Anna who’s boss. He broadcasts an interview debating “Do the Visitors deserve our trust?” Anna’s creepy-silent sidekick calls him on it, and he and Chad exchange barbed comments. Chad is unapologetic, however. “I can’t control my government, but I can influence public opinion,” he states. Since the poll numbers tick upwards after his debate, we have to believe him, and so does Anna. Chad’s not as loyal to the Visitors as they’d like to think – but I don’t he think he’s that loyal to humanity either. In C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle, as Narnia faces its end and the battle lines are drawn, there’s a line: the dwarfs are for the dwarfs. Chad’s looking out for number one, which he’ll likely regret in the end.

Does Val really believe that a 7 inch bandage is necessary for a “scratch” on Ryan’s arm? For a psychotherapist she doesn’t ask a lot of questions. Ryan connects with Angelo, a Visitor traitor like himself. Their conversation lets us in on the news that this invasion is ahead of schedule. Angelo takes out his magic glue gun to fix Ryan’s arm and then drugs him. When Ryan comes to, Angelo’s gone, only to resurface as a phone call once Ryan’s returned home – leave Val, or she’s gonna get hurt.

There’s a writing rule that says if you show a gun in your first scene, it better be going off by the end of your book. Angelo’s revelation that he, and presumably “they” know about Val’s heart condition is a dead giveaway that the heart condition is going to matter later.

Visitor Barbie Lisa and Tyler share a moment through the fence. He shows her pics of his bike, clearly the thing that’s been most important to him until now. She takes the iPod – the Visitors have holographic technology and fly spaceships, but somehow she’s not sure how to work an iPod? and snaps a pic of herself, then shows it to Tyler. Which is the point at which the producers lost all credibility with my 13-year-old who shouted, “She wasn’t smiling when she clicked and she is in the picture!?” Perhaps, like vampires not showing up in photographs, this will become part of V’s mythology –any picture taken will make them look happy and innocent.

Tyler asks Lisa out – once she’s allowed out, that is. He struggles with the proper human/alien interaction etiquette: “Do you know what pizza is?” I’m not sure of the wording, but I found myself flashing back to 1983, when human teenager Robin Maxwell first hooked up with Visitor Youth Leader Brian. I could swear there was a similar exchange. Déjà vu all over again!

Later, Lisa gives Tyler the cold shoulder for making the Visitors look bad after engaging in fisticuffs with a protester. Poor Tyler, totally smitten, and terribly confused. Looks like reptile females are just as hard for teenage boys to figure out as human females.

Erica has outed Dale – kinda. She’s convinced her boss Paul that Dale was a suspected traitor, and her intercepted 911 call is proof. Now how were the Visitors, with all their technology, supposed to know that the DEA was monitoring calls too? Or is Paul’s explanation of how he obtained the recording an attempt to cover up Visitor infiltration? My kids are now playing Spot the Visitor while watching – so far, they think FJ’s priest buddy is a V, the Task Force investigator is a V and possibly Chad’s assistant. This will add some sport to future watching – there may even be small monetary wagers.

And what’s been going on sky-side all this time? Our lovely Anna is being as lovely as ever; she flicks through a holographic wardrobe while searching for the appropriate costume to express gratitude and peace. It must be nice to have an alternative to throwing the contents of your closet all over the bedroom while you try on everything you own. Anna doesn’t say much or do much in this episode – or the first episode, come to think of it – and I still find the character decidedly unsettling. You can see some expression of disdain towards her assistant and his failure to understand humanity, but other than that, even when she’s pissed about Chad’s interview, there’s very little apparent emotion. She’s got spunk though, hanging up abruptly when Chad tries to parlay her gratitude into a further dialogue.

And what’s she grateful for? The US has indeed agreed to diplomatic relations, allowing the Visitors freedom of movement within its borders. We’re told early in the episode that some other countries have already done so, but it’s the US that’s the linchpin – and Anna knows it. This lizard is one smart cookie!

In addition to nifty holograms, the Visitors have scary ones too. The “only human we recovered alive” from the warehouse is lying on a giant cake plate, being tortured by snakes only he can see. Again, this is a nice nod to the original – in 1983, the Visitor conversion chamber featured the ability to exploit the victim’s biggest fear so that he would reach out to Diana for help. The next guy-on-a-cake-plate scene appears to be a patched-up Dale. Last week, online fans were aghast that Alan Tudyk’s character was killed off so quickly – looks like he’ll be back after all.

FJ and Erica meet again after the announcement from the US government. Between a priest who curses and an FBI agent who steals confidential files, there is definitely no normal anymore. But they’re going to fight! They’ll start with the weirdo list, since apparently, there’s NO security in the FBI office and you can just “swipe” whatever you need. I knew someone that got fired for taking a stapler home once.

Our last scene shows Ryan, his arm healing nicely, and Val, getting cozy. Val notices a picture on the mantle is upside down; when she flips it over, a note with a name and address falls out: Cyrus, 51509 Gibbs Avenue. This is Ryan’s clue that someone has “visited” him; perhaps next week we’ll find out if it’s friend or foe.

The annoying habit of referring to the Visitors as “Vs” has almost disappeared in this episode –the term is not used until just a few minutes before the episode ends. I see that as a good sign. However, the writing felt off and poorly organized, making me wonder if this is the point where the producers decided on the retooling that’s still to come. Surprisingly, I kept referring in my notes to “Juliet” and I couldn’t figure out why, when I was so impressed with the character of Erica last week. I think it was the first scene this week that set me off. “Go home Jack.” Every time she said “Jack,” I saw Mitchell as Juliet in Lost. And either her acting this week was really, really bad or the writing was. Cool, composed, good-in-a-crisis Erica seems to have turned into a bundle of nerves. This is the resistance leader?

So, after two of four, there seems to be little predictability when it comes to pacing, writing and acting. Maybe it’s fairer to say: There is no normal yet. If last week’s episode was an A- than this week it’s closer to a C+.

When not leading the resistance, Shelley can be found at Once I Was A Writer

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