'V': Devotion is dangerous
The series premiere of "V" doesn't waste any time bringing the Visitors to our doorstep, heralding their arrival with tremors, enormous ships in the sky, and finally a message of peace from their very sultry high commander. After all, these are aliens with a mastery of mass media, publicity and propaganda. Which makes their mission all the more deadly.
A word of warning: I didn't go back and watch the original 1980s "V," so I'm coming to ABC's sci-fi series "V," which launched tonight, completely fresh and without any preconceived notions about what the series should be. (Sure, I have some foggy memories of reptilian visitors, an alien baby, the guinea pig, etc., but I wanted to keep this reimagining completely separate from what came before.)
This iteration of "V," overseen by "The 4400" creator Scott Peters, is clearly meant to invoke our post-9/11 paranoia and our innate xenophobia. But the alien Visitors who arrive on Earth, their motherships hovering over 29 cities around the world like dark clouds, claim to bring not death and destruction but hope. Of course, the skeptics among us know better, like FBI Counter-Terrorism Agent Erica Evans (Elizabeth Mitchell) and the questioning Catholic priest Father Jack (Joel Gretsch). But for the most part humanity is welcoming these would-be saviors with open arms. After all, they're spreading a message of universal health care, stylish uniforms, and an eradication of dozens of known diseases. All of which makes Earth ripe for the plucking, really.
The Arrival. I thought that the Visitors' arrival on Earth was really well handled; there was the foreshadowing of something momentous about to happen via those tremors, which quickly magnify and the initial chaos of those ships dropping into the atmosphere, downing several military jets in the process. As people began to freak out about an alien apocalypse, the calming face of Anna beamed down at the humans from the underside of the mothership, bringing a universal message of peace in several languages.
It's a very different moment than, say, the chaos of ABC's own "FlashForward," which kicked off its series with death and destruction rather than the (false) promise of a better tomorrow. Like "FlashForward," however, we're given an ensemble to track, all of whom are caught up in the Visitors' arrival on Earth and each of whom has very different reactions to the story unfolding around them.
Erica. At the heart of the story, of course, is Mitchell's Erica Evans, a grimly determined single mother attempting to raise her teenage son while also saving the world as a member of the FBI's counter-terrorism force in New York. The Visitors' arrival on Earth coincides with Erica's investigation into a terrorist group and Erica quickly uncovers evidence of a sleeper cell ... of aliens. It's a nice twist that proves that the Visitors aren't newly arrived on Earth, but their decision to reveal themselves to the humans is just the latest link in their master plan to exterminate the human race. It makes sense that Erica, trained to ask questions and get to the truth, would doubt the message of the Visitors, and she found herself quickly sucked into a human resistance force that knows the truth about the Visitors: They walk among us, they look like us, but if you cut them deeply enough, they are reptilian creatures that want to destroy us all.
Dale. Erica, of course, learned that lesson the hard way when she discovered that her partner, Dale Maddox (Alan Tudyk), was in fact a Visitor agent posing as a human. Erica doesn't trust easily, so the knowledge that Dale was an alien sleeper agent is not only a shock but the ultimate betrayal to her. I do wish that this reveal had been handled just a little more deftly. We know that there's a mole within the FBI that's tipping off the sleeper cell that Erica is tracking and, well, we know it's not Erica doing the tipping and there aren't any other suspects we've come across. Ergo, Dale had to be the baddie in the feds' midst. I am surprised, however, that the writers tipped their hand so early on and had Erica discover Dale's true identity and attempt to kill him. Now that she has (or has she?), there's no way Dale can go back to the FBI or remain within Erica's orbit, so it's buh-bye Tudyk.... for now anyway.
Father Jack. Fortunately, Erica now has someone new to place her trust in, namely Joel Gretsch's Father Jack Landry, a priest who is concerned about the faith that humans are placing in their alien Visitors. Both he and Erica are worried that this could translate into full-blown devotion, which is an extremely dangerous proposition. I'm glad that the writers opted to bring a priest into the mix, particularly one whose faith in the divine isn't shaken but who is wise to be skeptical about the blind trust the humans are placing in the Visitors. After all, he's right to wonder why the Visitors showed up just when we needed a savior the most. Coincidence? I think not.
Chad. But the Visitors aren't the only opportunists here. Scott Wolf's Chad Decker, a network news anchor for a cable channel, is the classic case of a man willing to sell out his morality for a taste of success. After Anna selected him for her exclusive interview, she surprised him by saying that he can't ask any questions that paint the Visitors in a negative light. Rather than refuse the interview, Chad made a decision to forge ahead, to deny his journalistic impulses, to craft not a balanced interview with tough questions but a puff piece that will advance his career. He took the carrot dangled by Anna and became part of the problem, giving the aliens a human platform on which to spread their false message. Let's just hope that Chad finds a backbone before he winds up dinner for these reptilian creatures.
Anna. Already loving Anna, the Visitors' high commander. Morena Baccarin is perfectly cast as the icy and dangerous Anna; there's a reptilian intelligence to her eyes, and she nails that creepy sort of blinking pattern of reptiles way too well. We're not given all that much information about Anna, but she is definitely attempting to pose as a higher emotional being, in touch with her feelings yet quickly able to expel negative energy. She's a meditative yoga instructor crossed with a supermodel crossed with a power-hungry lizard. And I can't wait to see just what hoops she makes Chad jump through next. I have a feeling that we're going to be very, very scared of Anna before long.
Ryan. The V's aren't all bad, though. And we find out via Morris Chestnut's Ryan Nichols that some of the Visitors are actively helping the human resistance force. Ryan has been on Earth for at least a few years, long enough that he's in a long-term relationship with the unsuspecting Valerie Holt (Lourdes Benedicto) and that he crossed paths years earlier with resistance fighter Georgie Sutton (David Richmond-Peck). So what made him betray his people and side with the humans? That's a mystery for another time. But despite attempting to shrug off his responsibilities, he came clean to Georgie, didn't dump Val, and is going to help the humans battle their alien invaders.
Tyler. Erica's 17-year-old son, Tyler, quickly wound up being drawn in by the Visitors' propaganda and their peace ambassador program. Sure, it might all be an effort to get close to the gorgeous V named Lisa (Laura Vandervoort), but Tyler also seems to believe in their message of hope, even going so far as to start tagging and "spreading hope" all over the walls of their community. Given his mother's position in the FBI, this quickly put the two of them at odds, but Tyler forging his mother's signature and becoming a peace ambassador will likely lead to some rather heated confrontation between the duo soon. And just who is Tyler's dad? Anyone else wonder just when he'll be showing up this season? Hmmm...
What did you think of the first episode? Did it strike your fancy? Curious to see what will happen next? Head to comments section and weigh in on the series premiere of "V" below.
-- Jace Lacob (follow my musings on television, food and more television on Twitter at @televisionary)
Photo: Father Jack Landry (Joel Gretsch) and FBI Agent Erica Evans (Elizabeth Mitchell) await their turn at the test on ABC's "V." Credit: David Gray / ABC.