The National Catholic Review
The miniseries "V" returns on ABC
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We are of peace, always," says a smiling Anna (Morena Baccarin) in the opening sequence of V, ABC's update of the popular 1983 miniseries. This putative extension of good will is beamed from massive spacecrafts hovering above the world's major cities. With crimson lips and gleaming incisors, Anna, leader of the Visitors (or "V"s), explains that their alien race is merely seeking temporary aid from their human peers. Beautiful and tranquil, Anna's tone is so eerily placid that you don't believe a word she says.

As Erica Evans (Elizabeth Mitchell), a workaholic FBI agent, soon discovers, the Visitors are part of an existing terrorist cell that plans on taking up permanent residence on earth and dominating humanity. Recently divorced and struggling to deal with her rebellious teenage son, Tyler (Logan Huffman)--and his burgeoning obsession with the V's--Erica is cool, reserved and wary. She is unfazed when, at an underground meeting, members of an anti-Visitor coalition ask her to make an incision in the side of her head to prove she's human. And when her partner, Dale Maddox (Alan Tudyk), unexpectedly attacks her because (twist!) he's really a Visitor who's infiltrated the FBI, Erica's swift defense is enough to lay him out cold; an injury reveals a lizard-like eye underneath Dale's "human" skin.

Erica finds an unlikely ally in Father Jack Landry (Joel Gretsch), a Catholic priest who is unnerved by the public's fascination with the V's. His parish's elder priest tries to assuage Father Jack's fears, assuring him that the word from Rome is that all creatures, Visitors included, are God's children (in case you were wondering: the Vatican is officially pro-alien). The V's are "driving people back to God," the elder priest argues, and filling the church's empty pews. But Jack is worried that the people's fear will develop into gratitude toward the V's (who promise to share their advanced technology with humanity), gratitude will become devotion and devotion will become worship.

The cast also features a renegade V: Ryan Nichols (Morris Chestnut), who is torn between his desire to lead a normal life with his fiancee (who thinks he's human) and his membership in the underground resistance movement. Scott Wolf plays Chad Decker, an ambitious television reporter whose good fortune at landing an exclusive interview with Anna quickly turns after she coldly informs him, off-camera, that if he wants the interview to proceed, he can't ask any questions that could give a negative impression of her or the Visitors. The Vs are well-versed in P.R.

“V” is one of the most engaging, tightly structured, well-paced miniseries that has aired in recent memory. No moment of screentime is wasted; every scene is designed to either reveal a character detail or advance the narrative. All the characters have understandable and explicable motivations. But while this incarnation of "V" is an intriguing reimagination, there is one issue that rankles. The writers' cleverness at reinventing the alien sect as a terrorist cell, with earth as its battleground and humans its quarry, is marred by that conceit's troubling lack of self-consciousness. The Visitors have no political context or history. They are terrorists who are "alien" and "foreign": worse still, they are literally non-human, reptilian.

It is disconcerting to imagine the American viewing public watching “V” and reflexively linking aliens with terrorists and reptiles. (These visitors also, as other critics have noted, apparently support universal health care.) Surprisingly, “V”'s most worrying political underpinnings is that it has no political underpinnings. “V” is inevitably operating at cross purposes, drawing on a political trope widely familiar to the American viewing public--terrorism--that is steeped in political events while adopting an unnuanced, apolitical stance toward these alien terrorists.

“V” has many strengths: a compelling cast, a strong narrative and an impressive aesthetic, to name a few, but a political narrative without a political ethos eliminates complication. The message to the audience is alarmingly simple: combating the alien is wiser than welcoming the alien.

Regina Nigro is assistant literary editor at America.

Comments

Samuel Mistretta | 11/15/2009 - 10:38pm

I watched the first episode of 'V' and I agree that it was well put together and kept things moving.  The reference to "universal healthcare" made me laugh out loud.  However, I am a little concerned about an uncritical viewership accepting bad ideas peppered throughout the series' dialog.  For example, I found the dialog between the two Cathoic priests completely foreign to my Catholic faith.  It appears to be another example of how Hollywood doesn't "get" religion.

I agree with Jason's comments about Battlestar Galactica.  It was a well done, but distrubing, series.  Different religious and philosophical ideas were used throughout the dialog and storyline.  In one of the last episodes of Battlestar Galactica, I thought that the Cylons were Catholic based on the dialog.  Cylons discover agape...wow, that's quite a swist!

C DONALD HOWARD FR | 11/15/2009 - 7:38pm

I have not been able to watch the new "V" because of my work schedule. I am often torn between re-boots of "old classics." Though to lay my cards on the table, I liked Star Trek: The Next Generation and Deep Space 9 even more than the original series, but on the other hand found the Star Wars franchise jumped the shark and in some respects is best left to the youthful imaginings of my childhood.

But to be on point, I take issue with the author's comment that: "V is one of the most engaging, tightly structured, well-paced miniseries that has aired in recent memory."

Put simply, I am curious what Regina Nigro made of the reboot of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA? This Sci-Fi series, which just recently completed its final episodes, took on not only the drama of the human condition amidst technology, but also took a stab at the rise of monotheistic belief. The series unfolded under the backdrop of a post-Sept. 11th world, but rose above the linear action of a Jack Bauer of 24 and instead insisted on plodding forward in faith, finding both a God (or Gods) of surprises and a sort of proto-myth to Genesis and Original Sin.

How would one rate that? I am curious.

Jason Welle | 11/14/2009 - 9:19am

These are interesting questions, but the new 'V' has only aired two episodes.  Can we let the story play out a bit before we dissect it too much? 

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