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If “Mother’s Day” proves not to be just the second season finale of V, but also the series finale, it will be fitting. V has never been able to figure out just what kind of show it should be, and this finale manages to be two different finales at once. The first finale builds on all the storylines that have been dully percolating throughout the season and suggests an attempt to pay them off. The second finale blows all those storylines up and cops to what a gigantic failure they’ve been in the process of retooling the show for a hypothetical third season. But if, as seems likely, that third season never comes, then the final image V will leave for the world will be a flashy, bloody repudiation of every single thing it ever tried to do. If nothing else, there’s a kind of honesty in that I never would have expected, even if it is just a hail mary attempt at getting a renewal.

“Mother’s Day” is pretty evenly divided between the show V has been and the show it’s apparently now decided to become. The first half of the episode involves the Fifth Column’s attempt to assassinate Anna for something like the thousandth time. Their plan is, like all of their previous plans, utterly incompetent and needlessly complicated, and the execution of said plan is predictably dull. They decide that the best way to kill Anna is by fake-kidnapping a complicit Lisa (AKA Supergirl), who is then supposed to turn around and shoot her mother with one of the V’s extremely fake-looking disintegration guns after they lure Anna into an empty building. Why Lisa couldn’t just kill her mother on any one of the many occasions they’re alone together in the normal course of their day is never explained. As all this is going on, Ryan (AKA Token Black V) is back on the V mothership (the same one he couldn’t be on before because everyone was trying to kill him) trying to save his daughter and break Diana out of her cell.

When the Fifth Column’s plan fails, it’s neither a surprise nor really a sign that anything is amiss. The Fifth Column always fails at everything, after all. (Anna manages to convince Lisa that she thinks human emotion is swell, and that she loves her so much, and that humans and hideous alien lizards can live in peace and harmony forever; so Lisa puts her silly raygun away and the Fifth Column is angry that she ruined their insipid plan and … eh, who cares?) But when Diana’s triumphant return-to-Queenhood speech in front of all the V extras we’ve never seen before (yeah, it turns out her prison wasn’t very secure) is suddenly interrupted by Anna’s lizard tail slicing through her body, it’s clear that something is up.

But before we get to just what that something is, it’s worth taking a moment to pause in appreciation of Diana’s death scene, which is legitimately one of the best things I’ve seen on television this year. No, seriously. Aside from Morena Baccarin, Jane Badler has been the best thing about V this year. Despite being saddled with terrible dialog about insipid themes and being given virtually no story arc to participate in, her scenes have nonetheless managed to be relatively enjoyable if only for her campy line readings. And that’s on full display in her silly speech about how awesome the soul is and why the Vs should live in the peace with humans. Until Anna stabs her with her lizard tail and lifts her dying body in the air for the camera to linger on for what seems like at least a full minute. Is it gratuitous? Yes. Is it a Deep Blue Sea rip-off? Yes. But that just makes it all the better. Diana’s warning (uttered with her dying breath) that Anna has just doomed the Vs rings so hilariously hollow that I’m just going to go ahead and assume that it’s supposed to. And the scene’s coda–Anna turning to Lisa and telling her, “Now that’s how you kill your mother”–is so much fun it almost makes you forget what a waste of time the rest of the show has been.

And that’s the point. It’s with Diana’s death that it becomes clear that the show is abandoning all of its storylines. I mean, sure, it would be nice to think that all of Badler’s appearances have been leading up to her awesome death scene, but that’s obviously not the case. It’s the writers realizing that Badler’s appearances weren’t actually leading anywhere and finding a way to get rid of the character in as fun a way as possible. Which is to be commended, though it’s not entirely clear why it had to take so long.

The rest of the episode is similarly ruthless, but also feels needlessly delayed. The episode goes on to kill off Ryan and Tyler, and then disband the Fifth Column and replace it with something called the Ares Project. These are all positive moves, but they’re moves that should have been made a long time ago. Ryan’s story has been spinning its wheels since at least the beginning of the season. His shifting alliances have felt like plot devices and have done little to make his character more interesting, while his relationship to his daughter has remained completely unchanged throughout the season, even as she’s been aging at an increased rate. When said daughter breaks his neck with her tail, it’s not a conclusion to the story, but a merciful surrender. Like Diana’s story, Ryan’s story wasn’t going anywhere, and now, because of a horrible alien lizard tail, we don’t have worry about it anymore.

Tyler, meanwhile, has long been one of the most annoying characters on television, and I feel confident that, while V might inexplicably have actual fans who like it, absolutely nobody will miss this character, with the possible exception of Logan Huffman’s mother. Indeed, the V writers appear to have given his demise a fair amount of thought, deeply considering the method of his death that would give the show’s unfortunate viewers the most satisfaction. Given that they settled on Tyler getting his neck ripped open by the ferocious alien lizard teeth of a naked, post-coital Laura Vandervoort, I feel confident that they made the right choice. The only mildly disappointing thing about the scene is that Tyler experiences a few moments of happiness, to which he has no right.

The episode dispenses with The Fifth Column just as quickly–though, unfortunately, not nearly as bloodily–and the Ares Project seems to offer solutions to a few of the shows biggest problems. V has always wanted us to believe that the stakes are immensely high and that The Fifth Column is humanity’s last great hope. But The Fifth Column has always been composed of no more than 6 people who mostly just sit around talking about incompetent plans that never work. The writers tried to remedy this by introducing other arms of The Fifth Column, but the only real change was that sometimes our Fifth Column would video chat with a couple other people. Their plans, meanwhile, remained incompetent and continued to never work. The Ares Project is, if nothing else, a much more impressive looking organization. It appears to be staffed with actual human beings who have actual skills and the technological and financial means to actually execute plans of attack, assuming some of those skilled human beings can come up with competent plans. Whether the show would actually know how to use the Ares Project if it gets renewed is something of an open question, but it at least has potential.

It’s worth pointing out that while all of this is a lot of fun and a move in the right direction, none of it makes even a lick of sense. And none of it even remotely guarantees that the show would be any better if it got the chance to go forward. “Mother’s Day,” after all, succeeds in much the same way that the pilot succeeded: by throwing as much shit at the wall as it possibly could. The episode ends with Anna blissing all of humanity with the help of Ryan’s adorable murderous daughter. When she does this, blood comes pouring out of her eyes. And it raises the two questions every scene, episode and story of V should raise if it gets renewed, and answers them in precisely the right way. Why is this happening? No idea. But is it awesome? Why, yes. Yes it is.

Loose Ends:

  • I failed to mention what happened to Lisa in the review proper, so quickly: Anna throws her in Diana’s old cell and forces her to watch as a duplicate Anna has just created fucks and murders her boyfriend. It’s somewhat tawdry.
  • This sequence features Morena Baccarin saying, “Put skin on my daughter.” It’s no “Now that’s how you kill your mother,” but it’s pretty good.
  • No mention in the episode as to what would become of the rest of the Fifth Column aside from Erica if the show is renewed. Hopefully they will all have their necks chewed off by a naked Laura Vandervoort.
  • Despite the positive steps the show takes in “Mother’s Day,” I think it would almost certainly still suck if it gets renewed. But I would also almost certainly continue to watch it. Given that, I can’t say I’m exactly rooting for its renewal. Besides, “Mother’s Day” is about as good a note a show this bad could hope to go out on.
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I have a general affinity for science fiction, and the result is that I sometimes watch shows nobody has any business watching. There are some sci-fi fans who seem largely immune to the quality of any given show, finding contentment merely in the trappings of the genre. And then there are sci-fi fans who seem to find their greatest joy in savagely mocking shows they hate. I’m not either of those: I tend to recognize terrible shows as terrible and unenjoyable, but sometimes keep watching them anyway out of what can only be described as masochism. It’s not a loyalty to the genre or anything; it’s just habit.

Back when I was a foolish child, I frittered away countless hours of my life watching Star Trek: Voyager–not only in first run, but also in syndicated reruns that aired every night at 7:00 on the local UPN. And not because I liked it, but just because, well, it was a thing I did. In retrospect, all that time probably would have been better spent doing just about anything else.  But we all make mistakes in our misspent youths.

Unfortunately, the passing years have apparently made me no wiser. The new bane of my existence is V, which at least doesn’t have syndicated reruns to take up my time. Nonetheless, it is easily the worst show I watch regularly and one of the worst shows on television right now. It may, in fact, be the worst show I’ve watched regularly since those fateful Voyager years.* It fails on almost every level, and even the one thing it does sort of well comes with severe qualifications. And yet I keep watching.

(*I should also probably confess to watching Sliders during roughly the same period. But I actually enjoyed that at the time. Yes, I know. Let’s not dwell on it.)

This terrible habit can be traced back to V’s pilot, which was genuinely good. It succeeded, more or less, by throwing as much shit on the table as it possibly could. The result was an episode that really moved, and the last ten minutes especially were filled with one reveal after another. The plotting was undeniably exhilarating.

But even in the pilot, there were obvious warning signs. The same plotting that made the pilot so much fun raised the question as to how the show was going to maintain that kind of energy in the episodes to follow. And with so much revealed in the final ten minutes of the pilot, just how many twists the writers had left to pull going forward. And whether they maybe should have saved some of those twists for later episodes. Also of issue was how such a special effects laden show was going to deal with the reduced budget of non-pilot episodes. And it couldn’t help that with so much going on, there hadn’t really been any time to establish characterization or theme. In making the best pilot they could, it seemed likely that they had actually handicapped the future of the series.

Still, nearly every show faces questions about what it’s going to do after its pilot and growing pains in its early episodes. Despite warning signs from the network (a reduced episode order, followed by a long hiatus and a new showrunner), it was not unreasonable to hope V would work through its problems and become a good show well worth watching.

That never happened, unfortunately, and the V we’re left with is a show that doesn’t know what it wants to be. Even worse, if it ever does figure out what it wants to be (the odds of which become more unlikely with each passing week and cancellation ever looming), it’s unlikely to matter. At this point, V is doomed to terribleness.

All of the plotting concerns in the wake of the pilot proved to be completely valid, with the average episode limping along dully, punctuated only by the occasional pointless explosion. The writers seem insistent that the show remain heavily serialized, and it suffers a great deal from the lack of structure that can go along with that. Despite the problems with an over-reliance on formula that have led to more serialized television, some formula is always necessary to ensure that episodes feel like episodes. Lost, for example, had flashbacks, while HBO shows specialize in short vignettes that build in power as the episode goes on. But V doesn’t really have much of anything. Every episode involves a mission of some kind, but those missions tend to be vaguely defined and vaguely resolved.

“Uneasy Lies the Head”* is typical, in this regard. We discover at the beginning of the episode that the Vs are harvesting human DNA to do something or other and carry out their nefarious plan, whatever that is. The Fifth Column decides to stop them by contaminating their batch of DNA by infecting some poor sap with a DNA-altering strain of influenza. The characters then spend several minutes sitting around explaining how this will work and how they will do it, which mainly serves to highlight just how hopelessly ridiculous it is. This is followed by a pretty well done action sequence, in which the team breaks into a medical facility. Which is then followed by more exposition explaining just how they’re going to infect the poor sap, something we never actually get to see, but probably would have been boring anyway. The Vs then beam up all the people whose DNA they want to steal (carefully selected by some nefarious method the show has tried to explain numerous times but is so dull that it’s hard to really care). Unfortunately for the Fifth Column, Contaminated Guy dies immediately upon landing on the mother ship, and when the Vs examine the body, they discover that the Fifth Column is on to their horrible DNA-stealing ways. Anna makes a big, dramatic deal out of this, though it’s not entirely clear why, given that the Fifth Column is utterly incompetent. The Fifth Column, meanwhile, remains clueless as to the complete failure of their mission, and in general nothing much really changes over the course of the episode.

(*Because when you watch V, you can’t help but think of Shakespeare.)

The odd thing about V’s plotting is that it’s simultaneously too rushed and too slow at the same time. There are a lot of scenes in which the characters just sit around talking and nothing much seems to happen, but in many cases the show would nonetheless benefit from breaking its episodic plots up across a couple of episodes. The medical center break-in could have been the focus of a whole episode, as could have the decision to alter a fellow human’s DNA. Instead, each of those stories is allotted several minutes of exposition and a couple minutes of action in one episode. As a result, those stories are both rushed and boring, and the episode they’re a part of has a couple of interesting moments, but no real climax. This is what makes the show feel so meandering, and a tighter structure would probably go a long way toward solving the problem.

Indeed, the best episode of the second season–and probably the best episode since the pilot–was one in which the entire episode was simply centered around a very standard hostage situation. The structure built into that trope lent the episode the sense of building power the show usually lacks. The B-plot in “Uneasy” fares a little better than the A-plot because it too uses a simple trope to give the story some structure: Token Black V is now randomly a prisoner on the V ship (despite coming and going all the time before), the Vs are trying to kill him, and he is trying to get away. With the help of Supergirl and Jane Badler, he finds a secret escape pod and rides it to freedom. But while he himself manages to escape, his daughter remains in the hands of the Vs. This is a pretty well done story that offers a strong resolution while still providing serialized threads to pick up on later.

But even in the rare cases when V is able to provide its stories with a basic structure, it gets dragged down by heavy-handed thematic material. In the first season, this took the shape of fear-mongering, reactionary political allegory, which the show has thankfully jettisoned. Replacing this, however, is a vapid, religion-tinged philosophy designed around parallel moral conflicts that have created factions within the Vs and the Fifth Column. The conflicts within the Fifth Column are largely ornamental; they simply argue a lot over how much violence is OK to use in service of repelling the great V menace. As of yet, there have been no consequences whatsoever to any of those arguments. The Vs, meanwhile, argue over the merits of human emotion and the human soul, which the show seems to treat as a metaphysical reality, though just how the metaphysics work is unclear. (Can Vs gain a human soul? Wouldn’t that make it a V soul? And so on.) This has created factions within the Vs, with Supergirl, Badler and Token Black V getting closer and closer to forming some kind of an actual resistance.

This is all very similar to the thematic territory Ron Moore’s Battlestar Galactica traversed. That show presented the same kind of religious and moral conflicts in relation to humans and cylons. The difference is that V has proven completely incapable of presenting these themes in anything other than a sappy, ham-handed way. Despite nodding towards Battlestar Galactica’s complex religious material, V’s discussion of the soul has much more in common with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which also viewed the soul as a metaphysical manifestation of morality (though not emotion). But BtVS was able to get away with that simplistic metaphor because it was always just one of many tangential threads, not the central theme of the entire series. I generally respect shows that grapple with religion, but one of the reasons shows don’t is that it’s hard to do. Battlestar Galactica mostly pulled it off; V, on the other hand, isn’t nearly smart enough for this sort of thing, and the philosophical scenes tend to be alternately painful and unintentionally hilarious.

The emphasis on mounting conflicts is one of the few good things V has done recently, however.  Granted, these conflicts are clearly orchestrated, often manipulative, and thematically insipid, but they have managed at the very least to infuse the show with something resembling actual tension for the first time since the pilot. Recent episodes have tended to introduce a couple of new conflicts each episode, and “Uneasy” is no different. I touched on most of these earlier, but Defrocked Priest and Elizabeth Mitchell continue their debate over how much violence is acceptable, which gets a marginally interesting denouement when the fellow they infect dies at the end of the episode without them knowing about it. Token Black V, Supergirl and Badler all team up and form a mini-alliance against Anna. And Hobbes, who set off the bomb that killed Mitchell’s husband a couple weeks back, ends up sleeping with her at the end of the episode. How much and how well V actually uses these conflicts is a bit of a mixed bag, but just having them out there makes the show more bearable and gives the still paper-thin characters an illusion of depth.

Maybe the biggest of V’s problems, though, is that it’s hard to tell just how seriously we’re supposed to be taking these manipulative conflicts and vapid philosophical ideas and ridiculous plot shenanigans. There are times when the show seems willing to push itself into camp, but for the most part it maintains a suffocating self-seriousness that suggests it hasn’t fully gotten over its delusions of Battlestar-like grandeur. Which is too bad, because it really needs to. This is a show with terrible special effects about lizard aliens and a worldwide resistance consisting of five people (sometimes now we see others on a video chat!). Even before touching on all the other problems with the show, that’s not a great recipe for creating Quality Television (which isn’t to say it can’t be done, but it’s hard), but it is a pretty good recipe for mindless entertainment, if only the show would let itself go. V has recently started amping up the gross-out gore (in this episode, people would occasionally vomit foamy pink stuff), which is a good sign in this instance. Likewise, the scenes between the once, current and would-be V queens have taken on a very welcome soapy quality (Badler, in particular, looks to be having a great time chewing on the very cheap, computer-generated scenery). Unfortunately, the rest of the show hasn’t followed suit.

But at this point, it hardly makes a difference. Even if it did reinvent itself as camp, it would still be an inferior option to The Cape. And being not quite as good as The Cape isn’t exactly something a show could brag about.

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