“A Bright New Day” is half snooze, half actual plot momentum, as though the producers of “V” realized about midway through that, hey, this is a show about alien warfare they’re building here, so everyone involved might as well get down to fightin’ some aliens. With all of the ABC “Lost”-alikes this season, it often seems like the network really truly thinks that what made “Lost” such a popular show with so many people was its sense of dramatic portent, those scenes when the characters stared ominously into the distance as ominous music played and ominous birds made ominous noises off in the ominous distance. But that’s not why it was at all! “Lost” is a really fun show, and it has a great sense of how to balance out its ability to be portentious with its ability to have, like, Hurley drive a van through some Others. So far, “V” and “FlashForward” haven’t quite figured this out yet, but at least there were indications “V” knows the direction to head in in this episode.
But the bad thing is that all involved with “V” apparently think the best way to go about a show about killin’ those damned aliens is by turning it into a police procedural. Tonight, there’s a death threat against the V’s, so, naturally, they turn to Elizabeth Mitchell’s Erica because a.) the V’s don’t have security measures of their own and b.) Erica’s the only woman for the job and c.) No one’s apparently realized that she was Dale’s partner, and maybe the fact that he died and was with her at the resistance meeting where he died doesn’t raise any alarms for the V’s, who mostly seem concerned with making sure they’re pleasing all of the people all of the time at this stage of their mysterious plan. (To the show’s credit, at least Erica and Joel Gretsch’s Jack vocalized some of our questions about what’s going on, like why the V’s don’t just blast us all to kingdom come and then take our kangaroos or whatever it is they’re here for.)
[More on Tuesday (Nov. 17) night’s “V” after the break…]
So, yeah, the V’s decide to bring Erica on board. Even though this is all revealed to be a massive plot on Anna’s part to create a situation where the humans seem like the war mongerers and the V’s seem like the peaceful hippies, there’s really no good reason for them to bring Erica in on it, and there’s just too much risk involved in the whole plot. Obviously, no one knows Erica’s a member of the budding resistance, since they bring her into V headquarters NYC, but it still doesn’t make a lot of sense to let ANY human so close to everything the species holds dear. Naturally, Erica finds her way into a giant room where she learns that V’s can use their jackets for surveillance footage of the human race. This probably isn’t as creepy a notion as the show wants it to be (honestly, the British do a much better job of watching everybody all of the time with garden variety cameras), but the image of all of the surveillance footage floating there in midair is kind of cool.
All in all, the assassin among the V’s plot is pretty much a botch. Watching Erica track an assassin through a secret alien lair should be a lot cooler than it is. Instead, it feels like your garden variety episode of “Criminal Minds” with a few occasional references to lizard people. Last week, that was pretty much all there was, but this week, the show at least finds some other stuff to fill out around the edges of the episode, and all of that stuff ends up saving it from being too stupid. It takes a while (roughly two-thirds of the episode), but things come abruptly to life as the episode steams toward its conclusion.
For one thing, Erica seems less like an automaton as the episode goes on. Sure, we saw her hanging out around the house in short shorts as the episode began, but she was going over case files to figure out if anyone in them might be a member of the resistance from the meeting she attended at the same time. Sure, it’s a fun way to show that she doesn’t exactly grasp the concept of “fun,” but a woman who’s so into her work that she can’t quite cut loose? That’s something every other TV show has. So as the episode wore on and she used her time in the V compound to get back with Jack and David Richmond-Peck’s George and compare notes, she felt less like that automaton and more like someone who’s convinced the V’s have ulterior motives. (And since she saw Dale trying to kill her and his true face, she’s one of the few characters I absolutely buy would think the V’s are bad news.) Also, she got to play the first scene with her son that didn’t feel like it was written by people who’ve never had to watch a mother and son interact, as she tried to figure out how the hell to deal with the fact that her son had a half-naked girl in his room but she was also totally hot. Mitchell balanced her anger at her son with a sort of bubbling pride in this scene, and it was one of the first to figure out that this material can also be played for laughs.
As far as that son, Logan Huffman’s Tyler, goes, his plot continued to involve his desire to get close to the V’s, his lusting after Laura Vandervoort’s Lisa and his goofy best friend (who really must be written out of the show) figuring out ways to get him closer. Lisa and Tyler make eyes over pizza at the pizza place she just happened to hear was the best ever (I assume Tyler told her this, if memory serves, and that she didn’t consult yelp.com or something). All of this was the usual boring boringness until the final moments, when Erica stumbled into their makeout session and when Lisa returned to the ship to reveal that Morena Baccarin’s Anna is her mom. The two have plans for Tyler, which I suppose could be predicted, but at least the whole thing indicated that Vandervoort’s performance is better than anyone gave her credit for, since she’s uncannily aping Baccarin’s performance.
Also, Morris Chestnut’s Ryan went after another former alien traitor friend, then found himself betrayed and forced to turn the tables. This is exactly what happened to him last week, if you’re playing along at home, but at least this week he infodumped a bunch of exposition on us about how his group is called the Fifth Column, how they’re led by a man named John May, how there’s some sort of “bliss” that keeps the V’s in line, etc., etc., etc. The exposition was not all that elegantly threaded through the story, but at least there was some of it. For a while, it seemed like “V” might consist entirely of people staring at things, and now there was actual information being conveyed! And then Ryan and George and Jack and Erica all got together at Jack’s church to plot their next moves, when just last week it seemed like they wouldn’t be hanging out until season four at least.
By far, the episode’s best moment belonged to Anna again, who got her own version of that scene in “Michael Clayton” where Tilda Swinton prepares for the interview by working herself into some crocodile tears as she prepares to deal with the leader of the anti-V movement in New York, the widow of an F-15 pilot who died the day the V’s came to town. Baccarin continues to show she’s got a real talent for this sort of, well, reptilian placidness, a real talent for playing a character who’s playing a character, and her plot was the best indication that “V” is starting to figure out what it wants to do. The Cindy Sheehan-esque widow was kind of a boring and implausible character but in seeing fit to show us Anna psyching herself up for the very act of appearing human, “V” suggested it is figuring out a way to plumb the cheesy depths of its premise.
It’s really too bad that Scott Wolf has mostly been reduced to sharing exposition. He’s one of the most compelling things about the show, and if the series must be a procedural about people investigating aliens, at least it could be a journalistic procedural. We don’t have any of those on the air right now.
Oh, and Alan Tudyk is dead now, betrayed by the Fifth Column! It’s too bad that he’s gone, but that was the first twist on the show that made me say, “Hey. Now THAT’S something.”
Man, wouldn’t John Christopher’s Tripod trilogy make a cool TV miniseries or whatever? Somebody get on this post haste.
Your discussion question: Just what IS the plan the V’s have for us?