When the current "V" series debuted last year on ABC, I'll admit to thinking that it was pretty decent at first. Granted, that largely has to do with the compelling introductory premise: an alien species makes itself known to humanity at large, but as the series progresses we learn that these aliens -- the Visitors -- do not come in peace. It's hardly an original setup -- particularly since the show is a reboot of a 1983-85 series (it began as a 1983 miniseries, which was then followed by a 1984 miniseries and then a 1984-85 television show) -- but then it doesn't really have to be. If you're into science fiction and aliens, you're probably going to want to watch a show like that. I did, anyway.
I was even interested enough that, during the show's lengthy hiatus, I sought out the original V programs. Whereas the current show kind of took its time getting to the point and still hasn't entirely revealed the Visitors' agenda, the originals wasted little time revealing the aliens' master plan: although the Visitors appeared to be just like us, they were really reptile people who wanted to see humans enslaved and ultimately imprisoned. IN THEIR BELLIES. (They were actually quite fond of lots of Earth animals in that respect, and one of the most memorable scenes in the 1983 miniseries featured Diana -- the series' primary alien antagonist -- gulping down a live guinea pig. In the 1984 TV show, Visitors were shown eating mice in nearly every episode.) Once a band of resistance fighters successfully exposed the truth about the voracious Visitors, they quit pretending to be peaceful and promptly conquered humanity. Much of the population was bagged and frozen and prepped for Visitor grocery stores and festive banquets elsewhere in the galaxy; the remaining humans were relegated to an oppressed existence under martial law. Until the esurient extraterrestrials got around to "processing" their neighborhoods as well, that is.
Pretty bleak stuff, but there was hope! The series focused on a Los Angeles-based group of resistance fighters and their efforts to derail the Visitors' plans, and they did a good enough job depriving the Visitors of Californian long pig that you'd wonder how the heck the aliens managed to get anything done on a global scale. Seriously, they got onto the mothership like every other episode with little more than caps and sunglasses for disguises despite the Visitors knowing what they looked like! Yet, in fairness, the humans had help in these efforts. Some Visitors were on their side (considering that the guy's most well-known role is a cackling oven-roasted supernatural child murderer, it's very weird to see Robert Englund playing a soft-spoken good-guy alien) -- and supposedly all humans look alike to Visitors, and since Visitors wear human skins they mostly look alike to each other as well. Even so, you'd think a technologically advanced species would come up with a way to tighten security.
Oh, and a human girl had a child with a Visitor, and that child developed magical powers that somehow made it the ultimate weapon against the Visitors. The Starchild also rapidly aged from a newborn baby to a six-year-old girl to a fully developed teenage girl within like a year (according to the show's timeline)... so yeah. Despite the seriousness of the show's historical parallels -- the comparison with Nazis was pretty overt at first, especially since one of the principal characters in the initial miniseries was an aged Holocaust survivor who invoked the incident in encouraging his family to stand up to the Visitors -- it eventually devolved into Saturday-morning cartoon fare. But like a Saturday morning cartoon, the series' tone was largely in keeping with the suspension of disbelief required to accept the events. The Visitors devised schemes to crush the resistance that even Krang and Shredder would have rejected; the LA resistance succeeded with ruses straight out of Scooby Doo cartoons (for example, wearing multiple masks on top of each other to repeatedly cast doubt on one's true identity); Diana vamped it up in various sexy uniforms with her big 80s hair and nommed live critters as often as she could. It was the kind of show where episodes ended with freeze frames of the heroes laughing at a joke or Diana snarling in reaction to her latest failure. It was just good, clean, anti-people-eating-alien fun.
The new "V" is not like that. Predictably, latex masks and contact lenses have been replaced by CGI effects, but the most pronounced change is one of tone. Whereas the old series spotlighted a heroic investigative journalist fighting a clumsy battle against an incompetent foe, the current show features a hardcore FBI agent in a more nuanced position. Agent Erica Evans's job is to investigate and counter anti-Visitor terrorist activities, but -- having stumbled onto clues that suggest the more unfriendly nature of the Visitors' plans -- she also heads a small resistance group intent on uncovering just what the aliens are really up to. Moreover, whereas the old Visitors presented in uniform and (in the miniseries'; this was dropped for the TV show) even spoke in a different pitch that identified them as extraterrestrials, many of the new Visitors are hidden among the human population and occupy important positions. As such, in addition to trying to figure out the Visitors' plan, much of the show involves Evans and her team trying to determine who they can trust and, more importantly, who might try to kill them at any given moment. The old show was straightforward; the new show is steeped in conspiracy and suspicion.
And for a time -- the time during which the Visitors' intentions remained largely unknown (even if their manipulative methods and knowledge of the 1983-85 series convinced one that their designs were anything but positive) -- that worked. Sure, the show's developments didn't always proceed in a seamless fashion, and considering the mistrust with which many Americans view foreigners and members of the opposing political party -- to say nothing of many people's feelings towards the nation's first black President -- it is patently unbelievable that they would so openly accept and support beings from another planet. Even so, it was exciting to watch Evans inch closer to the truth. Observing the other principal characters was interesting, as was witnessing the unfolding of events that ultimately brought them together. The Visitors made for especially engaging characters, as Anna, the queen of the Visitors in the current series, utilized methods that were far more devious and methodical than Diana's schemes ever were.
But that was before we knew what Anna was up to -- and that revelation immediately sent the V-train tumbling off the tracks of intrigue into the swamp of stupid. Even before the Visitors' true goals (at least what we know of them so far) were revealed, the Anna began to exhibit a great deal of concern about the possibility of Visitors being infected by... human emotion. Now, this is not an unfamiliar concept in science fiction; often aliens or machines or alien machines view emotion unfavorably and are considerably vexed by it, whether because it seems to give humans an advantage in battle or because its appearance among their ranks weakens their forces for whatever reason. The problem with the new "V," however, is that -- right up until and even after Anna made her views concerning "human emotion" clear -- the Visitors consistently exhibited emotion. Anna and her Visitor cohorts displayed signs of pleasure when their plans came to fruition and were visibly displeased when they met with failure, and they routinely smirked behind the backs of the humans they deceived. Agent Evans's first partner, who was soon outed as a Visitor spy, ranted angrily at length about how disgusted he had been during his time on Earth. While one might argue that he developed human emotion as a result of living among humans, he was never shown being taken to task for exhibiting such passion.
Of course, nailing down what makes "human" emotion unique is hardly an easy task. We might think of love and compassion as human emotions, but many non-human animals seem capable of similarly affectionate displays (though we remain ignorant of the thinking and intentions behind them). Likewise, many non-human species exhibit symptoms of depression and grief. And though there have certainly been shows that draw distinctions between qualities like hatred and mercy, often attributing the "weaker" ones to the human condition, I don't believe I've ever seen a sci-fi show explicitly try to distinguish between "human" emotion and other emotion. Neither does the current "V" -- which, for me, is a major problem. When Anna insinuates that Visitors generally lack human emotion yet goes on to speak about the strength of the bond between a nurturing mother and her child, I can't help but scratch my head and wonder what makes the Visitors' emotions so markedly different from those of humans. And while heartache and sorrow are finally identified as being the "key" to human emotion in the most recent episode, that distinction -- while consistent with what we've seen thus far; Visitors snigger and rage but rarely are shown experiencing emotional distress -- fails to mesh with the Visitors' reasons for fearing the phenomenon.
This is because in the most recent episode -- the second episode of the show's second season -- things have gotten even more ridiculous. The Visitors are not here with intent to eat humans; they're here in order to breed with us. On the one hand, that does make their concerns regarding human emotion a little more understandable (though not what makes it significantly different from what they've been displaying throughout the series). Supposedly Visitors don't experience emotion on their own, but they can feel a state of "bliss" induced by their queen -- and, since Visitors don't seem terribly interested in material wealth, her ability to dispense this good feeling is what enables the queen to maintain control of her people in the same way that employers control their workers with bi-weekly payments. A human-Visitor hybrid, however, would be able to feel human emotion owing to its Earthly parent. As a result, such hybrids would be "immune" to their queen's bliss and impossible to control via the extant Visitor reward system.
On the other hand, this introduces even more problems with the Visitors' plans. For one, that human-Visitor hybrids would be incapable of enjoying Anna's bliss does not seem to present a significant obstacle, as such beings could easily be controlled with other rewards -- namely, the same rewards that our leaders and employers use to control us. (Maintaining this control would probably be even easier for Visitors, since their scientific advancement has provided them with practically unlimited resources to draw upon for rewards.) And if sorrow is the key to human emotion, threatening it could prove even more effective as a method of maintaining control than the quick fix that Anna's bliss provides. That the Visitors -- a technologically and ostensibly intellectually superior race -- do not arrive at these conclusions immediately is rather silly, especially when Anna is already employing these methods in her attempts to control Visitors who have been infected with human emotion.
Even sillier, however, is the notion that the Visitors wasted their time devising such a complicated and deceptive plot when their primary objective was to breed with humans. Heck, maybe this belief stems from my familiarity with comic book and sci-fi nerds, but I'd wager that much of the populace would willingly and happily have sex with aliens! The Visitors didn't need spies in the FBI and fake terrorist attacks to move humans to their cause; they simply needed to install Bowflex machines aboard their motherships and stock up on sexy lingerie. And considering how many Visitors are apparently disguised among the humans, they needn't even have broken their cover to initiate their breeding scheme.
Yet despite these fairly obvious and simple solutions to their problems, Anna nevertheless remains hung up on human emotion and how to "defeat" it... and here's where things get even sillier. Anna wants to overcome human emotion, but to do that she needs to discover the source of human emotion. Makes sense, right? So she orders an intensive investigation into the human brain, determines that removing specific areas can produce largely emotionless individuals, and becomes determined to lobotomize human-Visitor hybrids at birth -- resulting in hybrids that, like Visitors, lack human emotion but can presumably respond to Anna's bliss. Problem solved! Except that's not how Anna solves the problem. Instead, after hearing her mother (Jane Badler, who played Diana in the original series!!!) praise classical music and listening to a sermon by a priest, Anna becomes convinced that the human soul is the seat of emotion. And then, declaring that "the soul is the single greatest threat to [their] species," Anna sets off on a plan to utilize Visitor technology to isolate and destroy the human soul. Literally.
Now, with difficulty, one can imagine an intelligent and highly advanced people coming to this conclusion. After all, if you had no familiarity whatsoever with religious or metaphysical concepts and encountered a culture in which individuals routinely referred to such concepts in their speech, you might mistake them for talking about concrete objects that you could physically observe and affect. But there's no indication that the Visitors hail from a culture so rigidly grounded in physical existence. If they are, that fact should surely have been apparent by now; even concepts like love, justice, and loyalty would have confused them to no end. (Indeed, given that so many of our laws and principles are informed by abstract concepts, it is extremely hard to imagine what such a culture would look like.) And if the Visitors are not wholly ignorant of the intangible, then having them pursue this course -- even for a moment -- is laughable. The writers might as well have had them focus their science on discovering the entrance to Heaven with intent to demand an audience with God.
That's not to say, mind you, that something like that couldn't make for an interesting show. But it would have to begin that way: with aliens fascinated by the concept of the human soul and with intent to explore the supernatural and spiritual world that our inferior technology has yet to penetrate. After all, if the soul really does exist, then it's not wholly ridiculous to imagine that, someday, science -- insofar as science enables us to investigate reality -- might enable us to perceive it. However, in a show that has presented such an established scientific view of the world and paid exceedingly little attention to any supernatural causes up until this point, to have the alien queen suddenly become fixated on discovering the composition of the human soul in a lab is goofier than anything that took place in the original series.-- Wes --