The Good: Good stories, Interesting character works, Compelling acting, Decent effects
The Bad: Still a few growing pains and moments of character/plot that don't quite work.
The Basics: When cracks in The Committee begin to form, Sydney is assigned to rehabilitate a professional assassin, not knowing who his next mark might be!
This review is for the proper VR-5 - Vol. 3 - Love And Death / 5D that was released. Given how difficult it is to find these videos anyway, one suspects it will not be as much of an issue, but it is important to note that in this case, many sources go off old information and the manufacturer confirmed that the error was fixed prior to production and mass market release.
That said, there is a delightful moment for fans of VR-5 where the show leaps out of its initial expositional rut and becomes something that is fascinating, dangerous and far less clunky than it originally was. With the two episodes on "Volume 3," VR-5 releases its potential and leaps up as a science fiction masterpiece that explodes with character and a streak of intrigue that will captivate new viewers as well as reinvigorate those hanging on from the beginning.
With "Love And Death," the Committee gives Sydney a new assignment, one that puts her in a disturbed mind of an employee of the Committee who has gone a.w.o.l. Making contact with Jackson Boothe, Sydney discovers he has stopped work because he carries profound guilt over an accident wherein his attempt to kill a mark resulted in the death of his lover. Shocked, but assigned to get Boothe back to work, Sydney soon realizes that Boothe's rehabilitation means his next assignment is likely a hit and when Dr. Morgan goes out on a limb to help Sydney complete her mission, she begins to worry about who that new mark might be.
In "5D," Oliver Sampson takes over as Sydney's liaison with the Committee. Distrustful of Oliver, Sydney begins to believe he may be on her side when he works doggedly to reveal who killed another member of the Committee. Sydney's discovery puts her in danger and she finds her way to a secret room that begins to open more potential doors for her than anywhere she has been so far.
First off, "Love and Death" and "5D" are slick, stylish and just plain cool. The concept behind VR-5 is pretty simple: Sydney Bloom uses her computer and its super-advanced virtual reality system to enter the subconscious minds of those she calls on her telephone and solve puzzles. As she works for the Committee, she begins to unravel her past and the fate of her long-dead father and sister and Dr. Bloom's relationship with the shadowy Committee. In these two episodes, the Committee begins to look more nefarious with its use of assassins and its members being killed for reasons unknown.
"Love And Death" gives a great chance for Sydney and Dr. Morgan to explore their relationship and reveal what kind of trust exists between the sardonic doctor and his ward for the Committee. Sydney rises to the occasion and begins to truly open up with Morgan and the results make for interesting character twists and wonderful television. And because the show is serialized and Sydney has been relatively unexposed to the world at large prior to the beginning of her work for the Committee, "5D" makes a great deal of sense, especially her immediate distrust of Oliver Sampson.
Sampson has a stiff, British formality and loyalty to him that makes him an excellent contrast to Dr. Morgan. Sampson has a menace to him that seems to embody the new twist on the Committee revealed by its employing Jackson Boothe. This instantly raises the stakes of the series and makes for much more interesting character dynamics than Sydney, Duncan and Dr. Morgan had as a triangle.
There is also a wonderful sense of plot structure that carries over these two episodes and it works wonderfully to finally create a more unified narrative than the show had in its first three episodes (on volumes 1 & 2). In fact the only truly disappointing plot conceit comes in the final moment of "5D" and it simply undermines the menace of the casualties in the series . . . except that it also has a much more sinister undertone to it, so it works on one level.
VR-5 is a show that is initially very easy to write off because it is pretty hard science fiction. With "Love And Death," it embodies the best of what science fiction can be when it tackles a compelling human drama and makes a complex character bleed. Jackson Boothe is a man who is an assassin who is plagued by his love and the trauma caused when his work interferes with his personal life. What that means for him becomes the struggle of much of the episode and he becomes an instantly memorable character on VR-5 that fans hope they will see again.
Similarly, "Volume 3" overcomes some of the initial problems the show had with its acting by ratcheting up the character elements and giving the performers more to work with. Dr. Frank Morgan suddenly becomes tormented, but Will Patton pulls it off. Unlike his simple doctor character in Robert A. Heinlein's “The Puppet Masters”, (reviewed here!), Patton here makes a realistic transformation that is actually tortured on some level. We watch as Patton struggles between his obvious loyalty to the Committee and his growing affection for Sydney and his almost parental desire to see her in less pain and to learn the truths that the Committee possesses. But it is Patton's performance that takes what could be an almost devastating reconfiguration of the sardonic character and sells it as a development.
Anthony Stewart Head joins VR-5 as Oliver Sampson and this makes it easy to see how he went from this project to Buffy The Vampire Slayer (reviewed here!). He has the ability to portray mysterious, in charge and efficient in a way that few actors working on television can. He also has a dark and subtly violent quality to him that makes it completely believable that he might not be working for the same faction of the Committee as Dr. Morgan was and that allows Head to use the edginess he has to create his character quite well.
Michael Easton continues his supporting role of Duncan in the episodes on this volume, but it is Lori Singer who finally comes into her own as the star of VR-5. Singer's early work in the series was shaky and it was very difficult to tell if she was portraying with complete realism how a normal person would react to being thrust into such extreme circumstances as discovering the VR system would affect a person. However, with "Love And Death," Singer is able to portray Sydney with a straightforward humanism that is wrenching and real and wonderful to watch. Her loss that she plays in "5D" is similarly compelling and she's rounded off much of the stiffness and awkwardness that could be associated with her acting up until this point.
Anyone who likes good action adventure/science fiction drama will enjoy this volume of VR-5. Despite the difficulties of entering a series late, this pretty much represents the final volume one might pick up and start watching without feeling a bit lost by the serialized nature of the series. There is just enough exposition to not feel like exposition, but to catch newbies up on the show in these episodes.
[Sadly, even with VHS being essentially a dead medium, the VR.5 DVD set is out of print and hard to come by. Still, for those interested in it, please check out my overview of the entire series available by clicking here!
“Love And Death” – 7/10
“5D” – 7/10
VHS – 6.5/10
For other television reviews, please visit my index page on the subject!
© 2011, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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