Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Cancelled Well Before It Ought To Have Been, V Season Two Impresses!

The Good: Decent character development, Much of the acting, Special effects, Great storyline
The Bad: Character inconsistencies, Little bit of acting, Lack of resolution.
The Basics: With only ten episodes, V Season Two ramps the viewer up to . . . an abrupt end.

Stylistically, I am deeply tempted to begin this review and then, mid-way end it without explanation or a final rating. That would mirror what, quite unfortunately, happens with V Season Two. My wife and I recently rewatched V Season One (reviewed here!) in advance of her presenting me with season two as an Easter gift. While this usually would be considered a great gift, the two-disc Blu-Ray set left both of us ultimately depressed. While I missed the first few episodes when they originally aired, the entire season was new to my wife. As the show progressed and after virtually every episode, my wife turned to me and said, “This show is so smart, why did they cancel it?!” to which I always responded, “Wait until you see where they left it!”

The thing is, when the season gets to its abrupt conclusion, it is hard not to feel sour, especially when one considers that shows like Gray’s Anatomy stay on the air for years and new shows like GCB and Don’t Trust The B In Apartment 23 are nowhere near as smart as V was. And the cliffhanger makes it impractical to simply finish the series off with a single movie, a la Firefly and Serenity. The result is a pretty wonderful ten-episode season that is virtually impossible to recommend as enthusiastically as it ought to be.

Picking up shortly after where the first season ended, Anna’s release of a compound that is turning the sky red has the world on edge. After a week of Red Sky, a rain falls and while it does, Erica Evans uses her son Tyler to get her aboard the New York mothership and establish contact with Anna. Anna reveals Red Sky to be a way for the Vs to revitalize the environment of Earth and strengthen the biosphere. Erica is, naturally, skeptical and it does not take long for her to confirm that the Red Sky boosted the potassium in the food chain, which the rebels, now aided by a scientist Sid, soon learn means that the Visitors will be able to breed in humans.

As Tyler continues to distance himself from Erica, Lisa takes more risks for the humans and Ryan comes under the thumb of Anna, who has the now-resurrected Joshua give his baby an illness only Anna’s bliss may cure. But even as Chad Decker joins the fight on the ground and inadvertently plays Anna’s pawn in a mission to keep the Catholic Church from endorsing the Visitors, Anna’s control begins to waver. Locked in the bowels of the New York mothership is Diana, Anna’s mother and when Lisa learns she is still alive, the Resistance has real hope for the first time in a long time. But that hope is quickly jeopardized when Anna realizes the true strength of Ryan’s hybrid child . . .

Even writing about the second season of V is enough to get me riled up. The show, heavily serialized, built extraordinarily well upon the first season and upon each episode in the second season. With twists and turns around almost every virtual corner, V was getting better and better when it was abruptly canceled. And, on the subject of the virtual corners - V employed mostly virtual sets from Zoic Studios – the special effects in the show continued to get better and better as the season progressed, making it even more gripping as it fleshed out a disturbing new reality.

The cast for V remained fairly stable, though there were significant casualties, mostly in the climax of the series. To better understand how the show gripped its audience, it helps to know who shaped the world of V. In the second season, the principle characters include:

Erica Evans - A smart FBI agent, she is now the head of the Anti-V Task Force, which roots out threats to the Visitors. It does not take long before she discovers that her partner is a Visitor and after dispatching her, she is troubled when an old friend joins the team and potentially makes her life more difficult. Feeling her grip on Tyler slipping, she calls in Tyler’s father as an act of desperation. Following a disastrous hostage situation, she finds herself in command of the worldwide Fifth Column defending the planet against the Visitors,

Ryan Nichols – Utterly trapped by Anna, he is forced to work against the Fifth Column in order to try to save his daughter’s life. When he betrays Erica, Erica kicks him to the curb, giving him very little to fight for other than his daughter’s life,

Father Jack Landry - A Catholic priest, he brings Chad inside the Fifth Column. When his anti-V rhetoric leads to a suicide bombing that kills Visitors and humans, he is laicized. Living in Hobbes’s bunker, he remains the heart of the Resistance and does what he can to keep Erica focused and human,

Chad Decker – Having seen that the Visitors are torturing those who are a part of the Live Aboard program and discovering that the Visitors themselves have a resistance movement, he joins Erica’s Fifth Column cell. Still using his access to get close to Anna, when his show’s ratings begin to slip, he gladly takes on a co-anchor who helps him get the truth out,

Kyle Hobbes – The arms dealer continues to dig into why the Visitors want him out of the way and he searches for Sarah, the woman they claim is still alive and they have access to. He helps Erica fight against the Visitors with an appropriately brutal sensibility,

Tyler – Now eighteen, he becomes the first human to pilot a Visitor shuttle. But his genetic irregularities are soon revealed to be not only the result of Visitor tampering, but a key part of their longterm goals on Earth. As he romances Lisa, he unwittingly performs a vital function for Anna. Rejecting Erica, he spends most of his time on the New York mothership,

Sid - A young scientist who discovered a Visitor body that was over fifty years old, he is up to speed on what the Visitors seem to be doing on Earth. His studies allow Erica to sabotage a Blue Energy reactor and almost keep up with the Visitors as they harvest human DNA,

Joshua - The Visitor medic appears to have no knowledge of his life before being shot. As a result of forgetting his time as a Fifth Column member, he aids Anna in accelerating the growth of her final Queen Egg and unleashing her progeny,

Lisa - Anna's daughter, she has real love for Tyler. Bearing the fear that Joshua might remember her part in the destruction of Anna’s army, she leaves the ship as often as possible. Upon witnessing Anna returning from the dungeon, she finds a surprising ally in Diana,

Marcus - Anna's ruthless security chief and chief lieutenant. He watches Anna lose her grip on more than one occasion. Believing she is being corrupted by human emotions, he bides his time, trying to keep her focused on their mission,

and Anna - The leader of the Visitors, she has the ability to tap into the Visitors' hive mind with a Bliss that keeps them in line. Following the outburst that led to Red Sky, she moves Concordia ahead and prepares to land the cloaked ships which will be the final part of the invasion of Earth. All the while, she torments Diana, keeps a close eye on Lisa and takes Ryan’s daughter in in a way that makes the child identify her as its mother!

The acting in the second season is largely excellent. Charles Mesure and Christopher Shyer stand out for their performances as Hobbes and Marcus. Shyer does cold and creepy with an expertise that makes me eager to find other things he has been in. And while Mesure is clearly used sometimes simply to appear without a shirt, his portrayal of Hobbes as the ultimate pragmatist is excellent.

Much of the show hinges on Elizabeth Mitchell and Morena Baccarin. Mitchell, unfortunately, plays Erica much the way she played her character on Lost, so she alternates between talking in whispy, quiet tones, shouting and emoting simply by opening her eyes very wide. Baccarin, on the other hand, gives Anna a decently long arc. She is not simply presenting Anna falling apart and thus, the character works exceptionally well because she slowly peels back the character’s resistance to human emotions. It is the slow burn of Baccarin’s performance that makes Anna’s character move in the final episode one that it makes sense for Lisa to buy into.

The real acting winner, though, is Joel Gretsch. Gretsch plays Father Jack Landry and in the second season, he steps out of any lingering shadow he was in from The 4400. Gretsch alternately plays a priest with an iron backbone and a deeply hurt man from whom everything he cares has been stripped. The way Gretsch looks at Mitchell’s Erica speaks so much about his humanity and the longing he has to cling to all that is good. Gretsch makes Landry the one to watch over the course of the second season!

Now on Blu-Ray, V Season two comes loaded with deleted scenes, a blooper reel and two featurettes, none of which satisfactorily explore how such an amazing show could get shitcanned. Usually, I would advocate waiting until the whole series is out or a film follow-up was being developed to purchase a season like this. But, with ABC Productions holding all the cards in this case, that possibility seems exceedingly remote. Buy it while you can find it!

For other parts of the V Saga, be sure to check out my reviews of:
V: The Final Battle
V: The Television Series


For other television reviews, please visit my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing of all the shows and seasons I have reviewed!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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