November 17th, 2009
In its first four episodes, V has one of the toughest tasks in network television: it needs to both create a sense of momentum (in order to continue to engage viewers) and also leave viewers wanting more (so that they’ll come back when the show returns in March to finish its first season). What’s been clear thus far for the series is that it is sort of trapped between the two tasks, unwilling to blow its metaphorical load but also unwilling to slow things down to fully pull out the most interesting elements of the show’s mythology. It’s led to a methodical but unfocused start to the series, and unfortunately one which hasn’t yet pulled me in to the degree that it seems to want to.
The problem with “A Bright New Day” isn’t that it is doing anything particularly wrong with this premise, but rather that it feels entirely inorganic when introducing any sort of new developments. There is nothing elegant about this show, and while it (unlike FlashForward) has done well to keep its stories more inherently related to the plot of the series it has done nothing to make some of those inherently relevant stories entertaining (although parts of this episode are on the right path). The show is so desperate to show us certain things, and to have certain characters be in certain situations, that it doesn’t really care how it accomplishes it.
And while a more cheesy, 80s inspired series with some flair could easily get away with this, a show that purports to take itself seriously is going to run into a narrative brick wall, hiatus or no hiatus.
There’s effectively six storylines in this episode, which is more than any show should be forced to juggle and which over time does start to wear on the show’s narrative. What it does right, however, is that all of them eventually end up leading back to the same two sources: the Vs obsessive control of their public relations is the impulse behind both the would-be assassin and the protesting widow, along with Lisa and Tyler’s flirtations, while the rise of the Fifth Column is the result of Father Jack’s interactions with Georgie, Ryan’s interactions with Cyrus, and Joshua’s interrogation of the still alive, but amnesiac, Dale (Alan Tudyk). It allows the episode to, when we reach its conclusion, clearly divide itself between good and evil in an organized fashion, putting the first four members of the resistance together in one room and also setting up how difficult their battle will be when the Vs are proving so adept at infilitrating the hearts and minds of the common folk (represented, without question, by Tyler’s naivete).
However, the various storylines never felt like they individually achieved much of anything, albeit to different degrees. Highlights were certainly the scenes involved Morena Baccarin and Alan Tudyk, who both got some more interesting work in the episode. With Tudyk, the scenes with a once-undercover V relating their experience on Earth to an eager young V (Joshua) who’s trying to jog his memory was a nice bit of exposition (in terms of how long he’d been on Earth, and what his attitude was towards the position) and eventually a nice twist in terms of Joshua being part of the Fifth Column. It’s the first time that I think the show has legitimately surprised me with a twist like this, and while it isn’t a huge deal it does finally show a chink in the V armor – we’ve seen a traitor in the form of Ryan before, but to see them within the Mothership itself helps those scenes have a bit more tension.
And, as is par for the course, Morena Baccarin continues to really relish this role. The nature of the part means that Baccarin gets to be the star of the show even when seen from afar riding a glass elevator, but the scene where she is rehearsing the right level of emotion for her speech to the widow is the kind of sequence that does feel quite elegant. The Vs are supposed to be inorganic, so for them to be controlling things in this nature feels entirel natural, and I thought that the reveal of the entire scenario being one giant hoax demonstrates the sort of tactics they’re willing to use. The show still needs to give us more answers in terms of why they’re going about things this way, not just destroying humanity when they’re capable of doing so, but the episode at least both a) actually had Father Jack ask that question and b) delivered evidence that watching the Vs go through that process could be entertaining.
The episode sort of started to fall apart from there, albeit not entirely. I thought Erica’s storyline suffered primarily because her role felt highly random: there was nothing to really tie her to that sequence, and it seemed like it was just an excuse to have her in the V complex in order to see the secret surveillance room (where she discovers the true technology behind their jackets). The same goes for Father Jack, who was insane to run off on his own in search of Georgie and who seemed out of place even looking at the files – yes, the show eventually brought up the former point, but it seemed like it was necessary because Erica was busy fulfilling exposition and so Father Jack was forced to help bring the whole gang together. The end result may be desirable for the show, but the means they took to get there just didn’t make for the smoothest plotting in the world.
And while I find Ryan as a character to be sort of worthless, and his human storyline sort of sucks the life out of the show since we have no reason to care about his wife except for her relationship to him, I thought the introduction of “John May” (as an idea, if not as a person) is a smart one. I’m hoping the show doesn’t rush to show us this mysterious individual, because I really like the idea of the Resistance using his name (which clearly strikes fear in Anna’s right-hand man when he comes across the writing on the back of the door at Cyrus’) without actually knowing whether he’s involved. The Resistance is uniquely situated to exaggerate their numbers using the existing paranoia regarding the Fifth Column, with Ryan offering unique perspective. It’s an element that I actually think is kind of compelling, so I hope that it will be utilized in the future.
And yet, for all of those elements that I enjoy, all of them were a bit clunkily introduced, and more problematic done in combination with yet another element of Tyler and Lisa’s great romance. Even when we learn that Lisa is actually Anna’s daughter, and that she really is part of a ruse to try to take advantage of Tyler in some capacity, the storyline lacks any sort of spark. This is largely because Tyler isn’t the person we should be following in this situation, both because the character is uninteresting and because Lisa is fundamentally more intriguing. The episode demonstrated that seeing a V on the inside is valuable at a level that isn’t Anna, and the idea of focusing on Anna’s daughter as she manipulates (but, of course, eventually falls in love with and considers abandoning the cause in order to save him – give it time) is imminently more compelling. Whether the show is willing to make that switch, to completely depict Tyler as an innocent victim and limit his own angst, will depend on what happens with Scott Rosenbaum takes over, but for now the storyline is just dull.
All in all, I’d consider it a step in the right direction for the show, but one that’s more than a bit rushed in trying to set things up for next week’s fall finale.
- Tudyk was great and all, but the exposition bit of there being another V in the FBI was a bit on the nose. Also, there were two act breaks that were aggressive statements from Dale, and the similarity didn’t feel thematic in any way.
- What did feel thematic was a collection of scenes wherein things were just missed: there were a lot of pans from one person leaving to another arriving, and the episode picked up on it with the predictable scene where Tyler’s image showed up in the wall of screens just as Erica leaves.
- Scott Wolf got put into a completely supporting position, and it was interesting how we never saw whether the Vs fed him the widow interview (although it’s certainly implied).
- I’m hoping we never have to see the Mother/Son talk: the opening segment was Elizabeth Mitchell’s weakest acting on the night, and I don’t want the show to go back to melodrama after setting itself up for the “finale.”