BY MOMUS CARPER
“The great ships hung motionless in the air, over every nation on Earth. Motionless they hung, huge, heavy, steady in the sky, a blasphemy against nature. Many people went straight into shock as their minds tried to encompass what they were looking at. The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t.” – Douglas Adams
I thought of this passage, describing the Vogon Constructor Fleet from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, while watching the first episode of ABC’s “V,” a “reimagining” of the ‘80s surprise hit miniseries a la “Battlestar Galactica.” The ships in “V” aren’t yellow, but they sure are ugly, resembling something like huge, partially collapsed dome stadiums that just hang there inexplicably in the sky throughout the first four episodes of the series.
The original “V” isn’t really as good as you may remember it to be. It’s terribly dated in terms of production values—seriously, it’s “A-Team” cheesy. The acting is atrocious. But, to be fair, it holds up a lot better than the original “Battlestar Galactica,” and that reimagining turned out to be pretty darn good, until the writers crawled up their own butts in the last season. The success of Galactica seems to have changed the world of TV sci-fi, establishing a new, anti-”Star Trek” model, placing a newfound emphasis on human drama and competent acting, rather than dreary alien-of-the-week parables.
And god, the sheer banality of those aliens. Sci-fi TV has always been atrociously anthropocentric, with aliens from distant planets always being more or less people with weird rubber bumps on their foreheads. In the past, it’s been easy to attribute this to the limitations of the medium, but lately it’s become possible to render any image one can conjure on the screen, and still the aliens (or androids) are entirely human—their appearance, their motivations, their emotional conflicts, all of it. If anything, the aliens of “V” and the Cylons of “Battlestar Galactica” are more human, having shed the cornball eccentricities of Star Trek’s nauseous attempts at interstellar multiculturalism. It makes for more compelling drama, actually, since the dialogue isn’t just a conveyance for clunky sociological metaphors. But it also reveals that the limitations in portraying a convincing alien intelligence were never technological; they are neurological. We just aren’t that good at fantasizing anything but reflections of ourselves. Our aliens look like us for the same reason our gods look like us—a deficiency of human imagination, coupled with the narcissistic notion that the way we are is the best way to be. Even when the aliens/androids are mildly different from us, they are invariably fascinated by us, want to be more like us, and of course, they find us sexually attractive. How could they not, right? Since we do and all.
In “V,” while the aliens look human, and will spend most of the series that way, they are secretly lizard people in human suits. It’s quite a stroke of luck that these reptilians can speak English without a trace of an accent and are just the right shape to mimic us—bipedal, no tail, et cetera. But, while all of that is typical sci-fi convention, what’s really kind of annoying is that no one in the fictional earth the Visitors are visiting seems to think it’s odd that the aliens from outer space look exactly like people. I mean really, no one even brings it up, except for a single, brief question from a reporter, which is glibly rebuffed. The reporter says “Our scientists can’t explain it”—that’s convincing dialogue, eh?—and Anna, the babe-queen of the Visitors, says “Ours can,” and that’s the end of it.
Think about that. Imagine these massive spaceships appeared over earth’s major cities. Everyone’s freaking out. Then the aliens broadcast a message to us, and the message is delivered by a woman who looks and sounds like a spokesmodel for Virgin Mobile. No pointy ears, no forehead ridges, nothing at all to indicate she isn’t just some hottie from Connecticut. And all of her fellow aliens also look and sound like regular people, with regular clothes and haircuts. This isn’t a topic of interest? No one says, “hey, how come these space aliens are just people? Are they related to us? Are they really weird-looking and they’re wearing disguises so as not to alarm us? Is this all just some publicity stunt to promote Virgin Mobile?” Because I think those would be among the first things a lot of people wondered.
It’s really intolerable to me that this impossible fact—the completely identical appearance of the space aliens to humans—goes by virtually unmentioned in “V.” I mean, really, what are the odds that an alien race from another planet would have evolved to be completely identical to us in every way, down to the last detail? How in hell does the US government consent to mingling with aliens without asking for some medical scans, or any information about their physiology at all? “V” portrays a humanity so head-slappingly gullible that I feel like they kind of deserve to be invaded and eaten by lizard people. Each character lurches about like a drunk in a bounce house, planless in the most important hour of his existence. The main character, an FBI MILF whose partner turns out to be a Visitor, spends the second episode pretending not to know the most vital piece of information in the world—that the Vs are evil lizard people—for fear that her superiors are also evil lizard people. She doesn’t tell anyone—not her boss, or his boss, or the FBI director, or the President, or even her teenage son, whose primary goal in life is to bone a hot V chick. She doesn’t go to an internet café and post the information anonymously, she doesn’t call any newspapers. The only person she can confide in is a ridiculously hunky priest who saw the same lizard massacre she did.
We’re supposed to be rooting for these people, but by the end of the second episode it is plausible to think that this clueless FBI agent is actually responsible for the impending massacre of her species, for not speaking out immediately about what she’s seen. Remember, this dumbass has enough information to devise a foolproof test to see if someone’s a visitor—just cut them and see if there’s lizard skin underneath. I’m no FBI agent, but if I were in this woman’s shoes, I would feel it was absolutely my solemn duty to inform as many people as possible as quickly as possible about what I knew. Instead, this idiot’s main concern is scrambling for alibis and covering up evidence.
Why? The sad answer is that acting in an intelligent, professional manner would screw up the plot for the writers. So, instead of reacting like reasonable adults to the events unfolding around them, these characters are inexorably driven to behave in whatever unlikely way they must to set up the next plot point in this transparent allegory for creeping fascism.
And about that: It’s a bit thin, but there are a few hints here and there in the pilot that seem to indicate that the fascism unfolding in the new “V” is not the classic Hitlerian fascism of the original miniseries but the paranoid projections of fascism that are imputed to Obama by the teabag set. There is a lot of talk of the Visitors “spreading hope” and “being at peace,” and even offering “universal health care.” There is even the obsequious press, represented by that Michael J. Fox knock-off from Party of Five as an unconvincing telejournalist who trades softball questions for access to the hot V spokesmodel. The buildup to their interview is a crude, but not entirely inaccurate, shorthand illustration of how reporters are cowed into obedience, but given the other political touchstones in the pilot it seems more like the kvetching of a disgruntled conservative against the “Obamedia.” The mindless enthusiasm of the teenage son becoming a “peace ambassador” seems an obvious corollary to a McCain voter’s impression of the verve of Obama’s young supporters, who will form his “civilian defense force” in the paranoid fantasies of Michelle Bachmann. There is also an obligatory “It’s like 9/11 never happened” line, which really makes no sense in the context of invading space aliens. If the original “V” was really about how Nazis came to power, this version appears to be a hysterical Glenn Beck-style vision of the coming Stalinist purges. ABC, after all, is the network that ran the ahistorical propaganda atrocity of Republican bias called “The Path to 9/11,” refused to run the Reagans miniseries because it wasn’t worshipful enough, and employed John Stossel for years after he became an obvious CATO flunkie.
So far, it’s just enough to be annoying, although the universal health care bit really was too much. I almost hope, really, that they get more heavy-handed with it—perhaps the Vs could form death panels, or take everyone’s guns.
Despite all this, “V” succeeds, to some extent. In its best moments, it has a cool, paranoid vibe, and Anna especially is a nice combination of creepy and attractive. But the new “V” suffers from one of the same problems the original did, and frankly, Galactica did too: The enemy is way too powerful to defeat, or really even survive against. The odds are ridiculous. The whole premise of the series is fairly silly when you consider that they could simply invade earth and kill everyone within hours —what is the point of all the deception? And how do the rag-tag rebels keep escaping the clutches of the seemingly omnipotent Vs? Why do the Vs, upon discovering a meeting of the anti-V resistance, rush in with machetes (space-machetes?), rather than, say, laser guns—or just regular guns? Simple: because that’s the only way the main characters can survive. Again and again in this series, we are expected to just accept whatever happens, regardless of how little sense it makes. For instance, one of the “good” Vs is engaged to a woman who doesn’t know her husband is a lizard, and is pregnant with his lizard seed (yet another biological impossibility). Doesn’t that make him an incredible asshole? Apparently not, as he is clearly one of the main heroes of the story.
I know, I know; it’s only a TV show. And it might even be a good one, if it weren’t constantly asking me to ignore fundamental plot holes. I try, but they… they just hang there. And I’m rooting for the Vs anyhow.