Wednesday, January 12, 2011

TV Episode Review: V “Serpent’s Tooth”

Well, it looks like maybe I was wrong about the show runners deciding to pursue a more aggressively B-movie shtick for the show’s second season, which is enormously disappointing.  “Serpent’s Tooth” marks a depressing return to season one levels of meaningless running about and inane plot progressions.  Forgivable offenses (we’re still watching, aren’t we?) I suppose, but the stripping away of the more graphic elements that gave “Red Rain” a sense of panache are not only absent, but conspicuously so.  Given ample opportunities to produce some poorly CGI’d shock-and-awe this week, the camera turns away from them time and again.  Anna consumes a rat on screen, but it looks absolutely silly, and then the truly gruesome moment is hidden from us completely (Note to V producers:  when your storyline gives you the opportunity to become the first series in history to portray a woman regurgitating a rat into a baby’s mouth, you should not shy from that historic opportunity).  They aren’t even content to give us a look at the aftermath—the baby with a blood smeared face would have bought this show stacks of credibility akin to Scrooge McDuck’s money vault.  They also continue to deny us a good look at the monstrous V-baby by giving it a good coat of human-seal before we get a look at its true form.  The scene itself was hilarious looking, but compared to what it could have been in terms of tone and eeriness, laughter isn’t the first reaction.  Okay, it is the first reaction, but not the strongest.
"Make it stop.  Keep your damned 'soul', but just make it stop."

“Serpent’s Tooth” centers loosely around a bombing plot that may or may not be organized by the Fifth Column (I got the impression that the group behind it might be someone else—or is the Fifth Column just a very disorganized collection of splinter cells?) that is seeking to destroy V installations and visitor sites by blowing them up via bombs strapped to extras who really relish in overacting their roles.  The stupidity of the bombing executions meshes nicely with everything around them, and it certainly helps the utterly inept FBI officials tracking them down that the plotters themselves are so moronic.  The attack is coordinated via an iphone app countdown clock, but the one target they don’t reduce to rubble the first time is anchorman Chad Decker, who could probably use his own dimples as a bomb shelter.  They immediately restart their countdown clock, which makes little sense—if there’s only one remaining target, what are you synchronizing?  And why does he have to be liquefied at the same moment as other targets anyway?  The clock’s only purpose is as a poor plot mechanism to ratchet up tension (which also assumes viewers aren’t sort of eager to see Decker reduced to a walking red paint bomb).

The scenes of “chaos”  surrounding the first round of bombings is equally laughable as people scurry to “get away” from the bomber, who reveals himself by opening up his trench coat like an escort service stripper to reveal himself before detonating it…a few dozen yards from his target.  I won’t pretend that these scenes are ever handled particularly realistically in the action genre, but this one was particularly weak in execution:  As William Avery prepares himself to kiss the world goodbye, people scatter to get away from him by repeatedly running in front of him in both directions, thereby putting themselves much closer to the point of detonation than if they ran in any other compass direction than that one.  And if the panicked dead-to-be in the foreground didn’t distract you too much, you might have noticed the people who are fleeing into the V visitor center, including one man who slows down for a moment to close his umbrella.  Phenomenal.  Words fail me.  But beyond such trivialities is the wonderful realization as the scene reaches its “explosive” climax that Avery is detonating his payload so far from the intended target that at best he’ll break a few of the windows when all he had to do was run through the same open door pedestrians were fleeing into and he could’ve brought the whole building down.  No wonder the Fifth Column can’t make any headway—it wouldn’t surprise me if some of the other bombers were found with their shoes on the wrong feet and hot dogs in place of dynamite sticks.

The rest of the episode concerns itself with Anna’s nefarious, for reasons I don’t entirely understand, plot to get Ryan back on the V’s side by using his human-coated monster baby as a tool to manipulate his emotions.  Which, Anna confirms this week, are seeping into the Vs via the human skin they wear.  I heard her mention this last week, but I assumed she was speaking metaphorically.  Nope, it turns out that our emotions—which this episode goes to great pains to posit are the evidence of a human soul—are apparently housed in our skin and are extremely contagious if you wear a skin suit for too long at a stretch.  Even, apparently, if that skin suit is entirely manufactured on board an alien ship for the purpose of disguise and applied via an aerosol can.  I’m largely in the dark about other viewer reactions to this show, but if you aren’t questioning the writers about the quality of their writing based on stuff like this, then I beg you to explain to me in the comments section what it is that I’m missing.  Until then, I’m going to assume I’m reading the show correctly, which would mean that the show’s theory of humanity is that the emotions come from the soul which is housed in human skin and which will appear in skin even if it is artificially created and never actually belonged to a living human being.  Part of my brain just died.  Also, souls apparently function something like nuclear reactors because Anna’s big revelation after researching all of this is that souls are what “give humans power”. 

This episode also marks the show’s saddest attempt to examine serious thematic elements.  Since those thematic elements largely centered around the soul conversation above, you can imagine how it all went.  The cross cutting between Anna’s moment of revelation about the human soul and Father Jack’s encouragement of Ryan to believe he possesses a soul of his very own were painful to watch.  This might represent the first time in decades of television that a show has actually portrayed characters coming to the conclusion—through the least nuanced dialogue possible—that the soul is both a blessing and a curse with straight faces and earnest efforts to sound genuine and amazed.  I’m not counting the Lifetime network in that estimation. 
Toni V. Sweeney--you should sue them for stealing your title.  And thank them for making your work look better by comparison.
So it was a big step backwards this week and without much hope moving forward.  Ratings don’t seem to be getting any better for V, but it’s not likely to get pulled during the course of this season.  But it might still be time for some drastic changes behind the scenes—it’s not unprecedented (Flash Forward being the most obvious parallel) for a show to rid itself of poor performers and replace them with better writing/producing/directing talent.  If ever a show could use such a house cleaning, it’s V.  A genre show with the potential to be thrilling and fun and gross and fast paced shouldn’t be hemorrhaging viewers like blood from an exit wound in a prime time slot.  Hopefully next week will surprise us, but is anyone really holding out hope of that anymore?  

Overall Rating:  4.8/10

Great Quotes, Interesting Moments, What Not and Occasionally What-have-you:
  •  We seem to discover in this episode that Earth is the only place they can cross breed and that Anna is infertile, that litter of dead soldier puppies not withstanding.
  • That makes Lisa the key to everything, but she's betrayed Anna!  Will the plot convolutions never smooth themselves out?
  • So though Erica felt the need to slice open her own palm last week to extract blood for a blood test, all she needs from Tyler is a spot of toilet paper from a razor nick.  I had really hoped she'd take the scalpel to him too.
  • I don't have any problems with whoever the young lad is playing "the scientist" who discovered the skeleton, but to whoever cast him:  You're HILARIOUS.  Did he make this "discovery" while building a sand castle in his sand box?
  • The show opens with another great shot of the ship over the city--they should just cancel the show and recoup some of their losses by having the CGI team release a 12-month calendar:  "Cities Under Siege:  Cityscapes and Lizard Ships".  I'd buy it.
  • Note to the props department:  When the dialogue reads "we recovered this photo from a security camera, but the resolution is for crap", you probably shouldn't have the corresponding photo be as crystal clear as a facebook profile photo.
  • Ryan's baby looks a bit like the baby from the cover of Notorious B.I.G.'s first album.
  • The recovering of Joshua's memories makes the same sound as an Imperial Probe Droid.
  • "They're willing to kill humans to save humans--That's crazy!"  Father Jack is endlessly amazed by these strange creatures called "humans".
  • Baby torture isn't a real good place to go if your show is already struggling.
  • Hope for next week as evidenced by the preview:  Two words:  "Skin her!"


  1. About the whole "soul" thing: My first reaction was, "It's as if the soul has been scientifically proven and this show is incorporating the recent discovery like The Event likes to incorporate a black president."

    I just wish the characters would be less predictable, but at the same time, less reckless for dramatic effect that doesn't work.

  2. That's hilarious--the writers did seem to think that the proper reaction to the soul was the same level of amazement one would expect from a scientific breakthrough. Nice analogy.