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V 101: A Newbie Viewing Guide
A four-hour miniseries from NBC in 1983 called simply “V” spawned another miniseries, the six-hour “V—The Final Battle” and then “V—The Series,” which died after about 16 episodes in 1984-1985. You might say the premise of the show was to re-create the situation that existed during World War II—except with aliens and scientists instead of Nazis and Jews. Both miniseries and the series are available on three separate DVDs with no extras.
You could argue that “V” didn’t make a huge impact on the scifi TV scene, especially since the series was—to put it kindly—not particularly good. But you’ll still see footage of the Visitors’ shuttles whenever it behooves some network to show small spaceships flying and shooting through the air. And disaster movies that seem to take a page from “V”’s playbook have been popular over the decades since. Look at “Independence Day” and “War of the Worlds,” which both may as well have borrowed elements from the series.
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD
“V” (known as “The Original” now) introduced us to the alien Visitors, who looked exactly like us but had a slight reverberation to their voices and a dislike for bright lights. Our protagonists at first don’t all know each other, but are seen reacting to the alien visitation in various ways. Juliet Parrish (Faye Grant), scientist, and her friends are keen on finding out more about the Visitors’ evolution and DNA. Mike Donovan (Marc Singer) and his fellow broadcasters are all about getting the story. Robin Maxwell (Blair Tefkin), surly teenager, thinks one of the Visitors is hot; Abraham Bernstein (Leonardo Cimino), her neighbor, survived the concentration camps and is wary of this new world order.
At first the Visitors seem to be friends, but Mike takes a video that shows not only their ulterior motives (stealing the Earth’s water and processing humans for food) but also their real faces. They are reptilian. Slowly, resistance builds as the crimes of the Visitors become discovered. Robin is kidnapped and seduced by the Visitors, then rescued; Kristine Walsh (Jenny Sullivan) becomes the Visitor spokeswoman, and the Visitors attack a “safe” resistance camp. The Resistance find Visitor allies in Willie (Robert Englund) and Martin (Frank Ashmore). The Visitors find human allies, such as Daniel Bernstein (David Packer) and Donovan’s mother Eleanor Dupres (Neva Patterson), willing to sell out their friends for power. At the end of “V—The Original,” the Resistance sends a message out to the Visitors’ equally alien and unknown enemies in hopes of finding help.
“V: The Final Battle” brings back many of the same characters for a conclusion. The Resistance stages a successful coup on national television and Julie is captured. The Visitor commander Diana (Jane Badler) attempts to “convert” her. Diana deals with political intrigue on her ship, including the presence of a Fifth Column that is against the Visitors’ mission on Earth. John (Richard Herd) and Pamela (Sarah Douglas), who outrank Diana, start to see how ambitious and callous she is. Robin Maxwell has a child, Elizabeth (Jenny Beck). The death of Elizabeth’s twin becomes the key to success for the Resistance members, and they stage a daring, final attack on the Mothership in hopes of winning Earth back from its enemies.
“V—The Series” begins one year after the final episode. In the first episode, Diana escapes. Julie is working for Science Frontiers trying to harness Visitor technology and Elizabeth morphs from a child to an 18-year-old girl. Science Frontiers’ leader Nathan Bates has discovered that the red toxin that wiped out theVisitors the first time only thrives in cold climates, leaving only part of the Earth with protection—and L.A., naturally, is therefore completely vulnerable.
Diana goes on the offensive again after making a deal with Bates to make Los Angeles an “open city.” Her fleet is hidden behind the moon, ready for action. Elias (Michael Wright) lets his new restaurant, Club Creole, become a Resistance hideout. Elizabeth and Robin both fall for a rebel now with a cause—the Resistance—named Kyle Bates (Jeff Yagher).
The goings-on on the Mothership, meanwhile, are way more interesting than all the dying off the Resistance is doing. Lydia (June Chadwick) arrives to be a thorn in Diana’s side; Charles (Duncan Regehr) comes to marry Diana off and thus send her back to the home planet to bear his children. After the mayhem results in the death of Charles, Diana and Lydia frame a pharmacist in his murder. Then Martin’s twin brother Philip (Frank Ashmore) arrives to take over. In the final cliffhanger episode, the Leader himself comes to Earth with a message of peace. Elizabeth goes willingly into the Leader’s shuttle and flies off with him. Then it explodes, thanks to a jealous Diana.
Why the Series May Have Failed
The main problems with the series were these: no respect for previous plotlines and continuity, no real attempt to create new special effects, no attempt to stick to any sort of logic even within the canon of the show, a sexed-up mentality and no knowledge of science. The writers seemed to depend mostly on melodrama to move the show along—love triangles, betrayals, sexual entanglements, even human (I mean, alien) sacrifice.
The relationships between the characters changed pretty drastically in the series. Even Mike and Julie’s romance fizzled out without explanation in favor of the love triangle between Kyle, Elizabeth and her mom. Did we mention that silly plot device (a metamorphosis) that made Elizabeth the same age as her mom and therefore Robin’s rival in love? The personalities of characters didn’t remain consistent, either. In one episode, Julie did a total about-face and became a total tease, which was completely unlike her. Willie’s English, despite a year on Earth and constant company of humans, got worse instead of better. Around halfway through, the network tried to retool the show and killed off or otherwise got rid of a good portion of the cast, including Robin, Elias and popular mercenary figure Ham Tyler (Michael Ironside). It also got rid of the faux newscasts that began each episode, and somehow the show’s scope became very small.
During the course of the next episodes, more and more Resistance members died off or are sent away until at the end, the Resistance seems to consist of just Mike, Julie, Elizabeth (Jennifer Cooke) and newcomer Kyle. Oh, and Willie. Rumor had it that if the show had lasted any longer, Julie would have been next to kick the bucket. This means that many series favorites were gone by mid-season, never to return (well, unless there was a twin brother involved).
Most of the effects were clearly lifted from the previous miniseries. One re-used scene in particular was a very notable and symbolic one from “The Final Battle,” in which Mike Donovan escapes a shuttle by riding a white horse. The Visitors lost their reverberating “accents,” Elizabeth developed psychic powers and got religion (sort of), Diana’s hair got big and her outfits got shiny. Then there were the plot holes, big enough to jump through and designed to save money. For example, the Visitors decided to staff a legation on Earth instead of dealing with most problems on their Mothership. Fortunately, this made prisoner and food transfers very easy for the humans to disrupt.
Factor in that the show was incredibly expensive to produce, and you have a failed series. One TV critic at the time noted that when the main question viewers have on a weekly basis is, “What is Diana eating and who is she sleeping with this week ?” that’s a bad thing. If you could accept that the show had become a soap opera, you could still enjoy it—but clearly, many did not.
Juliet Parrish: Med student and biochemist, who joins the Resistance after her associates and friends all start to disappear. She quickly becomes the leader of the small, growing group, and develops an antagonistic relationship with Mike Donovan that leads to romance.
Mike Donovan: The maverick cameraman who sneaked aboard the Mothership to take the first revealing photos of the Visitors not being what they said they were. With Julie, he becomes one of the leaders of the Resistance.
Ham Tyler: A mercenary ex-CIA agent who hates Donovan with a passion, but shows up in L.A. after Julie exposes Diana on national TV. With his knowledge of arms and guerrilla tactics, becomes a leader with Julie and Donovan. Left the show to escort Robin to Chicago halfway through, after an attempt at conversion by Diana.
Elizabeth Maxwell: The starchild, born of Brian the visitor and Robin Maxwell. Her unprecedented growth stalls when she looks about nine years old. She leaves her home a year after the final battle and builds a cocoon, coming out as an 18-year-old girl, and promptly falls in love with Kyle Bates. This doesn’t seem to matter, however, when the Leader himself comes to town.
Robin Maxwell: The love-struck teenager who is captured by the Visitors and seduced by Brian. She gets pregnant, bearing twins—Elizabeth and a reptilian-looking infant who dies at childbirth. The toxin inside Robin’s body that killed the child becomes the human race’s saving grace. At least for a while. Leaving her daughter behind, she goes to Chicago (still a safe city), when it’s clear Diana is after her for her breeding potential.
Willie: First sent to work at the same plant as Caleb Taylor, father of Elias. Falls for Harmony, then is captured by the Resistance. His willingness to work with the group alerts the Resistance to the presence of the Fifth Column on the Mothership.
Elias Taylor: First seen as a jive-talking drug dealer. The death of his doctor brother Ben straightens him out and gets him involved in the L.A. Resistance. He becomes the owner of the Club Creole after the war, very soon a Resistance hideout.
Robert Maxwell: Robin’s father, whose forced betrayal results in the attack on the Resistance’s first safe camp and the death of his wife.
Diana: The commander of the Los Angeles Mothership, part of John’s fleet. Her beauty and charisma make her a media favorite at first. Her ambition and her willingness to take life, human or alien, help her retain her position at the top. This position is constantly challenged, though.
Lydia: Has command of the Mothership during Diana’s incarceration on the planet Earth. She and Diana develop a hate-hate relationship that becomes worse when Lydia falls for Charles and Charles proposes to marry Diana to get her out of the way.
John: The leader of the “small fleet”—50 Motherships—that have settled in major cities around the world. He is not long for this world, thanks to Diana’s ambition.
Charles: Diana’s failures have left the Leader angry. He sends Charles to oversee the campaign against Earth. Charles quickly hatches a plan to marry Diana, thus sending her back to the home planet to have children. He becomes intrigued by her, however, and Lydia’s jealousy leads her to move against Diana as a result. The plans go awry, and Charles becomes a victim.
Martin/Philip: Martin, Diana’s trusted aide, helps the Resistance and is eventually killed by Diana. Inspector General Philip comes to Earth partly for vengeance, having heard that Donovan killed his brother, but soon realizes that humans are not what he expected.
“V—The Final Battle”: Aired over three nights, this six-hour miniseries was full of best moments, including: the knock-down, drag-out between Tyler, who doesn’t care if the red toxin kills every Visitor, and Donovan, who insists that an antidote be made before they release it; the hot-air and helium balloons filling the air to release the toxin into the air; the release of water trapped in the Visitors’ facilities, freed by the Resistance; the heroic deaths of Brad and Ruth and Harmony and other minor characters and the subsequent revenge against Daniel Bernstein; the power plays of Eleanor Dupres; the final turnaround of Kristine Walsh. Mike and Julie’s tentative romance, a rather surreal abortion debate and that final battle scene all made this scifi TV worth watching. Despite some changes from Kenneth Johnson’s original script, which (it is rumored) would have axed the magical powers of Elizabeth in favor of a scientific explanation and had Ham arrive in a wheelchair, much of the humor and symbolism stayed intact, and this was a good thing.
Beyond that, it’s kind of hard to pick favorites and duds, because each episode had good and bad points. But one of the better ones is “Reflections in Terror.” Some of the good moments in this one included a spontaneous and largely passive demonstration of patriotism, a seemingly successful Christmas attack by the Visitors, actress Faye Grant’s singing voice and a resolution (finally) to the Kyle/Elizabeth/Robin love triangle.
I can’t say much for the plot of “The Littlest Dragon,” which included a scene featuring the birth of a Visitor baby. Considering that even human births are usually pretty unrealistic on TV, this was pretty silly. For one thing, the baby came out in an egg. But it did have an interesting enemy in Angela and the introduction of Philip. His confrontation with Mike was interesting.
“Secret Underground,” although it rather upended the personality of Julie and had a little too much joking around, did feature some good moments, especially the jealous bantering between Julie’s former boyfriends Mike Donovan and Steven.
I can’t even pick one; even the best episodes had problems. A couple of tie votes go to:
“The Overlord”: It was just kind of boring, featuring the leadership of a cobalt mine, and didn’t even have the benefit of the glitzy Visitor drama that made some of the episodes palatable. It did focus on Elias, which was a plus, but the attraction between him and Glenna just didn’t seem all that interesting or believable. She was annoying.
“The Wildcats”: Kyle and Julie ally with a teen gang called the Wildcats. Ellen falls for Willie, but he reveals he’s a Visitor and the Wildcats peg him as an alien spy. This episode was just painful, with the overacted innocence of Ellen, the rather unconvincing and tough-guy stances of the rather stupid Wildcats and a psychic rescue by Elizabeth. It was much more interesting (and horrid) to watch as Diana and Lydia team up to frame Marta for Charles’ murder, then make sure she gets buried alive.
Don’t get me wrong—I loved this show from beginning to end. But what showed promise in the beginning became clichéd and trite, and it was a shame. There are hints now and then that “V” may be resurrected with some of the major characters, but so far nothing’s come of it. We’ll just have to keep an eye out and see what happens.
Check out the links below for an episode guide.
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