I’ve never been so excited about the end of the world.
Most people probably think it’s an earthquake—the rumbling and shaking that rocks the planet for a few moments as massive spacecraft enter the planet’s atmosphere. But, as the pilot’s opening questions make clear (Do you remember where you were when JFK was assassinated? On 9/11?), the arrival of the “Visitors” in ABC’s new sci-fi drama V isn’t going to be mistaken for a relatively harmless natural disaster for long: in terms of “flashbulb memory” potential, first contact with an extraterrestrial species (genus, family… kingdom, domain, life) wins hands down.
The only question for us viewers is whether this remake of the 1980s miniseries is going to be memorable too. As a rabid science fiction fan looking for a Lost replacement, I’m going to give an enthusiastic yes, and I’m not alone—the V pilot’s viewer numbers rank it as the best debut for any new show this season.
Of course, avid sci-fi (should I say SyFy?) fans could get excited strictly on the basis of casting. Morena Baccarin of the ill-fated cult hit Firefly features as a sinisterly serene alien named Anna, along with another Whedon veteran, Alan Tudyk, whose role—I don’t want to give too much away, but…—might bear closer resemblance to Dollhouse’s sociopathic Alpha than the joke-cracking Wash. And because no new series this fall could be complete without including an ex-cast-member from Lost, Elizabeth Mitchell stars as a (rightly) skeptical FBI agent with a smart-ass hormone-crazed son (honestly—could you really not find a human girl to date?).
Now I realize that alien invasion scenarios have become one of the tropes of science fiction over the last century (yes, H.G. Wells’s War of the Worlds was published in 1898), but if the End of Days arrives any time soon it’s likely to have more to do with the Maya than the final frontier. In other words: V will to stretch our suspension of disbelief, but that’s not a bad thing. Science fiction has always been more about revealing something about the present than predicting the future—there’s a reason the 1980s Star Trek: The Next Generation inspired terror with the Borg Collective. Captain Picard, taking the Cold War to the Neutral Zone.
And for millennial viewers V has already done an excellent job taking newsworthy issues from today’s headlines and applying them to a situation completely alien to us (cue groan). A couple brief examples—
Technology and its frighteningly-fast advances:
When Anna is questioned by a gaggle of reporters on some of the V tech, citing human scientists who claim it’s impossible, she replies: “Our scientists can explain it.” “That’s not an answer,” a reporter quickly rejoins.
And it’s true, it’s not an answer. But most of us can’t keep up with human technology at its current pace, let alone extraterrestrial—there’s a certain point when technology looks a lot like magic, and we don’t need to wait for the Singularity to get there.
Sleeper cells of extraterrestrials stockpiling C-4? Nothing highlights the concept of enemies among us better than aliens wearing cloned human flesh. Anyone who flies regularly probably doesn’t think twice anymore about walking barefoot a yard or two in the middle of an airport (who knows what you can hide in the soles of those flip-flops), but all that means is that we’re getting very used to uncertainty.
Remember the boom and bust of “compassionate conservatism” two election cycles ago? Both major parties today seem locked in battle trying to prove who cares the most. The victor? Anna. (Shoot—“universal healthcare” is mentioned by name as a system the Vs can make available to backward humanity.)
But that’s not as positive as it might sound; we may not know their complete plan for homo sapiens sapiens yet, but the Vs are portrayed as thoroughly dangerous characters with a suspicious desire to hide their true motives:
“Just be sure not to ask any questions that would portray us in a negative light,” Anna tells her bewildered interviewer. And when he insists he won’t work with (for) them again, the ambitious reporter is told that “compromising one’s principles for the greater good isn’t a shameful act—it’s a noble one.”
Government programs are growing almost as rapidly as technology today, and it’s immeasurably more difficult to comprehend—but one thing politicians make perfectly clear is that we should sacrifice for the common good. Maybe someone trades in their gas-guzzler for a hybrid, and maybe the rhetoric goes in one ear and out the other, but it all sounds a lot more sinister coming from a smooth-talking extraterrestrial PR agent.
But what excited me most about V is how quickly the pilot moved into the actual storyline. Alien arrival itself is a concept that could take up forty-two minutes easy, but already we’re shown the wheels turning, and already the Vs are (spoiler alert!) revealed—at least to a select few—as vicious reptilian beasts bent on the destruction of humankind. Well, excepting another select few.
I fully expected that revelation to come two or three episodes in (if that), but the quick pace of the plot was a very welcome surprise. The secret meeting of the “resistance” was chilling, and the brutal attack of the Vs and their superior weapons is shocking. And it just makes you think—if the skies did darken with alien spacecraft, who would run in terror, who would fight back, and who would applaud? V depicts the whole gamut of reactions, but as for me, I’m just looking forward to Tuesdays.