Tuesday, June 03, 2014
The Visitors are Coming: V: The Series: "Reflections in Terror" (December 21, 1984)
In “Reflections in Terror” it is Christmas-time in Los Angeles, the Open City.
Mike Donovan (Marc Singer) and Ham Tyler (Michael Ironside) team up with their old Resistance friend, Mickey (Mickey Jones) to run an underground railroad out of Visitor territory for wayward children.
Ham befriends one of the children -- a little girl -- at a local church, and is reminded of his own uncomfortable past. During the Vietnam War, he lost his wife and daughter in Cambodia, and has never been able to find them again.
Meanwhile, Diana (Jane Badler) manages through trickery to acquire a blood sample from Elizabeth (Jennifer Cooke).
With that sample, she incubates a new Star Child, but this one is more feral and violent than her predecessor was.
The new Star Child escapes into public, and undertakes a spree of terror.
That old hoary chestnut of science fiction television, the evil twin, is pulled out of the trope closet for this episode of V: The Series (1984 – 1985), “Reflections in Terror.” Here, the Star Child, Elizabeth, is faced with a physical duplicate, but one who has never known a mother, or friendship.
From the war movie closet of clichés comes another moment in “Reflections in Terror:” dueling national anthems.
In the Club Creole, a Visitor pushes Willie (Robert Englund) off the piano and begins to play the (discordant) Visitor anthem. Julie responds by loudly singing “America the Beautiful,” which, while not the National Anthem, still gets the patriotic message across.
But the kicker, I suppose, is that this scene is a straight-up lift from the classic film Casablanca (1942). Of course, the whole Club Creole/Open City dynamic is a lift from Casablanca too, but this scene is the most overt example of V: The Series borrowing concepts from other productions.
There are two other major plot points in “Reflections in Terror” that are worth discussion. One is handled well, while the other is not.
In the first case, Elizabeth and Robin (Blair Tefkin) finally have their woman-to-woman reckoning over Kyle (Jeff Yagher), and the fact that they are both in love with him. Although Robin gives up her cause a little too easily by acknowledging that she knew the truth about Kyle’s affections, the scene is still very powerful, and well-played…just the kind of character confrontation that was too often avoided on the series.
Not handled so well at all is Ham Tyler’s sub-plot. Ham Tyler is a great character, and one of the best things about the V franchise (beyond Jane Badler, who was, is, and always shall be the best thing about the V franchise…).
Again, this is a case of good concept scuttled by lousy execution. It is terrific that the series starts to look into Ham’s history and background (and focuses on it again in the next episode, “The Conversion.”) We love Ham all the more once we know that he was once like “Gooder,” a family man. But now Ham has lost it all. He has withdrawn from the human race because of his suffering and pain. He has shut down his emotions.
But “Reflections in Terror” treats this subplot -- if you’ll forgive the pun -- in horribly ham-handed fashion. Ham befriends a cute-as-a-button little girl but then goes off the rails when he thinks she has been hurt or taken by the Visitors. Ham acts horribly emotional and irrational, and quite unlike the Ham we know and love. My point: his shift in emotions could have been broached…more realistically.
And then the kicker: the last shot of the episode is Ham Tyler dressed up as Santa Claus, giving toys out to the little orphan children.
This moment just seems monumentally out-of-character to me, not like something Ham would do at all.
And besides, now Ham has no credibility with his friends. He’s not only re-joined the human race, he’s bathed -- and wallowed -- in the sentiment and schmaltz.
A better scene would have seen Ham taking the girl aside, perhaps sitting beside her on a staircase, and showing her a photograph of his lost family. Then he could tell her that for him, Christmas will always be about the people in his life who matter. And this year, she is the person who matters to him.
That would have been simple, direct and to the point, and would have preserved Ham as a "tough" (but tortured) character.
Instead, we get Ham in the Santa suit, and this moment is the absolute nadir for Tyler on V: The Series.
The episode ends with an abrupt freeze-frame, coming very quickly after the reveal of the suit. It’s as if even if the editors and writers knew that this moment was atrocious, and worse, horribly false in terms of character.
Evil twins, Casablanca riffs and Ham Tyler with a creamy soft center? “Reflections in Terror” reveals V: The Series at a new low.
The next few stories, “The Conversion” and “The Hero” are, thankfully, much better.
One of the most oft-requested reviews on this blog, -- before my original post back in the day -- was Star Trek V: The Final Frontier ...