Wednesday, March 03, 2021
In “The Overlord,” Diana (Jane Badler) has made a deal with an unscrupulous human, Garrison (Michael Champion) to mine the cobalt she requires to power her army’s laser weaponry.
Accordingly, Garrison has subjugated the town of Rawlinsville and is making the suffering people there work the mine since the Visitors -- fearing exposure from the Red Dust -- can’t go into the mountain themselves.
One woman in town, Glenna (Sheryl Lee Ralph) escapes from Rawlinsville, however, and seeks the help of the Resistance in saving the townspeople.
In truth, however, she is merely seeking to take Garrison’s position as “overlord.” Elias (Michael Wright), who has grown close to her, feels betrayed when he learns the truth about her actions.
Meanwhile, Diana learns of a traitor on the Los Angeles mothership who is a “Follower of Xon,” and orders him fed to the Krivits.
At the same time, Nathan Bates (Lane Smith) grows ever more suspicious of Julie’s (Faye Grant) loyalties and has Chiang (Aki Aleong) search her apartment for signs that she is slipping the Resistance Science Frontier secret schedules and other information
Although I didn’t care much for it when I first saw it in the 1980s, “The Overlord” is, on fresh viewing, one of the best and most effective episodes of V: The Series (1984 -1985) so far. The story adroitly handles several small but significant story lines, and in the process serves its large ensemble cast well.
All the various plot threads and “arcs” are moving along nicely here.
Julie is finding it more and more difficult to work a Science Frontiers, and handle the increasingly suspicious Nathan Bates.
Elizabeth (Jennifer Cooke) grapples with the notion that others see her as a helpless child when she wants to be seen as part of the team.
Robin (Blair Tefkin) doesn’t feel “special” and also seeks to be “useful.” She finds a way to that after a confrontation with Julie.
And Diana, of course, continues to show her ruthless colors. Here she throws a top-lieutenant (and lover…) under the boss for “misinforming The Leader.”
A couple of weeks ago I noted that the women characters are invariably the strongest ones on V: The Series and that notion is still strongly in play, here. Much of the action is motivated by Julie, Elizabeth and Robin’s sense of self versus their sense of place in the community. They navigate uneasy paths, and in a way, that’s Diana’s task too. All these characters are under enormous pressure.
Other series characters are equally well-served in “The Overlord.” Elias -- who is almost never given anything of significance to do in series episodes except look tough, and be “guarded” about trusting people, opens up and seeks to trust a woman, Glenna, he is attracted to.
It doesn’t go well for him.
Also, in regards to Elias, he notes here that “Nobody has much time in this business,” a line of dialogue that carries a strong double meaning.
One meaning is right there on the surface. In the Resistance, life expectancy is not long.
But the line also carries a sense of foreboding, because in just a handful of episodes, Elias will be killed in action (“The Hero.”) He really doesn’t have much time left, and that makes his effort to connect with someone on a personal level in “The Overlord” all the more haunting.
On some level, Elias’s line about nobody having much time “in this business” could also be a reflexive comment, even, on the actor’s plight in Hollywood, being written off a hit show mid-season.
Finally, in terms of characters and getting details right, I enjoy the fact that “The Overlord” vindicates Ham Tyler’s (Michael Ironside’s) viewpoint that everything in Rawlinsville isn’t quite as they have been informed it is. Too often, Ham is the glum, non-emotional “downer” character who is proven wrong about motives and strategies. It is nice to see that, for once, the writers let him -- not the idealistic Donovan – get it right.
Another quality that I admire about “The Overlord” is that it hinges on a practical issue of waging war.
Simply put, Diana’s forces are running low on the cobalt that powers their lasers. Supplies are dwindling, and the balance of the war could shift if the Visitors suddenly can’t use their weaponry. V: The Series did not often enough tread deeply into matters of practicality like this episode does; the matter of getting resources to the front line, or opening up new supply avenues. The series would have been stronger if it had more regularly focused on these ideas of war as a huge technical operation requiring a vast support system. If we better understood strategy -- Diana’s and the Resistance -- the episode might have been more genuinely suspenseful, and played more like chess games than mere action-adventure.
Also appreciated in "The Overlord" is the attempt to delve, at least a little, into the religious cult called the Followers of Xon, and its impact on the Visitor fleet on Earth. This subplot never truly went anywhere, it seems, but in these early episodes it looked like markers were being laid down for a greater story arc.
If “The Overlord” boasts any dramatic down-side at all it is simply that it is shot on the familiar studio lot we have seen in many, many V: The Series episodes thus far, including “The Sanction.” At this point, the specific buildings are actually recognizable, a fact which takes away from the series’ sense of verisimilitude.
Again, I should note, the issue here is budget. Even as the most expensive series on network television at the time, the series simply didn’t have the money to be truly impressive, visually, and since the concept originated as a visually-accomplished mini-series the step down to weekly TV budgets is really noticeable.
All in all, however, this is a sturdy episode of V: The Series and one that reveals how huge events or chase scenes aren’t really necessary to good storytelling. The powerful drama here is all related to characters and how they understand their situations.
In “The Sanction,” a deadly Visitor assassin and instructor in a fighting philosophy called “Ravak” is brought to Earth by Diana (Jane Badler) to train the Visitor Youth, including Sean Donovan (Nick Katt).
The evil Klaus (Thomas Callaway) becomes a surrogate father-figure for the brainwashed human, even Mike (Marc Singer) grows ever more determined to free his son from Diana’s grip.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth (Jennifer Cooke) and Robin (Blair Tefkin) are finally reunited through a mutual friend, Kyle Bates (Jeff Yagher).
If I had to pick an early point indicative of real slippage in the quality of V: The Series (1984 – 1985), I would likely point to “The Sanction.”
The episode sets up the evil Klaus -- dressed in black and equipped with removable hands and whip attachments – as a real alien bad ass, only to have Mike Donovan easily defeat him twice.
Then, adding insult to injury, Mike’s teenage son manages, in one move, to incapacitate Ham Tyler (Michael Ironside).
Accordingly, there’s just not a lot of “reality” to the fights in this episode, and as a consequence Klaus never emerges as a genuine or very menacing threat.
I also really dislike the fact that Tyler is caught off-guard and knocked unconscious by Sean. I find it highly unlikely that Tyler would be unprepared for Sean’s behavior. He’s a professional soldier who thinks out the consequences of every action, and certainly he would have played out the permutations in his mind. He would have been ready for a brainwashed Sean. Just look back at the second mini-series, and how wary he was of Julie after her conversion.
If you think about it, it’s a bit of a crazy dynamic. Mike -- a photographer -- outfights a professional Visitor soldier in hand-to-hand combat. And then his son, a mere teenager in training, incapacitates a professional human soldier, Ham. In both cases the untrained, non-professional comes out victorious.
When a series’ writing reaches this level of hard-to-believe antics, it’s generally a danger sign. The same story could have been told, for certain, but in a way that didn’t require so much suspension of disbelief. Perhaps Ham could have revealed that he allowed himself to be knocked unconscious, so he could then surreptitiously follow Sean’s movements.
Kyle Bates’ behavior also doesn’t bear close scrutiny. In one scene, he realizes -- out of the blue -- that Elizabeth is the Star Child. Kyle shows surprise at her appearance because she is only “eight” years old, in his words. But then, by the end of the scene, he is passionately kissing her.
But, yuck, she’s still essentially an eight-year old girl, right?
It’s poor writing to have Kyle acknowledge her extreme youth -- and child-like nature -- in the same exact scene that he makes a sexual move on her. Again, a quick, easy re-write would have solved the problem. There is no reason to call viewer attention to the fact, in this particular scene, that Elizabeth is only eight years old. That line should have been deleted.
“The Sanction” also opens with a scene cribbed from my favorite Bond film, From Russia with Love (1963). In the pre-title sequence of that 007 movie, a deadly assassin, Red Grant, hunts Bond in a garden, and kills him. But then the corpse’s face is ripped off, and we see that it isn’t Bond at all, but a man in a mask. We breathe a sigh of relief…
“The Sanction” opens with a recreation of that very sequence, with Klaus hunting and killing Diana, only to reveal that the victim isn’t Diana at all, but another Visitor. Yet the derivative nature of the sequence isn’t the problem so much as Diana’s behavior.
She appears scared and diffident, thus tipping off audiences that things aren’t what they seem. Diana -- even when under the gun -- doesn’t evidence such overt fear or terror. We saw her in real jeopardy in “Liberation Day,” for instance, and Diana’s veneer of total authority almost never cracked at all. She had a moment of uncertainty in reckoning with Bates, but quickly recovered her composure.
Unfortunately, the moments of a “scared” Diana moving down a dark hallway, stalked, have been exported from this episode into the series’ weekly opening credits…as if the victim here really is Diana. Yet her behavior is totally out-of-character and tonally wrong…and this is our introduction to Diana every week as a new episode commences.
Sean is also a problematic character simply in terms of audience expectations. We know that Mike can’t win and retrieve Sean, because then he would be saddled constantly with a teenage son, and that is simply something that would never happen in an action series of the 1980s. So, there’s a certain level of predictability about Sean’s behavior and decisions. That fact established, the moment in which he sides with Diana is quite powerful. We know the poor boy must be really turned-around to choose the evil Diana – who points a weapon at him – over his own loving father.
Finally, “The Sanction” also features one of my all-time favorite Diana lines. She tells Julie to convey a message to Mike for her: “When I go fishing, I eat what I catch.”
That’s either a threat or a promise, depending on Diana’s mood.
Tuesday, March 02, 2021
In “The Deception,” Diana (Jane Badler) is determined to get her hands on Elizabeth (Jennifer Cooke) – the Star Child -- but is unaware that the child’s accelerated growth has transformed her into an adult.
Unaware that her information is faulty, Diana captures Mike Donovan (Marc Singer) and with a combination of powerful drugs and holograms, attempts to convince the Resistance fighter that the war is long over, he is married to Julie, and that his delivery of Elizabeth to a rendezvous point on the way to New York was crucial in defeating the Visitors.
When Donovan spies a mock-up newspaper trumpeting the victory -- but revealing Elizabeth as a child --he recognizes Diana’s plot. He also realizes that his son, Sean (Nick Katt) has betrayed him…
“The Deception” is a pretty strong episode of V: The Series (1984 – 1985). The early episodes of the NBC series are the best of the bunch, and it is apparent here that neither money nor imagination has yet entirely run out.
A replacement for “Break Out,” which went unaired in the original schedule, “The Deception” concocts a more appealing back-drop for Kyle Bates (Jeff Yagher), and ramps up the series’ sense of kink.
In terms of Kyle, he’s less combative and more heroic here than the man we met at the prison camp in “Break Out.” He is clearly being set up by series writers’ as a maverick-type character, one who works with the Resistance, but isn’t a joiner.
In regards to kink, this quality seems a crucial aspect of the TV series, frankly. The kinkiness arises from Diana’s avaricious nature. She is clearly a sexual being, but one that -- as we shall see -- is curious about humanity in that regard.
This is a disturbing (and even a bit arousing…) character trait because Diana also devours humans as a food source. Thus when attractive humans are captured by Diana, it’s an open question whether she will serve them up on a dinner platter, or sleep with them…or perhaps both.
Diana gives new meaning to the term “bi-curious,” since she feels sexual attraction both towards Visitors and human beings.
In “The Deception,” Diana pretends to be Julie, Mike Donovan’s wife, in the deception scenario described in the synopsis above. She kisses him passionately while they are in bed together, and doesn’t seem bothered at all by the intimacy, though Lydia (June Chadwick) -- watching from behind a two-way mirror -- is clearly disgusted by Diana’s fraternization with a lowly human being.
In their previous encounters (in the two mini-series), there has been an odd undercurrent of attraction between Singer and Badler, so it is amusing and appropriate that the series almost immediately plays into that unspoken chemistry. It’s too bad the scenes didn’t go further…
The kinky aspects of “The Deception” make it extremely entertaining, though even this story -- of deception and deceit -- is a far cry from the franchise’s original task of documenting the nature of a fascist state.
V has officially and permanently moved into soap opera territory here, with smattering of action (mostly in the form of car and motor-bike chases). So while “The Deception” doesn’t represent the franchise at its best, it does represent the series at its apex of quality. Future episodes begin the down-hill descent, especially after the cast-massacre mid-way through.
That established, I couldn’t help but notice in “The Deception,” again, that to its credit, V features many strong, individual female characters. There’s the charismatic Diana, of course, but Julie is also a leader, and one who -- in the tradition of male heroes like Captain Kirk on Star Trek -- reckons with self-doubt and worries over her decisions.
Similarly, we have Elizabeth, a woman in the process of seeking and finding her own identity outside the constraints of her society. She is determined to be someone that she likes, not what Diana or anyone else expects her to be.
Beyond those three significant female characters, we also have the power-hungry Lydia, and insecure Robin Maxwell (Blair Tefkin).
Off-hand, I can’t think of another science fiction TV program in the 1980s that features such significant -- and numerous -- female roles. Basically, the action in the series is driven by women, and their choices, on both sides of the combat divide.
By point of comparison, Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987 – 1994) features women characters mainly in care-taker/nurturer roles, especially after the early death of Tasha Yar (Denise Crosby). As late as the fourth season of that series, Dr. Crusher (Gates McFadden) and Counselor Troi (Marina Sirtis) are breaking crockery over bad guys’ heads (“Q-Pid”) instead of showing competency in hand-to-hand combat or taking charge of away teams. V: The Series may degenerate into soap opera silliness in short order, but it was also forward-thinking in terms of women’s roles and characterizations.
In “Break Out,” Mike Donovan (Marc Singer) and Ham Tyler (Michael Ironside) slip into Visitor-occupied territory in Ojai to attempt to find Sean, Donovan’s son. When they come to the aid of another young boy hunted by the Visitors, however, they are captured instead and taken to a Visitor prison camp.
At the prison camp, Ham and Mike meet Nathan Bates’ son, Kyle (Jeff Yagher) and catch-up with Robin Maxwell (Blair Tefkin). The prisoners also learn that any attempt to escape from the camp is problematic because carnivorous monsters called “Krivits” from the Visitor home world patrol the perimeter of the camp.
A Krivit eats Robin’s friend (Xander Berkeley) when, in despair, he walks into the sand pit.
When Diana (Jane Badler) learns that Kyle Bates is interred at the camp, she makes an arrangement with his father, Nathan Bates (Lane Smith). If he delivers Diana the Star Child (Jennifer Cooke), Diana will turn over Kyle…
The third episode of V: The Series, “Breakout” did not air until May 25, 1985, soon after the series had ended its initial run. For some reason, this early episode was held back, perhaps to devise a better origin of Kyle Bates (Yagher) than the one seen here.
So while “Breakout” may not be official V canon or continuity, I can write that it is, nonetheless, a pretty solid episode of the fledgling series. Certainly, it is far better than the last six, generally-dreadful shows of the season, which come after the cast “massacre” and some format changes.
There are a couple of qualities that I admire about the episode. First, the pairing of Donovan (or “Gooder”) with Ham Tyler is always character gold. The two men are so different in their approach to crises that it is amusing to see them working together. Donovan is always acting impulsively and courageously, and Ham is always snarling that he gets dragged into the mix. In “Breakout” Ham’s expression is priceless after Donovan’s do-gooder instincts get them both captured.
In more global terms, “Breakout” seems to remember many of the qualities that made V a fascinating and worthwhile franchise in the first place.
For example, this is the first and only time in the saga, I believe, that we actually see a Visitor prison camp or “death camp.” And this fearsome aspect of the Visitor occupation ties in neatly with the It Can’t Happen Here (1935) origin of the series. In that literary work, dissidents in the United States who disagreed with the policy of the new dictator were herded to work camps by the thousands. It makes abundant sense that the fascist Visitors -- hungry for resources of all types -- would shunt captured humans into labor camps as well. Indeed, the labor camp setting is one of the very few from Sinclair Lewis’s novel that was not mined for the first two mini-series.
The first act of “Breakout” also involves Ham and Donovan taking shelter in a suburban house, when they are betrayed there by a middle-class collaborator, a soccer mom, essentially. We haven’t seen a story like this one since the original V, and it’s an important one to include in the series. It reminds us that some humans will always bow to the prevailing establishment, whether or not it possesses moral authority.
The episode also depicts a kid spray-painting the letter V on a white Visitor van, and it’s been a while since we’ve seen this trademark brand of graffiti as well.
These elements are nice call backs to the two mini-series and they remind us that the franchise has not abandoned entirely the narrative and thematic terrain that brought it so much acclaim in 1983.
Outside the setting, “Breakout” is the first episode to feature the introductory “news broadcast” from Howard K. Smith and “The Freedom Network.” This type of broadcast is featured throughout the first dozen or so episodes, and always showcases battles against the Visitors across the globe. Here, we learn that Arabs and Israelis have joined forces, for instance, to repel the Visitors in Jerusalem.
We also learn of a boy in Cleveland, Kipper Cedisco, who is awarded a Medal of Honor for routing a Visitor patrol. In terms of Los Angeles -- the setting of the series -- we hear Nathan Bates described as the “strong man” of Los Angeles, and that’s a great term by which we can contextualize the character. The world and the Resistance see him not as a legitimate leader, but as an opportunist and dictator who has propped himself up at the expense of the people.
In short, I enjoy the Freedom Network broadcasts on V: The Series because the program simply can’t afford to dramatize many aspects of the global war. We can’t see the big battles in foreign locations, in other words, because they are not affordable. This brief news report is a sound method of reminding us that the war blazes across the globe, in different ways, and that the Visitor invasion/occupation is not localized to any one city, or one set of humans. People all over the world are doing their part to repel the alien lizards.
Although they aren’t dramatized in particularly effective ways, and they plainly hark back to an episode of The Outer Limits (1963-1964) called “The Invisible Enemy,” the Krivits are another fascinating addition to Visitor lore and background. These carnivorous creatures patrol the sand around the prison camp, and devour any trespasser. One must wonder if these monsters are Visitor pets (like patrol dogs…) or Visitor predators, captured and shipped to Earth to be of use. Still, this is the first non-Visitor life form we have seen on the series, and I like that the episode includes them as a menace.
As usual, the weakest element of “Breakout” concerns Elizabeth, the Star Child. Here, she telepathically communicates with dogs, and they attack two Visitor soldiers who menace her. Once more, Elizabeth’s mystical powers seem totally selective and random. Whatever power she needs to manifest in order to survive a scrape, she suddenly evidences.
For she is the Kwisatz Haderach…or something.
Better handled is Diana, who once more reveals her kinky side when she starts to make-out with Kyle. Apparently, it’s okay for Diana to be sexually attracted to mammals, even though they comprise her diet….
I also love the moment here in which Diana pushes the death camp warden into the Krivit pit, killing him for his failure. She’s so cut-throat, and this physical act is a clear indicator of that nature.
Regarding Kyle Bates, he is another series character that I have never really warmed too. There are so many hold-overs from the two mini-series that I would rather see afforded screen time, including Elias, Willie, Julie, Mike, and Ham. Kyle isn’t nearly as interesting as his morally shady pop, Nathan, either, and too often comes across as kind of mock-tough, but not really tough in the manner of Ham Tyler.
Finally, we will see this episode’s final moment -- Lydia’s quip to Diana “Well, better luck next time…” --recycled, literally, in an upcoming episode. And again, we get more stock footage of the sky-fighter battle in V.
Monday, March 01, 2021
“Dreadnought,” the second episode of V: The Series (1984 – 1985) completes “Liberation Day’s” task of re-introducing the Visitor threat to Earth, and also introduces important new characters to the franchise. In this case, “Liberation Day” adds the wonderful June Chadwick as Lydia, a haughty Visitor officer who contends for Diana’s throne, or rather her command. Chadwick immediately brings authority -- and attitude -- to her performance.
The episode also ties off some dangling plot threads. The captured mothership is destroyed, Robert Maxwell (Michael Durrell) dies a hero, and Nathan Bates (Lane Smith) imposes an “Open City” policy on Los Angeles so that personalities from the Visitor and Resistance camps can meet one another in the series without opening fire.
Finally, Elizabeth completes her metamorphosis, becoming an attractive twenty-something year old (Jennifer Cooke). In charting Elizabeth’s development, “Dreadnought” also introduces a Visitor cult or religion. Willie (Robert Englund) discusses “The Mark of Xon” and the “Lords of Light" in the story, as well as person called "Amann."
Like last week’s entry, it’s clear that V: The Series’ biggest stumbling block at this juncture is the sheer cost per episode.
The series features a large cast, many elaborate sets, and requires new special effects visualizations on a regular basis. Here, we get even more stock footage from V (1983), the original mini-series, and, oddly enough, recycled footage from George Pal’s War of the Worlds (1953). On the plus side, we also get to see a new Visitor ship, the "particle beam Triax," and the special effects involving it (and its destruction of a moon of Jupiter...) are very good.
In “Dreadnought,” Diana (Jane Badler) returns to the Visitor fleet and meets her new second-in-command, Lydia (June Chadwick). Diana immediately orders an attack on Earth and “expects” total victory in the task. Meanwhile, she sends out a garrison to capture and retrieve Elizabeth, the Star Child.
On Earth, humanity faces all-out war with the Visitors. In some terrestrial locations, the Red Dust toxin has died, leaving the Visitors with a clear path to occupation. In other regions, namely cold ones, the Red Dust remains as dangerous to Visitor physiology as ever. Nathan Bates, meanwhile, reveals that he will release storage containers full of Red Dust if Diana attacks Los Angeles, an act that would make the city uninhabitable by the aliens. He assembles a provisional government and promises the people that he will administer an "Open City" policy with fairness.
But the truth is somewhat grimmer for the humans than Bates has let on. The Red Dust actually causes sterility in Earth mammals, including humans, and Earth is already at “the threshold.” Bates’ threat is an empty one, and he knows it…but Diana does not.
Hoping to destroy Bates and his Red Dust facilities, Diana diverts a Visitor doomsday weapon from the space shipping lanes...without permission. In a matter of hours, the “particle beam” Triax will arrive in Earth orbit and reduce Los Angeles to ashes.
When the Resistance learns of this plot, Mike (Marc Singer), Maxwell (Durrell) and a now-mature Elizabeth (Cooke) commandeer the captured mothership and plot a collision course for the Triax.
Like Diana herself, V: The Series possesses a lot of what was once known as “moxie.” That old-fashioned colloquialism means “the capability to face adversity with spirit and initiative.”
Here, the series’ makers simply had no way to afford a full-scale, global war on a small budget, and so re-purposed War of the Worlds footage to showcase such a thing. From that George Pal movie, we now see the Visitors -- instead of Martian War Machines -- pulping Earth cities, starting fires, and firing weaponry. It all looks relatively convincing and expensive, unless, of course, you happen to have a familiarity with the 1953 film.
Similarly, the shots of humans throwing home-made bombs into the parked Visitor fighter come from the V miniseries. Already, the series is relying very heavily on the expedient of stock footage, a fact which reveals how expensive it was to create a new story on the expansive canvas the two mini-series established, and made so effortless appearing.
Some of the writing in “Dreadnought” is a notch-down even from “Liberation Day.” For example, two assassins working for Nathan Bates, but dressed as police and riding in a police car, open fire on Donovan ( Marc Singer). He has no reason to suspect that they are not real police officers and yet, without a word, he returns fire with his Uzi right before the extended car chase.
First...yeah it’s sad that the franchise has degenerated to car chases. From It Can't Happen Here to The A-Team in less than two years.
And secondly, Donovan would be well-aware that by shooting at the police he is essentially murdering innocent men doing their jobs. In the mini-series, one of the resistance fighters was a former policeman, even. As audience members, we know the cops are fake, but Donovan doesn’t, and so it seems out of character for the heroic character just to open up on the LAPD with an automatic weapon.
Similarly, Juliet’s (Faye Grant) line -- or variation thereof -- regarding Elizabeth, is getting silly.
“It must be her alien chemistry” is being asked to cover for a whole lot of dodgy material. Such as: why did Elizabeth’s skin, during her transformation turn scaly, only to be normal again at completion of the process? Or, why did her aging accelerate in the first place, and could it happen again? And why can’t Elizabeth speak, since she was able to speak as a child?
The answers we get aren't always entirely satisfactory.
“It must be her alien chemistry” covers a whole cornucopia of writer’s sins, and if there’s one aspect of V: The Series that I truly dislike it is the treatment of the Star Child. She was a bad idea to start with, in V: The Final Battle -- a deus ex machina in the worst sense -- but in the series almost all of the scenes involving Elizabeth are even more dreadful and poorly conceived.
As bad as all this material truly is, the drama involving Nathan Bates is actually pretty strong. He negotiates an Open City for Los Angeles, which is a necessity for the series if it is not to concern all-out war, Furthermore, his revelation of the Red Dust’s environmental impact is moving and powerful. V: The Series may not always be great, but the slippery Nathan Bates is a brilliant addition to the dramatis personae.
I also appreciate "Dreadnought's" acknowledgment that the Visitors have their reasons for war. "We need this world for our survival," Lydia stresses to Diana, and that's a good point. Lydia's words re-assert the motive for the Visitors' villainy. These aliens are not merely evil -- they are trying to survive -- and I'm glad "Dreadnought" thought to include this reminder.
“Dreadnought” also represents our goodbye to Robert Maxwell, a character who has been front and center in the V saga since the original mini-series.
The TV series seems to have forgotten that he had two other young daughters other than Robin (Blair Tefkin), as well as his vocation as a scientist. In the series, he merely plays the doting, concerned “grandpa,” while asking another scientist, Juliet, for help understanding his grand-daughter.
Maxwell’s final sacrifice is heroic, though one wonders why he couldn’t have remained with the series longer. No doubt it had to do with the exigencies of cold, hard, cash.
As I noted above, V’s cast was already large, and in that light, Maxwell might have seemed like a less vital character than Mike, Ham, Julie, Elizabeth, Willie, Elias, Robin, or even Bates. His sub-plot in the original V was very important because it involved the scapegoating of certain demographics in a fascist state. The series never gets back to that theme.
V: The Series (1984 – 1985) officially kicks off with “Liberation Day,” an episode which premiered on Friday, October 26, 1984.
This segment by Paul Monash introduces a new character to the franchise, Nathan Bates (Lane Smith) and also presents some changes in established lore.
Most significant among the changes is the fact that the alien Visitors no longer possess a “reverb” or “echo” in their voices, a key distinguishing feature.
For me, subtracting the reverb from the alien equation is a bit like Mr. Spock losing his pointed ears. It’s not merely a cosmetic thing; the loss affects negatively the whole “alien” vibe of the Visitors.
Worse, no explanation is offered as to the sudden change. Instead, it is just assumed that we will forget about the Visitors’ unique vocalizations.
For those who are too young to remember, this is what TV used to be like all the time, even the best of it. Continuity wasn’t always a strong point.
Fans of the two mini-series were also disappointed to see that this premiere episode dispatches with a favorite character, Frank Ashmore’s Martin, who is killed by Diana.The actor would return to play Martin’s twin brother, Philip, in later episodes of the series.
The other changes we encounter in “Liberation Day” appear a bit more promising, at least at this early juncture. The introduction of Bates and his organization, Science Frontiers, helps to explain a logic gap in V: The Final Battle (1984), explaining how the Resistance -- scattered and on the run -- was able to mass produce the toxic Red Dust.
As a character, Bates is quite important here. Not entirely unlike Ham Tyler, Bates is a reminder that not all human beings are “white knights.” Bates loves to make money, and he loves power. He will ally himself with the side that can help him attain those ends. Morality doesn’t seem to play into his decision-making process, merely self-advantage. A morally-ambiguous character, Bates is a net-plus for the series, in my opinion, and someone who would have been right at home in the first mini-series.
Finally, some of the imagery in “Liberation Day” is actually quite powerful, particularly the attempted assassination of Diana (Jane Badler), which seems to be executed based on real world history.
Also in terms of visuals, the episode’s valedictory pull-back from Earth to the far side of the Moon is brilliantly orchestrated, a visual effects high-point.
As the camera retracts into space, we see the remnants of the Visitor fleet…hiding from sight, but ready to strike.
“I cure the ills of the world and you get all the credit…”
In “Liberation Day,” one year has passed since the Visitors were driven from Earth by the toxic Red Dust. Mike Donovan (Marc Singer) captured Diana (Badler), and now she prepares to stand trial for crimes against humanity.
Meanwhile, Juliet (Faye Grant) has been working at Nathan Bates’ company, Science Frontiers, to unlock the secrets of the captured Los Angeles mothership.
Unfortunately for the humans, the research has not gone well. Juliet has not been able to break Diana’s security lock over key systems. This fact leads Bates to hire mercenary Ham Tyler (Michael Ironside).
Ham fakes Diana’s assassination and then abducts Diana so she can work for Bates, an arrangement she is none-too-happy about.
When Martin learns what Bates is up to, he is unhappy as well, and he inadvertently releases Diana while attempting to kill her. Martin later apologizes to Mike, and warns him that Diana -- now free -- will attempt to signal the Visitor fleet to return. Soon after that warning, Martin dies.
Elsewhere, a worried Robert Maxwell (Michael Durrell) contacts Juliet because Elizabeth (Jenny Wright) seems to be undergoing some kind of cellular metamorphosis. Juliet tries to help, but Elizabeth -- the Star Child -- enters a strange fleshy cocoon, and begins the process of transformation…
After Martin’s death, Mike and Ham join forces to stop Diana, but she has already reached the Northwest Tracking Station” and sent an emergency transmission to her people.
A skyfighter returns for Diana, and she learns that the Visitor fleet is hiding behind the Earth’s moon, awaiting the orders to strike…
“When there’s no more she can give you…she’s mine.”
Aside from the removal of the Visitors’ trademark “echo” voices, “Liberation Day’s” greatest issue is simply that it suffers from rather dramatic budgetary limitations.
For example, the same KDHB helicopter is used throughout the episode, both to taunt Elizabeth, and in Mike’s aerial pursuit of Diana’s ambulance.
And the first sections of the episode egregiously re-purpose aerial battle footage from the original V (1983) mini-series.
Similarly, the protests outside Diana’s courtroom appear sparsely populated in long shots.
In real life, you’d expect thousands of people from all over the world to be protesting at her arrival.
The close-up and medium shots are much better in terms of blocking, and seem more densely-populated,
As it continues, the scene works well, especially with newscaster references to The Nuremburg Trials. This notation of Nuremburg is important because the V franchise very much works as an allegory for Nazi Germany and World War II, and it’s nice to see the series to continue that leitmotif.
In fact, the ensuing visuals of Diana’s “assassination” also do a brilliant job of capturing the anarchy of such public violence. Every time I watch this particular scene in “Liberation Day,” I can’t help but think of Lee Harvey Oswald’s assassination by Jack Ruby. Oswald was surrounded on all sides by police escorts, and yet he was still shot…in plain sight.
The staging here is quite similar to that moment from history, with Diana in police hands as Ham (the assassin) opens fire, and she goes down.
One of the qualities I love most about the V franchise is its constant re-purposing of historical imagery and detail so as to vet its story of fascism, war and occupation. In this case, the pandemonium that accompanies Diana’s assassination attempt looks quite familiar, and therefore quite real. Hand-held camera-work does a good job of creating a sense of immediacy and panic.
“Liberation Day” also expresses well how dangerous a personality Diana truly is. She escapes from captivity, commandeers a truck after seducing a fat redneck (!), and communicates with her people before Mike and Ham can stop her.
Again, Jane Badler’s performance proves delicious, in part because the actress seems to really “get” the material, both the horrific aspects of Diana’s “appetite,” and the comedic aspect of it as well. Badler reveals a “pleasure” in the character’s (evil) nature that is always enjoyable to experience. Even when the writing isn’t always up to snuff, Badler’s performance as Diana shines.
Michael Ironside also makes a strong impression, again, as Ham, and one gets the feeling that it was the actor himself who suggested the line to Bates, quoted above -- “When there’s no more she can give you, she’s mine.”
This particular bit of dialogue goes a long way towards making Ham seem less concerned with money, and more honorable. In other words, he is playing his own angle here, pretending to work for Bates, but assuring that, in the end, he takes care of Diana, whom he describes as “a disease.”
My least favorite aspects of “Liberation Day” and indeed V: The Series tend to involve Elizabeth, the Star Child.
For one thing, she always seems to have the right power for whatever situation she is in, and I’ve never liked her mystical nature.
For another, neither the Visitors nor mankind possess psychic powers, so I don’t understand why she does.
Here, young Elizabeth sees her growth accelerated, and the episode ends up with her in a cave, undergoing transformation. I remember being intensely disappointed when Elizabeth didn’t emerge a lizard, but just a beautiful blond human, instead. When you look at that nasty cocoon membrane seen here, you really expect something horrible…or at least interesting.
Although a step down in terms of production and writing quality from both V and V: The Final Battle, “Liberation Day” gets the job done re-establishing the franchise, and is one of the series’ better episodes… in large part due to the exciting final moments, and the valedictory shot of the Visitors hiding beyond the lunar surface.
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