Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Visitors are Coming: V: The Series: "The Overlord" (November 30, 1984)


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.

Next week: “The Dissident.”

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