Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Visitors are Coming: V: The Series: "The Dissident" (December 14, 1984)

In “The Dissident,” Ham Tyler (Michael Ironside) and Kyle Bates (Jeff Yagher) stumble upon Diana’s new “toy:” a Visitor force field that will destroy all vehicles going in and out of Los Angeles at the touch of a button.

Realizing that Diana can effectively control -- and starve -- his city, Nathan Bates (Lane Smith) negotiates for a password that will allow his forces to pass safely through a tunnel or corridor in the force field.

Meanwhile, Donovan (Marc Singer) and Ham travel to the L.A. Mothership to rescue the only person capable of destroying the force field: its inventor, the blind Visitor named Jacob.

Now a member of the Fifth Column, Jacob is also the father of Visitor technology and Diana (Jane Badler) seeks to convert him to her cause.

After last week’s better-than-average installment, “The Overlord,” “The Dissident” is a return to the standard action-adventure fare the series was offering on a regular basis.

Once again, for instance, V: The Series (1984 – 1985) trots out the same stock footage of the sky-fighter battle from the original V miniseries. It has already been featured on the series at least once, in “Liberation Day” and the dogfight is instantly recognizable here.  Thus, it isn't particularly thrilling.

Worse, “The Dissident” features highly implausible action overall. 

Here, Donovan and Ham not only sneak aboard the L.A. mothership, but launch a successful strike on the bridge (while managing, yet, not to kill Diana in the ensuing gun-fight). V: The Final Battle explained well how to get to the colossal ship’s control center, the Resistance it had to penetrate levels and levels of security, and soldiers.
Here…not so much. Attacking the bridge is easy, and everyone important -- on both sides of the war divide -- survives intact.

If it were really this easy to infiltrate and attack the supreme HQ of an alien force, there would be no war. The Visitors would have been run off our planet after a month.

Also, the whole plot of “The Dissident” belies old-fashioned TV thinking. In short, we are not expected to remember next week what happens this week, or what happened last week.

To wit: the same plot is used again and again. Diana gets a new weapon, and the Resistance destroys it.  Everything ends in the restoration of the status quo until Diana invents the next scheme to destroy the Resistance. 

In a way, this was also the plot of “Visitors’ Choice.”  

In both cases, the weapon is introduced as a threat, removed as a threat, and the inventor of the threat (whether Sybil Danning’s Mary Krueger or Jacob, here) is killed so that the threat can’t recur. End of episode.

Don’t Visitors keep back-up files of their research?

This episode doesn't really track all that well with the final episode of the series, either.  In "The Return," we learn, for example, that the Leader himself is the Father of Visitor Technology, the creator of it all.  That seems to contradict with the information we get here vis-a-vis Jacob.

Nor is “The Dissident” helped by the fact that early in the first act it introduces a series of clips of Robin’s (Blair Tefkin) pregnancy from V: The Final Battle (1984) as the character’s nightmare.  The episode must have run short on original edit, and required this dramatic padding to reach the required length. 

In this case, however, the flashback only reminds one how much better the mini-series was than its follow-up series…

The end of “The Dissident” sees Diana blowing up Lydia’s (June Chadwick) shuttle, an act which seems to subtract a character from the long cast list.  But -- thank Heaven! -- the treacherous and scheming Lydia returns a few episodes down the line.  In fact, Lydia's apparent destruction (and surprise survival) sets up a nice upcoming story arc involving the Visitor commander, Charles.

What largely seems missing from “The Dissident” is any real or cerebral examination of Jacob as a meaningful character with a moral code. I like the idea that the builder of the destructive Visitor technology is blind, a nice visual indicator that he couldn’t really “see” the evil he was doing.  

But other than his physical condition, we find out precious little else about Jacob here.  How was he apprehended in the first place? Why did a man of his importance travel to the front line and Earth? What has he been doing to support the Fifth Column cause?  If he is a Dissident, what is his philosophy?  What does he stand for?

In other words, the concept of Jacob is terrific but in practice he just feels like a cog in the machine, a character designed to appear for one episode and then be quickly forgotten.

Disposable character; disposable episode.

Next week: V: The Series’ evil twin episode: “Reflections in Terror.”

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