Saturday, September 06, 2014

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: BraveStarr: "Eyewitness"

In “Eyewitness,”Tex Hex’s goons are poking around Star Peak, and the Shaman’s home, when BraveStarr and Thirty-Thirty arrest them.  But when two alien school children tell Tex Hex they want to be in his gang, the bandit has a new way to get at the Shaman, whose property he covets.

He tells the children to bring the Shaman a surprise gift on their school trip to meet him, but BraveStar is on the case.

Well, to the surprise of absolutely no one, Tex Hex relapses into two-dimensional villainy this episode after a brief bout with three-dimensional behavior in last week’s show, “Eye of the Beholder.”

Here, the ghoulish bandit is back plotting to steal Star Peak out from under the Shaman, in pursuit of the mountain’s mineral wealth. Making him more despicable than ever, he decides to use a couple of children to get what he wants.

These alien kids, it turns out, want to join his gang, not realizing how he plans to manipulate them.  The episode’s message statement, delivered after the matter is resolved, involves what might happen if you focus too much on getting excitement, and not enough on issues of right and wrong.  It’s boiler-plate stuff for Filmation.

In terms of series lore and mythology, “Eyewitness” is not a terribly memorable or interesting episode, though we get acquainted with Fort Kerium’s school, where the students study physics and write their lessons on a “laser” (black) board.  We also get our first look at the high-tech school bus, which is cool.  The school re-appears in an up-coming episode “Big Thirty and Little Wimble.”

Otherwise, this episode of BraveStarr  may be most noteworthy for a throwaway homage. 

At one point, 30-30 -- the cyborg horse sidekick -- expresses a vehement dislike for snake, and notes. “Why does it always have to be snakes?” 

This is a throwback, of course, to Indiana Jones’ (Harrison Ford) identical line of dialogue in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981).

Next episode: “Big Thirty and Little Wimble.”

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Godzilla (1978): "The Colossus of Atlantis"

In “The Colossus of Atlantis,” a quake at sea brings the legendary lost city of Atlantis to the surface.

After the Calico is destroyed by an automated crushing machine inside the metropolis, the crew explores its new home and discovers a “time chamber.”  The crew also finds the population of the city locked in suspended animation.

A giant robot Colossus now vigilantly guards the city, and must be destroyed before the people of Atlantis can be awakened and set free.  Unfortunately, the ancient guardian has also trapped Godzilla in suspended animation too.

Brock and Dr. Quinn use the time chamber to seek an answer, but find themselves trapped in the distant past, at the very moment Atlantis first sank beneath the waves…

After several episodes that repeat a basic formula, the Hanna-Barbera Godzilla (1978) mixes things up a bit with this week’s thoroughly-enjoyable installment, “The Colossus of Atlantis.”

In short, there are enough elements in this episode to fill three entire segments of the animated series, and accordingly, the episode moves at lightning-fast speed.

Unexpectedly, we see the Calico crushed like a tin can at Atlantis, an act undone by use of the time chamber, but that’s only the beginning of the surprises.

The episode also takes the viewer back in time to the destruction of Atlantis, and reveals in the story’s climactic moments that the city is no city at all…but a spaceship.  The Atlantians (in the spirit of The Fantastic Journey [1977], perhaps…) are all aliens.

The real revelation, however, is that by traveling to Atlantis, Brock and Quinn actually become an irrevocable part of the city-ship’s history. Since they are present when the island is sunk, they must seek sanctuary in the suspended animation machinery to stay alive.  This development means they are asleep for thousands of years before they are even born, and awaiting their future crew-mates to awaken them.

With all this excitement going on, “The Colossus of Atlantis” is an inventive and smart episode that trades in some pretty clever science fiction concepts.  Where most episodes have been satisfied, thus far, to feature Godzilla slugging it out with some giant monster at a picturesque locale, “The Colossus of Atlantis” really goes for broke.  The villain, Colossus, is a machine servant that has malfunctioned, harming its creators.  This plot idea provides a nice “yang” to the yin of Atlantis’s amazing technology.

Thus far (seven episodes in), “The Colossus of Atlantis” is by far-and-away the best episode of the series.

Next episode: “The Horror of Forgotten Island.”

Friday, September 05, 2014

Cult-Movie Review: Dark Mountain (2014)

[Spoilers Ahead: Swim at your own risk!]

The story of the Lost Dutchman’s Mine is a famous American folktale and one with roots in the real historical record to boot. 

The rich gold mine is believed to be located in the American Southwest, near the Superstition Mountains and Apache Junction.

The mine was discovered by a Dutchnam man named Jacob Waltz (1810 – 1889), but he died before he could tell anyone where it was located. In some retellings of the story, Waltz also had a partner in this momentous discovery, a partner with whom he quarreled…and blood was spilled.

Since 1892, literally hundreds (some say thousands…) of fortune-seekers have gone in search of the mine’s legendary gold treasure, often with tragic results.  For instance, a man named Adolph Ruth died looking for the mine in 1931. He was shot in the head twice, and bullets were recovered from his skull.  A prospector named James Cravey was reputedly found beheaded in the same mountains, on the trail of the mine, in the mid-1940s.

As recently as 2009 and 2011, hikers have gone into the Superstition Mountains looking for the mine, and they disappeared there…or died.

The mysterious location, gold treasure, and strange deaths surrounding it make the Lost Dutchman’s Mine the ideal subject for a found-footage horror movie, and writer/director Tara Anaïse obliges with Dark Mountain (2014), an ambitious if flawed effort that pulls in every paranormal theory possible -- from UFOs to time-warps to alternate dimensions -- in an attempt to explain the mine’s bizarre history.

Although Dark Mountain is buttressed by some nice location photography, good performances, and a legitimate scare or two, the film ultimately fails to live up to its intriguing premise for one glaring reason.  

The film apes, almost ritualistically, the structure and narrative details of The Blair Witch Project (1999). The story involves three filmmakers who get lost in the mountains, encounter something supernatural or paranormal, and are never heard from again.

To one degree or another, many found-footage efforts have cribbed from The Blair Witch Project’s playbook, but up until this point, the vast majority of the imitators have distinguished themselves in one significant way or another. 

For The Devil’s Pass (2013), originality came into the picture in terms of the frozen setting, and the gonzo last act, which incorporated aspects of the (infamous) Philadelphia Experiment. 

Willow Creek (2014), which I reviewed not long ago, adds sardonic humor and an inverted scare tactic -- a lengthy sequence consisting of one steady shot rather than many frenetic, hand-held shots -- to the equation.

Dark Mountain is competently made, but positioned as it is in the late summer of 2014, boasts almost no sense of distinction whatsoever. It’s not that it is badly made just that -- at this juncture -- it is over-familiar and therefore the narrative twists and turns no longer surprise or thrill.

And worst of all, the sequence most blatantly derivative of The Blair Witch Project arrives first in the film’s narrative, casting a kind of pall over the rest of the proceedings that is difficult to shake, especially if you have any familiarity with the sub-genre.

“This is a land of mystery.”

Three intrepid young filmmakers, Kate (Sage Howard), Paul (Andrew Simpson), and Ross (Shelby Stehlin) venture into the Superstition Mountains in search of the notorious Lost Dutchman’s Mine.

As they hike into the wilderness, a stranger on a distant ridge seems to shadow their every move. Along the journey, they also find a cave, and Paul removes a gold and white rock from it, much to Ross’s dismay. He asks Paul to return it to its spot, but Paul refuses.

After a few days in the wild, the trio finds an abandoned camp site, and diary from the mid-1970s. Kate confesses to Ross a secret about what she saw in the cave, and Ross shares a story about the Lost Dutchman’s mine from his own family history.

As the days pass, Paul begins to exhibit strange, paranoid behavior, especially when the trio can’t find their way out of the mountains.  He returns the rock to the cave, but it is harder to get rid of than he could have ever imagined.

One night, Paul disappears into the woods, and Kate, the team leader and film director, follows with Ross, only to come face-to-face with a dark force.

“If there’s no drama, then I’m going to have to create some.”

Dark Mountain opens with a shot of Kate, our team leader, in agonized close-up. She is crying in dismay over her situation. She is lost in the mountains, hunted and besieged by a malevolent supernatural/paranormal entity.  She apologizes to her mother and father, says she wishes to go home, and expresses regret about her decisions leading up to this juncture. 

Sound familiar?

This moment is thematically, visually and structurally derivative of The Blair Witch Project’s most famous sequence.  I know you remember it: Heather looks right into the camera, nose dripping, reality-series confessional style, and recites her sins and goodbyes to this mortal coil.

Confessing Sins and Fear: The Blair Witch Project

Confessing Sins and Fear: Dark Mountain

It’s one thing to be inspired by The Blair Witch Project, as I noted above, it’s another thing entirely to appropriate the film’s most famous moment, and right out the gate as well.

Dark Mountain attempts to inoculate itself against the criticism that it repeats much of The Blair Witch Project’s creative alchemy lock, stock, and barrel by actually mentioning the film by name in the body of the work. 

There’s no witch, and we’re in the desert,” one character notes. 

Those differences are valid, for certain, and yet there points of many similarities too.  In fact, the similarities outweigh the differences by a significant margin.

In Search of Myth: The Blair Witch Project

In Search of Myth: Dark Mountain

For instance, Kate is very much like Heather, the protagonist of BWP.  She is a female director obsessed with making her film, and leading two men (Ross and Paul, not Josh and Mike) in search of a local legend. She boldly establishes that “we’re going to make the film my way,” and that’s a message and sentiment in keeping with Heather’s character too.

Then, Dark Mountain follows Heather and the other two filmmakers as they interview a series of locals about the Lost Mine.

Again, you may remember that in The Blair Witch Project, Heather and her team conducted a number of interviews before heading into the woods themselves.

Local Color and Interviews: The Blair Witch Project

Local Color and Interviews: Dark Mountain

Then, of course, there’s the matter of getting lost out in the wild, and traveling inadvertently in a circle. This idea is established in The Blair Witch Project, and repeated note-for-note in Dark Mountain

Similarly, you will remember how Heather’s camp was ransacked in the earlier film. That happens here too.

There was even the idea in The Blair Witch Project that by disturbing the Witch’s rock cairns in the forest, Heather had earned the supernatural creature’s wrath, or at least attention.  Here, Paul’s act of taking a gold rock from a spirit’s cave is very much along the same lines.

Then, the film’s ending is piped right in from The Blair Witch Project. Filling the Josh role, Paul disappears.  Ross and Kate run after him, calling out his name repeatedly.  Next, Ross disappears, leaving Kate by herself.  This is also what happened with Heather and Mike, right?

And lastly -- and this is what passes for invention in the film -- instead of ripping off the final shot of BWP, Dark Mountain appropriates the final (by now familiar) image of REC [2007] instead.

An unseen force drags Kate out of camera range, while it keeps filming. The ending is so poorly edited that you recognize the exact set-up at once, and have time to realize that, yes -- unbelievably -- this clichéd and oft repeated shot is going to get another work-out.

Dragged Away: [REC}

Dragged Away: Dark Mountain
Watching Dark Mountain, I felt for a time that I was taking a tour of not just The Blair Witch Project, but of all the recent found-footage movies.  Like Skinwalker Ranch (2013) and Alien Abduction (2014), Dark Mountain gives us UFOs.  Like The Devil’s Pass, it gives us the mysterious hatch in the wilderness.

I would happily chalk-up all these instances of familiar moments to acts of spontaneous creation if I felt that they were handled here in a unique way, or that they contributed something meaningful to the film. But Dark Mountain is so loosely, diffusely organized that no important connections between phenomena are made. After watching the film, I can’t tell you if cave spirits, UFOs, time-warps or some unholy combination of all three are responsible for the strange events we see playing out.

Also, Dark Mountain seems padded with long moments of “nature” footage provided by camera-phone recordings.  These shots are poor in quality, and so don’t capture the location in picturesque or memorable terms.  It seems they are included to grant the film a sense of visual distinction, and extend the running time to feature length.  The film is 82 minutes long, so it barely skates by, even with the padding.

All this established, I found some sequences in Dark Mountain very well-staged.  The scene set inside a dark, apparently never-ending cave is  chilling indeed, with a visual-effect punctuation that works brilliantly. And the moment of the UFO reveal, though it goes nowhere, is powerfully-rendered.

I often write on the blog about pastiche and homage, the act of synthesizing a new work out of the building-blocks of an old one. In terms of Dark Mountain, however, there is no level of irony, or knowledge, or established ideas fused with new ones. Instead, it's all played straight, as if we're supposed to be seeing this story, these characters, and this structure for the first time.  

Plainly that's not the case, and so much of the film simply isn't scary. Familiarity may breed contempt, but it doesn't breed discomfort, or a feeling of terror.  When I look at the invention of found footage efforts such as The Bay (2012), Lucky Bastard (2014), The Sacrament (2014) or Delivery: The Beast Within (2014), the canned and rote familiarity of Dark Mountain is all the more disappointing. 

At one point in Dark Mountain, Kate reports that she doesn’t want to leave the mountains until her film has an “ending.” 

Well, Dark Mountain is bracketed by an extremely derivative beginning and ending, and this fact means that the film must reckon with some “bad energy” of its own. And the film’s valedictory line, a recitation of Kate’s earlier comment that “this film is going to launch my career” feels like a bit too on the nose as well.

Look Hollywood: I made my own Blair Witch Project!

Movie Trailer: Dark Mountain (2014)

Thursday, September 04, 2014

At Flashbak: The 5 Coolest TV Superhero Cars (that aren't the Batmobile)

My new article at Flashbak is now posted. "Let's Roll Kato" considers the coolest superhero cars from TV history not including the Batmobile.

Here's a snippet, and the url (

"Let's face facts: the Batmobile is absolutely the gold standard in terms of superhero automobiles.

And the 1966 Batmobile -- re-engineered from a Lincoln Futura for the Adam West Batman (1966 - 1969) series on Batman -- is still widely associated with the character and mythos despite feature film revamps in the Tim Burton Batman movies of the late 1980s and early 1990s and the recent Dark Knight Trilogy.

Beyond the Batmbolile, however, there have been a number of awesome TV superhero cars that have, at the very least, gotten their costumed owners around the town in fine style.

More than that, these cars have been useful tools in the on-going war against super criminals and other rogues...."

Cult-Movie Review: The Den (2014)

[Warning: There be spoilers ahead.]

“Who’s really out there?”

That’s the primary question posed by The Den (2014), a surprisingly effective horror movie about the terrors of living life online in the year 2014. The film follows a curious graduate student, Elizabeth (Melanie Papalia) who earns a prestigious research grant to study online habits and thus joins a video-chat site (think: Chat Roulette) called The Den.

When she must choose a name and password for The Den, Elizabeth also gets to select her experience grade.

She selects the option labeled “give me everything.”

In the span of ninety minutes or so, that’s exactly the experience Elizabeth gets, in a relentlessly edgy and unsettling film that is one part The Strangers (2008), and one part Hostel (2005).  

In this case, Elizabeth is stalked -- on-line and off -- by a cadre of ferocious masked killers. While trying to find and stop them, Elizabeth runs up against the barriers inherent in bringing accountability to the online world, namely the fact that not everyone online is really the person they claim to be, and that there are different expectations for behavior online than we encounter in real life.  Even the police seem to live by the edict that a threat on the Internet is, well, only a threat on the Internet.  Thus it is nothing to get too concerned over.

A social critique regarding the perils of the Web 2.0 Age, The Den covers virtually every high-tech indignity imaginable, from a sex tape accidentally uploaded to your boss, to the accidental downloading of malware that erases your hard-drive. The overriding conceit here is that the Web is a window that allows you to peek into the lives of others.  But -- importantly -- windows are transparent, meaning that those upon whom you gaze, can, simultaneously, gaze back at you. 

And windows, even high-tech ones, can be left unlocked.

Impressively, The Den’s leitmotif regarding windows is reflected in the very structure of the film itself. Basically, Elizabeth carries her laptop computer everywhere, and is always filming herself via web-camera. This is a condition of her grant: a life lived 24/7 online.

But at the same time, Elizabeth’s computer has open dialogue windows to The Den web site so as to accept chat requests, and other windows as well, including those to her boyfriend Darien, her buddy Max, or her very pregnant sister. 

Thus, between pop-up windows and web-cam windows, The Den is visualized throughout as a series of constantly shifting portals, ones always making new connections or closing old ones. Each new connection is an opportunity for terror…especially when you consider the fact that you don’t always know who is doing the typing you see spelled out on-screen.

How do you know JKM is the person actually writing this review? 

How do you know I haven’t been replaced by someone else?

Sure, you can guess from my word choices and my grammar that I’m “me,” but if this were a Facebook post, a tweet, or a chat (with no video), it would be more difficult to pick out or recognize my individual tics and quirks, wouldn’t it?

The Den thus plays wickedly with the assumptions we make every day on the Net about who we are holding conversations with.

The Den may also qualify as a found footage film, meaning that Elizabeth is always visible to the audience via these web-cam windows. Though the film is edited, of course, it presents the appearance of consisting only of unedited, raw footage in the spirit of something like The Blair Witch Project (1999).  Even that, however, is an assumption, as Elizabeth learns the hard way. At one point, she is faced with footage that appears to be live, but is actually a recording.

However, unlike most films of the found footage type, there’s never any report that Elizabeth’s footage is found by the authorities.  Instead, the other shoe drops when we realize Elizabeth’s “narrative” – the very substance of the film itself -- is available on a pay-per-view video site. She has been part of a drama and story not of her making.

Uniquely constructed as an online narrative with all the constantly opening and closing windows, The Den (2014) feels inventive and fresh, and there are many moments of authentic horror too as Elizabeth’s “real” life is violated and threatened in terrifying, unrelenting terms.

“It’s the Internet. You should have expected something like this.”

A graduate student named Elizabeth is awarded a grant to make a study of the kind of people who spend their time online. To further her research, she joins a video chat service called The Den. 

In short order, Elizabeth encounters all sorts of users, including jokesters, perverts, and apparently regular folks too. One night, Elizabeth’s boyfriend Damien sneaks into her house, and after startling her awake, performs oral sex on her. Neither of them realizes they are being recorded and that the footage of them is has been uploaded to members of Elizabeth’s grant board.

Then, one day, Elizabeth connects with Pyagrl16, a Den user whose webcam has been broken for days. Elizabeth suddenly sees the girl struggling -- tied-up and restrained -- just as a masked killer slits her throat. Elizabeth promptly notifies the police that there has been a murder online, but the authorities can’t do anything about it because, among other reasons, there’s no evidence that the crime is local.

Elizabeth then loses contact with her boyfriend, Damien. When she finds chat footage of him revealing that he has been abducted by a masked assailant, her hard-drive is promptly wiped by a virus, leaving her no evidence. Then, Elizabeth sees frightening footage on the Den suggesting that her pregnant sister is in danger.
Elizabeth calls the police and rushes to help, but a masked stranger is already inside her sister’s house…

“You’re going to need to embrace the Internet at some point.”

The Den opens with a terrific, well-orchestrated metaphor for the online life of today. Elizabeth randomly connects online with an innocent-looking boy, and he tells her that he is afraid of a monster in his bedroom closet. 

She asks to see the monster for herself, and the boy pans his web camera around the closet, and…

…well, the unexpected occurs.

At the end of this scene, we realize that the boy can’t be taken at his word, at least not exactly, and yet there is, actually, something lurking inside the closet, thus providing the film one hell of a jump scare. The scene beautifully suggests that life online isn’t exactly real life, and that deception is not only possible in this mode of communication, but frequent.

Originally titled “Death Online,” The Den thus explores the notion that despite all the windows into other human lives, not everybody on the Net presents themselves honestly, or as who they really are. Some folks puff up their resumes and Facebook walls so as to seem more important. Other folks knowingly perpetrate hoaxes. Other folks are out to steal your information. And some people simply hide behind anonymity, a shroud from which nasty bombs and screeds can be lobbed.

And then, finally, there are some folks -- not unlike the hunters of Hostel -- who see your entire life as a playground for them to control.

Spend too much time -- and share too much of your life -- online, suggests The Den, and you’re bound to run up against one kind of miscreant or another, if not a serial liar than someone who wants to really and truly do you harm. 

Elizabeth’s friend, Max, reminds her at one point “don’t open up attachments from strangers…ever,” but he might as well have told her: don’t make attachments to strangers, ever. 

That’s the danger proposed by The Den. The Internet creates feelings of intimacy and connection, but in some cases, they are illusory.

There are elements in The Den of the torture porn genre, the found-footage genre, and the slasher genre too, but categorizing the film is ultimately less important than noting that the filmmakers make us feel for Elizabeth and her plight, and we become invested in her survival. She’s a babe in the woods, so far as the net is concerned, but that doesn’t mean we can’t sympathize or worry for her when she’s targeted and pursued.

The last half-hour of the film, with Elizabeth running for her life, and discovering that her stalker has not acted alone, is mercilessly-paced, frenetically-filmed, and downright scary. The movie had me on the edge of my seat more than once.

At one point, The Den even looks like it will trample over the line of good taste when Elizabeth’s very pregnant sister is attacked, and a sharp knife is put to her belly. But the film walks a fine line, lingering for just the right duration on the terrible implications of the attack before backing away from total debauchery.

Also, The Den boasts a terrific pace, and escalates one step at a time, before reaching its climactic frenzy. Early in the film, for instance, we see a smorgasbord of life on the Net, as Elizabeth conducts her research. We see a man dancing in a bunny suit, a cute cat, and meet two Indian women who want to know, from Elizabeth, how to “satisfy a woman.” 

The most crucial of these sometimes funny, sometimes strange “life on the net” moments involves Elizabeth chatting with a man riding his bike through the heart of Manhattan. While talking to her, he is involved in an accident with a car, and we never know what happens to him. The warning here is that online life intrudes on normal life and can have consequences in the real world. 

It is a warning, alas, that Elizabeth doesn’t heed.

I admire how the film ramps up its sense of  rising horror, one strange experience at a time, and I was reminded how, in the incipient age of the Internet, an episode of Millennium (1996 – 1999) called “The Mikado” anticipated similar horrors. A good horror film or show is always perched right on the vanguard of technological advancement, warning us about how the tools we take for granted could change the very fabric of our lives…for the worse.

The Den fulfills that function admirably, and with ingenuity and thrills to spare. When I watch a horror film I want -- much like Elizabeth -- for it to “give me everything.”

The Den just about obliges.

Movie Trailer: The Den (2014)

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Land of the Lost Little Golden Book: The Surprise Guest

Pop Art: Land of the Lost (Whitman Edition)

Land of the Lost GAF Viewmaster

Land of the Lost Rack Toys (Larami)

Land of the Lost Sleestak Costume (Ben Cooper)

Lunchbox of the Week: Land of the Lost

Board Game of the Week: Land of the Lost (Milton Bradley)

Theme Song of the Week: Land of the Lost (1974 - 1976)

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

The Visitors are Coming: V: The Series: "The Return" (March 22, 1985)

In “The Return,” the final episode of V: The Series (1984 -1985), the Leader declares a truce on Earth, demanding that all Visitor warriors and sky-fighters withdraw.  

The Leader also communicates telepathically with Elizabeth (Jennifer Cooke), and wishes to rendezvous with her on the L.A. Mothership, over Kyle’s objections.

With peace at hand, Mike (Marc Singer), Julie (Faye Grant), Willie (Robert Englund), Kyle (Jeff Yagher) and Elizabeth board the Mothership, where they are greeted on friendly terms by Lydia (June Chadwick) and Philip (Frank Ashmore). 

In fact, Philip challenges Mike to a friendly duel with (de-activated) nuclear swords.  Diana sabotages the contest, however, and Mike is nearly killed.

Diana (Jane Badler), who fears that she will lose command if peace is at hand, also conspires to destroy the Leader’s shuttle and makes the assassination attempt look like a plot by the Resistance.  The plan fails, and Diana is exposed.  Desperate, she attempts to vaporize the Earth using the mothership’s fusion reactors.

Then Elizabeth, with psychic help from the Leader, manages to save the day, harnessing the ship's technology with the power of her mind. Diana is captured and held for trial with her cohort, Lt. James (Judson Scott) while Elizabeth prepares to go off with the Leader.  

Kyle stows away on her shuttle, unwilling to give up Elizabeth.

Diana, meanwhile, reports that a bomb has been planted on the Leader’s shuttle…

Even at its very worst, V: The Series always had brass balls.  

The program killed off regular cast members willy-nilly, featured kinky sexual innuendo at virtually every turn, and then gave us this episode -- “The Return" -- a gonzo cliff-hanger conclusion, as its final installment. Almost thirty years later, the cliffhanger still hasn't been resolved, alas.

I still recall seeing “The Return” in prime-time in 1985 and finding the tension unbearable, especially during the climactic pull-back up, up, up and away from the mothership deck, and from the Resistance fighters.  

Nothing was resolved, and disaster loomed.  Elizabeth was gone. Kyle had disappeared.  And Diana was still scheming to break the peace....violently.  When the end credits rolled, I think my heart was in my throat.

I must say, I’m especially sad a second season never materialized because June Chadwick informed me in an interview some time back that the first several episodes of Season Two would have seen Lydia pursuing Diana on an alien world for her crimes against the Visitors.  I would have loved to see those episodes. 

So “The Return” has momentum, and guts, too. It goes for broke, and there's an energy in the air that was missing from some of the last few episodes.  Everyone gets it together for one last hurrah. 

Looking back, I half suspect that the plan was to kill Elizabeth and Kyle (along with the Leader) and start fresh with some new characters the following season, if the series got renewed. I know that Julie’s death was in the offing.  If so, that would only have left Jane Badler, June Chadwick and Marc Singer returning.

Despite the pacey, go-for-broke nature of “The Return,” the episode does raise a few intriguing questions, especially in regards to the depiction of the Leader.  Although we never see the Leader during this installment, we hear his booming voice frequently, and see that his shuttle is awash in unearthly light.  It’s as though he’s more God than man, or rather lizard.  He can communicate telepathically (which other Visitors can’t), can control his technology remotely (which, again other Visitors can’t,) and seems very concerned with peace (which his people don't).

So he's an anomaly.

Of course, none of this information about the Leader in "The Return" jibes with the information Martin (Frank Ashmore) told Mike in the first mini-series back in 1983.  There, Martin described the Leader as a kind of charismatic madman who seized power in a time of turmoil and upheaval. He was a war-mongering fascist dictator (think Hitler), and not some benevolent “Father” of the Visitor race. 

And indeed, it makes no sense for The Leader to wage war against the Earth in the first place if he is such a peace-loving person (or force, as the case might be).  

Also, we know from series history that the Leader was Diana’s lover for a time. It’s hard to picture the serene-voiced, light-encrusted “Leader” imagery of “The Return” in those circumstances.  Diana would eat him for breakfast.

The episode’s other weak point, perhaps, is another lame subplot involving Willie. Here he meets an old flame Irma who wants to pick up where they left off. This subplot hardly seems worthy of a season finale or series finale, and the time would have been better spent with either Diana --who is told by Philip that her “voice will no longer be heard” -- or with Kyle and Elizabeth, whose relationship hits a crossroads as Elizabeth “evolves.”

I grew up with V: The Series, and I loved it as a fifteen year old kid. Today, I appreciate it primarily for the performances, especially those of Jane Badler, June Chadwick, and Faye Grant.  I believe it is undeniable that all three of these actors would have been even better served with the original “It Can’t Happen Here” idea of the series.  The show could have been a drama about the Visitors inserting themselves into our lives here on Earth, finding collaborators and allies, as well as making enemies.  I don't believe the hard "action" approach of the series suits V very well.  The premise is too smart to get reduced cleanly to car chases and fisticuffs.

Actually, even the Open City format that opened the series and lasted for a dozen episodes or so would have worked just fine, if some of the writing was just a little stronger.  But the re-vamp at V’s midpoint just kills the series, at least in terms of its heroes.  The Resistance loses all semblance of reality, and so the action heavily tilts towards the Mothership, where Badler and Chadwick reign, stealing scene after scene. I find these scenes immensely enjoyable and a saving grace, but again, there's a sense of imbalance overall.  

A summer break would have well-served the series. Everyone could have rested, stories could have been honed, and better ideas (and perhaps) characters explored.  Brandon Tartikoff once reported that canceling V was a tremendous mistake, and I agree with him in the sense that the series had a charismatic cast, a great premise, and, a vast array of expensive sets and costumes.  If the writers had learned to play better to those strengths, a second season might have been a vast improvement over the first. 

It is too bad we never got to find out.