Monday, March 01, 2021

V: The Series: "Liberation Day"

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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