Wednesday, March 03, 2021

V: The Series: "The Sanction"

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.

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