V: Pilot / There is No Normal Anymore

Tonight, the Sci-fi channel rebranded to Syfy as it premiered the first two episodes of the reimagining of the 1983 mini-series V. With a very good cast and great special effects and design, the two episodes were really enjoyable. As with all of the episode recaps to follow in the coming weeks, please note that this post contains spoilers if you haven’t seen these two episodes yet.

The pilot episode gets into the thick of things very quickly. We’re barely introduced to Elizabeth Mitchell as FBI agent and single mum Erica Evans, Scott Wolf as TV anchorman Chad Decker, Joel Gretch as Catholic priest Jack Landry and Morris Chestnut as businessman Ryan Nichols, when the a spaceship arrives in the skies above New York. Huge craft hover in the air above almost 30 of the world’s biggest cities, much like Independence Day (which gets a mention). Suddenly, the panels underneath the craft rotate and everybody who’s seen a sci-fi movie prepares for annihilation. Instead, the face of Anna (the excellent Morena Baccarin), the leader of these Visitors, appears to bring a message of peace to the world. She says that for a long time her people thought they were alone in the universe, and are happy and honoured to befriend another form of intelligent life. She offers to bring new technology to the human race and cure many diseases in return for some water and minerals which their planet is lacking.

This wonderful message is greeted with cheers and feelings of hope and elation in many parts of the world, with tourists flocking to the world’s major cities to see the Visitor’s ships. Erica’s son Tyler and his best friend Brandon are among those captivated by the dazzling spacecraft and beautiful looking aliens. They manage to get a ticket to board the craft above New York where they are amazed by the alien technology and are particularly happy to see Lisa, a Visitor who recruits them for the V Peace Ambassador Program, where humans help to spread the word of the Visitors. Journalist Chad Decker also likes the look of the aliens and is given the scoop of the century when Anna chooses him to conduct a live television interview with her, to help calm groups of people all around the world who have reacted angrily to the arrival, rioting in the streets. However, he starts to see a more disturbing side to her when, minutes before the broadcast is due to begin, she requests that he only asks questions which portray the Visitors in a positive light.

Father Landry (I was going to call him Father Jack, but, y’know…) also has his suspicions about the Visitors, confused about the theological impact of their arrival and wary of their messages of goodwill. However, he is shocked to find that his congregation of 3 or 4 people has grown to hundreds in the wake of their arrival, and even more shocked to see that Ray, a wheelchair-bound parishioner, has been cured and can now walk. But his suspicions are later confirmed when a wounded man arrives, telling him that he knows why the aliens have come, giving him a dossier and details of a secret meeting before promptly dying.

Throughout the episode we see Ryan, but he’s the character we learn the least about at first. He’s a businessman who is planning to ask his girlfriend Valerie to marry him. An old acquaintance called Georgie keeps asking him to take part in something, which seems to be some sort of underground movement they were part of some time ago, but Ryan refuses because he has a new life now.

At the FBI, counterterrorism agent Erica and her partner Dale notice that while terrorist chatter decreased to a virtual silence the moment the Visitors arrived, there was one single cell whose activity drastically increased at that time. Following the leads they have on this cell, they find a secret hideout containing explosives, fake IDs and a dead man. His mobile phone contains details of a sleeper cell meeting.

Erica goes to the meeting, which of course is the same one Father Landry has gone to. Georgie is there too, and asks that everyone attending for the first time is injected with local anaesthetic before having an incision made in by their ear so that everyone can see there is bone below. He says that this is to prove that they are human, as the Visitors have cloned human flesh to cover their real reptilian appearance. He claims that they’ve planned for a long time to enslave the human race, infiltrating the highest positions of Earth society, inferring that they’ve been responsible for everything from the Iraq War to the Credit Crunch, making the world ready for the final stage of their plan, when the Visitors would arrive and appear to be the planet’s saviours. Father Landry shows Georgie the dossier, which contains photographs of Visitors, one of which Erica saw on one of the fake passports seized earlier.

Suddenly a spherical flying object appears above the room, with the some members of the group spotting it and diving for cover just in time, before it shoots out shards of metal across the room. Others are too late and killed, and the body count increases further when some Visitors, disguised as humans, arrive to attack the survivors. One of those Visitors turns out to be Erica’s FBI partner Dale, who she manages to overpower, tearing through his skin to reveal a little of his alien face below. Ryan turns up and helps and Georgie to escape. Outside, Ryan reveals to his friend that he is in fact a Visitor, but is regarded as a traitor who opposes their plans. He decides to break up with his girlfriend in order to protect her, but when he returns home, he discovers that she has found the engagement ring he bought and wants to say yes.

Erica escapes outside with the priest, one of the few other survivors of the attack, and they talk about what they have learned. They decide to form a resistance group and fight back as she remarks that the Visitors have the greatest weapon of all – devotion. They see a shuttle craft coming in to clean up the mess. Erica decides to call 911 before they leave, but doesn’t realise that the person on the other end of the phone is a Visitor on their spacecraft. One of those floating ball things comes down once again and takes pictures of them. Just as it’s preparing to shoot Erica, she smashes it with a pipe. They both decide to go home and act like nothing happened, now in the knowledge that anyone around them could be a visitor.

Erica talks to her son Tyler after a little set piece where they think each other is a burglar. She asks him to promise her that he will never get involved with the Visitors, desperate for him to stay away from what she now knows, but can’t yet tell anyone, is a real threat. Tyler agrees but of course doesn’t mean it, and sure enough the next day he and Brandon arrive, both in uniform, arrive to meet with Lisa at the Visitors’ embassy in New York, which they are not allowed to leave. While Tyler takes pictures of Lisa on his phone, shows off photos of his bike and generally flirts with her by the embassy gates, Brandon is heckled. Tyler goes to his friend’s aid, taking things a little too far as he beats up the protester while Lisa cries out for him to act peacefully. She later tells him that the powers that be want him to be removed from the Peace Ambassador Program after what he did.

The next morning, Erica comes into work, and instantly felt paranoid, looking at each of her colleagues, not knowing who might not be human and realising that she can’t trust anyone. She is told that Dale is missing, and his car has been found outside the warehouse where everything happened last night. When they arrive, she’s able to take her gun and badge from his car without anyone noticing. After covering her tracks and maintaining that she didn’t know anything about Dale’s whereabouts, back at the office she is played a tape of the 991 call she made. She says that she suspected a mole was leaking information to a terrorist cell, so she tracked Dale and used 911 to call for backup without blowing his cover if he wasn’t the mole. She’s stunned to learn that the recording didn’t come from the 911 call centre, but from a wiretap on the phone box as part of a drugs investigation, because the call was never received by 911. She uses Dale’s mobile phone records and the times that the cell had been tipped off to prove that he was the mole.

Earlier that morning an FBI agent named Sarita, from the Visitor Threat Assessment Joint Task Force, visited Father Jack Landry, investigating the death of the man in the church. At first he denied that he made any mention of the Visitors, but soon decides to be honest and brings the dossier into the FBI building. When he runs into Erica, he is just as surprised to learn that she is an FBI agent as she is to discover that he’s a priest. She secretly takes a list of everyone who has contacted the Task Force, people who have information and suspicions about the visitors. Together, Jack and Erica decide to use the list to recruit people to help in their resistance.

Ryan finds an old friend called Angelo in a garage, who is another Visitor who has been on Earth for some time but has slipped under the radar after defecting from their cause. Ryan gets treatment for the injuries to his human flesh covering (it mustn’t be comfortable in there!) and asks for help finding recruits to help in the struggle against the invasion. Angelo helps him and then tells Ryan that he easily found details about his fiancé, and he needs to break up with her to protect her. He’s been doing this to long and knows what needs to be done to evade being found, drugging Ryan and knocking him unconscious. Back at his home, his fiancé Valerie notices that one of the pictures on the mantelpiece is upside-down, and as she turns it around a business card falls out for someone called Cyrus.

On the ship, a man who was captured alive in the previous night’s attack is held prisoner. They show him stills from the video taken by the flying ball thing, showing a blurry thermal imaging-type picture of some of the people who got away (probably Erica, Jack and Georgie) but he’s unable to help. Mainly because he’s screaming in fear. It’s unclear why this is, until we see what he’s seeing, a hallucination of snakes all over his body.

In another part of the ship, Anna wears traditional Japanese and then Mexican dress to thank the two countries for establishing diplomatic relations with the visitors. Despite Chad’s sycophantic interview, however, the government in the United States hasn’t come to a decision yet, with polls showing that only 50% of the public approve of the Visitors. Chad tries to tell them that the public would prefer to see more of a debate, but they continue to insist that they are only seen in a positive light. Instead, without their approval, he invites two guests onto his show to look at the pros and cons of the visitors. Somehow, this is enough for the poll numbers to increase and diplomatic relations soon begin between the United States and the Visitors, meaning that they will be able to apply for visas to leave the embassy. Anna calls him to thank him through gritted teeth.

In the final scene of the episode, Dale’s body lies on the ship. Suddenly, despite his previous injuries, we see that he has been healed.

I really enjoyed both hours of the show, although the first was much better than the second. I have some concerns about exactly where the story is going and whether it’s something that’s planned to run and run or eventually wrap-up, something that would worry anyone who invested in the creepier Invasion, which was strangled by meddling by executives. We’ve already got through quite a lot in just the first hour, already learning the true nature of the Visitors (a decision made by the writers who knew that many viewers would be familiar with the 1980s original) and at the moment it’s hard to see how things will develop beyond a simple story of rebellion against invaders posing as benefactors. But, judging by their first efforts, the cast, writers and crew are more than able to produce something very good.


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