I could just be hallucinating, but after tonight’s episode, I’m pretty sure that, within the context of the half-assed trajectory V has been following lately, I may have watched a tolerable episode. “Unholy Alliance” boasts some of the most thoughtful writing and plot development of the series thus far. Again, read that within the context of the show: The series remains a collection of not even half-formed interesting ideas that are all executed very poorly.
And yet, after watching “Unholy Alliance,” I felt like I saw the rarest of things on V: a plotline that brought together the last couple of episodes’ immediate events—disposing of Malick’s body, the separatist Fifth Columnist, and Father Jack’s Youtube escapades—with plans for forthcoming events that actually mostly seem plausible. I know it sounds like I’m throwing caution to the wind when I say this but this was really the first V since “We Can’t Win” that I felt was actually worth a damn.
The main strengths of “Unholy Alliance” come from minor individual moments. It began with a vain attempt to impress the viewer with a cursory knowledge of some of the grimmer details of World War II's history. Three members of the Peace Ambassadors are found dead, their throats cut and their bodies exhibited and hung up in front of the Visitors’ embassy, similar to the way that Mussolini’s body was publicly displayed after the war. This is meant to show us that the Fifth Column separatists, who are apparently led by an Ex-Mossad militant named Eli Cohn, mean business.
Believe it or not, the discovery of those three bodies comes very close to being the kind of gripping revelation that episode writer Rockne S. O’Bannon (‘80s Twilight Zone, Alien Nation, Farscape) intended it to be. Blood spattered over generic alien Halloween masks, which Erica peels back one by one, hoping not to find her son among the dead, is a genuinely creepy image. Too bad series director Dean White didn’t stretch the scene out or even just make it brisk and deliberate enough that each new bloody face feels like it should potentially matter to us.
Still, there’s a germ of a good idea there, and it’s on-screen where it needs to be and not sort of, just maybe, percolating behind a soul-rending machine or hackneyed mother-daughter conversations between Diana and Anna or even just shoddy sfx shots of lizard teeth. OK, fine, “Unholy Alliance” has two out of those three obfuscating things. But they don’t appear as prominently when there are so many other balls thrown into the air, as they are in this episode, for some reason. It's possibly because those balls aren’t launched, if you’ll allow a rather strained image to prevail for a moment, in as haphazard a fashion as other recent episodes.
Peel back the layers of crap that usually mar V and you’ll hopefully find something in “Unholy Alliance” worth liking. Whether it’s something that’s worth getting excited over is up to you. For example, though “Unholy Alliance” is a very talky episode, a lot of stuff happens in a short period of time (the plot moves forward in ways that feel consequential, which is saying a lot for this show). And yet, somehow the combination of exposition-heavy tete-a-tetes and behind-the-scenes politicking, especially in the scene held in the Vatican (yes, the Vatican) between Anna and a council of convening Cardinals is surprisingly effective.
The show is finally addressing the import of being surrounded by aliens that can perform what, for all intents and purposes, are miracles and what that could potentially look like to pious humans, let alone ones that are simply irrationally driven by emotions, which are apparently part of the soul and yada yada, blah blah. It’s certainly distracting to see that an ostensibly awe-inspiring demonstration of the Vs’ powers is ultimately pointless—a random display of their blue energy is unleashed and for some reason alights on a sculpture of Mary, mother of Jesus. But that whole meeting between the Vs and the Catholics, graceless and slapdash though it may be within the context of what has come before in the show, is a semi-thoughtful way to get across the idea of the Vs as a higher power, one that threatens the hegemony of world religions and hence might be perceived as a threat. I mean, their appearance on Earth has to have some political consequences beyond the plot, right?
Then again, I’ll readily admit that V is still V: Cohn’s faction is introduced at the last minute, and it’s hard not to immediately laugh at Chris Bolling, a new FBI agent from DC. Bolling’s first brilliant insight into uncovering the Fifth Columnists is to use the YouTube video of Father Jack assaulting a victim of Cohn’s Fifth Columnists. Yes, the guy that is brought in to provide greater insight into a frustrated active case, that’s very much in the public eye I should add, is proudly pointing to a YouTube clip as if he just discovered a major clue. This further confirms my suspicion that whoever sketched out the broad beats for V’s second season does not understand how the Internet works. O’Bannon later redeems himself by showing that he doesn’t totally underestimate the audience’s intelligence by pulling a cheap but satisfying last minute reversal and revealing that Bolling has ulterior motives. But still: YouTube? Really? That’s your super-fantastic new lead? A viral video?!
I’d like to say that V will surely take a marked uptick after the events of “Unholy Alliance.” The idea of the Catholic Church endorsing the Visitors might be an interesting wrinkle in the show’s discussion of what the soul is; according to a priest, “it’s what separates us from the animals,” which is a cliche, but it’s also more than just the monotonous line about the soul being the root of human emotion that Anna is obsessed with. It probably won’t develop into something worthwhile, but there now is a chance that it could do that, instead of just the usual, interminable waiting for something, anything, to show up that typifies watching V. That tantalizing something is finally here, and it’s the introduction of religion into a show that now claims that soul-extracting has always been a concern of our cold-blooded villains. I hope the show’s writers don’t screw this up, even if I know they will.
- Wow, another good-looking sfx shot—spaceships! Zipping around! Did this show just graduate from being generically trashy to generically tolerable? I hope so!
- “The Italians strung Mussolini up like this at the end of World War II. Someone in the Fifth Column is a fan of history.” Most asinine line evar.