As with many network television shows, the second episode of V works much like a supplementary pilot, but the writers avoid the usual redundancies by focusing exclusively on giving the heroes a bit of personality now that the themes and premise have been firmly set up. In fact, what with its first act taking place five seconds after the previous chapter’s final scene, I suspect “There is No Normal Anymore” was meant to air as part of a two-hour event that establishes the full scope of the series.
I mentioned last week that the characters feel like mouthpieces for their respective demographics. This is still true, but the episode does provide insight as to what drives these people and why we should care. Take, for example, Chad’s clever counter-attack against Anna. Watching the journalist go through the motions of an inherently compromised system would have been interesting enough, but his manipulating it from the inside to uphold his values makes for infinitely more compelling television.
Father Jack also gets a quest of sorts, though his main obstacle consists of a basic personality flaw: overreliance on higher authorities, be it Erica, the V task force, or religious doctrine. It’s not that the priest can’t think for himself, as demonstrated by his denouncing the Visitors, but he does need to quit passing the buck if he’s going to save his community from an extraterrestrial false idol. Obviously, the arc is meant to represent a long-standing issue in organized religion, but I leave it to you to decide whether the parable holds pertinence today. Either way, I get the distinct impression Father Travis is an alien spy.
After all, Ryan’s thread reveals that the Visitors have infiltrated every aspect of our global culture, from law enforcement to whatever it is he does for a living. I dig the reversal the show runners are going for, casting a knowledgeable alien as the archetypal heroic family man, but the character does come off like a bit of a cipher designed to show-not-tell viewers the details of the V conspiracy. Ryan loves his girlfriend but still lies to her. He fights well but still sustains injury in a melee. He’s smart but still gets duped by fellow deserter Angelo… For heaven’s sake, give the guy a personality trait other than average!
I guess it’s better than petulant dumbass. I’m referring, of course, to Tyler, whose enrollment in the V ambassador program plays much like a cautionary tale against fascist youth parties. This is in keeping with the themes of the original V (minus the thinly veiled Nazi iconography), and I don’t mind the boy showing a distinct lack of judgment as long as the writers treat his storyline as a social allegory rather than romantic melodrama. Still, I feel his descent into V zealotry might have resonated more if we’d first got to know him and see with our own eyes the potential being wasted.
At this point, young Mr Evans comes across less like a teenager than a device to humanise his mother Erica, the series’ notional action heroine. “There Is No Normal Anymore” is very much her episode, and Elizabeth Mitchell nails the character, emphasising her cold pragmatism and resourcefulness in desperate times. Like Donovan from the 1983 mini-series, the duplicitous FBI agent immediately understands the stakes and what she has to do to stay alive. I love the point-of-view shot as she enters the interrogation room, the way it captures her paranoia and the true horror of the X-Files adage, “Trust no one.”
If we’re to take anything from “There Is No Normal Anymore”, it’s that the Visitors may have underestimated mankind’s ease with subterfuge, which may prove their undoing. After all, humanity helped Ryan see through his people’s lie, and Father Jack showed skepticism from the beginning. Meanwhile, Chad is holding his own in a duel of manipulation, and Erica is turning out as skilled a liar as Anna. I find it intriguing that, for the most part, our heroes have yet to meet. As long as V can keep this level of writing, I don’t see why they should.