To understand why the gory second season finale of V was such an exciting hour of television, it helps to consider the final image of Crank: High Voltage, easily the most existential movie to feature a sex scene in the middle of a horse race. By the end of C: HV, Jason Statham’s Chev Chelios has spent two movies suffering all manner of physical suffering and mental degradation. He has fallen out of a helicopter. He has witnessed the removal of his still-beating heart. He has been in a car crash, or two, or seven. He has fought off an entire gang, or two, or seven. Also, his entire body is on fire. Chelios stares into the camera, grins through lips that are already burnt to a crisp…. and shows the audience his blazing middle finger.
Viewers, I submit to you that ABC’s beleaguered V reboot is a lot like Chev Chelios.
In theory, the show had everything going for it when it debuted in the fall of 2009. There was the nostalgia factor: People loved the original miniseries. There was the Battlestar Galactica factor: The concept was so inherently interesting that a modern-day remake actually seemed like a good idea. There was the Elizabeth Mitchell factor: She can do no wrong. But V was practically marked for death before it even premiered. It has been consistently “on hiatus” ever since its much-hyped debut– “hiatus” being a hot cable-TV idea that has worked exactly once for the broadcast networks.
As quite a few commenters have noted, new episodes of V are not available on iTunes, Hulu, or even Amazon – which might be a savvy business move for a CBS procedural or a mega-rated Fox reality show, but seems unthinkably backwards for a mythology-heavy serialized series. (Even stranger, V is on ABC – the same network that blazed the iTunes trail with Lost and Desperate Housewives.) To make the degradation complete, ABC cut season 2 from thirteen episodes to ten, according to the show’s executive producer. We shouldn’t entirely blame the network, though. The series could never find its footing. At least half the cast was functionally useless. Someone had the bright idea to keep Jane Badler in the sewer for nine freaking episodes. By the time V stumbled into the conclusion of its second season, it was beaten, battered, a mere shell of a TV show. The stage was set for a whimpering final act.
But holy wow, V just went for it, and I think it’s fair to say that last night’s episode was an absolute high point for the series. Weirdly, I think the finale was so good precisely because of all the various troubles that faced V over the last couple of years. Possibly because they were originally envisioning a 22-episode second season, the finale crammed in a massive amount of activity.
Actually, it’s worth pointing out that the finale was split into two very distinct parts. The first half-hour felt like an entirely different, much lamer episode of V. Stop me if you’ve heard this before: The Fifth Column plotted an elaborate scheme to stop Anna, and the scheme failed mainly because the Fifth Column is a confederacy of dunces utterly incapable of achieving anything. In this particular case, our beloved rebel band decided to stage a fake kidnapping, setting up Lisa to kill her own mother.
Lisa failed, because all plans are doomed to failure in the cruel V universe. Anna saw Lisa’s reflection when her daughter was holding a gun on her, and gave a passionate speech about how human emotion was actually really swell and gee gosh golly maybe we should be kinder to humans. Lisa completely bought into this, even though it ran counter to literally everything else Anna has ever said. So the scheme failed.
But that’s when things got crazy – and exciting. It almost seems as if the show’s producers suddenly realized, halfway through the episode, that they had to wrap up the season, and so the final half-hour played out as pure, unrelenting emotional turmoil. Jane Badler’s Diana was delivering a passionate speech to her children about a brighter, utopian future when, in a moment right out of Deep Blue Sea, she was cut off mid-speech – a lizard tail stabbed straight through her mid-section.
Ignore, for a moment, the fact that Anna apparently snuck up on her mother in the middle of a massive stage while surrounded by thousands of other people. That was a great, utterly unexpected twist. Even better was Anna’s killer exit line: “That’s how you kill your mother.” The death of Diana was, I think, a kind of wonderful slap-in-the-face to people like me, who’ve been insisting all season that Diana should get out of the sewers. “Okay, she’s out,” I imagine the V writers mumbling angrily, “now watch her die!”
The great thing about the death of Diana was that it wasn’t even close to being the craziest twist of the night. Immediately afterwards, Ryan decided to try and rescue his overgrown hybrid baby. The child, who now looks about 12 or 13, wasn’t too happy to see him; Anna has filled her head with anti-Dad propaganda. She wrapped her li’l lizard tail around Ryan’s neck. Ryan begged her: “Everything I’ve ever done was only to protect you.” The sad thing is, he’s right: Ryan’s whole narrative arc, his sole character trait, has always been the protection of his offspring. Which made it incredibly sad (or incredibly funny, if you’re cynical) that his only child was so utterly unmoved by his pleas. His neck made a horrifying squelch sound when it broke. If you’re keeping track, that’s a matricide and a patricide in just under five minutes of screen time.
Speaking of squelching noises, immediately after this one-two punch of character death, we witnessed the birth of Anna’s super-secret replacement princess. And, in the process, we finally received the long-promised full-body look at the Visitors’ true form. After a two-season-long tease, I was pleasantly surprised by just how interesting the V body looked. Picture a velociraptor fetus whose mother was a Na’Vi and whose father was David Cronenberg’s The Fly, and also it makes a noise that sounds like a drowning giraffe being tickled by an octopus. In short, it looked awesome.
Anna had her cohorts skin-ify her new princess so she looked exactly like Lisa, and she set one single goal for her wonderful new daughter: “Copulate with emo-boy, post-haste!” Tyler came to see Bizarro-Lisa with some serious questions – Erica had just told him everything about the Visitors. (This scene was mostly offscreen, which is probably a good thing, because now we can imagine it forever: “And that’s when me and my rebel friends had another wacky plan, which also failed miserably.”) Tyler decided to ask his lady-friend if her species was really super-evil and trying to conquer humanity. But his lady-friend was in the mood for love, and isn’t that more important than the survival of the human race?
And so, Tyler and Lisa “went all the way,” as they say in Teen-Town. Unfortunately, the real Lisa was actually trapped in her grandma’s sewer, watching the whole thing unfold on video, like that horrible nightmare where you have a twin and they’re sleeping with your boyfriend and also the room looks like it’s been built out of horrible digital effects. And then, the greatest twist of all: Bizarro-Lisa opened up her lizard jaws and bit out a hefty slice of Tyler’s neck. This was such a gleefully cruel act of narrative trickery – literally cutting down poor, awful Tyler at his happiest moment, and forcing sweet Lisa to watch it all happen – that I couldn’t help but stand up from my sofa and start cheering loudly. All hail Bizarro-Lisa, the greatest hero of all! And with three main-character fatalities, we have ourselves an official Death Orgy! (It’s so rare!)
We were getting close to the end now. On my clock, Tyler expired at approximately 9:55 PM. There was nothing left to do in the final five minutes but completely change everything. So Erica woke up in a dark room and met Marc Singer’s Lars, who introduced her to an even more secret top-secret anti-Visitor group called Project Ares. And, get this, Erica’s suspicious FBI partner and her utterly inept boss are freaking members of Project Ares. So, if you’re keeping track, every single person Erica has ever worked with in the FBI was either a Visitor or a secret anti-Visitor counter-insurgent.
Up in the mothership, Anna embarked upon her final harebrained scheme, which was literally “Use my brain to control all of humanity.” She sent her bliss out across the world. At first, it wasn’t working, but her adorable little patricidal step-daughter stepped in to help out. For some reason, that worked, and this led to my single favorite V dialogue ever, an exchange which captures everything incredibly silly and occasionally wonderful about this series. Lars was staring furtively at a computer screen down in Ares HQ:
Lars: “Something’s happening to people.”
And so, V ended its second season with an absolutely insane hail-mary pass. All of humanity was under Anna’s control – even poor Father Jack. (Earlier in the episode, he had talked about how much he missed looking into the sky and seeing God. Now, he was looking into the sky seeing Anna. It was pretty cool. Yes, I’m praising Father Jack.) There wasn’t even the bare pretense of resolution, unless you believe that the real story of V has been “The Rise and Rise of Queen Anna.” In which case, I like to picture an epilogue to the finale. Marcus, Anna, and now-pregnant Bizarro-Lisa are high-fiving. Anna lights up a Cuban cigar and growls, “I love it when a plan comes together.” Way to go, V-Team!
Viewers, I can understand if you didn’t think much of this episode. Especially considering the utterly insane cliffhanger, you might feel as if V was giving you the middle finger. And it kind of was. But it was a friendly middle finger, one last “Nuts to you” from a show that never received much love from anyone. It’s worth pointing out that if V does somehow come back for a third season, it might just be extraordinary. With two annoying characters dead, and with the Visitors’ intentions out in the open, it could transform into a pulpy sci-fi thriller. (I should point out that ABC wouldn’t confirm officially that Diana, Ryan, or Tyler are dead. I suppose the Visitors could use the same Magical Resurrection Machine that brought back Joshua. But let’s not spoil the moment, shall we?)
To me, this was V’s finest hour: A twistedly funny, fast-paced good time, which simultaneously gave me what I want (bye-bye, Tyler!) and snatched all my hopes and dreams out from under me (farewell, Jane Badler.) I don’t know if V will return, but if it doesn’t, at least it went out with a bang. Or rather, with a bang, a bite, a crack, and an extremely redemptive SQUELCH.
Let me know how you felt about the finale in the comment boards, and follow me on Twitter to figure out why I seem to enjoy TV deaths so much. (And don’t forget to check out our photo gallery of the grossest moments from the episode.)