V “War of Illusions” (part 1 of 4)
So, here we are again, talking about the ‘80s version of V. The current remake of V returns to ABC on Tuesday, and I for one can’t wait. Of all the new shows that debuted last fall, ABC’s V was, without a doubt, one of them. Hopefully, they’ll pick up right where they left off, with… um…. with Elizabeth Mitchell doing… the thing. And Morena Baccarin doing the… other thing.
Quick question. Does anyone remember anything actually happening on the four episodes that aired in November? Because I’m drawing a blank.
It doesn’t matter, because we’re headed back to 1985 to once again examine the first weekly series based on V, which was… just as sucky, frankly. But at least it had its moments. The current episode is not one of them.
Since my last recap in December, I finally took the time to check out the DVD set for the very first time. Which may cause some of you to wonder how I was able to take the screen captures you see in my previous recap.
Well, I have a dirty little secret that I’m going to share right here for the first time: I’m one of the jerkwads who spent a couple hundred bucks to get this series on VHS back in the late ’90s, when full season DVD box sets were nothing more than a glimmer in Chris Carter’s eye. Yes, hundreds of dollars on a series that can now be acquired for around fifteen bucks. All I can really say for myself is that at least there are only 19 episodes, and I didn’t spend thousands to procure an entire series run, like other jerkwads I can name. And I truly weep for all the jerkwads who bought the two-episodes-each Star Trek DVDs when they first came out.
After watching a few episodes of V, I have to say that the DVD picture quality isn’t much sharper than my old VHS tapes, but who’s complaining, given the price? And how many other ‘80s shows that lasted less than a season ever see a DVD release? Well, yeah, there’s that one, but I still have no freaking clue how that happened.
Whenever I recap a TV show or movie, I always turn on the subtitles. The first thing I noticed about the subtitles on the V: The Series DVDs is that they don’t quite match the dialogue. But big deal, right? By now, I’m used to lazy captioners that paraphrase instead of transcribing.
But the subtitles on the V DVD release are bizarre. They switch words and sentences around for no apparent reason, and in some cases, the subtitles are more verbose than what’s actually spoken on screen. Here are just a few examples:
I’m guessing Warner Brothers wanted to save money on the subtitles, so instead of hiring people to transcribe the dialogue, they just scanned in the actual shooting scripts and used those instead. So what we’re seeing above are the slight alterations that happened on the set when it came time to film the script.
The discrepancies do provide some interesting insight, actually. The lines differ significantly when spoken by the veteran actors in the cast, like Marc Singer, whereas in the case of a newbie like Jennifer Cooke, her dialogue matches the subtitles almost exactly (much to her detriment). Clearly, the vets were comfortable in asking for line changes here and there, whereas the newcomers probably didn’t even know they could do that.
Our current episode, “War of Illusions”, is episode #17, only two episodes from the end. By this point in the series run, the money was running out, the show was dropping like a dead weight in the ratings, and everyone was just waiting for the axe to fall. Judging by the sheer amount of stock footage here, it was taking a concerted effort just to crank out 45 minutes’ worth of episode on time each week.
Also, after the initial thirteen episode order, the producers decided to cut costs by getting rid of a huge chunk of the cast: Elias was killed off, Nathan Bates was assassinated, Robin left town after a traumatic romance with a young Bruce Davison, and in the producers’ most boneheaded move, Ham Tyler was written out, giving the boot to both Michael Ironside and one of the show’s most popular characters.
On top of all that, Julie doesn’t appear at all in this episode. She’s also MIA in a few other episodes filmed around the same time. Was this a cost cutting move? Faye Grant was a regular cast member, so I assume they had to pay her whether she showed up or not, but who the hell knows?
Along with the cast changes came new opening credits. Gone is the big, soaring ‘80s action theme. Gone are the images of each cast member inside a big red V. Now, we just get endless clips from the two miniseries, and shots of the cast with their names in red. The theme song has been replaced with a piece of music with no recognizable melody. It’s just sound effects, drum machines, and every so often, an orchestra plays a chord.
And guess what? There’s now an opening voiceover narration. Evidently, the suits thought maybe one of the reasons the show was tanking was because people didn’t understand the premise. As the credits roll, one of the more prolific voiceover artists of the day explains the following.
Which is not quite how it happened in the original miniseries, but whatever.
Right before Jennifer Cooke’s credit, there’s “spooky” music (which is pretty similar to the Banner Becoming Hulk Chord, if not the same sound effect) as Elizabeth uses her Starchild powers to make a ceiling cave in. I guess she’s special, because she’s the only one in the cast who gets a sound effect. And I’m really only mentioning this as an excuse to include another picture of Jennifer Cooke.
At the end of the credits, the voiceover guy returns. “The Resistance is all that stands between us… and the Visitors!” Seriously, were people at the time really not getting this concept? 25 years later, is there anyone alive who doesn’t know at least this much about V? I’m pretty sure the show did not fail because nobody understood it was about the Resistance fighting the Visitors.
And those were the new opening credits, which are actually a huge step backwards from the old credits.
We open with Visitor commander Diana in bed with her lieutenant, a recurring character named James. Lt. James is played by Judson Scott, who I’m sure regular readers of this site will recognize as Khan’s main henchman from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
And it would appear the Visitors actually wear their human disguises while having sex. How is that even… satisfying? Wouldn’t that be like wrapping your whole body in a condom? Though, if you’re having sex with Diana, that might not be such a bad idea.
Diana asks, “Can I peel you another goldfish?” Sadly, that’s no euphemism. A constant, relentless running gag towards the end of this series was how the Visitors were constantly eating all sorts of live animals.
The first miniseries is notorious for a scene where Diana shoves a guinea pig down her throat, so in desperation, the producers of the weekly series decided to shamelessly play up this angle for shock/ratings value. By the time this episode rolled around, the Visitors were eating non-stop. They are the hungriest species in the galaxy.
Diana and James have a lengthy conversation, and I’ve listened to it several times and I can’t make any sense of it. It’s nothing but an endless string of double entendres, with Diana complimenting James’ “performance” earlier this afternoon. “Capturing my affections… a rare stroke of genius!”
James says, “The moment of Slutor does approach!” Yikes! What? Should I take a step back? Do I need to put on safety goggles for that?
Actually, as we’ll find out later in the episode, “Slutor” is some sort of Visitor holiday. But you’d think the writers could have come up with a less goofy sounding name. Like “Cooter”. Or “Pooter”. The moment of Pooter does approach!
Diana expositionizes that this year, Slutor will coincide with their “Battlesphere” reaching its “programmed apogee”, and when that happens, all those “meddlesome peasants on Earth” will be destroyed once and for all. Cut to stock footage from one of the miniseries, of a Visitor transport flying over Los Angeles. Remember this shot for later.
At the same time, Mike Donovan and Kyle Bates are wandering around a junkyard or something, waiting to meet up with the Visitor named Philip.
Philip is the identical twin brother of Martin, the Visitor who helped out Mike in the miniseries and was later killed by Diana. Philip came to Earth to investigate his brother’s death, and soon started to sympathize with the human cause. He became a member of the Visitor Fifth Column just like Martin, and after a few episodes, he was pretty much the exact same character as Martin.
In reality, this was all a ploy to bring back Frank Ashmore, who was popular with fans at the time, after they stupidly and abruptly killed him off in the first episode. The reveal of Martin having a secret identical twin that he never mentioned before is already enough of a hoary soap opera cliché, but the really dumb part is that it was completely unnecessary. I mean, if they just wanted to bring back Frank Ashmore, they could have had any Visitor put on his disguise, right? There was absolutely no reason that Martin and Philip had to be identical twins.
There’s stock footage of a shuttlecraft landing. And despite this shuttlecraft being a totally different shape and size than the one seen in the previous stock footage clip, it’s apparently supposed to be the same vehicle.
I assume the magically morphing shuttlecraft is carrying Philip, because Mike and Kyle soon find him idly standing around in the junkyard. He says it pains him to be the bearer of bad news, but “it’s what Martin would do!” He’s absolutely right, of course. Martin was a total buzzkill.
He says the Visitors’ Supreme Leader is “planning a blitzkrieg that will completely vanquish the entire Southwest!” So… the American Southwest is going to be wiped off the map, just like that, huh? If it’s that easy, why didn’t the Visitors just do that instead of spending the last few years getting their asses kicked by the Resistance?
Philip explains that the Visitors have a “computerized Battlesphere” which will be “fully operational within 36 hours”. He says he might be able to acquire a copy of the “computer attack plan” for them, and with that information, they could “break into the Battlesphere’s memory banks”. Why does he specifically mention the computer’s memory banks? Because it was 1985, and shit like that sounded high-tech.
Kyle pulls Mike aside to say, “Using one computer to sabotage another? That’s a pretty stiff order!” Yeah, you’re telling me! Who ever heard of such a crazy idea?
Mike agrees. “Especially when you consider we don’t have a computer!” Willie spilled coffee on the Resistance’s laptop last week, and Dell still hasn’t replaced it!
Kyle mentions that there are real, actual computers they can use over at Science Frontiers, but Mike reminds him that they have no one to operate them, because Julie’s in Fresno this week. Kyle suggests getting in touch with a guy named “Dr. Atkins” who used to work for his dad. Kyle, this is hardly the time to be worrying about cutting back on your carbs. You need to find a computer!