Thursday, November 12, 2009

TV 6.0: SGU, take Two

Aaaaand now for something completely different disappointingly the same!  Spoilers for a crappy show below, do you care?

I feel the need to clarify how truly horrible SG:U is.  And I am quite possibly the single person most predisposed to like this show.  I've been watching some iteration of the STARGATE franchise since I was 12.  Let me repeat that: SINCE. I. WAS. 12.  That's half my life spent with a magical portal to the stars and really questionable science.  And I was willing to ignore the way SG-1 should have been quietly been turned out to pasture around season five and proceed to last another five years.  I ignored the blatantly rehashed episodes of Stargate: Atlantis because I liked the characters and it really amused me how horrible the writers were at creating (and maintaining) any heterosexual relationship in the show--and how incensed they got whenever anyone suggested maybe, just maybe, they should give it up and let Rodney and John hook up already. Read More...

I was also willing to keep watching despite the Stargate writer's complete inability to write well rounded women with great story lines and their propensity to play rape for laughs.  Stargate really likes the 'love elixir' trope, where some alien discovers how to control people through chemical inducement, like a perfume or drug that makes the wearer irresistible.

STARGATE ATLANTIS did it in Irresistible, when an odious little man who discovers just such an elixir.  He's flamboyant and over dramatic, and funny.  It's also hilarious how everyone is so smitten with him, male and female, and fights for his affections.  One of his devoted wives admits under pressure, bowing her head mournfully, says, "I am ashamed to admit that I refused to share his bed more than once..."

STARGATE SG-1 fell into the Rape Is Ok When It Is Female On Male trap in Hathor:

The Goa'uld queen Hathor puts Daniel Jackson under heavy-duty mind control and has her way with him in order to create more Goa'uld larvae. When the all-female task force find him afterwards, he is catatonic and surrounded by obvious signs of a struggle. At the end of the episode, when he admits that a lot of the larval DNA is going to be his, Jack O'Neill reacts in disgust. Only somewhat averted in that it isn't clear that the others even realize what Hathor did to Daniel, and may be reacting more to human DNA being incorporated into the form of the enemy. It never comes up again until Hathor's next (and last) appearance, which amounts solely to Daniel refusing to look at her and saying that he "tries not to" think about their last encounter.  (From Tv Tropes).
(Stargate isn't the only show that's fallen into this 'love elixir trap.'  Even the Brits do it too, cause in TORCHWOOD's first episode, the sleazy doctor on the show Owen tries to pick up a girl, gets irritated when her boyfriend shows up to tell him off.  Both characters are clearly not into Owen, but as soon as he ingests the alien sex drug, he takes them both home.  And it's funny, don't you see?  Not date rape.)

But the newest offering by SyFy-llis, STARGATE: University (I like the titles of my shows to reflect the truth of their content), takes this trope to a whole new level of Fail.

Ir order to keep a show about people trapped on a spaceship going somewhere entertaining, SGU has decided to do away with good writing and instead employ a body-switching device so we can have scenes on Earth AND the spaceship.  Wow, that is a copout of epic proportion and basically says "we can't figure out how to make life trapped on a ship interesting."  And on top of it, your characters are going to have sex with people while body switched.  Sometimes without consulting the people they switch with.  I'm going to go with a giant, huge, bigfat NO and leave it at that because...WTF ARE YOU THINKING?!

Let me just say, the whole morass aside, that the first episode was horrible.  Kind of like in TRAUMA, I don't care about any of the characters.  None of them are particularly likable, and I really didn't want to hear about their problems.  There was gratuitous sex in the first six minutes, in what I presume is an effort to attract the "younger, edgier" viewers the showrunners said they wanted.  (Apparently the core Stargate audience, who are older, aren't good enough any more.  Oh, and they don't want female viewership either SO THERE.)  Follow that with an unnecessary death of a character I still didn't care about...probably because he didn't have to die.  Then make me watch his daughter break down in what I assume was a cheap emotional bid to make me care about her.  That failed as I just wanted her to go cry quietly in a corner off screen.  Mix, and top all the fail off with the unforgivable actions of your main character being the impetus for your poorly thought out series and promise there will be no serious ramifications and you have...not the follow up to Battlestar Galactica like you were hoping. 

What you have is a half-baked show that costs $1 million more per episode than the last show of the franchise and the words "darker & edgier" emblazoned on your promotional posters.  Also, your showrunners are assholes. (No really, they are.  This is the first time in my life I've wanted to boycott a show because of the people involved.  I don't have the energy to find all of the links, but read the article below and you'll get a taste of their asshattery.)  And before it even aired the show inspired and entire fail, called GATEFAIL 2009, in which a paraplegic character has a body that is "physically useless" and through the magic of mind!switching is allowed to "finally experience intimacy."  God, just reading that makes me mad.  A fan named Cate wrote a wonderful article about it called A Primer on Stories that Scream which I highly suggest every Sci-Fi fan read.  Be aware that it includes links, amongst which are an (admitted) frat boy who says that if a person can't remember the act of sex (i.e. date rape drug, weren't 'there' in the body) then it's not rape.  He's serious.  And the best example of what permissive, thoughtless depictions of such actions in mass media do: they reinforce this idea that shit like that is okay, and it's not.

Accountability.  Have it.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Fall Television Round Up Part 6: Stargate: Universe

Stargate: Universe (aka Stargate: 90210) is a sexist piece of poorly written hackneyed drivel.

The Twilight of television, if you will.

Fall Television Round Up Part 5: Dollhouse

 Oh boy, this is gonna be a long one.  Spoilers for DOLLHOUSE below.

Fox's latest Joss Whedon show, DOLLHOUSE, is currently in its second season.  I'm amazed it got a second season based on last season's abysmal ratings.   I feel like Fox is still trying to atone for canceling FIREFLY and messing up the order of their episodes (amongst other things) by keeping this show on the air.  Or perhaps they consider it an investment as Joss has some of the most crazy-dedicated fans in the whole of show business.  Not sure how good an investment that is as I'm fairly certain Firefly was Whedon's best idea, as well as the best executed.  Even more so than Buffy, which taken as a whole reads like a quick guide to all of Joss's real life issues.  But as the old adage goes, "with high concept delicate premise comes great responsibility."  Dollhouse's premise is that a shadowy organization that takes a person's original personality removed and makes them a doll: a person without their own personality who can be imprinted with any personilty, wants, desires, and skills the client wants...provided they have the money.  The very premise is enough to cause people to have conversation.  The show is a potentially fascinating exploration of any number of issues, not the least being identity.  And when your main character is a female doll--meaning we're going to explore this world through her eyes, and see all of these things happen to a woman--you're taking on a huge burden of responsibility.  In a society that glorifies violence against women and minorities, where women are sexualized without losing being stripped of their memories and inhibitions, where rape is a pervasive symptom of a paternalistic culture, you had best bring your A-game to a series that's going to embody all of these things and more.  Unfortunately, Dollhouse misses the mark and makes rape an ignorable, invisible issue.  It is, more often than not, a giant rape fantasy in television form. Read More...

One problem that the writing cannot be blamed for, nor can it help, is the fact that Eliza Dushku is not a good actress and has no concept of who Echo is or how her brand new personalities affect her.  Essentially, for this concept to work, she has to be a different person who is the same every week.  But there's no hint of Echo lurking beneath the dolls she's pimped out to play, no minutia for the fans to gleefully pick up and pick apart.  All you have is a series that shows a parade of men having women turned into their own personal playthings that they can send away when they get bored. (Not shockingly, all the women who have ordered dolls so far have some sort of emotional reasons, where as most of the men are all going "Best. Sex. Fantasy. EVER."  Fantastic gender stereotypes all around.)  When you have an actor who portrays your doll AS a doll...what can you do with that?  What kind of statement can you make?  To date, the best episodes of Dollhouse have been those that do not concentrate on Echo, or where her impact is minimized.  And it's not that the "same but different" thing is unattainable.  Dichen Lachman (Sierra) and Enver Gjokaj (Victor) manage to carry their personalities over into everything they do.  Take notes, Eliza.

While it doesn't help when your lead actress isn't good enough to pull off the premise of your show, it *really* doesn't help when your writing staff consistently ignores the ethical and moral discussions inherent in a series predicated on removing and programming personalities.  Just saying that sends my mind spinning off into a hundred different places, things that can be done, statements that can be made.  I gave this a chance because in the right hands, you could have some wonderfully complex discussions about identity, gender, rape, love, trust and relationships--and in fact, Dollhouse has proven that it can take this complex idea and do amazing things with it (see review of Belonging below).  Unfortunately, for the most part the writing staff only seems concerned with the fact that Echo remembers echos of her former selves (oh hai, I see what u did there with the name, writer people!), and even that is poorly executed.  Combined with Dushku's wooden acting, most of the scenes become unwatchable if you look for the things the show ignores.  Like the fact that the dolls, in their doll state, cannot give consent to any of the engagements they're sent on.  The show says they're all childlike in their doll state, and the last time I checked children couldn't consent to a whole lot of things because they're children.  This is just one of the many consent issues that are never discussed and that drive me up the wall.  Joss should really take some hints from BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, a show that was amazingly well written and dealt with all of these issues in a thoughtful, thought-provoking way.  (Finding one's individual identity when you were created to be the same and there are thousands of copies of your models.  Can you rape a cyclon since it's technically a machine with biological components?  What makes something/one human?)  Joss has already hired half the Battlestar cast, maybe he should invest in some of their writers as well.

Take the episode Belle Chose that aired two weeks ago.  Echo became "Kiki," a hot but braindead college student who dressed up like a former Catholic school girl and couldn't understand why she got an F on her paper about 'Chauncey.'  For those following along at home, that's Worthless Coed for Chaucer.  Kiki looks like this, hired for the pleasure of this guy (click to enlarge), heretofore referred to as Professor Sketchball:

She's there to play out the fantasy of a professor, who purposely gives Kiki a failing mark in order to discuss Chaucer's The Wife of Bath with her in private and in the process, seduce her.  We can surmise that this man paid an exorbitant amount of money (on a college professor's salary?  He must have been saving up for a VERY LONG TIME to afford a doll...particularly where there are sex workers around who would gladly do this for much cheaper.  But maybe this was a pro boner engagement?) to construct his ultimate fantasy: a really stupid but hot student who is impressed with his mastery over the works of Chaucer.  Classy, and I could have read everything you said about The Wife of Bath on Cliff's Notes.  But this student-teacher relationship wasn't even the focus of the episode, because as we all know it's pretty much a given that older men want (and often can have) the nubile young women they covet.  There's no controversy here!  Kiki has been programmed to respond to her professor's clumsy advances so it's all okay!  Can't rape the willing! What do you mean you think Caroline (Echo's "original" personality) wouldn't be okay with this?  She signed a contract.  She should have known.  Besides, Professor Sketchball isn't the focus of the episode, he's just a convenient means to get Kiki Echo out of the Dollhouse and on the LAM.

Ignoring these things Is Not Okay.  Yeah, alright, I understand that you can't beleaguer the point every time a doll gets sent out, but this show has not had one satisfactory conversation about the nature of these 'engagements,' the social implications of them, or the motivations of the people going through with the engagements.  More to the point--they haven't said such actions are NOT okay and a little skeevy.  No one has questioned why Professor Sketchball couldn't hire a sex worker who could consent to the role-play...or is the inability to consent (or at least to go against their programming and say no) part of the inherent thrill?  Through their silence, the writers are effectively condoning such actions and reinforcing this very insidious form of sexual abuse and rape.    And by NOT exploring the motivations of the men who are renting living sex dolls for a night, we're left to draw the same conclusions about every male client on the show.  My personal conclusion varies depending on how annoyed I am with the storytelling, but it generally boils down to one of my most hated phrases growing up: the permissive, catch-all excuse of "aw, honey, boys will be boys!"  Sorry, I hold the males in my life to a higher standard than that.  I'd also like to hold the males in my media to a higher standard, but people keep casting Matthew McConaughey as the desirable moocher in movies...

That's another thing, Dollhouse devalues men on a regular basis.  If an alien race were to come down and judge all males based on how Dollhouse depicts them...well, they'd be in trouble.  The pass-through male clients, as well as most of the episode-centric ones, tend to have little depth and are fairly reprehensible. They're all ordering up a sexual fantasy on a platter, and not the normal way via a sex worker.  I am all for sex-positive depictions of men AND women in mass media.  I even think sex work should be an acceptable profession, one not categorized by persecution, illegality and disdain.  It's the oldest profession for a reason, and because of social values has become a refuge for criminals, exploitation, and abuse.  But that's not the point.  What message are you send to men about men, and women about men, that you have every single male in this show acting as an agents of rape?  (There's a possibility of Alexis Desinoff's political character changing that, but I'm not holding my breath.)  Agent Ballard worked for an entire season to take down the Dollhouse, talking about how it's human trafficking, and all of a sudden is the Dollhouse's Chief of Security.  Please excuse me while I don't buy, for a New York Minute, he would ever consent to being a part of the Dollhouse for any reason.  Particularly when he has enough evidence to take them down.  I don't remember all the specifics of the season one finale, but I do remember being unimpressed by that change in season two.  What in the world changed his mind, changed his entire motivation?  He left the FBI because they wouldn't let him continue researching the Dollhouse.  And now he's working for them, even stepping in as Echo's handler?  Has PETA started wearing furs or vegans started slaughtering cows in the backyard too?

Topher is really, really skeevy and see all of the dolls as his personal playthings.  Though to be fair, he sees most of the world as his personal plaything.  And he, at the very least, appears to be making steps forward.  But the thing is, Topher is SUPPOSED to be skeevy.  Which works for him, and for the story.  But I'm fairly certain the writers intend for us to bond and look up to most of the other males in the show.  Moving on, we have Boyd, who I like, but I'm not sure of.  I would really like to know his end game, because I get the feeling he's biding his time for something.  It's hard to get a handle on what he truly feels about the Dollhouse, and what he's doing there in the first place.  And why he's okay with pimping people out to the highest bidder.  Then there was the rapist handler, which was a completely missed opportunity to address the fact that while violent rape is horrible and easily identifiable, it's not the only kind.  It's also not the only kind that leave traumatic scars and has serious repercussions.  And of course there's all of the powerful men who make up the Dollhouse's board of directors are stereotypical rich old white guys with lots of money.  Enough to create their own personal mind wiped brothel.  (Before anyone points out that Adelle actually runs the Dollhouse...hold your horses, we'll get there.)  So over all, a positive portrait of men, Dollhouse.

But let's step away from that, because in Belle Chose, we don't want to concentrate on the messages we're sending to people.  No, we'd much rather let's focus on What Happens When You Put a Serial Killer's Consciousness Into a Doll!  This is multiple choice question, and remember, Professor Sketchball will be grading :
A) One of the talented supporting actors on the show gets to prove he's a real actor and do things Eliza Dushku tries to imitate very badly later on.
B) Psycho Killer!Echo stabs Worn Out Hack Professor because...not really sure except we wouldn't be making good TV if Nubile Young Thing come to her senses and went "Why the hell am I all over you, gross!" (Also, are all the Actives networked together?  Really?)
C) Bad Things.
Like all good multiple choice questions, this one comes with Secret Answer D: All of the Above.  Notice how the whole discussion of the sketchy professor's sex fantasy, the legality/legitimacy of what the Dollhouse is doing, and whether or not Echo would go for the Prof are conveniently absent.  The writers are hoping everyone is wondering how the Serial Killer story line will play out.  After all, there are LIVES at stake in that plot line.  With Kiki, it's just a woman's body that's being traded away.  Nothing to see here, folks, move along.  TV Tropes calls this Hot For Student.  (Warning: Once you go onto TV Tropes, you may never come back.  The links, man, it's all about the links.)

Victor and Echo switch imprints.  Echo becomes a (male) serial killer who doesn't really give his new female body a second thought.  Which is odd because he's collecting and symbolically killing the overbearing women in his life, and he's obviously either repressed aesexual or repressed gay.  I think a female body would cause quite a bit more cognitive dissonance than "oh my."  And when Victor gets imprinted with Kiki, it's totally played for laughs.  Which is par for the course when it comes to American media and cross dressing men.  But regardless, this episode could be an homage to Enver Gjokaj's acting abilities.  He's great as a serial killer, as Kiki, as the various other characters he inhabits.  (Which is why I think Sierra and Victor work so well together--you have two incredibly talented actors working with each other, and it shows.)

Almost every episode of Dollhouse has a sexual component to it, and because Echo is the main character, we're typically discussing a woman's sexuality.  We have never been presented with a male doll as the object of sexual fantasy.  Not even De Witt's yearly assignation with Victor is about sex--that's about remembering something she can never have again.  Sex is an aspect of an emotional ritual; it is not the focus of the exercise.  What we have here is a message about sexuality that is pervasive and disturbing.  In the Dollhouse world, men can discount rape as long as their fantasies are being fulfilled.  (There is no way they don't know what the Dollhouse does and the nature of the people they are buying.)  Women, conversely, seem to have no sex drive unless it's programmed into them at the man's request.  This is quite possibly the single most infuriating myth that permeates culture, even down to 'scientific theories' about evolution wherein the male missing link traded sex (and sexually fidelity) for food and shelter to the female missing link.  Except for the fact that female missing link had some time to kill while male missing link was off being a bad ass hunter, and surfer dude missing link was looking mightily delicious sprawled out on that rock with his washboard abs and lazy smile...

But I digress.  The fact is, Dollhouse takes a lot of responsibility on its shoulder with its premise, and it has failed to live up to those responsibilities.  The male actives aren't used a lot.  We've seen both Echo and Sierra sent out on numerous engagements.  Victor tends to be the support.  Dollhouse clients aren't seen exploiting the male dolls in the same way or magnitude as the female dolls.  In a general, real-world sense I would understand this.  But you're talking about a very small world with a very small client base (ostensibly): the richest of the rich.  People with money to burn, enough to pay to have a living doll made.  Unless the Dollhouse is only advertising to men, you should have a pretty decent number of rich female clients.  (And percentage wise, you should have some very powerful, very closeted men enjoying some no-strings assignations that no one will remember in the morning.)  I'm just saying, some equal-opportunity exploitation would be appreciated here.

To a lot of people, Dollhouse's premise couldn't do anything but fail, and they maintain that Dollhouse could never be anti-rape.  I disagree, and last week's episode Belonging backs me up.  If every show was like last week's Belonging, where we delve into Sierra's back story, Dollhouse would be one of my favorite shows on air.

In this episode, we find out that Sierra (played by the fantastically talented Dichen Lachman) did not choose to be a doll; rather, she was forced into it by the machinations of a very rich man named Nolan Kinnard (a very creeptastic Vincent Vantresca).  When she rebuffed his advances, Dr. Kinnard doses her with anti-psychotics that drive her insane, then hands her over to the Dollhouse.  He has a standing order for her to come by once a month for play dates.  After being ordered to turn her into a permanent plaything, Topher gives Sierra back her original memories and everything goes to hell.  It was deep, disturbing, challenging, and awesomely written/acted.  (And included just a few scenes of Dushku as forgettable bookends.)  Belonging is, essentially, a story about morality.  Namely, what happens when people of dubious, self-justified morality are faced with their own shortcomings.  Everyone who works in the Dollhouse has somehow justified their actions to themselves--one of the only real conversations about this we've really had.

Adelle DeWitt's journey is the most compelling in this episode, and her character development is beautifully done.  She runs the Dollhouse and from the first episode has been vocal in her phiolosophy that the Dollhouse does good.  Her construct of her own morality is flawed and circular, something that we as the audience (should) see, but it's obvious she can't.  She sees the Dollhouse as a refuge, an opportunity, not an institution that takes people at their lowest, capitalizes on their despair and enslaves them.  She's playing the woman oppressing other women, one of the most effective ways that oppressors stay in control: by getting the oppressed to oppress themselves.  And she doesn't realize she's oppressed.  Belonging is Adelle's wake up call.  When Harding tells her to give Nolan his permanent imprint, to sell Sierra into permanent slavery, she challenges him:
Adelle: If we do this, what does that make us?
Harding: What we are already.
Adelle: Mr. Harding, we aren't slave merchants.
Obviously, Mr. Harding disagrees.  He doesn't share Adelle's lofty ideal of the Dollhouse--he's a cold, hard business man.  He may not have rose-tinted glasses, by he knew Adelle did.  And until this point, it suited him to let her keep them.  But when push comes to shove, he has no compunctions about laying out the cold, hard facts:
The feeling that you're somehow decent and moral helps you get through the day...that's your business.  This house, however?  Is our business and you will run it the way we tell you to or we'll find someone who will.  And I promise you wouldn't like the early retirement plan.
In that moment, Adelle realizes she's powerless.  Powerless to save Sierra, powerless to go against her masters, powerless to stop Topher from rebelling.  She becomes a doll herself, dancing to the desires her superiors have dictated to her as surely as any imprint.  She can no longer pretend the Dollhouse is a noble institution, or that she is the master of her own destiny.  And this is not an easy lesson to learn. She takes her anger out on an easy target: Topher.
The cold reality is that everyone here was chosen because their morals had been compromised in some way. Everyone except you, Topher. You were chosen because you had no morals. You had always thought of people as playthings. This is not a judgment. You always take good care of your toys. But you're going to have to let this one go.
She's not just talking about Topher--she's talking about herself.  Because even as Adelle realizes what a monster she's become, and her place in this corrupt microcosm she helped create, Topher is changing and growing up.  He's becoming human.

Of all the character in the show, Topher rang my creep bell the strongest.  I had an intense, visceral dislike of him the moment he appeared on screen.  He was so casual and cavalier about what was going on around him--the only character that has never tried to justify his actions at the Dollhouse.  He talks of them as objects ("really hot objects") and that's the end of it for him.  But somewhere along the line Topher grew a soul.  Whether he bonded with Sierra during his birthday imprints, is faced with such a huge injustice he can't overlook it, or spontaneously generated humanity, he's coming to realize that what he's doing is wrong.  Through out the whole series, Topher has been a push over.  He's the geek from high school that's super smart but always wanted the popular jocks to like him anyways.  He's intimidated by everyone--particularly Adelle--and last season he never would have gone against her direct orders.  Adelle is the kind of person who despises weakness, and until now has trod all over Topher.  I think in the future these two are going to find their working relationship irrevocably changed, and neither of them are going to come out unscathed.

Additionally, the relationship between Sierra and Victor has been handled so well.  It's the kind of thing that needs to happen more in Dollhouse: it's subtle, pervasive, and believable.  Their instant attraction the first time they meet, when Sierra is her 'original' self, even though Victor has been programmed to help Nolan woo Sierra, is exquisitely understated and has wonderful implications about the personalities underneath the imprints.  Which begs the question, where's Echo's equivalent?  We've seen almost every doll BUT Echo have these great moments--even Alpha.

This episode also addresses the fact that the actions of Imprinted Actives have impact in their doll forms.  The whole impetus of this episode was the fact that Sierra returns from her engagements with Nolan disturbed and upset.  The implications of this are extremely important: even though she's imprinted to love him, something in Sierra viscerally objects to him.  And though she consents on the surface, whatever real and permanent part of her exists does not.  And Sierra exhibits cognitive dissonance, post-traumatic symptoms as much as she's able.  We have the first inklings that the dolls aren't completely unaffected by their sexual engagements, something Dollhouse hasn't explored before now and I think is remiss given the ratio of 'action' engagements to 'high priced sex slave' engagements we've seen. Several times we've seen the dolls have the equivalent of war flashbacks.  The effects of rape--overtly violent or not--often result in similar PTSD symptoms.  Seriously Dollhouse writers, you need to take responsibility for the things you show us.  This is very late in coming, and I don't expect many more episodes like this one.

Belonging is an example of what this show could be done right (not that it doesn't have its problems--like why in the world Sierra went back to the Dollhouse), but these episodes are too far and few between.  Too many are like Belle Chose.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Fall TV Round Up 4: V

Liked it, didn't love it.

For those in the industry--particularly screenwriters--the above is the most hated phrase in the industry.  But it sums up fairly nicely how I felt about V.  Or, rather, how V left me feeling about it.

What we have here is a lot of story and very little character development.  There's at least half a season arc, reveals, and drama crammed into the pilot, which made the show feel rushed and didn't set up things as well as it could have.  Part of this kind of sci-fi/adventure show is taking the audience along on a journey of discovery: who are the Visitors?  Why are they here?  What do they want?  How do they plan to get it?  What does that mean for humanity?  The pilot effectively took out the who, why, and summed up the last few questions with: nothing good, everyone's going to die (or at least suffer horribly).  Read More...

(BTW, everyone already knows the Visitors are giant lizards, yes?  This is not shocking.)

This show could easily occupy the void left by Battlestar Galactica in tackling some serious thematic issues. Off the top of my head:

  • You have the messianic quality of the V's and the public's desire to accept them at face value.  Manipulation of mass media (Anna's statement that "we cannot afford any bad publicity" was too telling--I really don't think she'd blithely admit that to a reporter, given their masterful handling of the human race so far).

  • Identity--in the teenager who's trying to find some place to fit in and runs to the Vs because they're exotic and Mom says not to (allegory to Hitler Youth aside); the reveal that Ryan is a sleeper!V himself--a reveal I would have built up to--and identifies with humanity enough to ask a Human woman to marry him; the reporter's desire for success in his chosen field is attainable only by ignoring the very nature of what he wants to do.

  • The chaos of religions trying to reconcile the existence of aliens and God (though if the aliens maintain they look exactly like us then that whole 'made in God's image' thing at least takes care of Christianity).  There's a lot to mine in Joel Gretsch's Father Landry, who goes against the Vatican's edict to accept the Visitor's with open arms and instead preaches a more wary, suspicious approach.  "We're all so quick to jump on the bandwagon.  A ride on the bandwagon, it sounds like fun. But before we get on, let us at least make sure it is sturdy."  And he's right, they should have to earn Humanity's trust because with all they've shown that the know about us, they did not have to appear to us as they did, with 29 ships over world capitals.  That's the kind of subtlety that should inform the show, and that characters should eventually ask.  ($10 says the other Priest is a sleeper!V.  Or a Human V agent.)

  • Terrorism is written by the victors.  One of the main characters is a female FBI agent who hooks up with a group of anti-V dissidents.  For a terrorist cell that claims the Vs have been here for a while and have infiltrated every aspect of Human society, have the ability to by a lot of C4, and are dangerous enough to attract FBI attention, these people aren't too good at keeping their meetings secret.  Text messages on cell phones, concrete evidence, the leaders appear at the first-contact gatherings...worst terrorist/conspiracy theory group I've ever seen.  This is a fairly sloppy set up to ask "what defines terrorism?"  It does not fill me with hope.

  • Alan Tudyk is awesome.  This is a theme that should be expounded upon, at length, by every show on TV.  And Morena Baccarin is fantastic.
I'm giving this show the benefit of the doubt.  But I have to say that if it comes to Lizard vs Toaster, I have no doubt the toaster wins.  Lizard says "Frak."