Friday, November 06, 2009

The Trouble with "V"

We watched the highly-anticipated "V" this past week. I must not willingly suspend my disbelief any more or have lost my senswunda because I couldn't watch the pilot episode (or most TV for that matter) without picking holes in the plot and science. I understand that science must be stretched to accommodate an ostensible science fictional show, but stretch it too far, or perhaps the character's in the show response to it and I think you start to lose your audience. My comments below contain spoilers from the pilot episode so be sure to watch it before you continue reading.

When the aliens show up in their own spaceship in orbit round your planet, you have already lost the battle. They have the high ground and they can just drop rocks on you until you submit. And that's just using the laws of physics as we know them. Interplanetary travel is hard enough, interstellar is practically impossible (takes a lot of energy) given our current understanding of physics. (Charles Stross has recently done a rift on this.) These aliens would need antigravity or something like it, which they apparently do have. I suppose the the V must get to Earth or there is no story.

Why doesn't anybody but the one newscaster comment on how much the V look like humans? He asks why they are all so attractive, I would ask why they look anything like us at all. Convergent evolution? Long lost brothers from a prehistoric human space empire? All of these explanations have important consequences, especially for the plot. If they are humans from another place why would Earth authorities ever let them set foot on the planet in these days of H1N1 swine flu, SARS, AIDS and weaponized anthrax, without wearing spacesuits to prevent them contaminating us with diseases we have never encountered before. I think history tells us what happens when two previously isolated human populations encounter each other for the first time.

Perhaps they are not human and are just wearing disguises so that we feel more comfortable around them. That opens up the question of how they developed the disguises and how long have they really been on Earth, how did they learn all of our languages, etc. When the secret V resistance meets and then gets wiped out by V infiltrators, it is not a surprise at how well they fit in give their looks. It is a surprise that anyone needs to be convinced that there are V among us. When the human survivors leave they should have taken some V bodies with them to expose the conspiracy. That would have been more important than their lives.

Perhaps the disguises are due to a really good knowledge of human physiology. Just how did they figure out how to cure human diseases anyway? That sounds like they would have had to do some experimentation to get it right. And thus we are right back to some obvious clues that the V have been on Earth long before they announced themselves and those alien abduction stories might be true.

I suppose because the show is a political allegory of the Obama administration (really) and not science fiction, that I shouldn't be surprised that none of the characters embedded in the story ask any of these important questions. At least they mentioned Independence Day when the ships show up. If aliens ever do show up in spaceships around Earth, they will have to deal with all of preconceptions formed from movie after movie exploring such a scenario. However, the current state of humanity is that it appears that we are alone in the universe, Enrico Fermi himself asked where is everybody. It is hard to explain why there appears to be only one place in the universe where intelligent life exists, even harder to explain why there would be only two. Stephen Baxter has written three novels and countless short stories just explaining away.

In spite of the implausibilities I will continue watching V to see if it improves, and because I seem to get as much fun out of picking apart television series as just watching them these days.


Howard said...

I'm ok with sci-fi stories about "visiting aliens" (either sense of that phrase) so I'm fine with interstellar travel.

I'm pretty convinced humanity immediately realized we were at their mercy. Thankfully they seemed to have come in peace. They showed us giant videos of their pretty leader instead of dropping rocks on us with their anti-gravity technology (though maybe it can only levitate apples).

One newscaster asked about how they looked, in an abbreviated show that covered several weeks in 50 minutes of TV time, that's enough for me.

Sadly, I had no expectations that the subtleties of parallel interplanetary evolution and its consequences were to be covered by a primetime TV show. Given that they have advanced medical tech they were willing to share, risk of new disease seemed low on the priority list, given that whole dropping rocks thing.

If you assumed they were human, then having figured out DNA manipulation would probably give them the tech to treat many human diseases. Maybe they need some experimentation though I suspect their DNA sequencing techniques would be several orders of magnitude faster than ours, making those cycles pretty quick.

I was a little surprised they didn't ask about how they acquired our languages. I'm happy they didn't fall back on a universal translator and suspect this might come up in later episodes.

I'm ok with them not removing a body and needed to get out of there quickly. I do think they should have snapped a cell phone pick (or were they all collected?). Posting one to flickr immediately or even after the fact would have been the fastest way to expose evidence of the V's true nature.

And no, Anna is not Obama.

I had fond memories of watching the original mini-series as a kid. SyFy showed some of them this weekend and I caught a few minutes of it. It doesn't hold up well at all. But I liked this pilot. It covered much more ground than I expected in the first episode. Also given how much time the episode covered, I'm sure there were many interviews, questions, etc. that happened that weren't shown. I also liked the updating of the story from fascism to terrorism, though the sleeper cell concept is getting very close to overused for me (the Showtime series did it as well as anyone).

The scene that bothered me the most was when Erica was arguing with her son. She was saying he needs to think for himself and not blindly follow others. She used the evidence of looking at V websites and joining up as evidence for not thinking for himself. She ignored the interpretation that he did his research and came to his own conclusions and Instead he should apparently just do what she wants. Of course, since he didn't make this argument back to her, she's probably right. She is a TV mom after all. Though it seems be the end, maybe she's doubting her own judgement.

My opinion is still out on the show, but the pilot exceeded my expectations. I've certainly been unable to suspend disbelief at times, but I think your complaints are too nit-picky in this case. Though we could get some good conversations out of this. :)

Richard said...

I realize my expectations for science in sci-fi is set far to high these days.

I suppose my biggest complaints centered around kow-towing to aliens in a post 9-11 world. I think people and governments would be far more standoffish and paranoid then they are portrayed. perhaps we don't see the behind the scenes goodies that the aliens are promising.

In spite of my nit-picking I will definitely continue to watch, maybe I expected too much to be stuffed into the pilot.