Having opened last week with a fast paced pilot episode, “There Is No Normal Anymore” has the difficult task of managing expectations and beginning the transition from opening to series. Fortunately although the episode is less gripping than the pilot it does enough to sustain interest, shifts pace comfortably and proves that the show should work as a running series. This is no small feat.
Having learned that Visitors have been living amongst us for years before they officially arrived, both Erica and Jack spend the episode in a state of paranoia. Unable to see the lines between human and Visitor, it is impossible to know who to trust and even those who they have known for years could prove to be Visitor sleeper agents.
In one of the best-directed scenes in the episode Erica arrives at her office having been called to account for Dale’s whereabouts. As she walks in the camera takes on her viewpoint as she looks from coworker to coworker, wondering whether they might also be sleeper agents. Seeing the room through her eyes, we are left with the same question and a palpable sense of tension.
Parallel to the interrogation of Erica, Father Jack is also under FBI scrutiny when an officer turns up to ask him some questions about the man who died in his church. Given an opportunity to reveal the package of information he received, Jack’s instinctive reaction is to manipulate the truth and avoid appearing to know anything, yet later in the episode he questions whether he has done the right thing.
Both sequences are compelling, each complementing the other. Father Jack will eventually feel a sense of responsibility to reveal what he knows while Erica wisely recognizes that they cannot be sure that the committee investigating the Visitors is not actually comprised of Visitors itself. They cannot succeed without sharing what they know but they cannot know whom it is safe to trust.
As Erica and Father Jack doubt whether those around them can be trusted, Ryan spends the episode learning that questions of trust will go both ways. Seeking the help of another dissident Visitor, he is treated with mistrust. Nicely reflecting the human characters’ struggles, his scenes emphasize not only how dangerous organizing a resistance will be, but also the difficulty of the task ahead.
Meanwhile Erica’s son Tyler continues on his path towards becoming part of the Visitor’s Peace Ambassadors program. Persuading a friend to enlist, we also see him grow closer to Lisa, a Visitor, while lying to his mother about having given up his interest in the aliens.
Those who are familiar with the original miniseries will have an idea where Tyler’s storyline will likely be headed, yet the character feels less developed than that of Daniel Bernstein, his equivalent in the 1983 show. I certainly can believe that he would find Lisa intoxicatingly beautiful, enough to disobey his mother’s wishes and presumably be manipulated by her in the future, but there seems to be little more to the character than that desire at this stage. Perhaps if he were more conflicted about lying to his mother these scenes would feel more dramatically satisfying but right now the character is frustratingly straightforward.
I do appreciate though that we finally get to see some protestors in the streets, angry and scared at the prospect of Visitors walking amongst them. Although referred to in last week’s pilot, to actually see these protests helps to give the events a sense of reality. Similarly, it is satisfying to hear references to decisions being made by governments other than the United States, reminding us that these events have a global context.
Further political context is given in Chad’s story thread. Feeling that he has risked his journalistic credibility by asking soft questions to Anna in his interview with her, this week the character organizes a debate between a politician in favor of Visitor integration and one against.
Less naïve than the spokesperson from the original miniseries, Chad understands that for his career to benefit from the exposure the Visitor interviews will give him he needs to appear objective. The debate allows him not only to reestablish his credentials as a respectable journalist; it also gives him a better hold over Anna. He proves in the course of this episode that he can deliver public opinion, something Anna needs to succeed in her objectives, but having proven his value he will not allow his own image to be tarnished.
The scenes between Chad and Anna are played beautifully as she confronts him about his apparent betrayal. The interview scene was one of the highlights of the pilot and their shared time on screen in this episode is similarly entertaining, particularly the abrupt phone call she makes to him towards the end of the episode.
While “There Is No Normal Anymore” lacks some of the twists and surprises of the first episode, their absence does much to improve the pacing of the episode. Instead of trying to keep us engaged with revelation after revelation, tension is built up through effective direction clearly aimed at disconcerting viewers and establishing mood. Whether tilting the camera at a slight angle or allowing us to inhabit a character’s point of view for a moment, the director intends for us to share in the experiences of the characters.
That is not to say that the episode is slow. In fact, the episode packs a lot of incident into its running time, all of which feels relevant to the on-going story. Importantly the pace is sustainable, moving the plot forward enough to keep most viewers entertained while not giving away so much as to risk burning through its story too quickly.
With just two more episodes to go until the series is given several months rest, V still has a lot to do to ensure that viewers will be eagerly awaiting its return. Although the series still has a lot to prove in those two episodes it is, for now, on the right track.
– Aidan Brack