Warning: major spoilers for the latest episode of V lie ahead.
Following a first season that was uneven at its best and laughable at its worst, tonight's second season premiere of V proved that there are still reasons to tune into the rebooted science fiction series: post-apocalyptic blood-stained skies, beautiful lizard women having sex with hapless dopes, equally gorgeous aliens savagely murdering their underlings... really, any one of those will do. "Red Rain" is far from the smartest hour of television you'll see all year — let's hope, at least — but heck if it isn't entertaining.
Based on the opening moments of "Red Rain," viewers could be forgiven for thinking they had mistakenly tuned into an episode of the late and not-so-great FlashForward. Federal agent Erica Evans awakens to a chaotic picture in the midst of New York City: men and women are passed out on the sidewalk, cars are abandoned in the deathly silent streets and the sky, though not falling, is a discomforting shade of red. It's a bleak scene that gets bleaker when Erica discovers her son, Tyler, alone in a park. She tearfully cradles her teenage boy as he melts away in her arms, a gruesome sight that further hammers the hopeless tone. As Tyler fades away, Erica sees that she has a visitor — the Visitor Queen, to be precise — in the form of Anna.
"Why did you do this," the grieving Erica demands of Anna.
"You killed my children," the lizard replies with signature coolness. "So I killed yours."
The scene, of course, is nothing but a dream, but when Erica wakes up (for real this time), the nightmare is very much still alive: the sky has been red for four days following Anna's impulsive actions, turning New York into a dangerous landscape filled with mobs and rioters. Worse, no one has heard from Anna since Red Sky — which might be a display of power on the V's homeworld, but on Earth, silence means guilt.
Anna gets that same message loud and clear from Marcus, her closest advisor, but she shrugs off his concerns. "Even if they can discover [Red Sky's] composition, they'll never know its true purpose," she reasons. But Anna has other problems: her captains are losing their patience with the queen, and they're on their way to the mothership to question her directly. Anna eagerly awaits their arrival.
Before she can deal with the captains, however, Anna has to deal with a prisoner: Ryan, still grief-stricken over the death of his girlfriend Val, breaks free from his cell and searches the mothership for his daughter. When he finds her, we quickly realize that this human-alien hybrid wouldn't fit in so easily on our planet; but the love between a parent and his child is stronger than startling physical appearances, and Ryan is determined to free his offspring no matter the cost. But before he has a chance, Anna arrives and, disappointed with his refusal to rejoin the Visitor cause, has Ryan removed from the mothership — but not at the expense of giving up the child, who remains on board despite Ryan's violent protests. When Marcus asks why she allowed Ryan to return home to Earth and presumably the Fifth Column, Anna reveals that with his child in her possession, she can make Ryan do anything that she wants.
Anna's deviousness doesn't end there. Shortly after Ryan's departure, the alien queen meets with her increasingly frustrated crew of captains. She does her best to reassure them that her emotions are in check, but sensing that actions speak louder than words, Anna proceeds to savagely stab her reptilian tail through a randomly selected captain's face. Hacking through the captain's human flesh to reveal the lizard behind the mask, Anna decisively reminds her subordinates who's in charge.
On Earth, Erica meets with Kyle Hobbes and Father Jack Landry to figure out their next move against the V's in light of Red Sky. Before a plan is fully hashed out, Ryan appears and matter-of-factly informs his allies of his current situation: Val is dead and his baby is still in Anna's hands. Hobbes doesn't buy the story right away — nor should he, given Anna's propensity for manipulation — but before he can elaborate on his paranoia, Erica receives a phone call: it's Tyler. He's in the thick of a riot at the shuttle station, and he needs his mother's help.
Erica arrives and attempts to guide Tyler to safety, but her son suffers a serious blow to the head and requires medical attention as a result. Still the human head of Anna's security team, Erica is able to talk her way onto the mothership with Tyler at her side. But before she can leave, Erica watches in horror as the Red Sky opens up and pours Red Rain down upon the streets of New York. The Visitors usher Erica and her son out of the area and onto a shuttle in an effort to avoid the torrential and horrific rain.
As Tyler heals on the mothership, Erica confronts Anna head-on, demanding answers about Red Sky while still maintaining her cover as the queen's ally. After some initial protesting, Anna promises to tell Erica everything. The sky is cleared moments later, and Anna's face appears on the various view-screens established all over the world, revealing that Red Sky is not to be feared; instead, it is a gift to mankind. Anna says that Red Sky will heal the oceans, create new fertile land and reverse the effects of global warming. In one single speech, Anna manages to turn the majority of mankind back in her favor, leaving one to wonder just how gullible our species really is.
Erica doesn't buy what Anna's selling, of course, and she turns to her daughter Lisa for help. The alien princess tells her about Ellis Watts, a scientist the V's are targeting because he's too close to the truth about Red Sky. Erica leaves to investigate the lead further, with Tyler remaining on board despite his mother's best judgment. It's good news for Tyler (and weird news for Lisa), though, when Anna outright orders Lisa to have sex with Tyler. An already awkward command is made all the more uncomfortable when Anna watches the encounter from a hidden view-finder. There's just no telling what turns these lizard people on.
Elsewhere, Erica seeks out Watts with the help of Ryan and Hobbes. Instead, they find Sydney Miller (played by Reaper alumnus Bret Harrison), Watts' graduate assistant. When some Visitor agents arrive at the same time, Ryan pursues them in a pulse-pounding chase sequences that shows off the character's true reptilian athleticism. By the end, Ryan successfully incinerates his target, and Miller comes to a stunning realization: he's the one the Visitors are after, not Watts. Opting to show rather than tell, Miller brings the team to a secret compartment in his laboratory containing an at least 50-year-old reptilian skeleton he unearthed during a research dig in New Mexico: we're now face to face with the true form of the Visitors.
When he elaborates on his research and examines the Red Sky compounds further, it becomes clear that phosphorous is the common ingredient between the Visitors and Red Sky's composition. Erica puts the pieces together: Anna initiated Red Sky so that Visitors can reproduce with mankind. Taking it a step further, Erica recalls doctors noticing high levels of phosphorous in her blood many years ago; she wonders if the Visitors experimented on her earlier in her life. (Though she fails to make the connection that phosphorous is likely coursing through Tyler's blood as well, which would explain why he's so valuable to Anna; he can potentially reproduce with Lisa.)
The Fifth Column recruits Miller into their fold, and another new recruit pops ups as well in the form of Chad Decker. After the overly ambitious reporter provides Father Jack with proof that the Visitors are conducting experiments on Live Aboard participants, Decker is officially enlisted as a soldier in the war. His role: keep doing what he's doing and stay as close to Anna as possible. Chad, already furious with Anna for afflicting him with an impending brain aneurysm (as opposed to treating it, as she had misinformed him earlier), doesn't like his assignment, but he begrudgingly accepts it.
Back on the mothership, we see that Anna's emotions are higher than she's letting on. She goes to visit her six surviving children from the terrorist bombing at the end of last season, but cuts the visit short by swearing off her emotions and pulling the plug on her remaining offspring. Ironically moved by her decision to kill her emotions (and her kids), Anna goes off in search of some parental guidance -- and in the bowels of the mothership, she gets exactly that in the form of her imprisoned mother, Queen Diana, played by original V actress Jane Badler.
"Red Rain" was an entertaining start for season two of V, even if it was an imperfect one: Red Sky, one of the most profound images the show has ever given us, was done away with far too quickly, even if its impact lingers in future episodes. A few more scenes with the rioters, looters and others rallying against the V's would have been nice. Anna's speech about the positive effects of Red Sky was met with an absurd amount of approval; would the vast majority of mankind, let alone the take-no-bullshit masses of New York City, really accept such a thin explanation from an intimidating invader? I'd like to think that we as a species are a bit more skeptical than that, but I could be wrong.
Flaws aside, there was a lot to like here. Scott Wolf's scenes with Joel Gretsch are always a highlight. Charles Measure continues to impress as Hobbes. The action scenes were solid, the gore was fairly brutal and the vision of a blood-stained New York City skyline remains hard to shake. And, yes, Battlestar Galactica may have gotten to the sex-driven storyline first, but if V really wants to offer up more scenes of Laura Vandervoort-looking aliens looking to knock boots with any phosphorous-blooded thing on two feet, who are we to complain?
I'm still not in love with V, but the performances and plot developments are entertaining enough to make this series a fun Tuesday night excursion, if not a full-on Live Aboard commitment. What about you: will you tune in for next week's episode, or have you paid your last visit to V?