If you’ve been following along with Off the Beaten Path, you might remember that I covered the 1983 sci-fi miniseries V: The Original Miniseries back in late August of 2020 as the first show in my brief sojourn into older television. Now, 6 months later and after too many flirtations to fascist takeover (again, god January was weird), it’s as good as any to return to the world of the V franchise (and my first follow-up review for Off the Beaten Path) with the 1984 sequel miniseries V: The Final Battle.
If you haven’t read my review on V: The Original Miniseries, I basically considered it a fun, if flawed miniseries that was a solid sci-fi meditation of the insidious dangers of encroaching fascism. As for V: The Final Battle, it certainly tries to be that. What we get at first is essentially V: The Original Miniseries but more blockbusterized, with the story scope and the set pieces bigger and bolder than before. You know, typical sequel escalation. Then, it starts to slip. Before long, the plot is taken over by awkward melodrama and poorly thought-out plot points and escalations. By the end, it became something else, something so unspeakably dumb it earned an infamous special mention on my tv focused Best of 2020 post. Yeah, it’s that kind of sequel.
So what carried over from V: The Original Miniseries, and how successful was it?
Before I launch into the unique aspects of V: The Final Battle, I think it’s pertinent to discuss the aspects of V: The Original Miniseries that was carried over. Why? Well beyond the whole sequel bit, I think the best parts of V: The Final Battle were those aspects.
Chief among them is the thematic backbone of fascism. Once you watch V: The Original Miniseries – side note: while you don’t need to see the first miniseries to understand V: The Final Battle, it certainly helps – you’ll see that the theme of fascism is present in the very DNA of the show, both visually and referentially on the part of the Visitors once they arrive on Earth. They use conspiracy theories about a scapegoat minority – in this case, scientists – to both co-opt control of the government when “incidents” occur and to remove their greatest threat, forcing those scientists who don’t get captured to flee and go into hiding. They maintain tight control over all information about themselves through the media while operating a vast propaganda machine. They quickly create youth outreach organizations akin to the Hitler Youth. Once they take control, their troops act like stormtroopers. They have processing plants to create human resources. Their uniforms are highly reminiscent of Nazi uniforms based on the placement of insignias, which is itself like 60% swastika. To highlight that all in case we missed it, there’s an old Holocaust survivor (the best character in the original miniseries I might add) who immediately starts picking up on shit and moves to avert the replaying of history. I could keep going, but there’s more to this than just recounting the previous miniseries.
All that is to say that V: The Original Miniseries had a goal – highlight the dangers of a fascistic regime here and now – and it made damn sure it fulfilled that goal.
When it comes to V: The Final Battle, this carries over rather faithfully; all the visual queues, the methodologies, and the techniques of fascist action are there. On top of that, these are added onto through ways that feel naturally in line with what we’ve seen. The Visitor’s Security Mansion looks like something used by the Nazi leadership; large flags bearing their swastika-lite insignia hang on the building, inside fortress the insignia can be found everywhere, and most prominently the atrium carpet is emblazoned with one giant symbol. We see some behind-the-scenes work in both the human processing plants and the Visitor-controlled propaganda machine in action. Diana spends a fair amount of time not only performing more Mengele-like experiments, but she also gets into the inquisitorial torture-based brainwashing game. We see some of the inner governmental drama of the Visitors’ and their interstellar empire. If anything, V: The Final Battle brings to the forefront what was implied but left unsaid in the first miniseries, and I think for the most part it works well. Does it always work? Not always. That said, it’s easily the most consistent facet and the best quality about V: The Final Battle.
Just how badly did the writing lose me?
But all that talk about fascism isn’t the meat of what makes V: The Final Battle so uniquely V: The Final Battle, and I don’t mean that in a good way. No, that dubious honor goes to the writing, which is something else to say the least.
Beyond the writing issues that carried over from the original miniseries, the first sign things were starting to go haywire was the developing romance between Julie and Donovan, which becomes official in Part 2 after Julie is rescued from the clutches of Diana. Now, I want to be clear; I’m not saying romance of any sort is a negative in this kind of sci-fi story. My issue is that it has little set-up while discarding the actual set-up Kenneth Johnson – the creator of V: The Original Miniseries, who was absent here due to creative differences with NBC – seeded in his miniseries. Essentially, Johnson sets up the foundations for conflict between the two in terms of leadership styles and objective prioritization with little in the way of romantic overtones (though this may be me not remembering those). Now, with the addition of Michael Ironside’s mercenary turned resistance leader Ham Tyler roughly taking over that leadership drama, what we get is awkward soapy melodrama. While not exactly writing-related, watch the scenes where the romance is front and center and try not to laugh due to the jarring tonal shift. If it were me, I’d keep in the romance, but use that pre-set conflict foundation as a source of tension and drama between Donovan and Julie.
Now if it were just the romantic plot tumor, that would be one thing. The issue is that not only is it not the only issue, but it’s also not even the biggest writing issue. If anything, the greater issue is that while the first episode was fine, the show became dumber as the plot moved forward, becoming clear around halfway through Part 2. And when I mean dumb, I mean elements of the plot increasingly made little sense and what they did do was never set up effectively.
For one particular example of something not making sense, due to the plot machinations of Visitor collaborator/Donovan’s mother Eleanor Duprese and the ranking Visitor Stephen, there’s a prisoner exchange where Donovan gives himself up to free his son. The issue comes in when the exchange happens in a valley with the Resistance in a perfect position for an ambush, especially since the Visitors don’t have air support. In the end, they do nothing, and Donovan is taken aboard the Mothership, where he quickly escapes after needlessly outing Visitor ally Martin as a Fifth Columnist (the group of Visitor resistance fighters trying to bring down the regime from the inside). Looking back, it becomes obvious the whole sequence was a flimsy justification to get Donovan aboard the ship and to put Martin in danger.
For something that deals with little set-up, the biggest issue to me revolves around Ham Tyler. When he and his demolition expert partner Chris Farber arrive on the scene, they claim to be representatives of a nationwide resistance organization sent to reign in the reckless Las Angeles cell after their operation to unmask John on national tv. While that isn’t itself bad, it’s an issue when we never get a single hint even afterward about the existence of this organized resistance besides token weapons upgrades. We don’t even get a remote meeting involving the LA leadership – Ham, Donovan, and Julie – and the greater network. We’re just told they’re there. To me, that’s a massive waste, especially since the end twist of Part 2 – the birth of Julie’s hybrid children – establishes the means to safely wipe out the entire Visitor species on the planet which, you know, would normally result in some kind of communication and coordination.
Which brings me to the travesty that is the ending of Part 3. In a super fortuitous turn of events – the resistance finds a bacteria in the GI tracts of Robin’s children that acts as an ill-defined toxin to the Visitors – this LA cell concocts a plan to save the planet (again, without any on-screen collaboration with the national network we’re told exists). For reasons, the surviving child – a mostly human girl named Elizabeth afflicted with a strong case of Soap Opera Aging Disorder – ends up in Diana’s clutches. It’s then during the titular final battle – the resistance has infiltrated the mother ship while driving the Visitors off-planet with the germ/toxin – that the miniseries loses its goddamn mind. I’m talking of course about Elizabeth’s hitherto unknown magical abilities to disarm an undisarmable nuke through the power of 80’s movie sparkles. At the same time, Diana is revealed to be a telepath, which she uses to escape from Julie.
It takes a lot for a movie/show to leave me speechless, and this certainly did that, but not in a good way. I distinctly remember watching the miniseries for the first time back in September – after watching V: The Original Miniseries, I was interested enough to quickly watch the follow-up – and that ending single-handedly killed any interest I had in watching any further. It was the first time in I don’t know how long that an ending made me so viscerally angry. It’s just that inexcusable a deus ex machina. I think I understand what the writers were going for – the failures of the invasion were due to the increasingly unhinged machinations of Diana, including the experiment that led to Elizabeth’s conception and birth – but man this was the wrong way to do it. Like, people should study this ending in an academic setting to learn what not to do.
What about the characters?
If there’s one thing on the writing front V: The Final Battle doesn’t fumble, it’s the character arcs for people not named Donovan and Julie.
For example, Robin has significantly improved this time around. No longer is she the maddeningly dumb teenage girl whose idiocy results in the deaths of countless resistance members including her own mother. Now she’s a functional member of the resistance while struggling with the knowledge of being raped and impregnated by a space iguana, and later with the challenges of motherhood for children she can barely look at. While the events around her are some of the most infuriatingly dumb moments of the show and her performance isn’t one of the acting highpoints of the show, her dramatic struggle and her character growth are much improved.
Another character who got a significant role upgrade from the first miniseries is Willie, the good-hearted Visitor who worked alongside Caleb Taylor played by Robert Englund. In the first miniseries, he’s just a Visitor who tries to help while bumbling around; a nominal demonstration outside of the Fifth Column that the Visitors are not evil by nature. Here, he becomes a full member of the Resistance after he is captured, helping the biologists learn more about Visitor anatomy and physiology while helping Robin with her pregnancy the best he can. In the end, he fights alongside his new companions to drive his own people off-planet.
For all the shit I’ve talked about around him, Ham Tyler is himself an interesting addition to the cast. The aggressive yet undeniably professional energy he adds to the LA cell and the leadership shake-ups that follow in his wake is one thing. It also helps that he’s also a fairly complex character. For all his “my way or the highway” attitude and casual Visitor racism, Ruby’s death makes it clear he can empathize and care for others. Plus, Ironside is one of the better actors in the crew, so that helps.
While many of the other human characters only get a moment or two to shine compared to the last miniseries – my go-to’s for this are Caleb and Elias Taylor – the one minor character who gets the best opportunity to shine is Kristine Walsh. In the previous miniseries, she loses herself to her ambition, quickly becoming the human spokesperson to the Visitors. When confronted about the truth of the Visitors by her professional and romantic partner Donovan, she doesn’t believe him. Here, she gets a satisfying redemption arc in her one episode. A combination of a spectacular verbal takedown from her professional role model on top of her own digging at the behest of Donovan prompts her to make an attempt at redemption at arguably the most important moment of her job as Visitor spokeswoman; when commanded to help cover-up John’s unmasking on national television, she instead sides with the Rebels and implores the people to rise up. This personal revolt ends in her death. Compared to a lot of what I’ve seen in this miniseries, this arc was exceptional.
Lastly, I can’t talk about the acting without at least mentioning Jane Badler’s performance as Diana. Compared to the original miniseries, Diana is fully unleashed here. The more complications she runs into and/or creates herself, the more unhinged she becomes, and it’s glorious to watch. Even when the show turned to shit around her, Badler was always entertaining to watch.
So that’s the travesty of V: The Final Battle in a nutshell. I could keep going, but at some point, I just need to let go of my anger and disappointment at this fumbled sequel. If you’d like to watch this as well, I advise you to stop after Part One; while there are good moments in the latter 2/3rds of the show, there’s just so much that goes wrong no amount of quality can save it from being mediocre at best.
My Recommendation: Recommend With Caveats
My Episode Recommendations
- Part One – Recommend
- Part Two – Recommend With Caveats
- Part Three – Don’t Recommend
In Case You’re Interested in Watching V: The Final Battle
In case you’re interested in watching V: The Final Battle, you can purchase it on Amazon Prime.