31 July 2004 | mentalcritic
'Twas good, but it could have been better...
In 1983, one of the best-rated miniseries broadcast on television in the English-speaking world was V, a quaint little story about aliens landing on Earth and using Hitleresque tactics to take it over. The scenario is only unbelievable because of where the invaders come from. Their motives, and the means that these motives drive them to, make the scenario so real that it's almost scary.
The Final Battle picks up at an unspecified time after the original V. The resistance has been struggling to put dents in the Vistors' ability to carry out their sinister plans, but things aren't going so well. A new and improved form of armour ensures that the kind of weapons normally available to the resistance are effectively useless. The fact that most of humanity is being kept in the dark about what is really going on doesn't help matters any.
In order to deal with the latter problem, the resistance conceives a plan to unmask the Vistors' leader on television. They figure that since television can be used for propaganda by the vistors, they can manipulate it to the same end. At first, they seem to succeed, even at tremendous cost. But the media's unrivalled ability to tell the people what to think or believe backfires on them. Enter the professional mercenaries who begrudgingly help them with a new armour-piercing ammunition and various other kinds of tools that allow them to put up a more effective fight.
It sounds like a great follow-up, but looking back on it twenty years later, it really isn't. For one thing, this sequel seems so determined to wrap up every loose end that there is precious little time for character development. The old characters escape this mainly because they were given a lot of it in the original series. However, they don't progress much further from that point. Donovan is still an adventurer who would take on the entire Visitor army by himself if he could. Julie is still a confused, grumpy young woman who wonders why she, of all people, would be chosen to lead this outfit. Robert Maxwell is still the affable scientist who is torn by his need to protect his daughters, no matter what the cost is. Daniel and Eleanor are still the weak, insubstantial forms who don't realise that when all opposition is eliminated, they'll be the first ones up against the wall. If it hadn't been for the original miniseries, you'd know very little about these characters at the beginning of The Final Battle, and even less at the end.
Not that it is all bad. Some of the loose ends are tied up so well that they become classic moments in television history. The fate of Brian is one of the most haunting moments in the story, reflecting a situation that has happened in many wars before now, and will happen in many wars to come. The use of germ warfare against the Visitors is an old story, harkening back to the classic War Of The Worlds scenario. Little was known about the nature of bacteria or virii in Wells' day, so it is even more satisfying that this time around they are able to give it some setup, making the payoff seem less like Deus Ex Machina. The little saga between Caleb and Elias Taylor is also given a payoff that will go down in television history as a classic moment. That Michael Wright and Jason Bernard didn't get more work than they did after this stellar performance is one of the many injustices of the Hollywood system.
A special mention, of course, must go to Michael Ironside and Mickey Jones. When we are first introduced to their characters, we're almost bracing ourselves for yet another Rambo type. While we know little more about Chris Faber in the end than we did when we first see him, there's just enough in this series to make Ham Tyler seem vaguely three-dimensional. This, in turn, is a lot more than what can be said for most of the other characters unique to The Final Battle.
Interestingly, a new miniseries has been announced with the original series creator Kenneth Johnson at the helm, and with key members of the original cast having already signed on. Whether Johnson intends to ignore or downplay this series remains unknown, but unfortunately, most of The Final Battle could simply be ignored without consequence. Most of the story seems more like a predefined statement of mission goals rather than any dramatic conflict as was shown in the original series, so in this instance, I'd just savour the classic moments and forget the rest. In all, a six out of ten seems about right.