In 2019, Netflix doubled down on horror series. From the good (Marianne, Chambers) to the mixed (Black Summer) to the terrible (Haunted), Netflix embraced the genre. As the year winds down, the streaming platform dropped yet one more horror series, V-Wars. The 10-episode vampire thriller sees Ian Somerhalder of Vampire Diaries fame return to the genre. Similar to Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s The Strain, V-Wars casts vampirism as a virus that threatens humanity. However, V-Wars slightly twists the premise as it promises a friend-vs-friend emotional core.
V-Wars’ Pilot Episode an Interesting, If Not Familiar, Origin Story
Across its first 50 minutes or so, V-Wars’ pilot episode sets the table with an origin story that wouldn’t feel out of place in a Marvel movie. Scientist Dr Luther Swann, along with lifelong friend Michael Fayne, travel to a remote arctic research outpost. When Swann and Fayne arrive, they find the outpost abandoned and biohazard material left exposed. Though a defrosted bacteria gives both friends a ‘prehistoric cold’, they’re eventually given a clean bill of health and released. But when they return to the world, Fayne undergoes a series of shocking changes.
…V-Wars’ pilot episode sets the table with an origin story that wouldn’t feel out of place in a Marvel movie.
Suddenly, his senses are heightened and his strength increases. Unfortunately, Fayne’s also experiencing blackouts and a voracious taste for blood. When he wakes up in an unfamiliar apartment with a dead, mutilated woman, he calls Swann, begging him for help. Despite his better judgment, Swann helps Fayne clean up the mess to clear his name. Forward to the next day and Swann has some ‘buyer’s remorse’, turning himself into police. Everything culminates with the police threatening Swann with obstruction charges, and shooting and arresting a fully vamped out Fayne. By the episode’s conclusion, Fayne escapes promising revenge on his former friend when he figures out Swann outed him to police. And poor Swann’s day gets worse – he’s arrested for killing a vampire that turns out to be his wife.
Formulaic But Fast-Paced Enough to Entertain (Or Distract)
V-Wars may fancy itself as putting a spin on the vampire mythology, but there’s not much about this episode that we haven’t seen at some point. Keep in mind, pilot episodes are always a bit laborious. That is, striking a balance between introducing all the story element while entertaining is tricky business. As far as pilot episodes go, V-Wars doesn’t do too bad a job. It’s a fast-paced introduction that at least sets some emotional stakes for the audience. Though some characters are under-served and/or oddly introduced (Spoiler: Swann’s wife is later awkwardly revealed to be his second wife), V-Wars does enough to invest in its main characters’ friendship.
This doesn’t have the ‘prestige’ feeling of Netflix’s A-level series.
But it’s not just V-Wars‘ story that feels familiar. Nothing about the show’s pilot episode suggests it will rise above a standard network series. This doesn’t have the ‘prestige’ feeling of Netflix’s A-level series. In fact, V-Wars fails to approach the scope of other horror shows like The Walking Dead. Instead, the series has the same feel as Zoo, Supernatural, or (coincidentally), The Vampire Diaries. Of course, we’re just one episode into the show. There’s some promise of bigger things as the story unfolds. And nothing about V-Wars’ pilot episode is outright terrible.
V-Wars Tentatively Promises Guilty-Pleasure Viewing
By the end of its pilot episode, V-Wars doesn’t do much to distinguish itself from a regular network television show. While it has its share of blood and horror violence, there’s nothing here you couldn’t see at 10pm on NBC or ABC. Even if Black Summer was flawed, it at least took some risks with storytelling. Still V-Wars does enough with its familiar material to at least promise some late-night guilty-pleasure viewing.