One of the things I’ve always appreciated about The CW is its playful embrace of its own demographic. It’s a network that will put women of the French Renaissance in strapless dresses on Reign or make Jughead Jones a tormented literary outsider on Riverdale.
Sure, they’ll gleefully offer shirtless and earnest young men and pretty and earnest young heroines, but they don’t do it cynically. They play to the best and not the worst of their audience. They also know who their audience is.
So, it is with Valor Season 1 Episode 1, which is the most overtly feminist this fall’s military shows, and it’s refreshing that the creators seem to understand that there are young women both serving in the military and young women who have the ambition to do so.
The creators also know that contemporary war stories should be treated with more seriousness than fantasy or superhero stories.
The end result is a peculiar mashup of a serious military storyline with a CW soap opera. The show deftly weaves a potential love quadrangle with a convoluted military mystery that will no doubt continue over the course of the season.
Son of a bitch!Leland
The main point-of-view character is Chief Warrant Officer Nora Madani, a HELO pilot who is tormented by a botched mission that resulted in her friend and comrade being captured by ISIS. The show begins with her remembering the mission-gone-wrong and then waking up to her loving and caring boyfriend, First Lieutenant Ian Porter.
He’s noticed that she’s in pain and worried about her first day back.
The other lead character is his uber-hot Captain Leland Gallo, who consoles himself with kinky sex in which he is tied up by a generic blonde, who is on top.
Over the course of the episode, flashbacks reveal the mysterious events of the botched mission as Nora and Leland navigate the heavy duty sexual tension between them.
In fact, rather than having episodes or even seasons of them gazing longingly at each other before kissing, Nora and Leland share a scorching kiss and almost-sex scene at about the half-way mark.
So, instead of the cliched mystery of will they or won’t they, Valor gives us when will they finish what they started, darn it.
Allow me to quote the great Justin Bieber. Is it too late to say I'm sorry?Leland
Lest you are worried for poor, also-handsome Ian, he’s targeted by a predatory, implausibly young CIA officer who first mildly sexually harasses him and then reveals she’s working him for information about Nora. The CIA suspects that Nora and Leland are not revealing everything about what happened in Somalia.
And in a refreshing twist, the CIA is correct. Leland and Nora aren’t telling the truth, and the mysterious details of the botched mission unfold. They were told they were retrieving a Somali national, but the hooded man will drown in a water crash if they don’t remove the hood.
Nora goes against orders and removes the hood. He’s an American, and he’s got an identifying tattoo.
If we can't trust each other, we can't trust anyone.Nora
Later, a random black-clad American is about to shoot the prisoner who begs for help, and Nora saves the prisoner by shooting the black-clad man. This is what they are keeping from their superiors.
All of this is mixed in with scenes of Jimmy’s captivity and his cute son and frustrated, angelic wife. Nora, naturally, promises her that she will bring Jimmy home.
On top of that, there are several helicopter action scenes and a storyline in which Nora proves herself over her combat stress by landing a helicopter suffering engine failure.
There’s also banter. Lots and lots of banter. And Nora plays the drums to relieve stress and has a good luck charm given to her by a little Afghan girl who didn’t know girls could be soldiers.
Considering how much stuff happens in the hour-long pilot, it’s rather remarkable that the show makes sense, but it does.
The before and after mystery setup has clarity, and the implausibly young CIA officer makes an intriguing antagonist. She may be a villain, or she may just be a tough young woman doing her job.
There’s even a conversation between Leland and Nora about the nature of today’s military service and the necessity of black ops operations due to the unpopularity of boots on the ground.
It may not cover all the complexities, but it respects its audience enough to portray the actual complexities and imply that the show’s protagonists don’t have all the answers.
Nora: We could be court marshalled for this.
Leland: We already have secrets. What's one more?
Sure, it’s heavy-handed, has its share of cliches and is a bit ridiculous at times, but there are some good ingredients here that could be cooked up into something interesting.
Do you disagree? Love it? Hate it? Comment below.
You can also watch Valor online if you missed it live.
Melissa Marshall is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.