On December 24, 1997, Mr. Finch is standing with the Leader. He insists that “it’s a Vendetta”—V is killing off important government officials, culminating in the deaths of Derek Almond and Delia Surridge. He holds up Delia’s diary, which he’s read many times. Based on this document, he thinks that he might know “what” V is, if not “who.”
That V is on a vendetta against the Norsefire government is plain before we even open the graphic novel (it’s in the title, after all). Yet it’s still not clear why V is on this vendetta—if it’s a personal quest for revenge, or something with a broader ideology behind it.
Finch offers to read the Leader the key excerpts from Delia’s diary. The first excerpt is from April 30th. Delia arrives at the Larkhill camps, and is instantly disgusted by Lewis Prothero and Anthony Lilliman, the camps’ conditions, and the “subjects” she’s been assigned. Delia has come to Larkhill to conduct hormone research on human beings. She believes that her research will benefit the human race. She administers experiments with pills and drugs for the prisoners of the camp. Delia notes that these prisoners are weak and pathetic—barely even human.
Delia is clearly more sympathetic than Prothero and Lilliman, but she still participated in the same atrocities at Larkhill. Delia treats the patients at Larkhill just as Prothero and Lilliman do: she considers them barely human, disgusting, and altogether unworthy of being alive. Even so, Delia at least believes in the goodness of her research—she thinks that she can use her experiments to promote health for all.
By June, Delia’s diary continues, nearly all of the subjects that Delia was assigned for her research have died off, many of them with hideous mutations as a result of the “Batch 5” drug Delia gave them. Curiously, Delia notes, the patients who are still alive tend to be either black or women. A lesbian woman named Rita Boyd, she notes, died that day.
We see, once again, V’s fondness for the letter V and the number 5. We also realize that V may be the product of medical experiments gone awry: perhaps he took some of “Batch 5,” and as a result became extra strong and intelligent—like a superhero.
By July, there are only five patients left for Delia to study. One of them—the man in room five—hasn’t experienced any mutations at all. Nevertheless, Delia notes that he’s become schizophrenic, with a “magnetic” personality. The man looks at Delia with disgust, she realizes.
One thinks of Nietzsche’s famous notion that “when one stares into the abyss, the abyss stares back.” Delia stares at her patients with disgust, and here, her mysterious patient returns her stare, judging Delia for her blind participation in murder.
The man in room five, Delia continues, asks to work as a gardener for the Larkhill camp. Lewis Prothero reluctantly agrees, since there’s been a food shortage recently. The man turns out to be a brilliant gardener, producing a great deal of food, which Prothero greedily eats. The man from room five also grows beautiful roses. He asks for new gardening supplies, including ammonia for fertilizer. Prothero reluctantly orders these supplies so that the man can continue with his gardening.
According to the diary, we are meant to see that the man in Room V is probably V. He grows beautiful roses, just as V uses roses to mark his murders. Much as before, V uses his enemies’ weaknesses against them. Thus, he’s able to escape from prison, we can sense, because Lewis Prothero greedily demands more food for himself, and thus gives V more fertilizer.
The man in room five uses the ammonia to plant more crops, but he also arranges piles of ammonia in his room. Delia assumes that this is a symptom of his schizophrenia.
The piles of ammonia in the man’s room are a decent metaphor for the structure of these early chapters of the graphic novel: they’re a complex puzzle that only a few people are capable of fully understanding.
The next entry is from December 24, 1993. Finch notes that the entry begins, “He looked at me,” but then continues in a differently colored ink, with the note, “can’t write about it yet.” Delia explains that there was an explosion at Larkhill camp. The man in room five had been using ammonia to make other products, such as mustard gas and napalm. Delia and many of her coworkers were able to escape Larkhill alive. As Delia ran away, however, she saw the man from room five emerging from the prison. He looked directly at her, and she knew that he’d one day kill her.
Here, we run into the concept of the “unreliable narrator.” Delia seems to be explaining the state of affairs at Larkhill prison, but admits that she finds it difficult to write about the man in room V rationally. It’s also possible that V is tampering with Delia’s diary, or even that he forged it altogether. Delia’s awareness of V’s gaze suggests her awareness of her own guilt—her involvement in a horrible, genocidal experiment.
Mr. Finch concludes his reading of the diary. He notes that nearly all the guards and workers at Larkhill prison have died in mysterious accidents in the last four years, with the exception of the three people who’ve died in the last few months. There are two motives for V’s vendetta, he points out. First, V could be searching for revenge, and second, he could be trying to eliminate anyone who could identify him. Finch notes that he finds the first explanation more reassuring, since it means that V is finished with his killings.
Finch recognizes the scope of the problem he and the Nose are dealing with. It’s possible that V is acting out of revenge: he wants to cause pain to the people who hurt him long ago. But it’s also possible that V is trying to cover his tracks, preparing himself for a far more dangerous and large-scale assault on the Norsefire state. Moore is a fan of the novels of Thomas Pynchon (especially V, which V reads at several points in the graphic novel). Pynchon maintains that it is better to be certain and terrified than “uncertain and paranoid”—Finch echoes these exact sentiments.
Mr. Finch goes on explaining V’s background to the Leader. He notes that V wanted the police to find Delia’s diary. Strangely, though, V didn’t want the police to find everything in Delia’s diary: there are entire pages that have been crossed out or removed. V didn’t want the police knowing anything about his identity: his race, his age, his sexual orientation, etc.
Finch knows nothing about V’s personality, and curiously enough, neither do we. We have to face the possibility that V has forged the entire diary altogether—we really don’t know anything about where V came from. Because V is totally anonymous, nothing is necessarily as it seems. As he does in many of his works, here Moore tampers with the “superhero backstory” trope.
As Mr. Finch explains V’s background to the Leader, we see V sitting in the Shadow Gallery, watching film footage of a mysterious woman. V buries his head in his hands, seemingly weeping.
Although V is shown to be cold and capable of murder, he’s also sensitive and emotional. We don’t know why V is weeping, but we also sense that there’s a side to his personality that Finch has yet to understand. In retrospect, we will recognize this woman as probably being Valerie.
The Leader suggests to Mr. Finch that V has forged the entire diary. There’s no way to corroborate his story with records of Larkhill Camp, since these records simply don’t exist. Furthermore, the Leader continues, it would be “madness” for V to kill fifty people simply to give himself a cover story. As he says this, the Leader realizes that this is precisely Finch’s point: V is mad. With this, the Leader dismisses Mr. Finch with a quiet “Happy Christmas.”
V’s greatest weapon is his unpredictability. We see this in his maddening allusions to literature and culture of the past, and we see it as well in his mysterious assassinations of government officials. V’s very existence is an affront to the certainty and constant surveillance of “Fate” and the Norsefire state: in a world where the government knows and controls everything, V is gleefully, anarchically unknowable.