“Mutiny” opened on our ragtag group of survivors (who have somehow still managed to go unnoticed in this school, despite the fact that they’re constantly coming and going, half of them are living outside, and they use generators to power the place) gathered in the gym, laughing uproariously at a cartoon of a… dancing flower? Whatever it was, they were getting a pretty big kick out of it. And I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I shouldn’t have been surprised that the show would take one last opportunity to try and make us, the viewers, feel a bit of forced sentimentality. Yes, we’ve been witness to these people’s journey for a couple of months now. We’ve seen their joy and their sorrow, but we haven’t really seen their sorrow. It’s the end of the world, but it still feels a little bit like camp.
Tensions between Tom and Captain Weaver have been rising since the start of the season, and now they’ve shot through the roof so we can at least half-believe that Tom would lose faith in Weaver as a commander, and that Weaver would have Tom put under house arrest (SECRET house arrest!) once he challenged his authority. And all this is coming at the worst time possible — as these things often do — because the 2nd Mass. is gearing up for their big push against the Skitters. We’re told that conflict is the essence of drama, and this is about as textbook an example as you could get.
Falling Skies is, above all else, a show that wants you to believe in the veracity of the human spirit. We may argue and bicker among ourselves, but when the going gets tough, we fight back, we survive (and celebrate our INDEPENDENCE DAY!). And because all of what this show does is in service to that premise, you get a lot of people making stupid decisions they probably wouldn’t make otherwise. In this case we’ve got two. The first is that Weaver has become a drug addict, or so we’re led to believe. The second is that Tom doesn’t tell anyone about it. He’s got a good reason for this. He tells Hal that if he goes off half-cocked and makes accusations without proof, it’ll tear the regiment apart. And that’s bad because, before guys like Porter and Weaver came and united everyone, their lives resembled some sort of McCarthy-esque nightmare where all they did was carry the fire and try to keep away from roving bands of cannibals. But later, when Tom’s confronted Weaver and he’s ordered Lt. Danner (WHO’S BEEN THERE THE ENTIRE TIME SHUT UP) to take his weapons, Tom still doesn’t say anything. You think that if he started yelling, “This man self-medicates!” that people might stop and listen. Luckily his imprisonment doesn’t last long, as he’s got enough friends in the camp to come and bust him out. This paves the way for Tom, Hal, Anne, Jimmy and others to confront Weaver and let him know that they want him to lead them, they just need a reason to believe. Then they all start clapping, and that brings the dying Tinkerbell that was Weaver’s command back to life.
So everyone’s on good terms again. And that’s good because now that they know Porter and the other regiments have been attacked and probably won’t be there to help when the 2nd Mass. goes up against the structure that’s sitting in downtown Boston, they’re going to need to work together. And these people working together is exactly what we’ve come to expect from the show. And for an episode that gave us exactly what we’ve been given before, “Mutiny” was one of the seasons stronger episodes. The only thing I can really attribute it to is that, despite the schmaltz, the episode focused primarily on the mission at hand. And even though we got our feelgood moment with Weaver and the gang, everything leading up to that was much more action-oriented, and was quite well done.
Which brings us to “Eight Hours.” For most of the season we’ve had to deal with Rick — the creepy kid with the dead eyes– and all his cryptic sh*t about not being human and wanting to go back to the Skitters. Now that he knows Scott and Ben have found a way to disrupt the Skitters’ communication, he makes a break for it. That entails some Spiderman-like acrobatics and stealing the vacuum tube which is a vital component of the broadcasting doohickey which does the actual disrupting. I’m glad Rick spent so much time thinking all of this through, and that there was no chance there was another working vacuum tube inside Scott’s workshop for them to use. Anyway, Rick finds the Skitters, who promise to take him back as long as he tells them everything he knows about the 2nd Mass, which he does, and then who promptly leave his ass behind once they’ve got its location. Lucky for Rick, Tom and the others are more than forgiving and readily accept him back into their fold. And Rick even admits that he misses his dad! I guess the human spirit really is indomitable.
This sets the stage for the humans’ final (of the season, anyhow) fight against the Skitters, which all felt a bit anticlimactic, and didn’t make a terrible lot of sense. Even with Pope’s new mech-buster ammo, they’re not exactly mowing the Skitters down. Taking out a mech still takes a bit of effort, and that’s with everybody firing at it. With that in mind, I didn’t understand why they retreated immediately after their communications were disrupted. Did they need to be in contact with each other to fight back? Anyway, the humans cheer and will live to fight another day. It doesn’t need to make sense, because it’s just pushing things offstage to make room for the crème de la crème.
When Hal returns to the school and tells Tom that Porter and the other regiments never showed up and that Weaver went into Boston with just a few men, Tom of course goes after him. By the time he gets there, Weaver and Pope are the last men standing and the Skitters are regrouping. Tom takes out one of the Skitter ships with a mech-buster rocket launcher which crashes into the structure, and before he and Weaver even have a chance to slap each other on the back and congratulate themselves on a job well done, they’re confronted by Karen. You remember Karen. She was Hal’s hot girlfriend who was taken by the Skitters early in the season. She tells them that the Skinnies, the other aliens we met in “What Hides Beneath” WHO WATCH THE WATCHERS, would like a word with Tom. You see, in all their years of attacking alien races, they’ve never met anyone as VORACIOUS and INDOMITABLE as humans. So, you know, they want to talk about it. Get inside Tom’s head. In exchange for this, they’ll free Ben from the process that’s slowly turning him into a Skitter. Which is itself a little confusing, because I thought the Skitters were a separate alien race who were subdued and harnessed, and were in turn doing the same to human children. But it seems that they started life as something else, and the Skitter body we’ve seen grew around them. Hmmmmm.
So Tom agrees, and as the episode ends we see him being led by the end into the Skinnies ship, which is effing gigantic yet somehow managed to surprise Tom and Weaver when it dropped out of the sky. What does it all mean? Shows like Lost and Battlestar Galactica had very distinct feelings from season to season, and I’m wondering if we may see the same thing in Falling Skies. When everything is said and done, this may not be a show about the survival of the human race. With the introduction of the Skinnies and the revelation that, from their perspective, they’re helping us, we’ve discovered there are bigger mysteries out there that go past the simple conquest of an alien race. And now that Tom has been escorted onto one of their ships, I have a hard time seeing them drop him off just so he can continue fighting the fight. How Anne and the rest of the 2nd Mass. will figure into that is still a mystery we’ll have to wait until next summer to see answered.
In its first season, Falling Skies proved to be an incredibly frustrating show. It’s flirted with greatness from the very beginning and obviously wants us to have a deep, emotional connection with its characters, but has been mostly unwilling to stray into darker territory to achieve that goal. BUT, SO FAR, the story has been compelling and surprising enough to keep me interested. And despite my problems with the show, I’ve really enjoyed these last few episodes. So I’m looking forward to the next season, and am ready to write lengthy reviews which no one will read. But if I have to hear Tom tell me one more time that the children are our future or that history is FILLED with examples of small, poorly equipped rebels fighting off larger and more highly skilled invaders, well, I’m just going to snap.
“What Hides Beneath” opened in the most horrible way possible, made all the worse by the teaser that preceded it, with Tom repeating that “our children are our future” line that so perfectly encapsulates this show’s faux-sentimentality. We open on General Weaver walking through a classroom with pictures of suns and smiley faces and suns with smiley faces decorating the walls. I know the first season is just about to wrap up, but I almost turned it off right then. I just couldn’t take any more.
Luckily, I suffer from OCD, and my determination to finish everything I start kept my hands at my side. I also turned the lights on and off 31 times (because there are 31 days in August and well it’s not important). And guess what? My patience with the show was rewarded, and it delivered its most interesting twist so far. WE ARE NOT ALONE! Well, we knew that. THE SKITTERS ARE NOT ALONE EITHER! It turns out that our new alien overlords may not actually be our new alien overlords. Yes, even they have masters to serve. To what purpose, we’re still not sure, but the revelation did open up the show’s mythology in an interesting way.
This is the end. The human resistance is gearing up for its big offensive against the Skitters, preparing to take the fight to those big ships we’ve learned have gone up in the middle of “every city” (that’s right–every one) the humans are aware off. The Skitters are falling back, and there’s speculation that they may be moving into the phase of their occupation, whatever that is. So when Colonel Porter visits he tells Weaver and Mason that they’ve got only a few days to prepare before they move in.
This, of course, comes at the worst time possible (wait, do you think the writers PLANNED it like that???), as Tom and Hal have begun to notice that Weaver’s acting a bit distant, whether because of sleep deprivation or a deteriorating mental condition they’re not sure. And because Weaver’s so full of himself and super-defensive when criticized, he insists on going with Tom and Hal on their reconnaissance mission into downtown Boston before the attack. Weaver’s gonna do what Weaver’s gonna do (that’s so Weaver), so the three set out. While snapping pictures of Skitters our heroes discover the other aliens, standing back from the action, controlling things from a distance. These guys kind of look like the Skinnies from Heinlein’s Starship Troopers (the novel, not the movie). What do they want? Well, we’re not sure. But it’s become obvious that whatever they’re doing, Earth isn’t the first planet they’ve done it to.
Later in the episode, we see Ann and Lourdes dissecting a Skitter body that was kept a secret for some reason. (And speaking of which, what is everyone’s problems with actually learning about these aliens that have come from across the galaxy to enslave the planet? Everyone seems more than happy, insistent even, on pushing these things off and never ever dealing with them.) As they rip the thing apart, they find a harness buried under bone and muscle issue. What does it all mean? Well, one of two things. One: the Skitters are the kids of another conquered race that these new Skinnies have brought with them and continued to use as slave labor. Or two: The Skitters are human children, and their extra legs and green skin and alien bodies have somehow grown around their human bodies. It’s an interesting piece of business that goes a way toward humanizing the Skitters, and I’m sure we won’t see any resolution to it until sometime next season.
The rest of what happens to Tom, Hal and Weaver is exactly what you’ve come to expect from a show like Falling Skies. After meeting a very disturbed old woman — which some will recognize as Nina Sharp from Fringe — and have an almost-run-in with one of the Skinnies, which I admit was pretty creepy, Weaver flips out just long enough for him to drive back to his old house. When he discovers a pair of his wife’s glasses that he swears weren’t there immediately after the invasion, he’s filled with hope because it’s possible she’s somewhere out there, alive. Yeah. Let’s take one of the show’s most interesting characters (it’s all relative) and turn him into Tom Mason. I think that’s what you call a good idea.
But all this isn’t as interesting as what’s going on back at the camp. Pope’s been let out of his cage to help rig explosives for the fight in Boston, and while tinkering with some of the leftover mech bits they’ve collected from the Skitters, he’s found a way to use whatever material they’re made of to supe-up their own ammunition. For some reason Pope feels like he needs to demonstrate this to the ENTIRE CAMP, but whatever. It was a nice little fist-pump moment, and a good way to even out all the Weaver BS. Coming up next, a season finale so epic it could only be two hours long. Or TNT just needs to burn off the show so it can bring back reruns of The Closer. You know, one of those.
At this point, I’ve lost whatever hope I may have had that Falling Skies would live up to other sci-fi shows. Your Battlestar Galacticas, your Star Treks (yes, even the contemptible Enterprise *shudder*). The show is determined to tell its story in as broad of strokes as possible. And that’s okay. Television is a big tent, and there’s room for everything. But because Falling Skies doesn’t do nuance, I’m forced to gauge its performance, and how much I’m enjoying it, based purely on emotion. The show really enjoys hitting those homespun, “think about the CHILDREN!” beats, and while those don’t really resonate with me, I do occasionally buy into some of the fist-pump moments the show offers up. And I suppose that’s got to count for something.
Most of the reviews I’ve read place “Sanctuary, pt. 1″ above this week’s “Pt. 2,” but overall I found the second to be stronger than the first, even though they both had their strengths and weaknesses. “Pt. 1″ suffered from the same problem as “Silent Kill” (if you can call it a problem), which was that the most interesting thing about the episode had nothing to do with the characters or performances, but the narrative curveball we were thrown in the closing scene. The revelation that Terry Clayton and the surviving members of the 7th Mass. are trading kids to the Skitters in exchange for being left alone showed us — maybe for the first time — just how desperate things had become for people post-invasion. Still, you have to look at this as BSG-lite. Yes, things are clearly desperate, but I never felt like we got the emotional punch we were meant to.
Forget the fact that Clayton’s deal is incredibly stupid. The show’s still playing a little coy as to what the Skitter’s true purpose is. They’re using kids as slave labor, so they probably want something built. But then they’re sitting on top of the kids while they sleep and caressing their cheeks and losing themselves in their eyes and all sorts of freaky stuff, so who knows where it’s all going to end up. Anyway, they’re bigger and stronger than we are. They’ve got better weapons and a big alien mothership sitting in the middle of downtown Boston, so their deal with Clayton is all about expediency, and it won’t last. So he and his merry band of Christians can set up shop and pretend they’re the Waltons, but they need to keep their eyes on that big, ticking clock hanging over their heads. Because it’s big, and it’s ticking.
But like I said, forget how stupid the deal is. Because for a group of people who are so completely at the end of their rope that they would begin giving away people’s kids, they all look so incredibly clean. Not only are Clayton and the rest of the soldiers at peace with the bargain they’ve struck — and I can believe that these people would be, what with their “we’re at WAR!” way of thinking — but so are their kids. They don’t seem to have any moral qualms at all. They pick vegetables from their Victory Garden and have big group dinners every night. And when they get a hankering to play soccer, everyone scoots on out to the backyard to watch. While the show itself is trying so hard to show us society on the brink, I feel like if I were to walk up behind any of these characters, tap them on the shoulder, and actually have them explain their surroundings and what they’re doing to them, the response I’d get would be, “Oh, yeah. I guess you’re right.”
And this antiseptic feeling extends to Tom and the 2nd Mass. as well. Since being rescued, Ben has done his best to fit in with the group and others his age. So of course we’re seeing a vocal minority of “we’re just gonna let THEM walk around?” everymen pop up. Case in point, Jimmy, who wants nothing to do with Ben. But who, by the end of the episode, is all soccer balls and high fives, now that Ben’s proved he’s as red-blooded an American as anyone else. Yes, the ending comes off as expected and a little trite, but it’s the buildup to it that’s the problem. What the audience is treated to is a few snide remarks and pensive staring, and we’re told this is conflict, when it looks and sounds more like lip service than anything else.
We saw the same thing at the beginning of “Pt. 1,” when Anne is held-up and robbed. She gets head-butted or whatever, and later we see her snap when one of her patients (the name escapes me) gets too close to the door of her clinic. She’s, like, totally traumatized now. What a journey we’ve taken together. Made all the more meaningful by the fact that after going out with Margaret and squeezing off a few shots, we hear absolutely nothing else about it. And similarly, the rest of the episode goes out with a fizzle. Tom, who can feel that something just isn’t right, heads out and runs into Ben, who lets him in on what Clayton’s up to. Tom gets himself taken prisoner to save the other kids, and when they take them all back to the camp, Weaver’s waiting there for them. The best part is that none of it was planned. Weaver being there was a total coincidence. So really, the episode robbed us of even a half-assed resolution. You can chalk it all up to fate. They sure were lucky.
But I suppose I can’t complain too much. Falling Skies sets a mediocre bar for itself and does not go above it. So in a way it’s strangely honest with its viewers, which I guess I can respect. But anyway, what was I talking about? Oh yeah. Emotion. Because structurally there were so many problems with these episodes, I ask myself, how did they make me feel? Well, I did a little fist pump when Tom shot Clayton. That was a nice little moment. And, hey, we got Pope back. That’s got to count for something, right?
Two thoughts dominated while watching Sunday’s episode of Falling Skies. One: Even if the aliens left tomorrow, I think Tom and all the rest of the survivors would choose to stay in that school, just so they could have intimate run-ins with each other in darkened hallways and contemplate the human condition. Two: Fully realized characters are not necessary for compelling storytelling.
This show has done one of two things (and I guess there’s the possibility that it’s done both). It’s bled sentimentality since its first episode, and it’s tried to make us feel for these characters without them really having done anything to deserve it. Am I interested in these characters? Yes. Enough to tune into the show and write about it every week. Do I care about them? Not… really. As far as alien invasion stories go, these guys have things pretty easy. They have food and shelter, and are still holding school classes for the kids. And for our new alien overloads that have come down out of the sky in their spaceships and destroyed civilization, there doesn’t seem to be much the Skitters do well besides getting kids to collect heaps of scrap metal for them. Tom and the rest of his group are hiding only a few miles away, and they somehow manage to stay hidden. Do the Skitters not have satellites? How do their Mechs not have heat-tracking technology? Whatever the reason, it sure is fortunate for the 2nd Massachusetts.
I understand what a horrible thing it must be for Tom to have known that Ben was still alive and being held prisoner by the Skitters. I know how horrible it must have been for people like Anne to have lost family in the attack, but the show chooses to bring these facts up at such strange moments that I’m left feeling more confused than anything else, and the abrupt shift in tone takes me out of the story. I might be able to feel the characters’ pain if they weren’t constantly reminding me of it.
To my second point, and I think kind of works in the show’s favor. Great characters aren’t indispensible to a great story, and I think this is especially true for science fiction. If you’ve ever read Stephen Baxter, Alastair Reynolds or Peter F. Hamilton, you’ll recognize them as authors whose works are filled with larger than life ideas, and sometimes, characters who come up a little thin on character. This isn’t always the case. Peter F. Hamilton wrote Pandora’s Star and Judas Unchained – two of the best books I’ve ever read — which are filled with great characters. But I think that if you asked around, you’d come up with your fair share of people who said they enjoyed these books because the ideas and concepts presented in them were so compelling. And wherever Falling Skies is headed, things this week became much more interesting.
I’m referring specifically to the Skitter sitting on top of Ben and those other kids like some kind of… chicken (couldn’t come up with anything better). This brings up a whole slew of questions. Or, well, two. Is it our resources the Skitters are after, or our children? Which I guess you could call our greatest natural resource. And, wasn’t that whole scene f***ed up? Even if the show’s characters are somewhat lacking, the story got a lot more interesting, and has actually given me a reason to come back, aside from my OCD telling me that I have to watch every episode. It’s a shame we’ll have to do without Steven Weber’s incredibly flat performance, though. Seriously, what a way to write him out. He may as well just said, “It’s time for me to go now. My home planet needs me,” and walked away.
Falling Skies occupies an interesting place in the universe. It’s a place in which characters need offer no explanation for their behavior. They just do it. Steven Weber wants to help one week, but the next he’s pissed off and wants to torture Skitters? Sure! Michael sticks a gun in an alien creature’s face and demands that it start speaking in words and phrases he can understand? Cool!
And not only do characters need no reason for their behavior, they don’t even really need to be characters. Sometimes they’re thrown in to facilitate certain plot points, or they’re just there for people to react to. The show’s game for all sorts of stuff like that. As long as it’s accompanied by sentimental reminiscings about how things used to be before the aliens invaded. Because if we stop talking about it, we’re in danger of forgetting. And if we forget, are we really even people anymore? Yeah. That sounds good.
“Grace” can be split up into two halves. We’ll call these “okay” and “huh?” The “okay” half of the show is, much like its name suggests, okay. Captain Weaver tasks Tom and a few of the usual suspects to check out a motorcycle dealership Pope says is nearby. That’s good. It makes sense. One of the things the show does well is lay out these very straightforward storylines, giving our characters a clear mission to accomplish in each episode, much like The Walking Dead. And the last thing the show needs is less Pope. So let’s go check out that dealership. And things here progress much as you’d expect. On their way, Tom and the others run across a group of Skitters, sleeping upside down underneath an overpass. This adds to the whole “they’re more like us than we know” theme the show is slowly building upon. Pope wants to take them out. But Tom, ever straight-laced and by-the-book, says it’ll only distract from their mission and continues on toward the dealership.
Once there they find the bikes they were hoping for, but of course Pope’s able to get away and attack the Skitters on his own. The Skitters, now wise to Tom and the others’ location, sends a group of harnessed kids to attack them. And when you think about it, the skitters are pretty smart for using this plan of attack, because Tom and the others WON’T FIRE ON KIDS. They’re kids, man. And that’s just a bridge to far. Instead they blow up a truck that’s sitting about ten feet away and ride off while it burns, their principles and self-respect intact.
The skitters using the kids not only as slave labor but as soldiers (or cannon fodder) plays into what’s going on back at the school. Now we’re into the “huh?” part of the show. Also known as the “seriously?” or “stop it” part of the show. You’ve got Anne, doing what any good person of science might do, trying to learn more about the Skitters — even though they killed her family and she’d like nothing more than to take an ax to that thing’s head. Then you’ve got Michael, whose son was rescued and de-harnessed in “Prisoner of War.” He’s (understandably) angry, and taking it out on the skitter by sticking a gun in its face and trying to get it to talk in plain American English. Okay, sure. I mean, it’s a little weird, but whatever. Then you’ve got Steven Weber, who’s just plain pissy and wants to cut the Skitter apart because IT’S NOT EVEN HUMAN. By the end of the episode, none of these storylines has really has anywhere. We learn that the harnesses are being used to somehow telepathically link the kids to the Skitters. But everybody watching this play out — Anne, Michael and Steven Weber — eventually just calms down. Almost as if their actions aren’t so much actions as they are REactions to the next piece of the season’s overall puzzle. Interesting.
And speaking of characters reacting to things, we spend a little more time with Lourdes this week, and WHAT DO YOU MEAN SHE STILL BELIEVES IN GOD LIKE WHY??? Well, I’m guessing she still believes because, even though so many people are suffering, she’s still able to look at the good things in her life and realizes how much worse off she could be. Why do I think that? Because that’s what she effing said every time we saw her. I’ll give the show some credit. That shot of Captain Weaver reciting the prayer while no one was looking at the very end of the episode was a nice touch. It felt authentic. And I won’t fault a show like this for tackling religion. But I will fault it for beating the audience over the head with it. It’s one thing for everyone to realize that yes, in the midst of all this death and destruction, they do have things to be thankful for. It’s another to realize that after looking at Lourdes like she was some sort of leper ten minutes before Tom came along to put everything in perspective. The show’s really got to find a way to balance that sentimentality, or I just might be forced to keep reviewing it, and then come back for more next season.
TNT is like USA and TBS in that no one expects too much from their dramas. I don’t want to be too mean. I know shows like Burn Notice and The Closer have their audiences, but no one’s ever going to compare them to The Sopranos. And that’s okay, I guess. The point at which it’s not okay is when a show has the potential to be more, but is held back in order to better fit inside a network’s brand. Mediocrity, thy name is Falling Skies.
There are so many serious themes it seems like the show wants to explore, but it feels like it’s holding back just a little bit. Almost like it’s afraid to commit. Early in tonight’s episode, Captain Weaver allows John Pope to start working as the camp’s cook. Right now, Colin Cunningham is the best thing about this show. But while he’s telling everyone how to properly cook a chicken, it seems like people have forgotten that before taking him prisoner, he was heading a gang that took women prisoner and raped them. And if they haven’t forgotten, they don’t seem too bothered by it. Just thinking about it realistically, how would people react to working alongside someone like that? Right now, Pope is this show’s Gaius Baltar, except he’s on everyone’s s**tlist right from the start. I hope to see that explored a little more, rather than the character becoming the show’s comic relief.
“Prisoner of War” had Tom and a few others heading out, looking for Ben. After coming back to camp, they’re mobbed by parents asking if they saw their own kids. Tom tells them to put pictures up on a bulletin board, that way patrols can look through them before heading back out. And there’s another BSG comparison, when the bulletin board turns into a memorial for kids who’ve been lost.
Then, Tom brings one of the skitters back to camp, hogtied and completely on his own. Apparently, this is the first alien anyone’s ever had the opportunity to study up close, so they’ve brought in Steven Weber — introduced this week as the somewhat smug, self-assured (and also a little Baltar-esque) Dr. Michael Harris — to poke and prod the thing. There’s a little history between Harris and Tom, and Tom accuses him of leaving his wife behind when the aliens attacked. So we’ve got all these pots brewing, a few of which could skew a little dark. And underneath it all we’ve got Tom talking about now that civilization’s been brought to its knees and so many people are dead, those left should do their try to exemplify humanity’s best qualities. But the thing is, they’ve been doing that ALL ALONG! This is one of the most sentimental shows I’ve ever seen. When Tom isn’t taking a break in between alien ambushes to play catch with his kid, his kid is lightly punching him in the shoulder, telling him to “GO GET ‘EM!”
The comparisons with Battlestar Galactica are inevitable, and when they’re made you kind of expect Skies to be just as good. That may be unfair. But it is what it is. I don’t think it’s any sort of stretch to connect one show to the other, so if BSG is the show Falling Skies wants to emulate, it needs to step it’s game up. I need more of a reason to care whether these act one way or another. Right now, I’m more emotionally invested in the skitter they’ve got locked up. I’m not kidding. I felt sorry for the damn thing when Tom dragged him in.
And just FYI, I mean all of this criticism, but maybe only 85-90%. It’s still early days, so who knows where the show’s going to go.
As far the whole sci-fi mystery “what the hell are the kids doing” side of the story, we learned a few things this week. The reason Dr. Harris is important is because he’s found a way to detach the harnesses from the kids. But thanks to some ominous (what I like to call) eye-play, I’m led to believe that the harnesses and whatever nefarious s**t they plant in the kids’ spines forms some sort of telepathic connection between them and the skitters. Scary stuff. One thing I like that the show’s done is show how ruthless the aliens can be, ie shooting all those kids Tom and Hal had gone for in the back of the head. There was nothing sentimental about that.
Remember Time Trax? What about Space: Above and Beyond? Babylon 5? M.A.N.T.I.S.? Sliders? The 90s gave us a glut of sci-fi TV that all seemed to be cut from the same tonal cloth. Many of these shows never lasted more than a season or two. Small budgets and bad special effects kept them from ever becoming too dark. More than anything else, they were meant to entertain. Don’t get me wrong, I love shows like Battlestar Galactica, shows that’ll throw me down and stomp on my neck. But there are times when I look back at this bygone era and shed a small tear. They just don’t do TV like that anymore.
So I was excited when I stated seeings trailers for Falling Skies — shoved down my throat at every movie I’ve seen these past six months — and realized this was just the 90s throwback, watered-down science fiction show I was hoping would maybe come along sometime (/pull quote). It looked entertaining and well-written, and non-offensive. That is, it would never hurt my head by making me confront issues like torture or mankind’s relationship with God. Because seriously, after binging on shows like The Wire, The Shield and Game of Thrones these past few months, I need an effing break.
Falling Skies takes place roughly six months after an alien invasion. This isn’t like your Independence Day or War of the Worlds, where aliens attack and a week later it’s business as usual. Falling Skies portrays a humanity that’s had its ass pretty well handed to it. Cities have been bombed, governments and militaries have been scattered and people survive as bands of roving scavengers. Always on the move, with an eye looking back over their shoulder. Noah Wyle stars as Tom Mason, a former history professor and second in command of the Second Massachusetts, a militia leading survivors out of Boston. Tom has three sons. Hal, the oldest, fights alongside his father while Matt, the youngest, travels as a civilian. Ben, the middle son, was taken by the aliens when the invasion began. Rounding out the core cast is Will Patton as the 2nd Mass’ blunt commanding officer, and Moon Bloodgood, a doctor who also serves as Tom’s confidant.
Tom’s kidnapped son gives us an entry point into the show’s mythology. The aliens are taking groups of kids and attaching them to “harnesses,” which latch onto their spines and insert all sorts of nefarious sh*t into their heads. The militias have been able to take some of the kids back, but whenever they try detaching the harnesses they self-destruct, killing them in the process. From what little has been revealed so far, finding a way past the harnesses, and what their ultimate effect on the kids is will be one of the threads we follow over the course of the season. There also seems to be some around why they’re taking kids in the first place. But while these threads will keep some viewers coming back, I don’t think they’re meant to anchor the series down. The show kind of follows the Walking Dead formula in that, aside from these season-long arcs, it gives the characters some specific mission to carry out in each episode. In “Live and Learn,” Tom and a small group are sent to a food cache to bring back supplies. In “The Armory,” they’re sent to (you guessed it) an armory to search for weapons. Along the way, the group runs into aliens or, as in the second episode (penned by Justified creator Graham Yost) your typical post-apocalyptic outlaws, stealing food and weapons because, what else are they supposed to do?
The aliens themselves look like a strange cross between spiders and rhinos, who never quite feel that menacing thanks to some less than stellar special effects. I think what makes them feel threatening is not how they look, but what they’re doing to the kids they’re taking. I’ll be interested to see how the show pays these storylines off, but like I said, I don’t believe it’ll be its main focus. The show spends much more time focusing on the bonds between the characters. We see Tom finding time to play catch with Ben, Hal making the ladies jealous. Things like that. What’s best about all this is that the show is self aware enough to not make these moments feel sappy or overly sentimental. It doesn’t gloss over them, but it’s careful not to dwell on them, either. When Tom, the history professor, constantly finds examples from throughout history to contextualize they’re current predicament, people give him crap for it.
The show at least attempts to address some weighty issues, such as the relationship between civilians and the military during a time of war, but it never digs too deep. What Falling Skies seems more intent on doing is delivering a solid hour of entertainment. And while I usually gravitate toward shows that are a little grittier than this, I found myself really enjoying it. These first two episodes were a really nice starting point for the show, and while it’s possible the whole thing will take a big nosedive, it could turn into something quite good. And if that happens, I’ve still got 40-some-odd episodes of Time Trax I downloaded online.