At a certain point with any television show, there comes a moment where you have to acknowledge its flaws: flaws that are structural and most likely irreversible. It may be because of the audience the show is trying to get, the network it’s on, or the creative vision of the showrunner, but for whatever reason a show will continually do things that irritate you on a regular basis. Even shows commonly considered the best aren’t immune to this: Mad Men frequently faces accusations of being less than subtle in its symbolism, and Breaking Bad isn’t afraid to push the logic envelope to reach its dramatic highs. If you’re going to keep watching that show consistently, you need to approach a sense of acceptance, appreciating the things it does in spite of its flaws.
During the course of this season, Falling Skies has forced me to that point of acceptance. Over the past eight weeks I’ve had consistent issues with the show, railing against its constant sacrifice of characterization in the service of sentimentality. In every episode there was either an unexpected reunion or a character making an unreasonable decision, usually due to gut reactions. Survival for the 2nd Mass comes as much from luck as it does from skill, which may be in keeping with reality but doesn’t do much to endear me to the show’s plucky underdogs.
But as much as I acknowledge these problems, I can’t convince myself that Falling Skies is a bad show. The second season was unquestionably a stronger entity than the first, with the decision to make the resistance leaner and more mobile acting to the story’s benefit. The special effects were more impressive, with expanded battle scenes and haunting details like the skittering spiders of “Molon Labe,” and the show grew smarter about how to develop episodes when the budget wasn’t there. And yes, Falling Skies pushes too hard for emotional moments, but that doesn’t change the fact that these moments do manage to hit, particularly if they’re related to Tom or Weaver. The show has many disparate parts that manage to click at various points, but continues to be incapable of finding the right way to make everything lock into place simultaneously.
As a finale, “A More Perfect Union” serves as an accurate representation of what the season’s provided, both good and bad. Picking up immediately after the events of “The Price Of Greatness,” with Manchester locked up by General Bressler and the Charleston armed forces. Bressler gives Tom and his team permission to meet with the representatives of Skitter Clegane’s rebellion, but Tom’s as uncomfortable with military rule as he is with Manchester’s emergency powers. “Your actions are misguided,” he tells Bressler, who—in keeping with Charleston’s logical reactions to the schizophrenic activities of the 2nd Mass—decides to do what Manchester was already going to do and throw them in jail anyway. That is, of course, until the rebellion decides to bring the meeting to them, as Skitter Clegane and Ben lead a pack of rebel skitters directly into the common area.
And that’s really the most frustrating part of the finale, in that everything that advances the action feels not born out of plot but by a series of deus ex machinas. Skitter Clegane meets with the Charleston command and conveys through Ben that not only are the aliens building a superweapon just outside the city, but that the overlord from “Molon Labe” will be touring the site. And—surprise—the overlord happens to be so mentally advanced that he’s practically directing the entire region’s invasion himself, and killing him will throw the aliens into chaos. It’s an abrupt information dump that could be impressive, but there’s no build to it, only a sense that the show’s writers want to have something spectacular for the finale and continuing last week’s political debate isn’t going to cut it.
Additionally, the abrupt introduction of these plot points botches the implementation of a concept that the show’s been dancing around all season, the possibility of the human/skitter alliance. When the aliens enter Charleston, Tom steps in front of Bressler’s troops to protect them, followed by the entire force of the 2nd Mass—a force that’s proven loyal to Tom, but also with little loyalty or trust in Ben as presented. And when Bressler decides to ignore the truce and send his soldiers to blow the skitter force away anyway, the ramifications of the attack are dismissed almost immediately. Bressler certainly doesn’t deny it, but Ben doesn’t push it, and it’s all swept aside in lieu of getting right back to the raid.
Which is irritating plot-wise but satisfying in the short term, as the show manages to transcend its weaknesses as it spends time with the resistance preparing for a likely doomed mission. There’s another one of those excellent, long tracking shots as the resistance prepares for their mission, allowing Weaver to take some good-natured jabs at returning to his more normal outfit (“The captain is stylin’,” as Anthony puts it), Tector to try making peace with the Berserkers, and Jeannie trying to convince her father to let her join the raid. I was also pleased with the quieter moments as Hal and Ben tried to find their common ground post-reunion—Drew Roy and Connor Jessup have had weak moments this season, but I’ve always enjoyed their brotherly dynamic.
And as the team moves to the alien weapon, the show gets to move back to its horror roots. From a claustrophobic venture through underground tunnels, the team enters the core of the weapon—a hauntingly lit tower reminiscent of the harness chamber in “Young Bloods”—and wire it up with explosives charges, only to be interrupted and captured at the expense of Dai’s life. The overlord is there, but it’s Karen at his right hand, all pretense of humanity abandoned as she takes a sadistic joy in her position of power. She kisses Hal into a coma right in front of Maggie, tortures Weaver and Tom with an electric prod, and then gets to drop a bombshell on the captives: her alien senses reveal Anne is pregnant.
I don’t normally transcribe my notes directly into these reviews, but I feel the “NO NO NO NO” I wrote when this revelation came up deserves particular mention. Falling Skies covered similar ground in the first season with a now long-forgotten pregnant member of the 2nd Mass (post-apocalyptic baby shower, y’all!) but to move it to the forefront feels like a disaster that will undo the strides taken this season. Tom’s best moments of the season came when he was willing to let his sons go, to do their part for the new world, and I can’t see the silver lining in having a new child who’s both completely helpless and to him a symbol the world may still have a future. And Moon Bloodgold, who’s far more capable than anything she’s been given her to date, now seems doomed to a string of plotlines where she’s infuriated by an overprotective Tom. Granted it’s still too early to judge, but the writers aren’t countering this hypothesis: the minute the prod moves towards her all Anne does is whimper fearfully, and a wide-eyed Tom yells he’ll tell them all they want to know.
So once again, it falls to a deus ex machina, as the alien resistance come in at exactly the right moment to attach. We finally get some alien-on-alien action as Skitter Clegane and the overlord claw each other apart, the overlord tossing his foe aside like a bug—only to be flanked by Tom, who earns himself some very satisfying payback by beating the overlord’s brains out with the electric prod. Skitter Clegane expires, though not before passing on a final message to Ben to continue the fight, and we suddenly cut to the superweapon detonating in abrupt fashion. The 2nd Mass returns as conquering heroes, and Manchester offers Tom his position in Charleston—an offer he declines almost immediately, stating that his place is still on the front lines.
In that move, I found more hopes for the future of Falling Skies: Yes, it was an uneven end to an uneven season, but it also shows that the show is strongest when it’s mobile. More to the point, it’s an acknowledgment of character, that Tom, Weaver, Pope, and company have fought for so long that they can’t simply stop—and, more to the point, may not want to. And if Skitter Clegane was telling the truth and the overlord’s death breaks the invasion, it opens the possibility of a new season of commando warfare. Might Karen, a full convert even with the overlord’s brain caved in, step up to fill the void and become an alien warlord herself? (Possibly joined by Hal, who awakens from his coma to reveal an alien parasite identical to Tom’s crawling from eye into ear, and a subsequent grin with more than a few shades of Agent Dale Cooper, post-Black Lodge.)
These hopeful thoughts last right up until the episode’s denouement, when Charleston suddenly finds itself rocked by earthquake-like tremors. Everyone heads to the surface to witness a storm of King Lear-level wind and lightning, punctuated by a series of blue flashes in the night sky. The flashes turn out to be landing pods of some sort, one of which lands in front of the startled population and opens in a shower of white light. And what emerges? A Predator-like, humanoid alien in combat armor and a glass-like helmet, which it opens to reveal a face that could easily be interpreted as offering a benevolent smile.
“What the hell are those?” Tom asks. “Nothing we’ve ever seen before,” Weaver replies. Unfortunately, the audience has seen this before—we’ve seen it every time the show decides to introduce a twist out of nowhere and use it to drive things forward. And much as I want to hope this deus ex machina is the one to take Falling Skies to a new level, the fact that this is the closing image of the second season implies that those problems will never be fixed.
Season grade: B
- Lourdes previously deduced Anne’s pregnancy after she throws up unexpectedly, because OF COURSE that’s the only possibility when a woman does that on TV. So annoying.
- Criminal underuse of Terry O’Quinn this episode, with Manchester under house arrest and only able to exchange brief philosophy with Tom. I don’t know if this’ll be the last we see of the character—O’Quinn’s about to move into a demonic hotel on ABC’s 666 Park Avenue—but I certainly hope not.
- If you need an prime example of the show’s inconsistent characterization, look no further than Tector. Revealed to be a Marine veteran running from his past in “Death March,” dressed in uniform and taking orders in “The Price Of Greatness,” and now right back in Berserker mode. I practically got whiplash following that.
- R.I.P. Dai, I guess. Seriously, I’m trying to feel bad but beyond shooting down an alien fighter plane in the season première, I remember absolutely nothing of what he said or did this season.
- No minigun-wielding Pope action in this episode. Boo on Falling Skies for teasing that possibility last week.
- Great moment in badassery from Weaver, spitting out “Is that the best you got?” in between electric shocks.
- What exactly was that alien superweapon supposed to do, anyway? Since it’s never said, I invite you to speculate in the comments. Best suggestion gets a cookie.
- As always, thanks to all commenters, regular and occasional. It’s been fun hashing out our various frustrations over the course of the season. Hope to see you next year!