Falling Skies has been a schizophrenic show in its first season. If Syfy and Hallmark had a television baby, it would probably result in something that looked like this. Really interesting ideas have been sugarcoated in schlock, possibly in an attempt to make a four-quadrant piece of entertainment. And I get why TNT, or any network for that matter, wants the largest audience possible to watch each of its programs. But there are certain genres in which trying to be all things to all people is not a detriment. For better or worse, science fiction is really resistant to such an approach. It’s not that a show can either be sci-fi OR be popular. It’s not that simple a dichotomy. But in shying away from some of the dark elements of its premise, Falling Skies has perpetually annoyed a fan base that has wanted more than anything to fall in love with this show.
Tonight’s two-part finale is fairly easy to recap, plot-wise. The first hour “Mutiny” consists of a schism between Weaver and Tom for the soul of the 2nd Massachusetts. The former’s pill-popping tendencies are finally explained: turns out he went to Lourdes for a series of uppers and downers that only truly turned into a problem during last week’s episode. Had the show taken as much time to chronicle his slide into paranoia as it did with Rick’s slow descent into “I Wanna Be a Skitter”, tonight’s first hour might have packed some punch. As it stood, it came as much out of left field as Lt. Danner, a figure I can’t recall ever seeing onscreen before. What could have been a tense struggle that undid a season worth of planning instead seemed like an excuse to prolong the actual finale by one hour.
“Eight Hours” takes a much more condensed, and successful, approach. While Rick’s betrayal could be seen as much as a way to create an arbitrary obstacle for the group to overcome, the show has striven to show that character’s slow descent into madness. Moreover, his reactions after giving up the 2nd Mass’ plans to Megan (last seen in “Sanctuary, Part 1”) actually reveal that his desire to be a Skitter is as much his own desire as any persistent affect of the harness. For most of the season, it has appeared that Rick and Ben are not unlike bite victims in The Walking Dead. But while both are going through what is later described as a “process,” there’s less of an inevitability than previously conceived. (Think of it the way "infection" worked on Lost, where it's as much psychological as biological.) It’s still almost impossible to reverse, but it leaves the door open for any such reversal to come organically from the story.
While “Mutiny” was entirely devoid of FX, “Eight Hours” brought not only a dozen Mechs to the high school, but some of our closest shots yet of the edifice erected over Boston. The limits to the show’s budget still showed in every frame, but it was still nice to see some large-scale action. Some may have laughed to see Tom’s miracle RPG shot, but the shot served a purpose that moves us into some potentially interesting storylines. Sure, more than a few of you might have sighed at the Close Encounters of the Skitter Kind at the end of the hour, but Tom’s Magic RPG served as a concrete example of the resistance the Tall Lanky Aliens (TLAs) have been encountering all season. And the fact that they want to in essence study Tom gives a lot of background into their overall history.
Let’s start with the Skitters. They are a race that helped place harnesses on children…yet are harnessed themselves. The harnesses produce addictive desires that are masked as love. We’ve seen the Skitters sleep atop their “children” not unlike mother hens, and constantly send out signals to those like Ben and Rick under the guise of parental affection. The TLAs rule through a combination of initial force and subsequent psychological subjugation. (Clearly, the lizards in V had it backwards: kick ass, THEN hit ‘em with the Morena Baccarin.) We clearly have little insight into how the TLAs perceive the races they conquer, but it’s abundantly clear that no matter how many previous worlds they’ve conquered, Earth has proven the toughest nut to crack to date.
Now, how abducting Tom in exchange for potentially releasing Ben from the harness process helps the TLAs is unclear. I can only imagine after a week of hearing about the history of warfare, the TLAs will commit mass suicide to avoid the boredom. (Sorry: that might have been a Season 2 spoiler.) Unlike many decisions made in the spur of the moment, I don’t think Tom’s decision to leave with Karen represents a Mike-like betrayal of character. All season long, he’s put his kids first. Plus, Anne’s earlier diagnosis already put him in a frame of mind in which Ben might still be lost despite his best efforts. So it’s not that he suddenly goes stupid just so the show can have a shocking finale. He leaves for Boston in order to help his sons survive. Getting on the ship with Karen and the TLA ends up becoming an impromptu solution to an already formulated plan.
What I DO I worry about here is this will turn into a V-like scenario in which the TLAs try to isolate what makes human special from a scientific perspective, only to be frustrated in their attempts to locate the chromosome upon which things like “heroism” exists. Having Tom off the show for a prolonged time seems like an impossibility, so we may get a scenario in which any type of potential probing gets revealed in flashback as Professor Mason gets his lost memories back. So, get ready for that frivolity, y’all!
Still, I do like that the show removed the security blanket of that high school. It let both the show and its characters become complacent. I understand the need for the show to demonstrate vestiges of human happiness amidst bleak chaos, but the fact that I don’t have to worry about a movie screening complete with popcorn ever appearing on my Falling Skies again is a relief. Keeping the core survivors on the run, or at least in the wild, will do wonders for the general sense of tension and unease going forth. The outside isn’t a nuclear wasteland, so it’s not as if the survivors have walled themselves inside the school as a makeshift vault from the Fallout videogame series. Moreover, with Uncle Scott’s radio transmitter, the 2nd Massachusetts will essentially have a sonic force field around it at all times, provided it can find a power supply for it. (The force field is another example of a long-term plot that, while obvious, still was deployed well throughout the year and reach fruition at the proper time.)
Overall, the show has stripped away a lot of external help for the 2nd Massachusetts, which has forced them to become more wary but also more reliant on each other. There used to be comfort in knowing they were one group in a much larger struggle. But then other factions started to betray them: first the 7th Massachusetts, then Blair Brown’s whackadoodle tea-loving granny in last week’s episode. Those that didn’t try to sell them out to the aliens fell prey to their shared adversary: much of tonight’s finale involved a suicide mission to take down the large structure in Boston without the help of the decimated 4th and 5th Massachusetts. The 2nd Massachusetts ends the season bloodied, on the run, and without their second-in-command. They are no longer living. They are merely surviving. Maybe now, Falling Skies can truly start becoming the show so many of us hope it could be.
- As many references to other shows and films as I made above, there were a dozen others I could have mentioned. The general movement of people away from base camp towards hopeful safety in the unknown? That’s a total Lost season finale move right there. Margaret/Jimmy fighting the mechs? Eowyn/Merry in the Battle of Pelennor Fields. Tom using a radio frequency in a moving vehicle to cause pain? Totally Mars Attacks! And let’s not forget Rick doing his best Spider-Man impression when attacking Uncle Scott.
- Very little Anne in tonight’s two-fer, which I know will offend many of you. Still, she sold the hell out of her kiss with Tom, especially when leaving her mouth open a bit too long after the smooch. She’s left in charge of Tom’s kids, and without him around, I imagine she’ll be even more central to the cause going forth.
- Also coming in Season 2: more Margaret/Pope friction. Using them as stand-ins for “hope” versus “nihilism” will serve the show well. It’s far preferable to The Pope and Moppet Hour, which thankfully seems over now that Matt no longer sees Pope as a rock star.
- I can see the show killing off two regiments. But I’m guessing we’ll see Porter in Season 2.
- As bad as the Weaver storyline was in Episodes 8 and 9, Will Patton did his best with the bad material. (The scene in which Jimmy pleaded with his father figure to come to his senses was Falling Skies at its mawkish worst.) I especially liked the way he choked over the word “responsibility” in his speech to the 2nd Mass, showing how that one word separated how he had been before and how he planned on operating in the future. Getting him on the same page was necessary not only for the season’s finale scene to work, but getting that pair past bickering every episode going forth.
- Props to Tom for realizing that he couldn’t trust Pope to have his back pre-mission, and stealing the blasting caps even after making an arrangement with him.
- Props to Pope for rolling his eyes at Anthony’s stupid “It’s time for some payback!” line. That being said, it’s never good when even your fictional characters know you’ve written some bad dialogue.
- Creepiest moment of the two episodes: the scaly skin growing over Megan’s temples. Falling Skies has done a good job gradually cluing the audience into the evolution of those harnessed. Next up to discover: why don’t they harness adults?
- Glad to see the “mech bullets” still took time to take down a mech itself. I worried one bullet would tear the thing in half. It makes the bullets themselves useful but not overpowering. It also means that different, more aggressive tactics can be employed next season.
- “The ‘no questions asked’ part intrigued me.”
- “What’s it like, having hair like a girl?”
- “Hey, Maggie, how was the prom?”
- “We don’t have enough people left for a suicide mission!”
- “Cooties win, every time.”
- “They’re better than the humans. You can be part of that.”
- “Don’t laugh, but I’m actually going to miss this place.”
- “I’m thinking…I’m close enough to take a shot.”
- “They brought me here because they don’t understand.”