Last week, I annoyed more than a few by declaring that Falling Skies had potentially turned a corner with “Sanctuary, Part 1.” I’m not in the habit of defending reviews or getting into the relatively arbitrary nature of grading individual episodes, but for those that have occasionally accused me of being a plant for a show they consider to be terrible, look no further than here to see that can’t possibly be true. Because if “Sanctuary, Part 1” showed the best elements of this show, than “Sanctuary, Part 2” amply demonstrated the show’s weakest aspects. The ideas are still solid, but the execution was put on autopilot for this hour.
Give the show at least this much credit: it doesn’t take long for Hal and Company to realize something’s amiss with their new home. Of course, it took a conveniently placed backpack to give away Terry Clayton’s true intentions. (“Convenience” is a key word when dealing with tonight’s plot. Drink every time I used it here on out if you like.) Lourdes conveys her worries to Hal, who is too busy getting hit on by one of Clayton’s tribe to notice anything’s amiss. (Seriously, are girls under the age of 25 allowed to hit on anyone but Hal? It’s a running joke at this point.) Soon, Mike’s Spidey Senses are tingling, even though he once served with Clayton pre-invasion.
Soon enough, Mike finds a creepy stash of clothing left behind by kidnapped children. Clayton tries to convince Mike to go along with the plan, offering safety for Rick in exchange for keeping silent. That Clayton views pre-invasion forms of morality null and void isn’t a bad way to justify such actions. How people react in the face of unspeakable horror is a staple of genre fiction. Pit Terry and Tom Mason in such a discussion and maybe you have something. Unfortunately, Noah Wylie is off screen for most of the week, leaving the heavy lifting to Martin Roach’s Mike. And let’s just say that Roach doesn’t exactly have the range to pull off such a standoff.
Then again, it’s possible that Mike has been written so poorly from the outset that no actor, regardless of skill level, could have pulled this off. We’ve already seen Mike nearly get a good chunk of the 2nd Massachusetts killed through his impulsive, reckless rescue of Rick. He then left his son alone long enough for a Skitter to tune into Rick’s frequency in order for the boy to reattach his own harness. He’s never proven terribly fatherly in the aftermath, even though Rick has done everything short of shout, “I’m an alien now!” over the past few weeks. It’s certainly noble that he sacrifices his life in order to save the children he inadvertently placed into danger, but it’s too little, too late in terms of making this supposedly major death feel like a loss for the show as a whole.
It doesn’t help that their escape doesn’t exactly feel like breaking out of Alcatraz. In order to make the escape tense, it has to feel like it’s damn near impossible to pull off. Sentries line the compound throughout the hour…except at the moment in which Mike, Hal, and others seek to escape. Had someone scouted shift changes from their would-be captors, perhaps it would make sense. But no: it’s just Mike and Hal shooting the shit, and the former deciding, “Eff it, we’re leaving.” Within 30 seconds, everyone’s been magically gathered and fleeing on foot. As a sassy comedienne in the post-apocalypse might say, “Skitter, please!”
Things go from “huh?” to “oh no” when Hal and Lourdes set up what can only be described as Post-Apocalyptic Party of Five inside an abandoned house. Kids get tired when fleeing for their lives. Well, except Ben, with the super endurance afforded him by his harnessed times. He wants to go ahead alone, which seems like a spectacular idea since we only spent the first half of this season watching a massive attempt to rescue him. Given the fact that Rick was all but using a Speak n Spell to phone home at this point in the show, I actually waited for Ben to return back to the loving embrace of his Mama Skitter. But no, he happens to conveniently (drink!) run into his Dad, who had been randomly scouting the area after realizing Clayton’s deception.
This did lead to the only cool part of tonight’s hour, in which Tom sent Ben back to Weaver to warn him of what was going on. Luckily by the time Ben got back, Weaver had finished reversing a breach birth (don’t ask…just don’t freaking ask…) and so could rally the troops in order to stage an ambush at Hidden Frontier Ranch. Tom gets an unexpected assist from Pope, who managed to escape from his confines earlier in the house, and convinces Terry to return to his home base. Clayton and his crew are quickly overwhelmed, and Tom kills Clayton as the latter attempts to shoot Hal in a last gasp attempt at pre-death douchery. As problematic as this show is, I’m actually growing decently fond of the Mason/Weaver dynamic. Seeing them work as weary-but-increasingly-respectful partners is far preferable than the two of them constantly bickering, reaching a begrudging understanding by hour’s end, and then resetting at the start of the next hour.
In some ways, it felt like the show didn’t feel like paying off the stakes established in the last hour, and simply bided time to get to a cool cliffhanger. Between Clayton’s talk of “quotas” for each skitter, and the implied moral superiority of skitters over humans via Rick’s coming out party to Ben (“WE would never kill one of our own!”), there’s an increasing sense of how much the skitters see themselves as the heroes of this story, wiping out a race inferior both biologically but also ethically as well. I’m fine with Falling Skies teasing out whether or not humans even deserve to live at all. It’s as much a sci-fi staple as anything else in this show, but it’s almost as if the show asks interesting questions and then scurries away from trying to answer them. Instead of deep philosophical inquiry into the relative worth of humanity in the grand scheme of the universe, Ben gets a soccer ball from Jimmy as a “sorry I was a huge alien racist earlier” apology. I’m sure Falling Skies wanted me to cheer at that moment. Instead, I gagged.
Another week on the relative sideline for Anne and Margaret, who hopefully will get something to freaking do now that Sarah finally had her baby. I should be cheering the first post-invasion birth, right? Instead, I’m cheering that we no longer have to deal with this storyline. Oh, who am I kidding: The Others from Lost will probably kidnap that kid in the season finale.
As much fun as it is having Pope back in the show, there’s a fine line between carefully deploying such a charismatic character and using him as a deus ex machina.
First Lourdes offers up prayers at the end of one episode. Now she’s offering up hymns at military funerals. It’s bad to be rooting for the skitters at times, right?
Speaking of the skitters: no skitters, no mechs in tonight’s hour. File under “cost cutting.” Not that every episode HAS to have them in there to be successful. In fact, in some ways, having them so in view over the past few weeks has perhaps hurt their sense of menace.
“You know why they’re here. Just don’t like him too much.”
“I smell asparagus. Which means you’re boiling it. Which means you’re ruining it.”
“What do you see?” “Stars. And Captain Kickass up there.”
“It’s like every group has to hit their numbers.”
“You know, I thought about buying in this neighborhood, once upon a time.”
“Why is it that I always get the seat next to the crying baby?”