We’re at the halfway point of the first season of Falling Skies. News of renewal came down over the past week, so we’re in this for the long haul, people. So where do we stand with “Silent Kill”? We stand alongside a show that’s still figuring itself out, unsure what actually works and what doesn’t. It’s maddening, since what works often works like gangbusters. What doesn’t work feels like an after school special set in the post-apocalypse. It’s disconcerting, to say the least. But since this show will certainly have time to improve itself now that there’s definitely a second season, let’s hope the show figures out how to excise what currently holds the show back from being more than simple summer entertainment.
Let’s start with the good, since optimism is always a great place to begin. Hal and Anne came to the forefront this week, each showing some real nerve, intelligence, and a refreshing lack of hubris. Too often, shows like this give their heroes the answers rather than let said heroes come to those conclusions in a natural manner. It’s the difference between having a character magically intuit a solution and having them discover it through an organic process. Yes, all of the characters speak words written in a room miles from the set. But the best shows make you forget this fact, and the lesser shows constantly display it in glowing letters onscreen.
This week finds the multiple parts of the plot set in motion nearly complete. Weaver ordered the motorcycle retrieval mission in order to obtain meds for any reclaimed harness children. Rather than a spend a week on finding the drugs, “Silent Kill” opens with Part 2 having been successfully completed thanks to Margaret’s knowledge of local drug supply centers. (Some legal, some less so.) With the drugs in hand, multiple operations/recoveries are now possible.
Tom has a plan, but it’s loud and risky. Weaver, however, takes a shine to Hal’s plan. Having talked to a surprisingly alive Rick, Hal surmises that the skitters react to children wearing harnesses, whether attached or not. He proposes to pose as a harnessed child in order to infiltrate and kill the skitter up close, thereby not alerting the mech. To Hal’s credit, he doesn’t blindly insist this plan will work. He stands up to his father Tom by stating while it might not work, at least he could successfully pose as a controlled child in a way Tom never could. It’s a simple thing, yet incredibly important: Hal operates under informed assumptions, not blind suppositions. Doing so not only ultimately instills pride in Tom’s eyes, but respect from the eyes at home.
Moreover, the short time spent in that hospital offered up some truly creepy stuff involving what I’ll call Mama Skitter. The ratio of skitters to children seems to make more sense now, with each skitter given a brood of six or so to look after. Ben’s Mama Skitter likes to huddle up her harnessed children and snuggle with them all night long. I’ve heard of being on the inside or outside of a spooning session, but I don’t know what you call a skitter sleeping atop seven kids is. (A Skitter Session?) This short scene gives inside into how much the Mechs are running things: just think back to how the skitter a few weeks ago brought out its brood to be gunned down in front of Tom. Doesn’t seem like something as protective as Mama Skitter would do willingly. Tonight’s episode gave further credence to those that either think 1) the skitters are foot soldiers from another world acting against their will, or 2) are harnessed humans fully turned into their present form. It’s worth keeping an eye on down the road.
Over on Anne’s side, we finally learn why she’s been so reticent to put a picture of her lost family on the board. Turns out she doesn’t have a single memento, and has only memories. Those memories come to the forefront of her mind as she helps test Weaver’s theory about the skitter soft palate to help increase the odds of Hal’s success in his rescue mission at Franklin Pierce Memorial Hospital. Moon Bloodgood hasn’t been asked to be much more than “earnest” and “super hot” until now, but seeing her steely resolve in shoving a knife into the throat of a skitter was fairly badass. Throw in her desperate attempts to save all six children retrieved on Hal’s mission (she saves five, but only focuses on the one she lost), and you’ve got a character that’s far more three-dimensional than she’s previously been.
But Lord, how the show put her in such a position just makes me want to welcome my skitter overlords to rule over my stupid race. I think Falling Skies wanted to make Harris' death in tonight’s episode shocking. They wanted to instill the fact that anyone can die at any time, therefore ramping up tension in every scene. I get that’s what they were going for. What translated onscreen was, “Anyone at any time can do something profoundly stupid that will put themselves or the human race in danger.” Steve Weber’s doctor wasn’t a character so much as a plot device, introduced not to complicate interpersonal relationships but simply deliver information to free children from their harnessed bondage. He was an instruction manual with slightly better hair, plain and simple.
None of this is Weber’s fault, mind you. That he never registered as anything but a knock-off Gaius Baltar speaks to the ways in which the writers didn’t know how to utilize him more than the way in which he was played. Falling Skies has the capacity to draw some rich characters, but simultaneously pushes others across the board as simple means to a plot end. It’s not unlike the way some video games are meticulous about the polygon count on their protagonists, but then send said protagonists out into a world filled with people that look like they belong on last-gen systems. If the superior versions did not co-exist with the lesser ones, then the contrast wouldn’t be so stark. Is that punishing Falling Skies to say so? Maybe, but it speaks to the type of consistency that needs to improve heading into the second half of the season and onto the next one in 2012.
That’s why Weaver currently scares the hell out of me. Will Patton sometimes gets that “You’re Paying Me in Cash, Right?” stare in some of his scenes, which is slightly problematic in and of itself. But this week’s episode pointed to a damaged past that seems primed to undo the humans at a moment in which the war might tip in their favor. What Jimmy Cliff’s “Many Rivers to Cross” has to do with a drawing of three kittens done by a girl named Naomi has to do with Weaver’s past is still vague. But a there are a finite number of legitimate possibilities here. And none of them indicate any happiness down the road. I fear that at some point, the aliens are going to manipulate Weaver using Naomi’s memory/harnessed body to sabotage the 2nd Massachusetts. And that sabotage will be what gives Season 2 a reason to exist. It’s a paranoid fear, but it’s one instilled by the show’s unfortunate tendency to take the easy way out in order to keep the plot moving along.
- I mentioned Tom and Anne as being MVPs this week, but Margaret also got a lot of good stuff to play as well. Her cancer back story was semi-schlocky, but at least gave insight into her ability to survive under Pope’s regime. Plus? Even she recognized that the baby shower subplot was bullshit and stayed away from it. So, points for that.
- I didn’t mention the shower up above since it’s another example of Falling Skies’ tendency to bring something treacly into each hour in order to make things seem less gloomy. Know what? Getting five kids back is enough to stave off mass suicide, people. I understand that in theory, people would conduct as much business as usual to stay sane. But what’s “realistic” and what’s “good television” don’t always intersect.
- Dear Falling Skies: if you want to do shocking deaths, check out how Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles did it. Now THAT was shocking. My notes, verbatim, on the scene tonight: “And so it attacks Harris. Who cares? What? Dead? No.”
- I’d think Rick being alive would be a HUGE deal, and yet, he’s left alone in the courtyard. Had the show developed a plot line by which adults would be happy, then repulsed, to see what their child might become, that would mean something. But it just came off sloppily.
- Whereas I generally think the melodrama in this show can give viewers diabetes, I did enjoy Tom’s speech to his son about being proud to see him turn into a better man than himself. God help me, that worked for me. At least Hal didn’t pull a Field of Dreams and ask his dad if he wanted to have a catch. I might have lost it entirely.
- “Trust your instincts, Tom. A lot more reliable than technology.”
- “You guys belong at Medieval Times.”
- “I don’t know what’s crazy anymore. We’re fighting aliens from outer space.”
- “OK. That worked.”
- “What’s the distress signal?” “I yell ‘Help’ as loud as I can!”