If I had to describe my feelings about the third season of Falling Skies to date, I could easily sum them up in two words: wasted potential. This descriptor could be applied to the show at several points in its existence—the excessive sentimentality and clunky writing continually keep it from being the show most sci-fi fans would like it to be—but this season in particular has bothered me because it’s had multiple chances to go in new directions and has failed to do so every time. Although a clunky deus ex machina in the second season finale seemed to set up lots of new and interesting plots in the third season première, most of those plots haven’t clicked the way they should. The alien baby plot felt atonal and did Moon Bloodgood a disservice, Evil!Hal was too accelerated and hammy in the execution, and the ideas of the Volm alliance and superweapon have been pushed to the side in favor of more immediate concerns.
As such, I’m of two minds about “The Pickett Line.” On one hand there’s a lot of progress on some of these plot elements—the Volm superweapon is once again a topic of conversation, the mole is finally revealed (more on that later), and there’s a promising new guest star added to the show’s universe. At the same time, Falling Skies continues to have an unwillingness to move outside the status quo, as characters have the same conversations and work through the same conflicts ad nauseam. More to the point, what should be advancement of one of the show’s major plots is spun off into sidequest territory, giving the episode the feeling of midseason wheel-spinning prior to the finale.
The feeling is all the more frustrating because it comes out of what could be an interesting twist on the show’s typical structure, the decision of the Mason family to strike out on their own to track down Anne and Alexis. Moving the Masons outside of Charleston both gathers characters who historically work well together—for all my griping about the bad decisions made by the Masons they’ve always felt like a family, with the attendant affection and tensions—and also makes sense from a plot perspective, as all four of them have become in their own way outcasts. Tom entered an alien ship of his own volition and spent three months there, Hal had an alien parasite in his eye and no control of his actions, Ben refused to remove his harness spikes, and Matt has an awful haircut. (Though he decides to start wearing a hat this week, so there’s progress.) At times in the early going all four of them discuss the possibility of not coming back, and while the structure of the show wouldn’t permit it for long, it may behoove them to try surviving in a more personal zone.
Those ideas—and the search for the family’s missing members—are all put on hold when the Masons are waylaid on the road by a group of bandits, who strip them of their possessions and leave them stranded. To their credit, the idea of not going after them never enters their minds (Hal: “We’re gonna go back and get our stuff.” Tom: “Damn straight we will”) and the family pursues them back to their homestead. The scene where the Masons ambush the Picketts provides some more close-quarters combat than the usual human/alien interactions, choreographed well with some sneak attacks and hand-to-hand brawling. And it even ends with a genuinely startling moment, as Matt puts a bullet in the back of one of the robbers, furthering the character’s coming of age during times of conflict.
It’s when the families come together for their own Hatfields and McCoys style-tensions that the energy deflates somewhat. There’s potential in this meeting for a serious amount of culture shock, a family who have somehow inexplicably avoided knowledge of the alien invasion in much the same way the Lykov family was unaware of World War II, and the patriarch Dwayne’s reaction to Tom’s first mention of the aliens encourages that possibility. Sadly, that option is disabled early on when Dwayne says his family has simply been laying low, and the two then go on to have one of the show’s usual conversations pitting Tom’s charitable instincts against another person’s opposing viewpoint, in this case strength in numbers versus isolation. (The scenes are helped though by the fact that Dwayne is played by Christopher Heyerdahl, whose unhinged Swede was frequently the best part of Hell On Wheels.)
From there, what plays out is a game of pass-the-shotgun, as the balance of power shifts between both families depending on which one makes the wrong call. First Dwayne gets the upper hand when he uncovers a weapon under his wounded brother’s bed, then Tom manages to disarm him when Dwayne can’t execute the Masons or persuade his family to do the same. It’s meant to be tense, but there’s a decided lack of tension to the interactions, given that we know the Masons aren’t going to be killed in cold blood or kill the Picketts that way. And frustratingly, the one change to the status quo—Matt killing another human being—isn’t even mentioned after it happens.
Even more frustratingly, the outcome of this last conflict is left to our imagination, as the next time we see the Masons they’re riding away on their horses, seeing an alien patrol heading straight to the Pickett house. Tom, infuriatingly noble to the last, tells his sons to go on ahead as he needs to try to hold them off, leaving on one of his typical self-sacrificing platitudes: “If all we care about is our own family we’re no better than them.” And if that wasn’t irritating enough, the episode ends with Tom finding the Picketts’ house empty, running into a patrol of skitters, and then frozen in the sights of a megamech to be captured yet again by the Espheni. As per the rules of the Falling Skies drinking game, take two shots and wonder aloud how he could have expected anything else and how this guy ever got elected president of anything.
Though the situation in Charleston isn’t getting any better in his absence—if anything his move to hand over the reins of power only further destabilized events. Marina’s decision to annex Popetown for a refugee camp leaves its self-appointed mayor fuming at the loss of his namesake, which means Pope gets to be confrontational again, always his best gear. Here he’s organizing a bona fide strike and trying to brand her as a tyrant, leaving it to Weaver for the second week in a row to show up in his bar and quiet the conversation by the mere virtue of his presence, this time hauling Pope to jail for “civil disobedience.” Again, it’s a beat we’ve seen several times before, but Colin Cunningham’s natural charisma keeps his grandstanding entertaining—even if it seems silly in the grand scheme of things that Pope keeps getting hauled off to jail without charges.
This labor dispute is put on hold by a new twist to the political structure of Charleston: Once again, Cochise shows up as a deus ex machina on the settlement’s front door, only this time he’s carrying the badly wounded President Hathaway. The ideas of both the Volm alliance and the splinter American government have been largely ignored for the last couple weeks, and this brings them back to the forefront as Hathaway takes point. Cochies is finally talked into sharing more details about the weapon with the humans, and the reveal—that the power it generates may wind up overloading the entire Espheni grid and irradiating all of Earth—proves again this idea should have played a bigger role in the season to date. Stephen Collins also continues to prove himself a reasonable choice to play a president, having a politician’s grace in conversation with Marina and Lourdes and also an authoritative tone when ending the conversation on using the superweapon.
At least, he does until the mole perches underneath his room, charges a Volm-powered pistol to full, and blasts through the floor to shoot him straight in the heart. The mole’s been revealed, and it turns out to be none other than Lourdes—yes, Lourdes, winner of the show’s most uninteresting character award. No disrespect to Seychelle Gabrielle, but to this point there’s little to say about Lourdes that’s flattering, as she’s been mocked for her cringeworthy demonstrations of faith in season one, a completely undeveloped romance in season two, and inexplicable rise to chief of medicine this year. Making her the mole is probably the best thing that could happen to the character, especially given the way the show’s creative team have chosen to depict this new version—a deeply unsettling image of her serenely wrapped in prayer, Espheni bugs wriggling over her skin as if she’s a hive for the things.
And of course, Lourdes being the mole also helps because she’s the last person anyone in Charleston suspects. Pope’s quick to point out that Hathaway’s death makes Marina’s life a lot easier, and even Weaver can’t ignore that distinction given growing concerns about the Volm’s secrecy. The timetable for the weapon is accelerating, and the center is increasingly unstable in Charleston. Hopefully whatever happens next, it’ll be more unconventional than what’s come before.
- Kudos to all of you who picked Lourdes as the correct choice in Mole Watch, based on her convenient addition of the medkit to the plane before Tom’s flight and her continued statements that Hal and Alexis were fine despite evidence to the contrary in “At All Costs.”
- “The Pickett Line” was directed by Sergio Mimica-Gazzan, who also directed “Search And Recovery,” and both episodes prove he’s got a good eye for the wilderness. Lots of beautiful shots early in the episode, particularly as the Mason clan heads down the road immediately prior to the Pickett ambush.
- Pope remains the most entertaining character on the show, but his interaction with Maggie colored that perception a lot this week. Whenever I praise Pope in these reviews there’s always someone in the comments reminding me that when we first met him he was allowing his gang to rape Maggie regularly, and here the show reminds us of that with an ugly overtone to his suggestions that she should choose a side.
- This is now the third week in a row without an Anne appearance. I don’t know if Moon Bloodgood’s real-life pregnancy affected her availability for shooting, but as happened in season two when Pope vanished for a couple of episodes, it’s distracting to have one of the main characters drop off the map for an extended period of time, even if her plot has been something of a wash.
- Real-world connection: We learn that before the invasion Marina was the chief administrative assistant to U.S. Senator Jim Webb.
- Did anyone else think that Weaver’s line “No more riling up the civilians” sounded a lot like Popeye? He’s usually good at sounding authoritative but that pronunciation made me chuckle.