Say this for Falling Skies: you’ve never seen a post-apocalypse this leisurely before. Sure, the entire series has taken place over three weeks, and there’s a major attack on the giant structures in every American city four days hence. That SOUNDS like a show moving at a fast clip. But everything moves instead at the pace of a long Grateful Dead jam. The show sort of noodles around an idea for a while, often not quite sure where it’s going. It will occasionally coalesce around a powerful, united idea…but then retreats into the fog once again. A show like this depends on the audience bonding enough with the human survivors in order to make their situation compelling. But most of what’s compelling in the shows lies in the alien world, not the human one.
“What Hides Beneath” brings Weaver to the forefront, in addition to his rapidly deteriorating mental state. Well, that’s what the show wants you to believe. Other than a quick shot of a painting by his daughter Sophia a few weeks ago, plus a mention of his daughters last week, there’s been little to no back story for this man. Moreover, there’s been little character development of any kind. Will Patton is a fantastic actor with the right material. But like so many on this show, he’s been given the bare minimum to do on a weekly basis. Had the show taken its time to show the strain that his position had put on him throughout the season, then perhaps tonight could have been a breakthrough episode both for Weaver and for Patton. Instead, they tried to shove an entire arc into a single episode. It’s a single example of what’s plagued the show all along: while the show hasn’t done a bad job deploying some major plot points over the course of the season, it’s barely given any character anything resembling true change.
Ironically, the notion of change played out in a much more interesting fashion over on the Rick/Ben/Skitter side. Rick’s insistence that he’s no longer truly human, and that the skitters will rescue them, truly freaks out Ben. Sure, Ben can jump rope for over two and a half hours, but he’s still plenty ready to shred some alien skin. But he’s still nervous that he’s on the same evolutionary path as Rick, and it’s only a matter of time before he starts drinking the Skitter Kool-Aid again. Given Anne’s secret Skitter autopsy, his fears may not be simple paranoia. She and Lourdes do a little slicing and dicing on the down low, and find a harness attached to…well, whatever it used to be pre-Skitter state.
It’s not a surprising revelation, but it’s still a satisfactory one. It leads one to tease out all sorts of possibilities: did the newly revealed Tall Lanky Aliens (TLAs) turn something akin to Martians into what we know as Skitters? Are Skitters always the end result of the harnessing process, or do they keep evolving forms based on the next planet on the conquer list? There seems to be an improvisatory nature to the TLAs, who built those large edifices at the center of major metropolises out of materials found on earth. In short: any environmentalists that survived the initial attack no longer think recycling saves the planet. Do the TLAs look like more prosaic versions of the aliens at the end of A.I.: Artificial Intelligence? You betcha. But at least they add a layer to this invasion storyline, and give Mason and Weaver knowledge that the Skitters have been foot soldiers in the war that’s been raging.
The recon mission that leads to the discovery of the TLAs also yields another discovery: Blair Brown! The Fringe actress shows up as Sonja, a woman slightly off her rocker yet enjoying tea served in fine china amidst the rubble of Boston’s nearby suburbs. She claims to have been captured, then subsequently released from an alien camp due to her age. But when Weaver goes AWOL to visit his home in Allston, Sonja points the aliens right to their location. First Terry, now Sonja: who CAN you trust these days when humans are making pacts with their conquerors left and right? And who else is dropping off her daily shipment of tea but the long-lost Karen, now put back into play for the season’s endgame. Hal almost pulls a Mike and gives away their position inside, but his father smartly calms him down before she and her TLA chaperone leave. Tom then smartly gives her misleading intel before heading back to school, which will hopefully buy them some time before the impending attack on Boston.
As for that attack: while blowing up the actual edifice seems difficult-but-possible (it’s like demolishing a really big building, given its structure), getting past the Skitters and Mechs seems more problematic. Who can solve such a problem? Enter in TNT’s newest duo! No, it’s not Franklin & Bash: it’s Pope & Moppet! Yup, Falling Skies’ resident bad-ass teamed up this week with Falling Skies’ resident Pixar junkie to figure out a hole in the Mech’s defenses. And while the Pixar reference earlier was a joke, little Matt Mason does straight up steal a plot point from The Incredibles and suggests that shooting the Mechs with the same type of bullets they deploy might work in defeating them. At least Pope didn’t mess up Matt’s hair with a congratulatory pat on the head after making that breakthrough. I know we’re supposed to cheer for Matt’s out of the box thinking here. But man, it was a face palm moment to see a small kid come up with a solution to help save the human race. These people are frakkin’ DOOMED, I tell you.
But hey, there’s only one more week to go, with a double-bill next week to close out the first season. If Rick and Ben morph into Skitters before our very eyes and start killing people during those 120 minutes, maybe I’ll have hope all this oppressive optimism in Season 1 has been a symptom of delusional people that don’t quite realize how dire their situation truly is. Even given the dark journey Weaver went through this hour, he still comes out of this hour grinning from ear to ear. A better show would make us think this was a compensatory mechanism. But I don’t think Falling Skies is playing that excitement as anything but genuine.
Had tonight given the first glimmer of hope in the eyes of the 2nd Massachusetts, maybe it would have played as a more cathartic moment. But these people celebrate so often that the effect has been diluted. Survive the night? Celebrate! Eat some bread? Celebrate! Save money on their car insurance? Celebrate! Again, it’s symptomatic of the poor way emotional beats have been played out all year. It’s fine and dandy to get the plot mechanics right. But it means little if the beating heart of the show, its characters, suffer from narrative arrhythmia.
I have a gripe about “Previously On”s that predict major plot points in the hour ahead. I mean, honestly: did Karen’s return surprise ANYONE, given that she was all over the plot recap to start the hour? Falling Skies is hardly the only show to do this, but it never ceases to annoy.
I did get two fun shocks in tonight’s hour: the skitter leaping at Weaver in his dream, and the TLA peering through the keyhole outside of Sonja’s apartment.
I mock Lourdes a lot in my reviews, but I thought they used her perfectly well tonight. Had she been this type of character all season, she would have been potentially forgettable but hardly detrimental. That being said, her function tonight felt like a studio note that screamed “TONE DOWN THE JESUS.”
I love that Pope calls Uncle Scott “Deadwood” as a nickname. But then again, I’m a fan of Pope onscreen all the time. That’s not saying that I fashion him a hero: I’m just a sucker for television that’s actually interesting. And Falling Skies is almost always interesting when he’s onscreen.
The Skitters bow down in supplication to the TLAs, yet try to protect the children. One possible theory: the Skitters we see here are kids taken throughout the past century and “grown” into an army that still have some remaining humanity in them. Or, you know, they are Martians.
Anyone else mutter “Candygram!” under his/her breath when the TLA popped its head into the keyhole? Just me then? OK.
“That is so three weeks ago.”
“Maybe you can get NPR on that thing and bore the aliens to death.”
“They love us, Ben, and they will come back for us.”