“You know, your optimism is starting to get annoying.” -Captain Weaver
That quote, spoken near the end of tonight’s episode of Falling Skies, succinctly sums up my second biggest problem with the show. And we’ll get to that in good time. What makes “Grace” the weakest episode to date, however, is the show’s unfortunate tendency to ramp up to big plot points by having one or more characters temporarily act like an idiot. Seemingly sane people straight up lose the ability to cogently reason, allowing others to jump through the loophole suddenly created. This allows the story to move from Point A to Point B, but it doesn’t always invite the audience to come along for the journey.
Since both major plots of the week involve such a temporary lobotomy, we can look at each before attacking the aforementioned optimism in full. In one respect, I really like how Falling Skies has clearly defined in-episode goals that will hopefully add up to a singular strategy to take down the Skitters and Mechs. “First the bikes. Then, the drugs. Then, your son.” It sounds a bit like the whiteboard in the writers’ room for this show, but having a plan of attack that logic is necessary in order to assuage those such as Tom whose emotional investment sometimes outweighs long-term planning. So while Anne and Michael try to establish a line of communication with the captured Skitter, Pope leads Tom and others to a potentially untouched motorcycle dealership to obtain vehicles for longer scouting missions. Simple and clean.
Unfortunately, the executions of both leave a lot to be desired. Specifically, each plot features a key person being left alone for no reason other than the plot couldn’t continue without that happening. Even sloppy shows occasionally try to create viable reasons for their unfolding action. And while Falling Skies often gets the small, interpersonal stuff right, it fails to find ways for its big moments to transpire in a non-transparent manner. Most of Tom’s journey to Somerville for the motorcycles features people keeping a close eye on Pope. But when they get to the dealership, Pope is selected to go in the back with only Dai as chaperone. Naturally, Pope clubs Dai, makes off with a bike, and manages to blow up a sleeping den of Skitters underneath a bridge nearby. A rogue Pope can be a fun Pope. But how the show achieved this was eye-rolling at best, and narratively offensive at worst.
Back in the high school, Anne and Michael seek to communicate with the Skitter. Meanwhile, Tom’s youngest son Max helps Uncle Scott configure old radios out of spare parts obtained in the basement. The two projects start to collide when the latter pair start picking up odd frequencies when the former pair start to poke and prod their captive prey. This suggests that the skitters communicate through radio waves of some kind, on a short-range level. Kudos to the show for allowing these two pairs to pool their resources now instead of five episodes down the line. But anti-kudos to the show for figuring out a way to leave Ricky alone. After all, he’s only the KEY to their investigation as well as key to figuring out how to help the still-harnessed children. Now, Ricky placing the harness back on his spine was downright disturbing, no doubt. But again: the show didn’t truly earn that moment since it took a shortcut to get there. So the latest homage to Independence Day (talking to an alien through a human host) lacked the power it could have had if the show had found a better way to achieve its end goal.
So Pope’s gone, and Ricky is (I believe) dead. Sounds like a total bummer of an hour, right? Wrong! Let’s talk about that optimism now. We’re only four hours into this show. But we’ve now ended on four straight “everything’s gonna be alright” endings, this one with extra Christian overtones to annoy even more. Let’s set aside how non-inclusive Lourdes’ religious views are, and how there’s no one in the show to currently balance those out to present a more pantheistic approach to faith in a post-apocalyptic society. Falling Skies isn’t saying that other faiths didn’t survive the attacks, after all: it’s simply providing a narrow viewpoint that hopefully will be expanded upon in further weeks. But typing that out might be just as futile an example of optimism as the show is spewing forth on a weekly basis.
Here’s the thing: it’s fine for the show to maintain a semblance of hope in the face of seeming hopelessness. And it should continue to do so. A lot of tonight’s stuff involving Tom dealt with him trying to talk to his children in the way his late wife Rebecca did. Having a father try and fail to bond with his children in his absence, only to have his children appreciate the effort all the same, is a great bit of character work. And honestly, that's all that’s needed to convey that life can continue on as it did before. What Falling Skies doesn’t need is a weekly kumbaya session in which treacly music alerts me that characters are about to have A MOMENT OF HAPPINESS IN THE FACE OF DOOM. Having such moments occasionally can be cheesy but also be effective. Having them as part of each final act makes them trite, predictable, and can often have the opposite of the intended impact. Let’s hope the show tones these moments down and gives characters grace notes as opposed to sappy orchestrations.
- As creepy as Ricky reattaching the harness was, the emotionless army of harnessed children approaching the motorcycle shop might have topped it. Yes, using children can work as easy emotional manipulation, but it’s also what gives Falling Skies a lot of its power as well. Sometimes they go over the top, but sometimes they nail it as well.
- Looks like the harnessed heal horrific diseases such as cystic fibrosis, which potentially gives credence to those that theorize the harnessed children are being bred as Skitters, impervious to diseases.
- We learn this week Michael Harris is a much better surgeon than psychotherapist.
- Love the little touches that the show does to indicate post-arrival, pre-apocalypse society. Tonight’s best example: the alien face painted over Uncle Sam where the Skitters were sleeping, bat-style.
- It’s interesting to note that everything that the captured Skitter said through Ricky could easily apply to both of them. The Skitter seems like a foot soldier, terrified to report back to its leader.
- “For all we know, this is the Brad Pitt of Skitter World!”
- “Unarmed? What am I, Canadian?”
- “Me and kids? Dream on.” “I will.”
- “What were you? Blood? Crip? Slytherin?”
- “Hal with a set of car keys is just as scary as a mech.”
- “Want a friend? Get a dog!”
- “WE’RE NOT SHOOTING KIDS!”
- “Dai speaks about himself in the third person now?"