There was a touch of the Steve McQueens about Falling Skies this week, even down to the motorcycle that Tom Mason (Noah Wylie), Distractor of Skitters and Rubber Man Who Can Fall From Great Heights and Live, used once again, this time sans the Ghost headdress, to distract the Skitters while the rest of the Ghetto Gang (totally great name for a post-apocalytic band), led by Hal (Drew Roy) dashed out the sewers to escape their impending “transformation”.
Quite what that was no one was quite sure, although Tom kept referring to it as “Skitter-ising”, which is, I believe like homogenising but without the free will – something the Espheni are not fans of for obvious reasons – but the prospect of it was enough to concentrate everyone’s minds, and convince even Pope (Colin Cunningham), yes selfish, in-for-himself Pope, to join together with his ghetto brethren and work towards the greater good of getting the hell out of Dodge.
In his case, it was more of a sacrifice than most as he had to don a bespoke Faraday Suit, what its creator Dingaan (Treva Etienne), the MacGyver of Falling Skies, called a “home made trash can for protection” and climb over one of the laser wall stanchions in just 90 seconds, survive the shock of electrocution (with Weaver (Will Patton) and Tector (Ryan Robbins )and stick a bomb on the tether supplying power to their electrified prison fence (and then hammer it like the bejesus when it didn’t quite sever during the explosion).
That he volunteered after Dingaan was injured and persisted even when he dropped the delicate ammonium nitrate bomb, which didn’t explode (hooray!) until he’d retrieved it and had it where it needed to be wasn’t as remarkable as the fact that he listened to Tom when he told him to stop being such a cynical, plan-wrecking a-hole.
Granted we have seen a lot of growth in Pope, who has matured from homicidal redneck gang leader to sort of semi-responsible member of the at-the-moment scattered 2nd Mass., but it was until Tom lost his cool, told him he was only good at “driving people apart” leading Pope to look taken aback and then volunteer to take over from Dingaan that I fully appreciated just how far he’d come.
It’s a tribute to both Cunningham and the show’s writers that this change of heart, this spur-of-the-moment response to Tom’s admonition that they had to work together to escape even if they didn’t particularly like each other, came across as a totally organic moment, a natural progression rather than a bolt out of the characterisation blue.
There were also some genuinely touching moments in the lead up the Mason-led Great Escape when Tom reminded an emotionally isolationist-inclined Dingaan that “without family, life isn’t worth living”, Hal and Tom traded opinions on favourite and not-so-favourite Led Zeppelin albums, Weaver and Tom shared a toast to his absent daughter on her birthday, and Hal briefly but gently comforted an old lady who had just lost her husband to a rear flank Skitter attack while the ghetto masses waited in the sewers for their moment to escape.
What made these vignettes of human connection all the more affecting was that they didn’t come slathered in the show’s once-charactristic 1000 kinds of treacly sentimentality, a Spielberg-ian influence they seem to have discarded in favour of truly meaningful interactions between the characters.
Whether this is due to new showrunner David Eick, who has given the show more of the Battlestar Galactica sensibility of raw but poignant everything, or simply an evolution in the show’s style is hard to quantify but it is a welcome change of pace for Falling Skies which sometimes seemed close to sinking under the weight of it’s narrative-stopping, tension-sapping “meaningful moments”.
Whatever the cause, Falling Skies seems to have found a way to have its gritty, heart-stopping action cake and be all emotional about it too, all without skipping a narrative beat.
Elsewhere in the alien-ravaged lands of north-east USA, Matt (Maxim Knight) continued to council his wavering re-education camp inmate and “girlfriend” Mira (Desiree Ross) to hold steady in their attempt to look like the perfect brainwashed youthful Espheni collaborator while scrawling “the Espheni look like day old fish heads” on the toilet walls of their Nazi-like compound.
OK, they didn’t quite do that (but they totally should have) but you can understand why Mira was spooked as Sheila (Matreya Scarrwener) re-appeared in class after her graduation to receive rapt applause from her “new coalition” teen drones – all of whom have not simply drunk the Kool-Aid but have had the factory moved to their dorm room – for luring her parents into a trap where they were captured by the Espheni.
While Sheila’s dad Bill trotted out the acceptable bon mots of propaganda before the class, which reeked of authenticity in the way that week-old prawns reek of freshness, her mother Martha lost it as she was being led out screaming out in bewilderment at her clearly shocked daughter that she had betrayed them.
The scary thing, apart from how freshly pressed the Team Leader Kent’s (Dakota Daulby) shirts always seem to be – it’s heartening to see the Espheni value not just sounding like a human automaton but dressing like one – is how everyone seemed to be getting onboard with the brainwashing program.
You can thus well understand why Mira freaked out about whether she could resist the Espheni siren song, and why she hid wire-cutters under a spare bed in the dorm so she could escape through the fence and warn the world, something Matt asked her not to do till they’d graduated, but what she didn’t see coming was Matt taking the blame for it.
It’s clear that Matt is in for some “extra tuition”, which I am guessing doesn’t mean an extra sheet of math homework every night, but hopefully Cochise (Doug Jones), who spotted Matt being led up the stairs into an imposingly large building that fairly screamed “Do NOT go in here!”, can get to him in time.
While the re-education camp scenes haven’t been the strongest of the series so far, they have done a convincing job of reminding us that the Espheni approach to subjugating humanity is far more subtle and conniving that it used to be and that bombs and gun-toting offensives won’t be enough in the future to get Earth back in human hands.
After all, a fair swag of humanity, its youth, now think the Espheni are gee-whiz, good golly gosh nice guys who will be swell to be ruled by and you can’t fix that with an ammonium nitrate bomb … sorry Pope but you just can’t …
The other two story lines weren’t quite as strong alas.
Anne (Moon Bloodgood), Worst Leader in the World had starved herself to the point of exhaustion and fainting, which accomplished little on face value except that it gave her the chance to have a totally creepy nightmare about being strapped in an Espheni ship with a massive big black umbilical cord coming out of her pregnant belly, and only Karen (Jessy Schram) and an unblinking Overlord for company.
While I didn’t get much from this Twilight Zone dream apart from Karen is dead everywhere but in dreamland and that Espheni gynaecological services leave a lot to be desired, Anne apparently divined that Lexi (Scarlett Byrne) was nearby and after sending out search parties everywhere but east, finally found her, and Ben (Connor Jessup), “high priestess” Lourdes (Seychelle Gabriel) and newly gun-slinging Maggie (Sarah Carter), in their hippie-chicky, peace, love and suspect mung beans of dubious allegiances compound.
Maggie, naturally enough, didn’t take too kindly to the fact that Lexi was breaking bread with the Espheni but found out once again, after confronting Lexi about her supposed duplicity, that taking her and her kinetic energy-wiwlding temper tantrums is possibly not the wisest thing in the world.
The intriguing thing about Lexi is that you genuinely don’t know whose side she is on.
While the meeting on the QT with the Overlord would seem to damn her to enemy status for all eternity, she seems genuinely bewildered that anyone would question her commitment to keeping them all safe, even as she is clearly ill at ease at how growing, anger-induced powers.
In her rather juvenile mind at least, and we need to remember that grown up looking or not, she is still just over a year old, the Triskelion dogma she espouses – “One entity can merge with another to make a whole greater than the sum of its parts ” – is the be-all and end-all, the solution to humanity’s evolution.
To the clearer-headed members of the group such as Maggie and Ben (who is still overly swayed by the fact that Lexi is his sister), she is nothing but a pawn of the Espheni, operating her very own yoga and tie-dyed re-education camps, conditioning its inhabitants to accept anything and everything if it keeps you “safe”.
But what is the price for all this safety and will it cost them their freedom and humanity to gain it?
The writers are doing a top notch job of seeding these scenes with all manner of hair-raising, creepy ambiguities but they need to raise the stakes a little more and introduce a little more darkness and horror into the mix, the rotting corpse if you like, beneath the cosmetically-pretty facade if Lexi and her Compound of Calm and Craziness is to truly come into its narrative own.
All told though “Exodus” was an enormously strong episode, a reassuring sign that Falling Skies is a whole new apocalyptic animal and there is much to look forward to as the season progresses …
And here without further ado is the promo for episode 4, “Evolve or Die” …