TV review: Season 3 premiere of “Falling Skies” – ‘On Thin Ice’/’Collateral Damage’

(image via forum.esoft.me)

 

* Spoilers ahead *

“That’s President Tom Mason to you young man!”

To be fear that is probably the last thing you will ever hear a very self-effacing Tom Mason (Noah Wylie) ever say, but the fact remains that in the seven, highly eventful months since last we saw the plucky resistance fighters of the 2nd Mass., and their new comrades-in-arms and government in Charleston, Tom Mason has been elevated to the highest position in the land (aided by new character Marina Perlata, played by Gloria Reuben), the fate of humanity resting squarely on his head.

Or is that the head of Cochise, the public face of the Volm, the new self-styled freedom fighters of the galaxy, who arrived in a suitably dramatic entrance at the end of season 2 mere moments after the destruction of the Espheni’s giant sky-aimed guns, and who are now partners with humanity in the defeat of their shared enemy?

Or does it remain fairly and squarely on the wise old military heads of people like also newly-promoted Colonel Weaver (Will Patton), and a suspicious of outsiders General Bressler (Matt Frewer) and the brave, if occasionally fractious, band of fighters such as Hal Mason (Drew Roy), Maggie (Sarah Carter), Pope (Colin Cunningham) and Ben Mason (Connor Jessup) who follow their lead?

 

It’s Sheriff Tom … or rather President Tom to the rescue when the Espheni deploy advanced mech units usually reserved for more technologically-advanced species (image via scificool.com)

 

Frankly it all depends on whose speaking.

Tom has embraced humanity’s new allies with alacrity, according Cochise all the respect he feels that the Volm leader and his 20-25 compatriots deserve – a lead group sent ahead of Volm troop ships en route to Earth, a reality that has unsettled a number of people in the Earth alliance – and while he will concede points of concern raised by the likes of Weaver and Bressler, such as the idea that the Volm are using mankind to defeat the Espheni so they can claim the planet as their own, he feels he has no choice but to engage with them.

And it is paying off.

The Espheni, alarmed at this unaccustomed resistance by an indigenous species on one of their invaded planets, have suddenly found themselves having to throw all their resources into defeating the Volm-bolstered upstarts, finding themselves somewhat, though not exclusively of course, on the losing side for once, a distinctly unsettling experience.

The Volm, who keep stressing the fact that the Espheni are not accustomed to guerrilla warfare, have given humanity the upper hand with advanced weaponry (including a giant super-secret gun, the existence of which is known to only a handful of humanity’s leadership, which may, or may not, spell the end of the Espheni), inside knowledge of the Espheni’s military tactics and of course, the morale-boosting sense that Earth’s resistance fighters are not alone in their David and Goliath struggle.

 

Cochise, leader of the Volm’s expeditionary force, comes across a wise, well-reasoned military figure who accords humanity all the deference that the Espheni do not … but some wonder for how long? (image via seriable.com)

 

On the face of it, what is there not to like about this unexpected, and much-welcome, turn of events?

Plenty according to the Volm-sceptics who include the always vocal Beserkers led by John Pope, and the far more deferential Bressler and even loyal Weaver, all of whom voice the same concerns to varying degrees.

What price tag comes attached to all the assistance and technology given to them by the Volm? Will the Volm simply walk away when the Espheni have been (hopefully) roundly and comprehensively defeated? Or will they demand their pound of flesh … or Earth? And shouldn’t this battle be won solely by humanity if it is to be worth anything?

 

Another gift from the Volm has been technology that removes the enslaving harnesses off Earth’s children and young adults, and returns the harnessed back to their old selves (assuming they’re not too far gone) (image via uverseonline.att.net (c) TNT)

 

On the surface, Cochise, who enquires politely whether it’s appropriate to speak in meetings, and is always careful never to overstep his place, and his fellow Volm are the perfect allies – generous, supportive and insightful, asking for little in return, but the sceptics worry that they will down the line, and caution against cosying up too snugly to their erstwhile saviours.

For now at least, they are standing solidly side by side with humanity, and it will be fascinating to see where the writers take this aspect of the show since both making them a blemish-free Care Bear-lovely cavalry, or a wolf wrapped in the latest, most attractive lambs wool are both a little too cliched to be used successfully.

I am putting my money on well-meaning, if misguided as their creed, since it is always far more fun narratively to play in the dappled, uncertain shades of grey.

 

The initially successful campaign, conducted in conjunction with humanity’s other unexpected allies rebel Skitters, daubed in red as a tribute to their fallen leader Red Eye, is almost undone by the sudden appearance of new towering weaponised robots dubbed “Mega Mechs” by Weaver (image via hreeifbyspace.net (c) TNT)

 

The Volm’s much-needed assistance allowed the resistance to mount effective campaigns to free harnessed children (in conjunction with rebel Skitters), and shut down a co-opted nuclear power plant producing fuel for the Espheni, but the first campaign particularly, which saw the group ambushed by hidden “Mega Mechs”, brought to the fore the fact that Charleston has itself a mole.

No, not one of those furry cute buck-teethed denizens of the underground – the closest Charleston has to that is Dr Roger Kadar (Robert Sean Leonard), a lecturer in nuclear physics, and new season three recurring character, who refuses to leave his bunker below Charleston till his expertise is needed to destroy the nuclear facility in “Collateral Damage”  – but an enemy spy who is giving the Espheni advance notice of the resistance’s planned campaigns, the existence of whom is proof positive says Brigadier General Jim Porter (Dale Dye), with the agreement of Cochise, that the Espheni are being forced to engage in hitherto unseen desperate measures.

(So in other words it’s a good thing bar the unnecessary deaths, total lack of surprise and need to expend vital resources finding and uncovering the traitorous person.)

 

A laser photograph-y thingy … no man self-respecting spy for an annihilating alien occupier should be without one (image via threeifbyspace.net (c) TNT)

 

And the mole is clearly someone with a great deal of access to Charleston’s limited corridors of power – Tom Mason jokes at one point that he is the president of “20 square blocks” – and not afraid to do away with anyone who may uncover their existence including the man appointed to find them, Tom’s old friend and history professor and mentor Arthur Manchester, bloodily done away with while everyone was away on a mission.

While their carefully concealed appearances in the show – they are seen once, in classic black including a balaclava naturally, stealing in to clear Arthur who clearly knows them well and is shocked that they are the spy, and again laser “photographing” the plans for the attack on the nuclear facility – do smack of the sort of “Oh my god it’s … YOU?” melodramatic build ups beloved of 1970s TV shows like Hart to Hart, their insertion into the ongoing narrative of Falling Skies is a master stroke.

Largely because it introduces another element of danger into the story of our beleaguered fighters, forcing them to fight within and without, a necessity if we’re to keep buying into the life-and stakes of the post apocalyptic, softened a little by the appearance of the Volm.

 

Hal, paralysed from the waist down it seems after a brutal attack at the end of season 2, is being played, literally and mentally/emotionally by former girlfriend and now alien Overlord Karen (image via tvweb.com (c) TNT)

 

Another danger to the good resistance fighters of Earth may lie with one of those skin-crawlingly icky electronic Espheni bugs, implanted surreptitiously into the now seemingly-paralysed Hal, which is being used by the surprising new alien Overlord Karen (Jessy Schram) – quite the promotion … if you’re happy, of course, betraying every last surviving member of the human race you once called your own: yes, yes she is – to play merrily with him mentally, emotionally, and physically.

I say “seemingly” because during his nighttime jaunts into the forest where he meets with Karen, he is walking.

Yes walking, something he is supposedly not able to do anymore.

Given that he is consciously unaware that all his excursions are happening in real life, putting them all down to extremely vivid dreams/nightmares (albeit ones in which he has hot sex with his ex), it isn’t till Maggie, intuitive, suspicious Maggie who can spot an anomaly from a mile off, tails him one night noticing he isn’t in bed with her, that he is made aware he is up and moving on his two quite strong and healthy legs … and that it is all very real.

In fact, dangerously so.

 

Karen may think she has got the upper hand with Hal but she is playing a risky game taking on Maggie who has yet to come across a fight she didn’t take to with gusto (image via mralphafreak.wordpress.com (c) TNT)

 

Of course the moment he awakens from his “dream” state, he immediately collapses into Maggie’s arms who could be forgiven for lapsing into a little Lucille Ball-esque banter were it not so serious a situation.

“Hal, you got some ‘splainin’ to do!”

No doubt he will but how do you explain that you gave into Karen’s seductive charm with almost little to no resistance, dream or no dream?

It is going to make for one very uncomfortable conversation, not to mention all sorts of speculation about what Karen really wants.

Is she simply playing with Hal for the hell of it? Is it part of some wider game plan? is he the spy? (Doubtful since he was on both the missions mentioned above and the mole is clearly shown walking in both scenes with very un-Hal-like legs.) Where will it all lead?

Thankfully one other aspect of the Hal and Maggie storyline died a quick death when Lars, an old fighting buddy of Maggie’s (who we had never seen before) who Hal thought might be making moves on his girl, came off second best in an encounter with a creepy child-to-Skitter creature – it had previously been shown that the harness eventually changed humans into Skitters but watching it in transition was quite unsettling – and shuffled off this mortal coil, handing his dog tags to Maggie, the “only family I got”.

I sincerely hope the writers don’t go down The Young and Restless route with these two now they’re together and settled in life at Charleston since it would be a major disservice to the two characters, and Falling Skies itself, if they did.

 

Hurrah! Tom and Anne had a baby! Boo! She is suddenly acting like something out of a cheesy movie from the lacklustre part of John Travolta’s filmography (image via sfx.co.uk (c) TNT)

 

And finally to the weakest, and frankly oddest part of the show’s first two episodes.

Part way through On Thin Ice, Dr Anne Glass, Tom’s partner and superhero doctor, gave birth to their gorgeous new daughter in one of those touching scenes that Spielberg excels at.

So far, so good.

Here’s a golden chance to showcase the tenuous hold on life that humanity has at the moment as a new life enters a world occupied by a ruthless enemy hellbent on eradicating all life but their own from the planet.

The writers could have raised all sorts of bittersweet questions about the joy of new life versus the destruction of the old, the tension between welcoming a new child into the world and the constant fear she could be taken away at any time.

It could have led to all manner of intense dramatic moments, buttressing the idea that even with the Volm present, that mankind’s continued existence is not assured at all, even as life, in the form of Tom and Anne’s daughter, marches resolutely on.

And yet what we get is some sort of bizarrely-comical demon spawn The Twilight Zone meets Look Who’s Talking Now scenario playing out as their baby began moving about and yes even talking, passing developmental milestones like they were nothing.

 

Ah Tom and Anne. Don’t look so happy. You are about to give birth to a ridiculously over the top damn near comical plot line. (image via scificool.com (c) TNT)

 

Far from being mysterious or creepy, it was merely … odd. Very, very odd, and I really can’t see where it will go that will be a good place.

The idea of a super fast-devleoping child, manipulated by some unseen alien forces could be a good, if somewhat cliched, narrative thread but at the moment it is heading straight to Vaudevillian slapstick territory which if left unchecked will simply drain some of the vast stores of dramatic energy, and fan goodwill, stored up during the arguably brilliant second season.

It is perhaps symptomatic of the direction season three seems to be partly heading in.

 

President Tom Mason addresses the ever-growing-in-number citizens of Charleston at the start of what I am hoping will continue to be a dramatically-resonant stellar piece of sci-fi storytelling (image via tv.com (c) TNT)

 

It is an odd mix of dramatic foreboding – what will the Espheni do next? Can humanity trust the Volm? Is humanity about to have two enemies on its hand and will humanity fracture in the face of speculation about the Volm’s true intent? And who is the spy and what damage will they do? – and oddly mis-calibrated domestic story lines such as Tom and Anne’s rapidly-developing not-of-this-world baby, Tom’s youngest son Matt’s brief and almost perfunctory career as a juvenile delinquent, and Hal and Maggie’s possible descent into soapie-like relationship issues (leavened by the very real threat posed by the Karen-controlled bug inside Hal).

It is almost like the producers of Falling Skies aren’t entirely sure what to do with everyone now they’re snug and relatively kind-of safe in Charleston although “On Thin Ice” and “Collateral Damage” were for the most part very strong episodes and a great re-introduction to the series.

Hopefully Falling Skies producers will stick to what they do best which is tell the story of very real people facing a surreal threat and doing their utmost to ensure that not only they but all of humanity live to see another day.

If they dispense with the dubious side story lines and remember that is their storytelling raison d’être, I expect we will be witness to be a very strong season indeed.

 

 

 

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