Monday, July 15, 2013

Falling Skies

Falling Skies
Episode 5: Search and Recovery
Episode 6: Be Silent and Come Out
By: Carlos Uribe

Falling Skies is a show about the human war effort, along with it's allies, against an alien invasion force.

Spoilers Ahoy!

Search and Recovery:

Okay that was an improvement.

I'll be honest: I really wasn't expecting a lot from this episode. This season has been so laughably lackluster that it was doubtful this was going to be any different. To my delight, Falling Skies delivered an episode that proves that maybe hope isn't lost for this show yet. That maybe it can still be salvaged. I'd say the biggest surprise was the work it did between Tom and Pope. I've never been a big fan of Pope. That doesn't change this episode but I do appreciate how the writers wrote him this week. The Tom-Pope relationship has always been antagonistic because the characters have always had a disagreement on their very core. Tom believes in having ideals in a harsh world because that's the way to keep your humanity. He believes in having a cause, a reason, to fight for so that there is something to look forward to when the war is won. He makes decisions based on what he feels is right even if it's incredibly stupid. Pope is different. He cares about himself. He thinks that their goal is to survive. He fights because he doesn't like the aliens, not because he's seeking to rebuild society. If anything, he probably likes being in a state of war better than what happens after they've won it. He claims he's willing to do anything to live even if it means doing the wrong thing. This isn't really true because of Spielburg's philosophy that all of the protagonists have to be good at the very end. This is why Pope always sticks around or comes back. This is why he doesn't just leave Tom in the woods despite not liking him very much. It's why Pope will sit in a hospital with a man that he refuses to call friend even as his respect for him secretly grows. Pope might talk about being for his own skin but he's a reliable fighter for Tom for a reason. He might not believe in the cause but he does want to do the right thing in the end. This means that he's there to butt heads with Tom. The two might never agree. It's a good idea in theory to stick them together for this reason but the writing on Falling Skies is rarely good enough to actually make it work. This week-it was good enough.

Why is that? I think it's because the series slowed down just enough to keep the action going while allowing the character scenes to actually breathe. The episode begins with the two escaping the wreckage of the plane. Their the only survivors as the general they brought with them died. It's a bit surprising they don't even try to find the other plane they went down. They simply want to get out of there because skitters are looking for them. The two try their best not kill each other and we actually do get some insight into both characters. I'm not saying the two will ever be friends but I do think they have more than just grudging respect for each other now: I think they actually understand the other as more than just a useful antagonistic figure. There's a strong scene at the end where Pope has admitted that he's sat by Tom's bedside for the two day she was out. He basically tells Tom that he's going to tell everyone that they saved each other's skins and that they're equal. This isn't completely false but there is a certain sense that Pope went far and beyond when he went back for Tom when he didn't have to. Tom was saving Pope when he was there because it was a decision in the moment. Pope actually took the time to find a vehicle, come back, and carry Tom to the truck. In some ways, I think Pope telling people they're equal is a way to ensure that Tom doesn't feel the obligation to owe him anything publicly. Why? Pope realized that Tom didn't live an ideal life. They might never call themselves friends but I think the seed for an unofficial friendship has finally been planted. You know: the kind of friendship where both people refuse to admit it.

The rest of the episode was largely spent with the characters in Charlestown trying their best to find Anne and the baby. They notice she's gone, are able to figure out she's been acting strangely, and find out her baby is a hybrid. The one character who doesn't want to find her is Evil Hal but he remains largely in the background. Which is good because I don't like how the show turned him evil. There is a strong scene where the group finds a dead body and they decide to bury it. As they're burying it, they give this body they've never met a life story and you could tell that personal moments were revealed through that story. It's a powerful reminder of what they lost. The tree from a few episodes back sort-of called into attention how many people they've lost but this time it really made more of an impact on a personal level. What that actually means to these characters as well as the fear they have that they could die alone. It's pretty strong material that helps the audience forget the dumb stuff that led to it: Anne's actions. The sad news is that I know this likely won't lead to another good episode because the writers have to pick up the stupid stuff again. They have to go where they're going with Evil Hal before they close that arc up as well as spending however long on looking for Anne. And let's face it: those are the two problem story arcs this season has. The reason this episode was a marked improvement is because they were largely in the background. You could forget about them. The series does have to continue them in the coming weeks which makes me doubt they will be as good.

Search and Rescue is the best episode of Falling Skies this season and definably one of the strongest efforts of all time. It put the sillier plot ideas in the back-burner for more concrete character-based stories that had some actual depth and meaning.

Be Silent and Come Out:

The good news is that the Evil Hal story finished and it wasn't as bad as I feared it would be. Evil Hal is under orders to get Tom in a position to reveal the Volm plan. So he basically reveals that he's Evil by kidnapping his father and holding him hostage. His hope is to get transportation so that Tom could talk with Karen but he finds this is difficult as nobody is just willing to give him a car. Complicating matters is that Tom does everything in his power to undermine Evil Hal's control over Hal's body. He tries to basically subdue his son but fails each time. It gets a bit repetitive. He does try to talk to his son with a real heart-to-heart conversation only it doesn't completely fly. He tries to make a point about how he should have noticed his son had been taken over an alien bug but doesn't blame his job as President. Which was the only reason he couldn't have noticed that something was up with his son. He tries to instead place the blame on how he wasn't there before the invasion even begun. It's a decent sentiment but it just feels very misplaced. There is no way that his actions as a father had any effect on the situation unfolding. It felt more manipulative than honest. Trying to use that tension that existed before the invasion doesn't work well after two years of the two of them fighting side by side. Any right for the writers to claim that Tom is out of touch with his son is gone after this point and they make this point for me when Tom brings up that he realized Hal's mom was right about him. It's because Tom got to actually know his son. Don't get me wrong: it wasn't a bad speech but it just didn't feel like the right one to give. If anything, it talks about how little the relationship between the two have evolved if that's the only speech Tom gives. This speech enables him to weaken Evil Hal's hold on his son enough and the rest of the family (and Maggie) quickly show up. Hal tries to commit suicide only he barely fails due to their efforts. This whole thing was okay but it wasn't relatively interesting or compelling, the exchanges between father and son something that really only works in the first season but not where they are right now.

The episode actually gets kind of cool after Hal has been taken down. Tom is given what is supposed to be an impossible choice but there's never any question of what he's going to do. If the bug (which they can't find) is in Hal then he can give him some medicine that will kill it. If Hal doesn't have the son then the medicine will kill him. Tom's choice is basically to gamble on his son's life. It's a tough one but we all know Hal is bugged because he's still Evil Hal. He tried to pretend otherwise but it should have been clear by the end of the scene with Maggie. He's given the medicine and there's a pretty gruesome shot where Evil Hal is clearly in pain as he's killed. The show pretends that Hal might actually have died but he's revived with a long syringe. He doesn't remember the events of the last week and they have no leads on where Anne and the baby are. They don't wait for the rebel skitters to give them anything as the Mason clan heads out to search for them. As a whole, the Evil Hal story arc was laughably ridiculous with Drew Roy seriously overacting the bad version of his character. The whole mirror thing was just plain stupid and it's not like Evil Hal really did anything that bad. I mean, the characters assume he's the mole but my money is that it's actually the new President or Laurel. He only lost control of his body for a week or when he was making out with Karen in the woods. He likely wasn't the one who broke into the map room and used advanced technology to steal the plans in the premiere. This whole Evil Hal arc is supposed to distract the audience into thinking the mole threat is over but it didn't work with me. I guess Evil Hal showing up to ensure Anne and the baby were captured was bad but that would have happened anyways considering how out-of-character Anne was acting. So basically all he did was take his dad hostage and that didn't lead to a single character's death. He didn't really suffer any consequences other than upset Pope but let's face it: Pope was going to be upset no matter what. Which begs to question: what was the point of it all? I understand why Karen implanted the bug in him: to use him to her advantage. When I ask the question I mean from the narrative point-of-view: what purpose did that serve to the plot? It didn't really do anything. From where I'm standing, it seems like a waste of time. If the only goal was to act as a red herring then it shouldn't have lasted more than an episode.

While this is all going on, Pope continues to earn points in his favor for a second week in a row. If he keeps this up, I might actually warm up to him! He basically starts a betting pool on who lives or not in the Tom hostage situation. He also has a side pool of what's going to happen to Hal if he lives. Will there be any consequences or will he get off scot free? I guess it's nice that the writers are pointing out how often the Mason family gets away with stuff that other characters might not. He served as effective comic relief and even gave Dan Weaver a chance to deliver a pretty great threat while drinking whiskey. Which led to a great decision by Pope to send the bartender to ensure no funny business happened to influence the odds of the bet. I've got to say that the betting scenes and the whole scene where they inject Evil Hal with the cure were the moments that made this episode worthwhile. Without them, it would have been a bore where Evil Hal misses any opportunities to actually have his story arc matter. Well at least it's gone now: hopefully we can get close the evil alien baby plot next week and deal with the really interesting stuff: intergalactic alliances and the alien war the characters are supposed to be fighting.

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