Monday, July 29, 2013

Falling Skies

Falling Skies
Episode 7: The Pickett Line
Episode 8: Strange Brew
By: Carlos Uribe

The Pickett Line:

The Pickett Line is an episode that has the Mason family traveling together to try to find Anne and the baby. They are by themselves which gives the show some opportunity to highlight their family dynamics. That is until they get their stuff stolen by a family of thieves. The only suitable response is to get their stuff back because they need it to rescue their missing family members. This begins a game of balance as the two different families try their best to achieve their agenda. There are complications but it's basically a story about two families who are trying to do what is best for their family. It's an interesting concept because we get to see how a family who wasn't a part of the Second Mass has managed to survive on it's own. In order to live, they've had to turn to becoming highway robbers to any humans traveling the road. The show manages to fit them into the theme but it makes the mistake of constantly hammering it home. We get it, this family did what it felt was necessary in order to make it through the alien apocalypse. The many times the show has the balance of power turns is a bit too much as it quickly gets repetitive and predictable rather than exciting. What's worse is that the episode's ending is frustrating on two different levels. The first is that it closes out the Mason family traveling alone arc as it splits them up. Tom has to go back to the Pickett house in order to warn them about an approaching skitter army. The kids go back to Charlestown to be safe. So basically the family sets out to save their family, they have a side-adventure, and then the show gives up on this plot arc? It seems like a lot of time and energy was spent on a family that we're likely never going to see again. It makes the whole thing just feel pointless, a quick end to what should have been a more long-term plot arc. This makes it feel like it was all building up to a side quest rather than continuing the main narrative. The second problem is that Tom getting captured by the skitters was predictable and the idea he was going to die is laughable. He's the main character. He's going to find a way to get out and go back to his family. I liked the concept for the episode but it shouldn't have been the end-game for the whole Mason family on their own arc. It should have merely been a stop.

The episode's two more interesting plot lines are in Charlestown. The first is that we find out exactly what the Volm machine is actually planning to do. The plan that it was meant to destroy just one tower to allow the Volm to land an army on Earth is only a part of it. They really planned to destroy the whole defense grid the skitters are building because it will destroy all human life within a matter of three months. The reason this has been kept a secret is because the weapon the Volm are building might help accelerate the process of the grid's destruction of the environment. It's a pretty nifty plot tool as it helps to explain why Weaver would be so wary of them, why it was kept a secret, and it helps to add a layer of risk to even using the weapon. We suddenly go from it might have mysterious purpose to it might help destroy all life on Earth. This doesn't remove that we need to use it because the grid is going to be established and then we only have three months. Knocking down one tower might help to stall things but there's only so much time that can buy us. I like this plot development because it really adds a deadline. A deadline adds urgency. Urgency builds tension that the show desperately needs. This tool might be the kick in the pants Falling Skies needs in order to start building up sufficient narrative momentum to sustain itself for the rest of the season. Honestly, I feel like this should have been the focus of the season because of the sense of doom that it adds. This isn't just a war we're fighting for our planet but trying to stop our own literal extermination. We don't have a long time to save ourselves but a short period of time. It's everything the season needed to ensure that it had focus and to make every side track feel more like an obstacle. It makes sense to reveal it mid-season to help build up the momentum as wheels spin but it also means we had to deal with a lot stupid stories in the beginning of the season.

I'm actually a bit surprised by the other development. I honestly thought this new President was going to turn out to be the mole. It made sense and we just met her. Turns out I was wrong and that the real mole was Lourdes. This doesn't come as a complete surprise, as I've mentioned before that it's possible she's the mole, but it's one that makes sense. She doesn't really serve a purpose on this show and this is a good way to make the ancillary character matter. She's been controlled by a whole bunch of the little machine things which helps to ensure that the writers aren't betraying her character. I guess Pope really will get his answer on whether people treat the Masons differently because it's not a Mason whose infected this time but Lourdes. The way the show revealed it with having the camera follow her was also pretty nicely executed even if it telegraphed the reveal from the very beginning. As for her shooting of the President? It's a nice moment that really helps to ensure that the person in power remains with the President of Charlestown. Which is going to conveniently make her look like the mole. Overall, this mole plot was a lot more interesting than who was going to have the balance of power in the Pickett story.

Strange Brew:

Strange Brew is the best episode of Falling Skies until it reaches a certain point. That's an odd thing to say but it's true. The episode starts out differently as Tom finds himself in a world where the alien invasion was only a dream. His wife is alive, his kids are normal, and he has a successful career as a college professor. Only he quickly starts to figure out that things are a little strange. A girl, Anne Glass, he's never met thinks that they've been having an affair. A homeless guy, who looks a lot like Weaver, keeps telling him to open his eyes because it's the end of the world. Everyone in the world is interested in his choice between four different cities. Tom manages to eventually figure out that the aliens are probing his mind. This is not a real dream but an attempt to interrogate him Inception-style. It turns out to be a dream-within-a-dream when he gets woken up and rescued by the militia. He's almost fooled again until he's asked to withdraw the map that contains the plan. He's able to figure out the deception and Karen gives up trying to use dream interrogation on him. That quickly? You'd think the whole episode would have had her twisting his perception of reality to the point where he would questionably be asking if anything was real or not. The dreams were the best part of Falling Skies as they helped to work well. The first dream gave us a hint of how his life used to be like before the invasion before it reveals itself to be a lie of a life. It's done in a clever way because incorporating the characters we know into the show basically tips off to the audience this isn't a flashback. There's something Stephen King-esque about how this seemingly normal life turns out to be false. It's creepy on a whole different level than this show usually goes for.

Sadly, the episode wasn't willing to commit making Strange Brew be in Tom's head. It would have been great if half the episode had been the first dream and the second half other dreams that made him question his sanity. It would have been great if he never woke up. That's because the episode begins with the dream so it sets up a different structure than we're used to. It's like a different show and it's very unnerving when we get out of the dream and into the real world. It jolts you out of the show because suddenly it's like the episode changed structure mid-way through. It would be like a building whose base didn't match what was built on top. It creates one ugly episode that is more confusing than good. Strange Brew takes this time to develop the plot a little bit. The skitters turn the defense grid on, which leaves the humans with only three months to live if they don't get rid of it. The question is if the Volm are able to fire their weapon or not. If not, what's their back-up plan? Tom is able to get away once again by using a skitter to break a large fall. I guess it's nice he's not in captivity again but this would be the second time this season where he has to walk all the way back home. Isn't it getting kind-of repetitive how often this happens? This is going to start being a plot mechanic that people make fun off if the series keeps going back to it. I'll admit that the ending scene with the wife was more powerful than I expected and allowed the episode to end on a strong, emotional note as he finally got closure. He will now be able to truly move on.

What's worse is that because of the weird episode structure and because it wasn't very interesting to begin with, the plot at the home slowed the episode down to a crawl. It was basically just Pope and Weaver plotting against the President because they don't trust her. They think she's the mole because the evidence happens to point towards her. The character they have investigating her, I don't remember his name despite being on this show for a while, has interviewed everyone and they all have alibis. I'm not sure what alibi Lourdes gave him or if he's just taking people on their word without investigating who they were with. In the end, the President talked with Weaver and shot him to be on her side without presenting any evidence that she's not the mole. I guess appealing to him can work but it just meant that the whole plot felt like a waste of time. Why have Weaver potentially go against the President if he's going to back off as soon as she has a chat with him? If anything, he should be more suspicious of her. If anything, it feels like most things this season: thrown into the show because it was put on a whiteboard. Only the writers didn't want to commit to Weaver actually betraying the President so they only pretended to go along with this arc. It's true that he's keeping a mission from her but it's doubtful he's actually making a move against her anytime soon. Let's just hope he doesn't do something stupid like blow up the volm weapon. That wouldn't be good because then they'd have to find a different way to destroy the grid system. Anyways, the whole home plot felt like a waste of time which makes it all the more frustrating because the episode had to ditch it's wonderful dream plot in order to give it to us.

Other Notes:

I go to Boston University and I don't know any building that looks like that. Nice try Falling Skies!

Dai makes an appearance this week in the dream as Anne's dream husband and I think it says a lot that I didn't know this until after I had seen it. Even Jimmy would have been a better choice than Dai.

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