Falling Skies is back.
Did you notice? Well, I did since I’m writing this.
Anything in particular of note? The budget seems to be better. There are a number of sci-fi shots that are decent for TV, from an alien command seat/throne to a big honking ship taking off in a field to a glowing base in the woods. Beats the heck out of repeated shots of kids with harnesses scrounging for scrap metal in abandoned buildings, one of last year’s more annoying themes. There’s also a crisper feel to the writing, like something is actually happening other than lots of talking and television cliches. It’s not profound, but the first two episodes are an improvement.
As you may recall, our erstwhile main character, former history professor Tom Mason, was taken by the aliens at the end of Season One. The first episode is the tale of his return.
We open three months later with Captain Weaver and the 2nd Mass ambushing a group of Skitters and Mechs. They lure them in with psycho savant Pope on a motorcycle. The killing is fast and they leave fast, except for Tom’s son Ben. He still has portions of the harness he wore as a Skitter captive embedded in him, and boy does he hate them Skitters. His older brother Hal calls for him to leave. He advances to finish off a lingering Skitter instead. That then draws his attention to a new Skitter lurching out an alleyway. He shoots it only to have it fall and find out he’s shot his father, who was inexplicably standing behind it.
Bummer. Lots of angst about that for the next two hours.
We then have two competing tales. The first is about Dr. Annie Glass trying to save Tom in the present. The second is an extended flashback to Tom’s time with the aliens and his really unfortunate choice of return locations. The parallel structure works for the most part.
Basically, Tom is told the aliens are just pursuing their own vague manifest destiny, and all of us lucky humans get to be the Indians this time around. It’s hardly original or in-depth, but it sure beats watching our quasi-metallic, quasi-reptilian alien overlords walking around the roof of an abandoned building where children are collecting scrap metal. Did I mention that last bit annoyed me last year?
In short, the aliens have a reservation for us. And they’ll kill anyone who doesn’t go there, as they brutally demonstrate to Tom upon his release. He is let go with some twenty other humans, and in thirty second he’s the only one left standing.
Of course the humans will fight on. Of course Dr. Glass saves Tom. Surgery by pen light no less when they have to hide from a Mech patrol. And of course in the flashback Tom actually tracked down the 2nd Mass just in time to silently walk into Ben’s bullet. Brave and noble our Tom may be, but he does need to work on calling out his name and location when sneaking up on his allies.
And by the way, did you know if you cover the hood of your car with fiberglass, alien drones can’t detect its heat signature? Handy tips in the event of an alien invasion, folks.
"Shall We Gather at the River"
Since the whole point is to cross it, I guess so.
Another straight forward episode. The aliens are driving the 2nd Mass toward the nearest river, where they can be pinned and annihilated. And bless my soul if they don’t actually show a map with a river that bends appropriately to be a trap and with cogent arrows Captain Weaver has drawn on it. As a military history buff, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that simple visual prop. It says so much more than all the blather about being cornered can.
There’s one damaged bridge left. Our stalwart band is trying to patch it and make a crossing at night. A simple story where you know something has to happen. To top it off, Tom is having bad dreams and is now concerned that the aliens might have done something to him. Psycho savant Pope would like to ease his mind by putting a bullet in it and leaving his presumably wired up carcass by the side of the road. And he may have a point, because…
While Tom is telling his son Hal to kill him if he has to, he suddenly goes into a seizure. He’s bleeding out of the eye. This lead to a gruesome little scene where Dr. Glass extracts a wicked looking insect from his sclera. It proceeds to turn into a musket ball sized pill bug when captured in a jar. That’s cooler than just about anything they did last year, and again seems to be a product of a superior special effects budget.
Tom is put in restraints while his son Ben, the one with the harness pieces still embedded inside, swims the river to check what’s on the other side. Did we mention that Ben is now strong and fast? Inhumanly strong and fast. He’s been affected by the Skitters, a plot point that will no doubt play out in the episodes to come. He also gets a piercing headache when approaching a downed alien drone that is only relieved when he smashes the organic biotech still alive in the remains. He then finds a base in the woods that’s controlling the local drones.
The climax is simple. Mechs and skitters are closing in to finish them off as the 2nd Mass tries to cross the river. At the same time, a group has crossed the river in a small boat to try and take out the alien base’s transmitter so it can’t control the local drones, which will simply blow up the bridge. It’s okay as TV drama goes. I’ll even overlook the guy with the rocket launcher saying it’s too far to hit the transmitter, then sprinting forward ten feet, at which point I guess it’s not to far.
Oh, and Tom almost gets blown up with the bridge but swims to safety off camera. Still, unlike last year, a lot did happen on camera. Lets hope the budget holds up.
Finally, the pill bug uncurls, cut its way out of the jar, and flies back to a red-eyed Skitter awaiting it. But folks, that single development would have taken three episodes last year, so pacing has improved. At least for the moment.
WILL CONSERVATIVES LIKE THIS EPISODE?
A real live freaking map with military arrows on it. Damn straight.