This week's Falling Skies gave us some very earned emotional release. Like almost every episode, the action sequences were kick-ass, but the heart of the episode this week was in its emotional moments. While some of the set-up leading into the key dramatic sequences was schmaltzy, and some dialogue was schmaltzy, I do feel that, if you've been following the series, then the emotion will feel earned and you will have come away feeling the dignity and pathos of these characters.
What I wish most of all is that the show would trust itself. Guys, you don't have to underline every touching moment with piano music! You don't have set up scenes about the tragedy of disconnection. There's so much terrific drama developing organically that overplayed scenes like Lourdes' discovery that her family's small village has been destroyed, and then playing that emotion a second time for her Love Interest's benefit (and the audience's, just in case we hadn't figured it out), is almost cruel to the audience. (Love Interest's name is Jamil, by the way.) It's so unnecessary; we got it. I like this show a lot; it's got a strong cast and premise, creepy aliens, and is frequently fresh and surprising; for these reasons I recommend it to anyone who asks. But that's like; what I love on TV is a show that trusts its audience to come along for the ride, to understand the nuance, to hear things the first time they're said. Falling Skies hasn't risen to that level yet.
The episode opened with a thrilling action sequence (watch it below). I was fairly sure early on that curly-head Matt was purposely acting as bait, but that didn't take the excitement away. At its best, this show has a killer combination of creepy (the skitter's long fingers coming around the corner), high-octane (the shoot-out), and appealing characters (Matt saying it was "awesome" to get splattered with alien blood). See for yourself:
Last week I called for some hardcore passion between Tom and Anne, consistent with the intensity of the situation they're in. In emergencies and tragedies, people jump into sex and passion to reaffirm their own aliveness. The kissing was a nice start, but they were both a little too coy about the whole thing for my tastes. The scene did remind me, though, that Noah Wyle is a fine actor. His years on ER as John Carter were peppered with dozens of seductions—he was quite the ladies' man, was Dr. Carter. Here we can see why—in the way he tilts his head in towards her, creating intimacy just by angling his body, there's a sweet sexiness that establishes real chemistry.
Anyway, on with our show. Ben has super-hearing, another ability derived from having been harnessed. Man, oh man, are we going to learn that the aliens are from Krypton? Ben's new abilities risk becoming too much of a deux ex machina, but they also inform us who and what the skitters are. It's a fine line the writers must walk. We don't want Ben solving every problem for everyone, but his skitter-acquired abilities are a way of letting us know how well the alien creatures hear, swim, climb, and so on. Fortunately, Ben's angst is becoming more interesting, his isolation more justifiable, and his desire to fit in entirely forgivable. Even if that does mean glowing spikes get a pass for another week.
The theme of this episode was childhood and growing up. Some of it was done with great subtlety. For example, in the love scene, Anne's joy was eloquent when she was given a chocolate treat by Tom—her childhood favorite. Simply by receiving this gift we experienced nostalgia for a lost world, and vivid memory, and visceral pleasure, all rolled into one. Having the scene end with a passionate kiss reminds us that childhood really must end.
At the other extreme was Weaver's relationship with his daughter Jeannie. While their interplay was touching at times and also well-acted, most of it was so heavy-handed, I could almost feel it hitting me over the head. Their reunion was lovely, but their arguments rang false, and her accusations about the divorce were utterly out of place. Hey, Jeannie, you’re in the middle of an alien invasion. Forget about your divorce trauma. The reunion and her eventual departure rang absolutely true by themselves—of course a teenage girl goes with her boyfriend, not her daddy—and didn't need that overblown educational message about anger and communication. In fact, these moments were ones I was thinking of at the beginning when I said the emotional release was earned, so why clutter them up?
Most of the rest of the thematic elements fell between the extremes of delicately subtle and overblown: Tom's struggle to allow his youngest, Matt, some freedom and some danger was very real, and in parts very nicely played, and yet, again, the piano music! That whole subplot could have been done with much more restraint, because, again, with good actors, exciting action sequences, and high stakes, Why add sentiment, when it's already so intense?
Why do groups of kids always band together in warehouses and decorate with old couches? I feel like I've seen that visual a hundred times. I'm reminded of the Miri episode of the original Star Trek, of any number of vampire dens on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, of the episode Vatos of The Walking Dead: Isn't there a way of showing a group banded together like that without resorting to visual cliché?
Later in the episode, everything that happened in the skitter harnessing center was insanely good. The kids face down on the table, the discovery that the harnesses are actually giant, terrifying slugs, the aquarium, the raw fear, and then that battle. Damn that was good television. one thing this show does very well is balancing surprise, effective pacing, and an ongoing education of viewers about its world. This week’s we’ve learned how the harnesses operate: They're giant slugs, kept in aquariums, attached to children like some kind of symbiot. Yuk. .
Jamil ends by saying "Hope's all we got." Too on the nose, but it brings the theme back around; youth and family matter because they're the future, and our heroes are going to have to fight to even perceive there's a future. That's why they're going to Charleston, and that's why giving these characters a quest and a goal—even if Charleston turns out to be a tragic mistake—is the right decision for the show, and for its characters.
Deborah Lipp is the co-owner of Basket of Kisses, whose motto is "smart discussion about smart television." She is the author of six books, including "The Ultimate James Bond Fan Book."