To reiterate, one of the things that I love about FALLING SKIES is that it is a sci-fi show that is not dependent of clubbing us to death with cool or gory aliens. In fact, it may have some of the most judicious reveals of alien “monsters” than most recent shows and films about aliens. You just don’t see then unless they need to be shown.
Such is the case in Episode 7. This is the conclusion of a two part episode that expands the show beyond the walls of the school compound, as well as introduces new characters that call into question exactly what Tom and the 2ndMass will need to deal with.
In addition, it is an episode that relegates the star of the show, Noah Wyle, to a relative supporting role the entire hour. It elevates Hal to the forefront, the one in charge, and the one responsible for moving the action without “jumping the skitter shark”. A couple of times, small actions that seem to be done by supporting players threaten to do that. However, while Hal is the lead, read farther down to see why Ricky is a driving force of this episode and how his story line is adding layers to Ben and his situation.
One such “close to jumping” action is that Lourdes shows musical talent at the most inopportune time. While Hal has taken the kids to hide from Clayton inside of an abandoned house in an upscale neighborhood, Lourdes decides that is the perfect time to do a piano recital. No offense, Lourdes, but if you are trying to escape people coming after you, you may NOT want to make too much noise to give the hiding place away.
The story picks up at the Sanctuary where Clayton (of the 7thMass) has taken the children of the 2ndMass. A couple of small nitpicks here. Knowing that there is no ability for communication beyond the walls of the school compound (unless Paul Revere is riding and ringing them bells and shooting them guns), I still wonder why Tom and Weaver in the 2ndMass would just accept the 7thMass scenario. This is a lone traveler, yet he has so much information about other units. (edited 7/27 6:35PM)
So, when Clayton shows up and touts the danger as well as the 3rdMass Calvary coming to the rescue soon, why alarm bells do not go off in Weaver and Tom’ s heads is a little strange. In addition, as Clayton leads the kids into the Sanctuary, Hal looks around and smiles at the people already there. However, those people simply return cold, blank looks. Why would they not be happy to welcome the kids?
But back to the current episode. This is the episode that Hal (Drew Roy) gets to move to the forefront. He is the catalyst for almost all of the actions and decisions that are needed. The 2ndMass kids are essentially in his care. Knowing that Hal is 16 and prime “Tiger Beat” material for the Disney Channel set, there is always the fear that using Hal is simply making eye candy to attract a younger audience.
However, at least to me, Hal may be 16, but his character must, by necessity, be much more mature. Drew Roy plays him that way and it allows his character portrayal to be adult in tone, not a kid with a gun and a lot of problems, plus no less than three girls crushing on him. Counting Karen (where IS she?), Lourdes, and Tessa, that’s a lot. What do you expect? As a young man in charge, it is natural that others would be attracted to him. And as a boy forced into acting as a man, Hal simply has not had experience at love. Will these attractions cloud his actions? So far, so good.
Hal is essentially made by Tessa to feel like one of the family, much to her father’s chagrin. He reminds her that the kids are not keepers, that they are bargaining chips with the Skitters. The kitchen scenes have a normal, homey feel, a family around the counter and the dining table. The question is, does Tessa love Hal and how will that affect their safety.
In the meantime, we get to see Pope hone his “Houdini” act and escape from the compound when Tessa’s father comes to check on him. However, Pope is shown to have the same humanity that runs throughout the series, as he is intent on escape, not killing his captors. Pope later shows up as the Calvary when needed to try to save the kids from Clayton’s posse.
Sadly, we lose Mike in this episode. Mike becomes the first of the 2ndMass to realize that something is wrong there. He discovers Eli’s coat and is then discovered by Clayton. Clayton appeals to Mike as a Dad who is trying to save his family but you realize he is also trying to save his own skin. Mike is allowed to walk away quietly.
However, Mike eventually realizes that they have to escape. In a bedroom scene, he tells what is happening and scrambles the 2ndMass to get the hell out of there. They run and they hide, inside of an empty house in a upscale neighborhood. In this scene, the question and theme of this series that I most love comes up again. Is it worth a life to save the whole? In this case, it turns out to be worth Mike’s life to make sure Ricky and the kids get a better chance to survive.
Of course, Clayton then continues after the kids. However, back at the compound, Tom and Weaver have finally figured out that something isn’t right. Tom sets out on cycle to find the kids. He first encounters Ben, who has set off separately from the rest of the kids, hopefully to get help. We see Clayton arrive at the house and command his troops to make sure that the kids are not hurt, but he allows that Hal can be taken out. Proof again that Hal is no longer considered by Clayton as Skitter trade bait, but as an opponent who stands in the way of his needs.
Pope shows up. Tom then shows up. Pope now has to convince Tom that he is back to help. Tough to do when a firefight is about to break out. Again, at least for me, the human aspect that I love in this show comes to the forefront. Instead of a loud, noisy battle to survive, Tom seems to rely on his knowledge of history to handle the situation.
He drops back and surrenders. This allows for Pope to escape undetected , but also once again caused Hal to question his father. In a previous episode, Hal was upset because he felt his father ran away from danger. Now, he sees his dad essentially give up. Hal may have been forced into an adult leadership role, but the father and son dynamic is still strong and emotional.
Meanwhile, Anne has only had to deal with a breech birth back at the compound. She gets to be a pediatrician again, which is her specialty. Surprisingly assisted by Weaver, she successfully delivers a baby girl. This so feels like a pure background story, but you begin to wonder how it figures in future episodes.
Pope returns to the compound and sets the final scene in motion. This allows for Weaver to set up a classic war film “to the rescue just when all hope is lost”. The final scene is at what has to pass for a military funeral for Mike. It is during that scene that you start to realize that peripheral characters from previous episodes suddenly figure much more prominently.
Such is the case with Ricky. While Hal is the star of the episode, Rick (Daniyah Ysrail, but billed as Daniel J. Gordon) is moving to become the catalyst for delving deeper into the mystery of the aliens. Rick is a true find. If you look on IMDB, you see a light body of work, mostly TV and roles that are background. However, Rick has developed into the first clue that that there is more about the aliens than just Skitters and Mechs. Rick only has a few lines , but using some great facial expressions, he makes those lines both chill and intrigue.
It is all in the eyes.
At the dinner table, Ricky refuses to visually acknowledge his dad as Mike tells stories about Rick’s past health problems. He only seems to directly connect with Ben who he chastises for eating “their” food. The use of “their” allows for some multiple interpretations of meaning. Is Ricky upset about eating the food of the 7thMass, is he upset about eating dinner with his father, or is he rejecting the food of humans? Is this a reaction to feeling sadness as a youth due to his cystic fibrosis or feeling abandoned and captured? Or is Ricky a form of the aliens now?
Later, in the bedroom before the escape, Ricky is lying on the bed and seems to recoil at his fathers touch on his head.
Then the most revealing moment. At his father’s funeral, he is given the military honor of receiving the flag that draped the casket. He accepts without connecting with his eyes. Again, his only eye contact is made with Ben. He comments that he doesn’t understand how “they” could kill their own. “We” would not do that. Is he speaking as an alien or as a confused ex-harnessed kid? Is he appealing to Ben as if Ben is a sleeper alien who simply needs to realize his new role?
In interviews the previous week, the writers, producers, and cast alluded to the introduction on a new alien in the show. Yet, here was an episode that only had the spectre of alien beings guiding actions. You saw no Skitters or Mechs in the episode. And we definitely did not see a new scary alien.
Or did we? As much as recent sci-fi has accustomed us to expect grotesque or deadly beings, are we being presented with essentially the “enemy within”? Is Ricky the host for the higher level alien? In addition, it is becoming obvious that the aliens have a value system as well. They are not all intent on destruction. What do they want and what do they value? What do they need?
While Ricky takes on much greater importance, Ben (Connor Jessup) has really stepped up his game. In the last couple of episodes, he has moved from plot point to a conflict. He has come back to the family and has rebonded with his brothers. Matt has developed a type of hero worship for him, while Hal is concerned about him. Ben has come back bigger, stronger, faster. However, these changes do not seem obvious to Ben. They do not surprise him. They worry Hal though, and going forward, I expect Hal’s relationship with Ben to be tested.
So, in the end, FALLING SKIES has depended on human dynamics to tell an otherworldly story. In addition, the creatives know how to escalate Hal and Ben to the forefront when needed, and to make it work. And best of all, they know how to use supporting roles like Ricky in the most compelling ways. With Mike gone, I expect to see Anthony and Dai to receive greater focus, as well.
FALLING SKIES has me hooked. They already have a renewal for Season 2 and a steady audience. This allows for allowing the story to advance and also to allow storylines to resolve and not just end.
See you Sunday.