I am a huge TV and Film freak. Yep. I admit it. It has always been a passion of mine from the first time I remember dancing as a little kid while American Bandstand was on up until, well, right now, though I am not so cute while dancing anymore. But if a show hooks me, I become a passionate fan. FALLING SKIES has become one of those shows.
In the past couple of years, I’ve blogged about each weeks episode, following a more traditional “recap” format for the posts. However, I decided that there are plenty of great sites offering recaps, so it was time to do this a bit differently, and hopefully more to the point. Since this is a blog about me, I decided that the best way to share my love of FALLING SKIES was to talk about what caught my eye in each episode.
So no, these posts won’t read like a complete descriptive of what happened it week, but it hopefully will excite you enough to tune in, if you don’t already. These little standout nuggets will hopefully capture my enthusiasm and spread that around.
As for FALLING SKIES, I am the kind of person that likes my sci-fi/horror shows not for how scary the aliens are and how loud things go “Boom” but for how characters who embody human attributes react to the situation. I like my fantasy grounded in some reality, and I want that grounding to be logical and make me think. It is great to see a “rise up out of your seat” shock in any show, but it is even better to see characters who I can relate to.
That element of human drama and interaction, the examination of how their life roles before a disastrous occurrence have both changed and remained the same, is why I watch. Add in the fact that I love how past American and world history informs the narrative makes this a must see for me.
These pieces that I point out won’t be in chronological order, but more in the order that they pop into my brain (yes, I have one) while writing this.
This past Sundays two part premiere, “ON THIN ICE” and “COLLATERAL DAMAGE”, had one tiny scene that to me might have possibly been the most powerful visual in the series. Ben and Denny are scoping out an alien work camp where the aliens (ESPHENI) are using the harnessed kids to do slave labor to build and power a newly introduced alien war machine, MEGA-MECHS. I’ll be honest and tell you that Mega-Mechs came fairly close to reminding me of evil robots in dozens of other sci-fi tales that I’ve seen. However, that familiarity goes away immediately and devastatingly when watching this scene. As Ben (Connor Jessup) and Denny watch from a hill, a harnessed kid doing slave labor keels over and dies. The Skitter “foreman” simply picks up the body and tosses it on a pile of other dead bodies, a pile that I had not noticed before this.
Up to that point, the scene had been about surveillance on an enemy camp, observing what was being built to use that info for strategic purposes.
Then comes the lifeless kid being tossed onto the pile of other lifeless kids and I sat there in sadness as I started to relate this to scenes of horror from World War II concentration camps that I’ve seen and heard from over the years. The image of this cruelness was so powerful that I am still chilled writing this paragraph now. And this is a scene that takes maybe 30 seconds and is not a major set piece.
However, in the entire two hour premiere, this is the scene that haunts me, the thought that the evil in FALLING SKIES can be this cold, this cruel, this rooted in a past that you’d hope would never be seen again.
In the same history vein, the show itself seems to have followed a timeline that follows American History. The first season was basically rooted in the Revolutionary Way, with most of the action being locked into the Boston area that was a colonial hotspot as well. Even the “call to arms” used at the beginning of the series, THREE IF BY SEA”, was a play on those colonial times.
Tom Mason, as a history professor thrust into the leadership role of a commanding officer, found his actions and thoughts informed by what he knew, this country’s history. As the second season developed, the time frame referenced seemed to move forward to the 19th Century and connected the south to the story, creating a MORE PERFECT UNION. Much of the second season was nomadic, with the 2nd Mass on the road to a destination of hope.
Even then, the World War II references were present, as BOON ( Billy Wickman ) was coldly executed in a scene straight out of the old Cold War films, when he was shot in the back by Karen and the aliens at what felt like a prisoner exchange.
Once they arrived in Charleston, they found a need to create a government to try to resurrect the country. This need was brought home in the tensions that greeted the 2ndMass as they arrived at Charleston and had to blend with the group of survivors. The creation of a “more perfect union” led to Tom Mason being elected President during the 7 month bridge between the 2nd and 3rd seasons.
This allows Tom to get back to a major character comfort zone, leading and acting from a position informed by his knowledge of American history. This might be seen as a potential for a North/South conflict between Boston and Charleston. To me, Tom actually seems to assume a Lincolnesque visage, especially when he is wearing his white shirt and back vest. Add in things like a bust of Lincoln in his office, Tom’s ability to stir passion with his oratory, and his need to heal a country torn apart, and you have “Honest Tom” to take the helm.
The VOLM is another addition that opens the story up to new conflicts, questions, and possibilities. They have come and brought knowledge and improved firepower. While we see alliances of rebel skitters fighting along side of the 2nd Mass, we only get up close with one Volm, Cochise. Again, even the aliens’ name borrows from 19th Century history. Smartly, the showrunners seem to have chosen to use Cochise, played by Doug Jones, sparingly in the beginning. The best way to keep a new character like this compelling is not to overuse or overexpose him too quickly. By essentially bookending the first two hours with him and not having him onscreen for the rest, it allows his appearances to have a bit of an uneasiness to his actions. We know precious little about him and that keeps us guessing.
In addition, John Pope has been given his own “Dodge City” to run, complete with a rowdy saloon. Just as the name Cochise sparks memories of the West, so does this town of essentially outlaws. How autonomous this “town” is might spark some action and conflict down the road.
The Masons themselves have come a long way. Hal is now an integral part of the mystery this year, not just a dutiful older brother and son. The earworm has had a major effect, and Hal may be paralyzed or he may be in alien control. Questions about his condition are only hinted at to allow this theme to roll out.
His relationships are complicated by and complicating what is happening with everyone. His past relationship with Karen seems to have re-manifested itself as the focus of the new Karen / overlord. In addition, the mystery of why Karen is focusing on Hal can be misleading. The past purpose has been on getting Ben back for the aliens, as if Ben was seen as necessary for the aliens plans to succeed. Now, Karen focuses on Hal. Is Hal just a way to get to Ben or is Hal the fail safe plan since they can’t have Ben? In addition, you have the image of what looked to be some sexual activity in the woods between Hal and Karen. You might expect the consequences from that to have a major impact at some point.
Ben is now seen by his father as an equal, a type of general who is the leader of the rebellion of Skitters and harnessed kids. He sits with the other military leaders in the war room. The scene last year when Tom and Ben said tearful goodbyes as Ben left the nomads to go off to his own duty (and Tom remembered watching young Ben going off to school for the first time) is now seen to be a solid break with Tom seeing Ben no longer seeing Ben as a son that needed protecting.
And even the role of Ben has changed a number of times. Falling Skies started without Ben being seen much in the show until part way through the first season. As his character emerged, Falling Skies started to focus on Ben and Ben’s character started to radiate heartthrob vibes.
Then the FALLING SKIES showrunners did something brilliant and something not too many other shows with young leading men would do: They created whole episodes with Ben being absent from most of that episode. They allowed Ben’s presence to be felt, but by sending him off on his own mission, that absence had its’ own power and allowed them to develop the other characters, showing them to be vital to the storyline moving forward. Let’s face it, FALLING SKIES was in danger of becoming THE BEN SHOW, FEATURING PAPA TOM. Connor Jessup has proven himself to be a great actor able to tkae a role that could have been action eye candy and make it compelling, intelligent, and compelling.
Just like the careful use of Cochise in the Season Three opener, the restraint to only use a character when needed and not just to showcase, makes each character arc and action that much more impactful.
Finally, we come to MATT MASON, the youngest Mason brother. When we first met him in Season One, he was still dealing with the horrific loss of his mother during the initial alien invasion. In fact, the first action we see Matt do is to draw a young boys picture of what happened. As the first season continued, Matt started to mature and grow, and also started to really feel the restraints and restrictions put upon him from being a “little brother”. It manifested itself in his early fascination with Pope and the Mech bullets. He started to want to be a bigger part of the action but was always held back because he was the little brother. He started to smother under the love and protection.
In Season Two, Matt started to use that young energy in more dangerous ways, such as serving as “bait” to attract Skitters for the Beserkers to kill. This dangerous cat and mouse game led to an almost harnessing, as well as a secretive diary that he started to keep. His actions were still that of a naïve but well meaning boy, but his desire to be needed and fit in, as well as the situation, were forcing him to grow up fast.
Then comes Season Three, and Matt is now the FALLING SKIES “TICK TICK BOOM JR”. He is essentially Gavroche from “Les Miserables”, and his fearless desire to join in is starting to convince his father and the other leaders that Matt is able to handle the pressure and the dangers that the new world will present. In addition, Matt has matured in most of his relationships, including that with Anne Glass. He still does dumb kid stuff out of boredom, but he is learning how to man up to these mistakes and learn from them.
The most interesting new character seems to be Roger Kadar, played by Robert Sean Leonard. Playing a character that could veer too far into “Doc Brown” territory from BACK TO THE FUTURE or in the opposite direction and just be boringly quirky, Leonard has so far shown the character to be eccentrically brilliant, but not played for comic effect. As a matter of fact, his restraint in playing what would be a cliché in another actors’ hands will allow this character to grow with the story, and whatever secret or fear that Kadar harbors looks to be important for later in the season.
Finally, we have two mysteries that are prominent. The first is the newborn baby for Tom and Dr. Anne Glass. I’ll take a second to say that Moon Bloodgood, who plays Anne and was actually pregnant during the filming of this episode, is radiant in these two segments. That glow of motherhood is one of the most beautiful things in the world. The question is, what about the baby. While hints where thrown that something may be amiss and different, these were not a factor in the current action. But wait for the future.
The big question is WHO IS THE MOLE. There is someone who is informing the aliens of the 2nd Mass plans and causing them to fail. In addition to that, Arthur Manchester was murdered in his office by someone he seemed to know. We only caught a glimpse of a shadowy figure and a hand firing the gun. There are new characters, including Gloria Reuben as “Marina Peralta”, essentially Tom’s Chief of Staff. that fingers might be pointed at. Many of them are logical but just seem to easy to suspect.
The speculation surrounding who the mole is will be on everyone’s mind. I expect that to be resolved fairly quickly and don’t expect it to be a season long mystery. I’ve given thought as to who it could be, and figure that whoever it is must be human and trusted. Having said that, my most outlandish theory is that the identity of the mole may actually be a red herring. The search for the mole being co-ordinated by Manchester might be that red herring. He has assigned Anthony to investigate a checklist of suspects. It would be natural to assume that the mole and the shooter are one and the same. However, I then would question why the mole would murder Manchester, reminding you that Manchester seemed to know who the shooter was.
So, my outlandish theory, which of course will be wrong, is that the shooter is not the mole, nor is he a bad guy in the scheme of things. However, the shooter is familiar with Manchester. Manchester by turn, is privy to many of the secrets of the 2nd Mass, as well as very familiar with the military operations of Charleston. He is also no longer in charge and does not call the shots anymore. Does Manchester harbor some resentment towards how things are progressing? Did Manchester have any ulterior motives while he was in charge of Charleston?
Could Manchester actually be the mole? And could the shooter actually know that? Has the shooter been lurking in the background waiting for an opportunity to figure out the identity of the mole? That’s my crazy theory, that the mole has been hiding in plain sight and that the shooter has figured this out. Again, some of this is based on Manchester being killed so soon in the third season, but only after he assigns Anthony to smoke out the mole. So, if the shooter was on that list as a mole suspect, just killing Manchester does not end the search. He would have to kill Anthony as well.
If this crazy theory is right, I have my thoughts about who the shooter is. There are plenty of other theories out there for you to check out, but for me, I’m going with “red herring” one. Again, I’m still processing who it could be and hope I beat the writers to the reveal.
I think we will find out very soon.
See you next week.