If you watch a show from week to week, you will find yourself repeat viewing individual favorite scenes or characters, but many times, you will watch and then move to the next episode. You may talk about the show around the real life or virtual water coolers that are available to all of us through social media.
Sometimes, though, you have to really watch something twice to get what is subtly in the story and on the screen. There may be clues missed or just subtle shadings and line readings that can change your initial opinions of that episode. I’m working on a blog post called SECOND LOOKS about the ability to revisit and re-evalute films, TV, books, and music that you’ve either experienced previously or, for some reason, you’ve dismissed as not in your entertainment wheelhouse.
Some episodes of FALLING SKIES deserve a similar “second look” because your first look may be a bit deceiving. Never has there been an FS episode more deserving of that revisit than STRANGE BREW. In structure, it basically plays with a main act with two other story arcs following along. These arcs intersect but each are set up in starkly different styles.
The STRANGE BREW episode of FALLING SKIES starts off in an unusual way and proves to be the most different in style and story of the series. And yet, it is in perfect keeping for what I and so many others see in a show that is far beyond aliens vs. spunky humans. The show opens with what is essentially a “theater of the mind”, a blank screen with only sounds from previous 2nd Mass battles coming in surround sound to your speakers.
The black screen forces you to pay attention to both what you are hearing as well as what you are not seeing. As the blackness slowly fades up to a close-up shot of Tom Mason, the sounds you just heard help to emphasize the next scenes even more. As the fade up begins and the battle sounds depart, we are not left with a shot of Tom in Epsheni captivity or of 2nd Mass action, but instead, it is a domestic husbad Tom, waking up next to his wife, in his nice home, with his loving family. It is both a reset of what we’ve seen from the Masons since episode one as well as a contrast to the tone of the whole series.
The black fade in is subtler than, but similar to the very opening of the film CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, which shares a connection with Steven Spielberg, director of CE3K and FS. The main difference is that in CE3K, the audience has no prior knowledge of anything that has occurred so far and the opening serves to grab the attention of an audience that is probably still rustling around in their seats, eating popcorn. The increasing crescendo of one chord of music which swells to a single blast while the screen goes from total darkness to blinding light strongly grabs your attention.
The opening from black to the picture of Tom is quieter but not less affecting. Instead of blinding light and a deafening orchestra, we get a domestic scene with warm colors, a clean house, a happy family eating breakfast and going off to school and work. Notes are on the refrigerator. Brothers rag on each other, cereal is eaten, and the days sports news is debated. The warm full color palette contrasts with the normal shaded of blue, brown, and grey that is the current world of the 2nd Mass. This lulls the viewer into both a game of “aw, look what Pope looks like all cleaned up” and the fun of finally seeing what life might have been like for the Masons before all hell broke loose. You get to see alternate identities for Pope as a teacher, Anthony as the Dean who feels Tom might be after his job, Cochise and Marisa in the teachers lounge, and Maggie as a student.
The most startling though are Weaver as a doomsayer, easily dismissed as a homeless zealot, warning Tom that THE END IS NEAR and imploring him to “wake up”. He is harassed by Karen as a Boston police officer who is constantly trying to push Weaver / doomsayer away from Tom. These both serve as a warning and yes, a wake up call, to Tom Mason.
And, while it may not be essential to the overall plot, it was a pleasure to see Dai reappear as the jealous husband who confronts Tom, who seems to be having an affair with Anne Glass, who is married to Dai in this episode. Bringing Peter Shinkoda back for the cameo was not only a very nice nod to the Falling Skies fanbase that were shocked when Dai was killed off, but it was also the logical choice to complete Tom’s journey up to that point.
Chatter online questioned why Dai was brought back from the dead, instead of Jimmy, Ricky, Crazy Lee, or other character who had passed on. Dai was the perfect choice because his character had been a major part of the battle against the Skitters for two seasons and whose death probably had the most effect on Tom. With his hallucinatory nightmare filled with alternate realities for those closest to him or those who he comes in contact with the most, Dai held a special place in this battle. In addition, Dai coming back to warn him to “stay away from his wife (Anne)” could easily have multiple shadings. Dai Glass” was not added to simply be the husband scorned, his warning to Tom may be a subliminal message about his search for Anne.
The domestic scenes take on a psychological “Twilight Zone” feel as the domestic bliss gives way to both Weaver’s warnings as well as the mystery woman named Anne Glass. Tom seems to have no idea who Anne is, but the story surrounding Anne and the mystery “trip” to Boston, New York, Chicago, and Jacksonville starts to awaken both Tom and the audience itself, who have been lulled into the Father Knows Best scenes in the early part of the episode.
Unlike a film like 36 HOURS, in which the Germans have set up a psychological “reality” to convince a soldier with vital information that the war is over and it is safe to release that info, this deception seems to be more of Tom working out questions that he has been dogged with along with an attempt to get info about the 2nd Mass and the Volm gun. Karen is obviously behind this, but this all plays out in Tom’s mind with the alternate realities of the 2nd Mass populating his dreams.
Even the eventual meeting with Anne at the coffee shop is a microcosm of this change. When Tom enters, he sees Anne sitting there, smiling back at him and anxiously relating the “trip” that is to come. However, as the scene continues on, Tom begins to doubt who Anne may actually be and why she is there. His past memories of his life with his family begin to clash with his recent experiences with the 2nd Mass as well as what Anne now means to him and why he is searching for her. His past family is being disrupted by his current family. Even the style of the filming, the camera focus and the tilting angles of the shots begin to shatter the “domestic bliss” of the earlier part of Tom’s dream.
This causes Tom to begin to wake up from the nightmare and realize that all of these memories are being driven by his captivity by Karen and the Espheni. All of the cool cameos in the domestic scenes give way to the most important ones. Weaver has been the closest to Tom all thoughout this battle and is now warning him to wake up, both from his nightmare and possibly to what is the real purpose of the Volm, who Tom has seemed to trust from the beginning of the season.
Tom awakens screaming as a torture device is removed from his face. Karen is there and is seemingly trying to get info from Tom as to what the four aforementioned cities mean. The 2nd Mass arrives to free Tom and Tom assassinates Karen in a rage.
Or does he? The nightmare turns out to be a Russian doll style, where what seems to be reality awakened actually contains another reality deep inside. The final reality shows Tom awakening with Karen there to exult in the power grid that is being deployed by the Espheni, the same grid that the Volm are so worried about. Karen shows Tom the cocooned bodies of Anne and Alexis, looking almost like the pods in Invasion Of The Body Snatchers. While it is assumed that Anne is dead, there is no actual declaration that it is so.
To Karen, the grid is the culmination of the Espheni’s attempt to finally conquer the country. By creating the spider web across the entire eastern half of the US, the concept is that the Espheni now have a superior upper hand in the battle. The four cities mentioned by Anne in Tom’s dream seem to be the transmission tower points for the grid.
Of course, you wonder why those four points are vital, since they do not encompass the entire country, nor are they focused on all major eastern cities. Jacksonville supercedes Washington DC and Philadelphia PA. Why these four points? While I don’t remember this question being answered anywhere, these points do cover the mountainous areas along the Eastern seaboard. When you look at the height of the power grid platforms, it seems obvious that they have been built that high so that they can have a clear line of sight from one city platform to the other three. That would mean that this Espheni grid need that direct line of sight to operate, much like some digital signals that can be blocked by a building that stands in the way.
I wonder if there is something in the geology there that the Espheni need? After all, we still don’t know why they are here. If you are going to enslave a people, you need a reason to have that slave force. We’ve already seen the harnessed kids being used as slave labor to collect the metal needed for the power grid platforms. Are they also collecting some mineral or substance that Earth has and that they want? As you might remember from Cochise’s warnings about the side effects of deploying the gun in the last episode, the Volm seems to feel that the loss of all organic lifeforms on the planet Earth is simply acceptable collateral damage in their bid to defeat the Espheni. If the earth has no organic life, there has to something left on a lifeless planet that they desire.
While all of this is going on, the secondary story of the mole continues back in Charleston, creating the unholy alliance of Weaver and Pope. Marina knows that she is the prime suspect, and Anthony’s search for the mole draws the same conclusions. While the audience knows who the mole is, the 2nd Mass does not. Marisa confronts Weaver about how to proceed and passionately implores him not to remove her from office and replace her with the “power of the gun”. In essence, she is trying to head off a military takeover. Weaver conspires with Pope to cut Marina out of the plans, choosing to simply do an end run around Marina and not allow her to access to planning.
While I still believe there is a lot more to the mole story than just Lourdes, that is not really played out in this episode. However, I strongly believe that issues surrounding Marina are a planned distraction (by the Volm?) to keep the 2nd Mass focused on the wrong dangers.
Yes, I do not trust the Volm.
With the final scene, FALLING SKIES again shows why I love the human drama of the show and why that sets this apart from your standard alien invasion story. While it is generally assumed that Tom’s nightmare is his mentally working out the dangers facing the 2nd Mass, it is also the culmination of all of his questions from last weeks PICKETT LINE episode.
In that episode, Tom could see what life might have been like for him had he chose a passive survival route rather than taken his family with him as he led the fight. Those questions are finally answered in the final scene of this episode. After Tom has escaped from the power tower, he returns to his ravaged home, just as he left it when the Espehni first attacked. The experience overwhelms him as he enters the bedroom and he collpases on in the bed in total sadness, finally allowing himself to cry and break down, to let his guard down and express his true emotions.
At this point, he sees Rebecca , his wife, in bed next to him. She is not there to comfort him, she is not there to remind him, she is there to implore him to move on, to tell him to let go and to return to his new life and his new responsibilities. Her final words, whether actually spoken by her or simply by Tom’s memories of her past wisdom and love informing his decisions, allow him to start his return to the fight, to his current family and to the brave new world he is so essential to.
As many of you might know, I’ve always wanted to meet Rebecca, the person who has been the reason the Masons have stuck together, even with her absence. I’ve always believed that she must have been a wonderful wife, mother, and woman to her family. I’ve finally had the pleasure of knowing why the Mason men are so wonderful. It is because their mother and wife would accept nothing less from them.