FALLING SKIES s3e9: Journey To Xilbalba: Bridge Over The River Volm

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Sometimes, you have to take the fight to the enemy.

Back in Season One, the 2nd Mass fought from a defensive position, spending most of the season holed up is a makeshift camp in John F. Kennedy High School in Boston. While sojurns were made out into the field, much of the season was spent discovering what they were up against and protecting the civilian population under their wing.

The 2nd Season was nomadic, almost biblical, as the 2nd Mass traveled to Charleston, the promised land that they had heard about. While they holed up in a hospital for a couple of episodes, the large portion of the show was on the road, on the move, but still defensive.

As the 3rd Season unfolded, the 2nd Mass once again was centered in a camp, albeit a much larger one, the city of Charleston itself. This time, while living underground gave them protection, it also gave them the ability to take the fight to the Espheni.

However, it also increased the inner conflicts. No longer was the biggest danger a Skitter attack or a tense stand off between Tom Mason and Pope. Now, you had factions that worked both with and against each other. The Bostonians had to co-exist with the Charleston residents, and then the other President and his Keystone camp were thrown into the mix. Add in some new aliens in the Volm, and the level of distrust was ratcheted up big time.

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Now, Falling Skies is down to one episode for the third season. The final episode must not only complete the 3rd season in a logical and exciting way, it must allow the show to proceed into new territory for the 4th Season, to be a bridge to the future.

As we’ve seen in this past weeks episode, Charleston is not the best place to hide and fight from anymore. This is thanks to one person, one person who would never be expected to be able to pull off a “one person wrecking crew” of a mole persona. Lourdes has been busy. She has not only taken out or affected just about every figure in power, but she has also managed to destroy the infrastructure of the camp itself.

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While so much of what she has done up to this point has been behind the scenes, clandestine, it has mainly involved espionage and assassination. For the first time in the series, the mole became a pure terrorist. Possibly because the walls were closing in on her, she decided to bring those walls down. Yet, as with most undercover dangers, she was her own worst enemy. The pressures of the hunt for the mole as well as the knowledge that Tom had escaped and that a confrontation was coming with the Espheni, she became sloppy.

Her own need to be “Lourdes” tripped her up as she offered her condolences for Tom finding Anne and Alexis dead in Boston. The problem was that no one outside of a trusted few knew where Tom had been and where he had seen the cocooned bodies. As she ramped up the havoc, she also ramped up the sloppiness that led to her capture. Yes, all of the 2nd Mass now knows that Lourdes was the mole. However, does the 2nd Mass know if the mole is the extent of the subversiveness going on in Charleston?

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The Mason family dynamics also come to the fore in this episode. While the boys are glad for the safe return of their father, his journey and discovery, as well as the potential dangers, are forcing them to confront fears both long suppressed and newly felt.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the “walk and talks” between Ben and Matt. Ben has developed a maturity and a soberness for the situation, but Matt Mason is the one being forced to grow up much faster than he ever wanted. He believes that the only chance to destroy Karen rests with Ben, and while the possibility of losing Ben scares him, he begins to understand the sacrifices sometimes required of one person for the good of the many.

For his part, Ben began to feel the loneliness that an absolute power like he has can bring. While he could defeat Karen, if Matt is correct, it could be with the possibility of casualties among those who he loves most. While his survival would seem to be more likely than the rest of the Masons and the 2nd Mass, what good would that survival be if it meant being alone.

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In an excellent Twilight Zone episode, TIME ENOUGH AT LAST, Burgess Meredith is the lone survivor of an atomic bomb. While not an exact parallel to this Falling Skies episode, the moral of the story is the same. In the Twilight Zone episode, Burgess Meredith loses what matters most to him, his glasses. Because he has bad vision, he needs the glasses to make it through life, to read, to see, and to learn and understand. In effect, the rest of the Masons are Ben’s “glasses”. Without them, what would be the purpose of survival. Without their ability to show, to teach, to help Ben understand, super powers begin to look very lacking in importance.

It’s almost the reverse of the conversations that Ben and Danni have been having, about their fear of returning to previous nerdy state. They decided to keep the harnesses despite warnings of a short life span rather than to return to their previous normal state of just being a kid.

Of course, this is where the mole situation becomes complicated. Knowing that Lourdes has essentially been medically involved with every person in the 2nd Mass, you have to begin to doubt any advice or treatment she has given over the course of the season. In particular, you have to look at what effect she has had on Anne and Alexis, and whether Alexis is alien by birth, by genetic tampering by Lourdes, or if this is pure psychological mindplay.

In addition, you have Lourdes telling Ben and Danni about the dangers of living with the harnesses. Can you now trust anything she said would happen, or was she trying to scare them into removing the harnesses and in turn, removing one more effective weapon against the Espheni?

Add in that Lourdes knew how to get the eyeworm out of Hal, as well as the fact that Lourdes herself suffered a traumatic loss last season when Jamil was killed by alien spiders, and you begin to want to rewatch the entire season to spot the clues

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Her attempt to assassinate Cochise is one more escalation that has led to her downfall. As the possibility of battle approached, so did the need to be the “enemy inside”. This leads to the destruction of the compound which is meant to create total chaos, not just body count.

And I’m still not comfortable that Lourdes has been acting alone in Charleston. Are there others? Have some of them been killed because they knew too much or had served their purpose? Knowing that the Volm gun was already destroyed, what would be the reason that Lourdes would need to kill Cochise? Does he know something about Lourdes that she does not want out, or does she not need him anymore.

As does the chaos surrounding the destruction of the Volm gun. This not only seriously wounds Cochise but also seems to wipe out the rest of the Volm. However, it also introduces an element that calls the Volm itself into question. Cochise shows the ability to regenerate and heal what looks to be fatal injuries. While it is assumed that the rest of the Volm are dead, it is not unrealistic to think that they too can regenerate. That makes me wonder about the scene of Cochise and Tom looking at the ruins of the gun in a fatalistic way. Can we be sure the Volm is gone?

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And even more important, can we be sure of the Volm’s intentions. After all, we have never truly seen and heard why the Volm are here and what their motives are. Can we truly believe they are here to save earth or is earth simply potential collateral damage in their battle against the Espehni? As we found out a couple of weeks ago, the use of the Volm gun, if it did not work, could destroy all organic life on earth. If that was the case, what is the point of fighting for earth knowing the casualties would be grave? Is there something in the earth’s structure that either side needs? With all fife gone, all that is left is mineral and water.

Just as Pope doesn’t trust Tom, and Weaver at times trusts no one, I’ve never trusted why the Volm has suddenly arrived to help the humans. Add in the four city points (Boston, New York, Chicago, and Jacksonville) on the Espehni power grid, which seem to cover the mineral rich Eastern US mountains, and you wonder what the true purpose of the intergalactic battle really is.

In any case, this “bridge’ episode worked well in getting many of the storylines from this season to move toward the climatic episode tonight. While much went on, including the struggle to free Hal and Maggie from the sealed off armory, there are still many questions yet to be resolved. The Volm’s intentions, the true dangers of the spikes in Ben’s back, what Karen will do next, and how the battle now expands again. I still wonder the true purpose of the President Hathaway storyline, especially since he and Cochise flew off together when the keystone was under attack. What did Arthur Manchester know or find out that was reason to kill him? Marina herself has come into question as to motivation. Can she now be trusted fully or will Weaver still doubt her?

More questions arise that I’ll reserve to see if they get tied up tonight or remain lose. Though we can be confident that the train has left the station and that Season Four will once again expand the terrain.

And if you believe that Anne and Alexis are actually dead, I have a bridge I can sell you somewhere.

Falling Skies s3e8: STRANGE BREW (Please Come To Boston)

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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.

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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.


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Falling Skies s3e6: Be Silent And Come Out

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Some weeks, I struggle to find a clever way to open these blog posts. Much like a “lede” in reporting, getting this off to a proper start is what sometimes torments me. I don’t like to do pure recaps since there are other sites like THREE IF BY SPACE who do that so well already So, this week, let me “lede” with the link to TIBS’s recap from this episode and you can refer to it now, or preferably, check it out after reading mine.

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The past weeks episode Of FALLING SKIES may have been one of the more heart wrenching yet. There have been plenty of emotional moments, horrible scenes of damage and destruction, and periods of hopelessness to overcome. But set against both the spectre of the mole hunt and the fear of what has become of Anne and Alexis, FALLING SKIES seized on one of the toughest psychological concepts to pull off, when son turns against father.

The main thrust of this week was that Hal, or Evil Hal, finally had to show himself in order to stop Tom from heading off to find Anne. His violent actions and subsequent taking of Tom as a hostage did not pull punches. Evil Hal was cold and vicious, in both his actions and his words. Referring to Tom as “Professor” instead of Dad, he spared no punches in his desire to get information out of his hostage.

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Drew Roy, who plays Hal, is an excellent actor, but as the eldest Mason brother, Hal was probably the least interesting of the three up until this season. However, the earworm story line changed that and this episode allowed Drew/Hal to own the screen. It is a great conflicted performance, one that required intensity and menace, but had to avoid slipping into the standard clichés for a possessed character. Drew Roy captured the dispassionate coldness needed for Evil Hal and did it so well.


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Falling Skies (s3e5): SEARCH AND RECOVER (The 2ndMass Odd Couple)

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One of the challenges facing FALLING SKIES is how to not become locked into a locale or a storyline area, but also to make the movement feel like a natural progression, an organic story change, and not just same story, different background. In the first season, the 2nd Mass spent most of their time in a defensive position, trapped like a wagon train against Indian onslaught in a Boston high school.

For the second season, they became nomadic, searching for an almost biblical promised land, the city of Charleston and what they would find there. Once they did get to Charleston, they found that it really only existed in a subterranean world now, one of artificial lights, industrial corridors, and subdued spirits. Like in season one, the underground mall and corridors trapped them in a defense system, but this time, it also allowed routes and ways for them to expand their battle in Season Three, allowing for a fairly secure home base while being able to protect and defend from the perimeters above.

Even that becomes confining, so the discovery that there were others out there, involving President Hathaway in another secret area, allowed the story to spread out again, this time keeping the home base but expanding the locales. This allows for freshness of story and also for a change in tone for the show. The show has moved from a defensive posture to one of taking the battle to the enemy when needed.

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But as last weeks episode, SEARCH AND RECOVER, showed, you can’t always be on the offensive. You have to know how to defend, how to discover, how to survive. The episode centers on the survival story of Tom and Pope, who have to depend on each other to find their way back after their plane is shot down by the aliens. This survival story, inspired by the 1958 Tony Curtis/Sidney Poitier film THE DEFIANT ONES is a classic case of bonds being formed on two people, some forced, some natural, some out of a need to survive.

These scenes of Tom and Pope needing each other to stay safe have multiple shadings. Yes, on the top, it is about the realization that two have a better chance depending on each other, but the underlying distrust and previous feelings about their relationship make for a difficult journey.


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