Falling Skies: 210 “A More Perfect Union” Review
Reviewed by James Wynne.
Well, here we are; the final instalment. The aim of this episode was undoubtedly to see the series finish with a flourish, as last year’s did, and successfully round off the many themes that have been built upon throughout the year. With the series’ recent dip in form, I must say I was worried that this episode would fail to achieve any of that, but, by and large, it did. Though, still not quite as well as I’d have liked.
In the dying moments of last week’s semi-politically focussed story, we saw Arthur Manchester, former majority leader, incarcerated and the entirety of Charleston placed under marshal law. General Bressler was the one who suddenly overcame his inability to stand up, and take charge; overthrowing Arthur’s rule. His character’s decisions and actions didn’t make much sense in the previous episode, and I was annoyed to see this illogicality carry over once again.
It’s strange that his reasons for taking charge are because he wishes to take the fight to the aliens – something Arthur wouldn’t allow – and that he seems content, for a short space of time, to join the 2nd Mass in doing just that. He’s aware that they’re intending to meet with the rebel faction of Skitters, and appears to initially have no qualms with that necessity; asking them if they’re prepared to go on the offensive immediately. However, when later given proof of the rebels, and told of their plans to infiltrate and destroy the Overlord’s dangerous, new weapon, something they require help to do, he refuses, citing that it’s a suicide mission and he will not risk the resistance’s soldiers, let alone his own ones. He’s an army man, who just minutes earlier had shown a potent desire to take action against the invaders; action that he knew would inevitably involve the rebels, yet now he takes a stance against it because it’s not ‘safe’.
It transpires that his reasons may not be all that they seem, and he has other, personal motives for his slightly odd behaviour. When the rebels decide to confront the residents of Charleston, so as to inform them of the action necessary, Bressler takes arms against them and is only convinced to call off the slaughter when the show’s main protagonists form a blockade of sorts. Later on, after consequently learning of the rebels’ temporary whereabouts, he orders the mass killing of them; something that sees Ben himself injured. When pushed by Tom, he lets loose that his son was killed by a Skitter, right in front of him; giving obvious motive for his unintelligent, selfish decision.
It still doesn’t add up, and he comes across as the episode’s stereotypical ‘bad guy’, who is not open-minded enough to accept the possibility of aliens turning against aliens. Even then, though, he seemed to have no trouble doing as such earlier on, and in last week’s instalment for that matter, so his sudden hatred of them seems to crop up out of absolutely nowhere.
Tector, whose development in the last episode was to the severe detriment of his character, takes another backwards step here as well. Having now binned or more literally; burned, his army uniform, he politely requests to be Pope’s whipping boy once more, and this is his only focus in the entire episode. Presumably, his lack of desire to lead and instead be ordered about previous to “Death March” was because of his traumatic experience in Afghanistan, which was accentuated further still by Boon’s death; someone who looked up to him, similar to his troops that were led to their death by him. Weaver helped see him through it and encouraged him to accept what happened and move past it; because everyone makes mistakes. So, as a result of this, he signs up for Charleston’s military outlet and is ordered about without protest. Then, in this episode, we see him completely revert to his quiet, submissive self, who wishes to be part of Pope’s entourage once again.
Nothing’s changed, so you have to question the reasons for the sudden focus on him, and the attempted but failed development of his character. Was it merely to strengthen the content of otherwise lacklustre episodes? Perhaps, but it’s a great shame either way; as Ryan Robbins is a very able actor, and the character had the potential to be one of the show’s best, but what has been done with him has inflicted permanent damage that will be hard to rectify.
It’s not until the episode’s halfway point that the action starts to occur, after the 2nd Mass is kindly granted the permission to venture on this suicide mission. Following the directions embedded in Ben’s head, they reach the interior of the aliens’ now infamous weapon. It’s clear the vacancy of any big spending in the last couple of instalments has been because of this; it’s a massive structure, only little of which is actually CGI, and it must have taken a significant slice out of Spielberg’s budget. It’s glorious to behold and stays true to the aliens’ previous augmented use of humans’ ‘scrap’ for their contraptions. It’s imposing; surreal qualities lend a sense of scale not often seen in “Falling Skies”.
Predictably, their less-than-quiet entry in to the weapon’s place of holding does not go unnoticed. Attacked almost immediately, they unfortunately lose one of their finest; Dai. If I’m honest, I’m just surprised it’s taken them this long to do it. He’s been a ‘red shirt’ since the very start; never saying more than a couple of lines in any given episode, and always refined to the background of shots. He’s just been there waiting to be killed off, with no effort made to have the audience invest in him at all. It’s suitable then, that his death receives little focus and simply a passing mention by Weaver upon the 2nd Mass’ heroic return to Charleston.
So, Dai’s death felt irrelevant and failed to inject any sadness in the episode, but someone else’s demise did; the rebels’ leader. He’s been cropping up since the series’ beginnings, and his motives and loyalties were always somewhat uncertain until recently. So, his valiant attack on the Overlord (I refuse to call them by their newly revealed, alien name), which resulted in his untimely and gruesome death, was very saddening indeed. His cradling by Ben, and forlorn goodbyes from the rest, was much deserved.
I think the series’ ability to somewhat humanise the aliens grounds them in a semi-believable sense of reality; they’re more relatable and easier to understand (well, the Skitters are anyway). It’s a unique decision and sees the avoidance of them simply being the ‘big bad’ of the series; they’re as complex and important as the humans themselves, and this is one of the reasons I dedicatedly tune in every week.
This episode also sees the return of Karen, and Jessie Schram’s ethereal portrayal of a human stripped of her essence; her humanity, is as evocative and captivating as ever. Although, it must be said, while she manages to retain the character’s qualities from previous episodes, she does occasionally border on pantomime.
– “It’s not over, Tom! You’ll never win! Never!”
The episode finally reaches its climax; the much teased final five minutes, and it promises something special for next year. First of the startling happenings is regarding Hal, who was forcibly kissed by Karen, something she’s wanted to do for ages apparently. Fainting in response to this, he later awakes in Charleston’s headquarters. The scene is complimented by the foreboding tones of the soundtrack, as it makes you aware that all is not well here. Hal moves towards the mirror and it is immediately revealed what the nature of Karen’s assault was; she’s transferred the same bug that infected Tom Mason. Unlike Tom, though, Hal appears to be under its influence, and allows it to make the journey across his face, from his eye to his ear. His sinister smirk at his own reflection and purposefully evil demeanour will mean much for the 2nd Mass, and in particular the Masons, when they return, next year.
Best Scene – The New Aliens. Good or Bad?
The episode’s final revelation has the most impact, undoubtedly. Hearing and feeling the quakes from above, the resistance decide to ascend and see what the problem is. A colossal storm is raging and as lightning viciously strikes, so to do some strangely shaped pods start to fall from the sky; containing some extraterrestrials we’ve never previously seen. I’m not fond of their appearance, it must be said; they resemble action figures too much, or even something from a video game. However, their, as of yet, unknown purpose is what’s interesting.
It’s hard to believe they will just be another faction of the current invading forces; we’ve enough of them already and I fail to see what throwing another on the pile will achieve. So, either they’re an evil with their own agenda, or they’re here to help. I firmly believe it’s the latter.
We were told briefly by Ben, that the new weapon, aimed at the sky for unknown reasons, was not intended as a tool to be used against the humans, but he did not have time to elaborate further. We’ve learnt from the rebel faction leader that the Overlords have invaded planets previously, to establish a form of planetary correction; a new order with them at the helm. So, my theory is that the weapon was a means of stopping these newly arrived aliens, who fell from the sky, as they’re a race who may have prior experience of the Overlords, and are on a mission to stop them, for reasons we’re not yet aware of.
Verdict – 8/10 (Very Good)
A successful conclusion to what has been a marked improvement on last year’s effort. It could have been better; but it could have been much, much worse. It was a tad slow in the beginning, with the pace from the preceding episode outstaying its welcome, but was decidedly faster in its second half. It had doses of excitement, action and drama; everything required for a finale. However, the characterisation of General Bressler felt a little extreme; clichéd, in a sense. His actions in the episode were predictable, and bordered on irritating; with his constant refusal to allow the mission stopping the episode from moving along as it should have done. Overall, though, a satisfying finish to the series and its happenings toward the end leave a lot for the first episode of series three to do.