Falling Skies: 303 – 304 Review
Reviewed by James Wynne.
Carrying on with the underwhelming form of the season’s premiere, “Badlands” and “At All Costs” sees a reiteration of all the same problems. There’s another frustrating example of Falling Skies’ writers seeming to believe that all presidential leadership entails is making inspirational speeches whenever tragedy occurs. Then, of course, there’s the obligatory dosage of cheesy guff, in the form of Jeanne’s ‘Liberty Tree’ project.
To counter all this, a death in the ranks is at least levelled with the appropriate impact. Crazy Lee (Luciana Carro), like Jamil and Boon before her, wasn’t a major character; she was just one of many in Pope’s entourage. But, again, similar to the deaths of the two characters I’ve already noted, this is largely irrelevant because of just how effectively her demise was handled. Despite its generally ‘family-friendly’ approach, Falling Skies tends to operate best when it enters into more disturbing territory. Having Crazy Lee killed by a stray barb piercing her skull, and taking out her occipital lobe in the process – thus, blinding her for the time being that she remained alive – was so imaginatively macabre that I’d go so far as to say it trumps all other character deaths up until now for sheer impact. Unfortunately, the episode did amp up the melodrama to an almost insufferable level, and that’s where the issue of Lee’s minor character status does factor in as a detracting aspect of the episode.
Lee’s death is brought about by one Lt. Fisher (Luvia Petersen), who, it transpires, is operating in accordance with the previously assumed dead, President of the United States, Benjamin Hathaway (Stephen Collins). It’s interesting that the Volm’s questionable loyalty to the 2nd Mass is less so than that of the President’s and his men after they steal Cochise aboard their own aircraft. This season seems to be all about who Tom and co. can actually trust, and throwing an untrustworthy mass of humans into the equation is an interesting touch. After all, Falling Skies has unwaveringly championed the human race up to now, and constantly posed suspicions of the alien factions that have taken sides with the humans (e.g. the Rebel Skitters and the Volm). Could it be that humans will be their own undoing, warring amongst themselves?
Meanwhile, between becoming the equivalent of a presidential snake oil salesman, Tom’s concern, or lack thereof, about Anne’s insinuations that their child is exhibiting worrying signs of possibly alien intellect really highlights what an arse he can be, and why, despite being the central protagonist of the series, he’s not one of the most favoured characters.
Is it really that much of a stretch for him to take her concerns seriously? Lest we forget, not only is this a world where actual aliens are occupying the planet, but that Tom has experienced their infective methods of offense firsthand. It’s hard to believe that he wouldn’t think to take any precautionary measures, like installing a camera in the bedroom, or quarantining his devilish spawn and ordering a DNA test just to be sure and, at the least, alleviate his wife’s worries in the process. Instead, he opts for a patronising dismissal, and stations Lourdes to survey his wife, who he now obviously believes to be suffering from some sort of hallucinatory breakdown. As with his oversights concerning the mole in “Collateral Damage”, his actions here aren’t really in tune with the Tom Mason of season’s one and two, who was frequently the voice of caution and understanding.
Character inconsistency isn’t just limited to Tom Mason across “Badlands” and “At All Costs”, either, as Anne herself suffers from a severe bout of it. Her painstaking attempts to convince Lourdes and Tom that there is something wrong with Alexis (who, I’d like to note, is a fabulously creepy infant), and it’s not just her imagination, is somewhat in conflict with her later decision to flee Charleston, leaving two unconscious victims in her wake, upon learning from the put upon Dr. Roger Kadar (Robert Sean Leonard) that her newborn does in fact possess traces of alien DNA as she suspected.
Speaking of humans under Espheni influence, Hal’s dark side, briefly glimpsed in last season’s “A More Perfect Union”, makes a reappearance here, with the writers going down the inarguably clichéd route of having his split-personas conversing in the mirror. Drew Roy does the evil shtick rather well, despite it being the typical assortment of maliciously glinting eyes and wicked smiling that’s seen so much in TV these days. He doesn’t ham it up as some lesser performers would, and he effectively slips between the two personas, drawing a clear distinction between them.
Moving on to another of the Mason’s, Ben’s prominence in “At All Costs” was a welcome change from the curious sidelining of his character in the previous three instalments. His pairing with fellow harness-victim, Deni (Megan Danso), makes for a wonderfully matey dynamic that Ben has previously been denied, due to his condition and close affiliation with the Skitters rebelling alongside the humans. The pair’s mutual experiences creates a natural point of connection, and the two actors echo that in their performances perfectly, sparking up an almost sibling-like chemistry.
Lastly, a point I feel needs addressing is the Espheni assault that wraps up “Badlands” and is immediately resumed in “At All Costs”. It’s effortlessly repelled by the Volm, but the fact that the Espheni’s bombers peculiarly decided against dropping their explosives on the crowds of people gathered below, who were stood right in the open, instead electing to fly back and forth like some sort of extraterrestrial aerobatics squad, until such a time as they were shot down, is a bit ridiculous. Falling Skies frequently plays fast and loose with the accuracy of the Espheni’s firepower, but having them abstain from attacking for no apparent reason whatsoever is an altogether more critical point of contention.
“Badlands” Verdict: 6/10
“At All Costs” Verdict: 6/10
No episodes of this third season have yet reached the heights that the majority of season two’s output managed on a consistent basis, and it’s so frustrating to see a show that can be up there with the best stepping backwards into complete mediocrity. The sickeningly cheesy, patriotic and ‘all together’ propaganda needs to be done away with, and the writers need to establish consistency over the characters, and the Espheni in terms of the threat they present, as opposed to constantly and conflictingly adjusting it to accommodate for plot convenience.