Falling Skies: 305 “Search and Recover” Review
Reviewed by James Wynne.
Falling Skies has settled into a fairly mediocre rhythm of late, and despite the inspired and volatile coupling of Tom and Pope for the bulk of its runtime, “Search and Recovery” doesn’t really manage to break the spell.
The episode resumes where the previous one left off, with the plane Tom and Pope were aboard having crashed in some forested wilderness. As with last week’s “At All Costs”, there is a casualty in the ranks within the opening scenes: General Bressler. Thankfully, this week, the folly of the previous is avoided, and his demise is given the inconsequential treatment it thoroughly deserves. He didn’t get the most palatable introduction last series, and has been relegated to a relatively ornamental presence lately, and this is well observed by Jordan Rosenberg, who’s on writing duties here.
His death paves the way for Tom and Pope’s union, and it’s as you’d expect; brimming with unreserved hostility. Of the two, it’s the wildcard wise cracker, John Pope (and Colin Cunningham) who outshines the frankly bland, Tom Mason. Pope’s carefree antagonism is the perfect counter to Tom’s uptight ‘stick in the mud’ personality, and this is exemplified no better than during Pope’s japery with a snake and a sleeping Tom Mason (a prank that prompts some fisticuffs between the pair of them).
Missteps are made with both characters, though (further missteps in Tom’s case). As I highlighted in my reviews of the season premiere, “Badlands” and “At All Costs”, Tom has seemed uncharacteristically prone to some egregious misjudgements this series. Though a far lesser example than those previously addressed, his intention to bolt from the crash site, with the area/areas nearby still under close surveillance by one of the Espheni’s ships is another farcical miscalculation on his part (and one that’s stopped in its tracks by Pope, of all people). Whilst he’s always been a bit unlikable, his prior intelligence has at least justified the other characters’ – and in particular, Col. Weaver’s – reverence for, and reliance on, him.
Meanwhile, Pope’s determination to keep Tom alive just feels like Falling Skies once again enforcing its clichéd ‘all human beings are good at heart’ mantra, and it’s something that ill-befits a character like John Pope, whose appeal lies in his equivocal morality (a fact underlined by his campfire recounting of the murder he committed before the alien invasion; a suitably arresting piece of back story). It’s passed off as him feeling honour bound to do the same for Tom as Tom did for him – earlier pulling him from the plane wreckage before it exploded, and thus saving his life – but considering he’s also adamant that Tom owes him for the aforementioned plane (surely someone like Pope would see that as a fair exchange), it hardly constitutes convincing reasoning for such a break from character.
Subordinate to all of this is the aftermath of Anne’s decision to flee Charleston, involving Weaver’s subsequent attempts to locate her. This fraction of the narrative transparently meanders around until such a time as Tom is back at base and can be alerted to Anne and his child’s disappearance. It is the very definition of “padding”. This becomes especially evident when Weaver and co. stumble upon a dead woman during their search, facedown on the ground, who just so happens to look the near identical twin of Anne (cue: artificial suspense as the body is turned over and the “shocking” truth is revealed). What follows is an arduously melodramatic burial that occupies fifteen minutes of the episode’s runtime that could have been better spent in the company of Tom and Pope.
I understand that Falling Skies intends to convey an enduringly optimistic message, despite all of the terror and destruction surrounding its characters, but one can’t help but feel it would be far better served delving into the territory of other similarly, apocalyptically-themed TV series, like The Walking Dead. I recall one of the episodes from the latter show’s third season, “Clear”, being bookended by an example of the depraved state of mind its characters have become disposed to. Being so accustomed to the horrors that their daily lives now entail, they first ignore a man running along the road shouting for their help, and later find nothing but a bloody trail and his detached rucksack, which they promptly scour for supplies without batting an eyelid. This sent a stronger, more affecting message than all the damp eyes and soulful mourning of Falling Skies ever could.
On the upside, this is definitely the best looking episode of the run thus far. Whether it’s the wild and wooded landscapes that Tom and Pope spend the episode touring through, or the decimated remains of the city above Charleston – the scope of Falling Skies’ setting is so wonderfully cinematic for such a moderately budgeted cable show.
This third season is consistent in quality, if nothing else. Unfortunately, although the Tom and Pope storyline has its merits, not enough is made of it and everything else in the episode falls way short of the mark.