Falling Skies: 301 – 302 Review
Reviewed by James Wynne.
WARNING: FULL SPOILERS!
Making its return with a double bill of episodes, Falling Skies gets underway on its third season with a premiere that feels like a significant and disappointing step backwards in a lot of areas. Seven months on from the arrival of the Volm during last year’s finale, Tom Mason now leads the resistance from Charleston, and humanity’s war against the invading Espheni forces has never looked more hopeful.
“A More Perfect Union” finished off with the Volm’s arrival on planet Earth, by way of falling from the skies, and I said at the time that their outward appearance was dissatisfying. I detest the unimaginative conformity of humanoid aliens with bulbous heads (which is why I’m so fond of the arachnidan Skitters; reminiscent as they are of the Martians in War of the Worlds), but even this besides; the action figure guise, and cartoonish texturing of the Volm’s CGI model culminated in a rather goofy looking specimen.
Alas, the SFX team behind Falling Skies have decided to forgo the CGI in favour of prosthetics for the main Volm (Doug Jones), and architect of the resistance’s recent successes, Cochise (one can’t help but giggle at the amusing pronunciation of its name; it sounds like “goat cheese”), but the aesthetic result is no less fatuous. In hindsight, the darkly lit glimpse we had of it in “A More Perfect Union” wasn’t half as bad as seeing the creature in all its glory. Likewise, the ‘Mega Mechs’, as Col. Weaver (no longer a Commander) dubs them, feel like an indolent and ineffective derivative of the standard Mechs; lacking the imposition of their counterparts, despite the upscale in size and arms.
At least the ambiguity surrounding the Volm’s allegiance with humanity proposes an interesting subplot to be threaded throughout the season. The suggestion that their own planet underwent a similar incursion warrants the suspicion that it’s getting from Weaver, Pope, and others. If the Volm’s technologically advanced defences and weaponry has been enough in its limited availability to turn the tide for the humans during the seven month interim between this season and the last – why would the intelligent Espheni have thought to risk an invasion of the Volm’s home planet in the first place?
Falling Skies’ premiering episodes also deal with the aftermath of Hal’s run-in with Karen; the result of which is an inexplicable paralysis from the waist down. Drew Roy gives a heartfelt performance, and perfectly conveys the character’s broken physicality. It’s also pleasing to see that the ‘evil Hal’ being teased at the end of “A More Perfect Union” would seem to have been a red herring (the reality of what’s happened to him is much more interesting). Similarly, the way in which Hal’s nightmarish wanderings inferred an answer to who the mole in the resistance is, was cleverly done. Since Hal was present with the rest moving in on the Espheni’s ‘Mega Mech’ production line, whilst the informant was back at base scanning and sending details of the mission to his masters, he’s no longer a suspect.
Tom’s bluff and bait tactics do throw up a whole load of questions, though. His plan to have the backdoor approach be a diversionary gambit was clearly in an effort to counteract the mole amidst their ranks. He must have known that whoever it is would be after the maps in the planning room, yet didn’t think to post someone at that location to stop them, or at least learn of their identity. And if he didn’t think the maps would be used to glean details of their plans, why wasn’t anyone outside the doors, preventing entry to the room. Depending solely on a single, locked door to keep details of a covert operation safe from prying eyes seems a drastic and reckless oversight for him to make.
Whilst Tom and co’s assault on the factory more or less goes to plan, it is not without cost – but you’d be hard pressed to give a flying hoot about that cost. Falling Skies’ family friendly approach continues to undermine it, as does the refusal to do away with any of the big players (Arthur Manchester doesn’t really count, having appeared in just three episodes). It’s all well and good showing us piles of bodies; nameless, faceless people who’ve laid down their lives for Tom’s objective, but the anonymity makes it difficult to care. The closest the writers have come to shedding this unfortunate trait was with Jamil’s gruesome, consumed-from-the-inside-out demise in “Molon Labe” – which was, coincidentally, one of the second series’ best outings.
Couple all of the above with an unholy amount of mushy scenes across the two episodes; another cheesy, uplifting Tom Mason speech; a lazily, stereotypically drawn, kooky, bespectacled nuclear scientist – and what you’ve got is the most disappointing premiere Falling Skies has had. This episode does have its good points, though: Colin Cunningham continued to own every scene he’s in as John Pope, providing levity to the direness, and an antithesis to the overt sentimentalism (‘I think I’m gonna be sick’); the harnessed children, mid-transformation, are a delightful bit of body horror; not to mention the unsettling signs being exhibited by Tom and Anne’s newborn child.
The undercurrent of ‘togetherness’ overwhelms the tonal tenor of both “On Thin Ice” and “Collateral Damage”. For every scene enveloped by a darker atmosphere, there are at least two more of grossly sentimental occurrences within the Mason/Glass family. It’s an issue that seemed to have been largely put to bed after the first series, and it’s so frustrating to see it rearing its ugly head again – amongst a multitude of other problems, it must be said. But the episodes aren’t without promise, and if the preview for the rest of the season is anything to go on, things are about to get much more interesting.