EPISODE REVIEW: Falling Skies: "Mutiny" and "Eight Hours" (Episodes 9 and 10)

Flabbergasted

So we end as we began, with two distinct episodes crammed together into a two-hour event. Alas, it felt like a bit of a step back. The finale seems all the more like a science fiction show written by people not very familiar with science fiction. Another thing of note is how many potentially interesting scenes happen off camera. Are they determined to prove this is a character drama first? Limited budget? Tunnel vision while writing? I don’t know, but it was very noticeable in the second hour.

But just to keep me in my place, here’s the ratings downlow:

“TNT’s Falling Skies, the #1 new basic cable series in the United States – ended its first season Sunday night with 5,623,000 viewers, plus an outstanding 2,531,000 adults 18-49 and 2,835,000 adults 25-54. These Live + Same Day deliveries mark the show’s best performance since the June 19 premiere. After scoring cable’s top new series launch of the year, Falling Skies ranks as basic cable’s #1 new show of 2011 among viewers and tops all scripted basic cable series this summer with adults 18-49 and 25-54. TNT has already renewed Falling Skies for a 10-episode second season, slated for 2012.”

Episode 9 - Mutiny

We open up with members of our stalwart civilian/military regiment watching a cartoon in the high school gym. The writers want to show the desire for normalcy, but I think they overdo it. The magnitude of the laughing is over the top, not quite Jokeresque, but a tad maniacal. Cut to Dr. Glass explaining to Tom about Skitters having a harness as a spine, how they were probably transformed from something else. That’s an obvious concern with the spines still embedded in Ben. Tom says they took his son away once, and they’re still trying.

Dai comes back on a motorcycle badly hit. He’s rushed to the infirmary where Dr. Glass says he’s lost a lot of blood and they’ll know more in the morning. What they’ll eventually know is that the lead up to the big attack announced last week isn’t going so well. They haven’t been able to establish contact with the 4th and 5th Mass (the other prongs of the attack), and Colonel Porter may have been killed in the same attack where Dai was injured. And this marks the first time I wonder about missing scenes. How hard would it have been to intercut the cartoon-watching desire for normalcy with actual scenes of Porter and company being hit and Dai’s desperate flight. The desire for normalcy and the horror of reality, side by side. But no, throughout these two episodes we get told about a lot of interesting stuff that happens off camera.

Tom and Weaver argue about the attack. Tom says without contact, they don’t know if the other groups will hold up their end of the deal. Weaver says the 2nd Mass isn’t going to be the group that fails to hold up it’s end if the others do show. Weaver tells Tom to go out on scout duty to verify whether the Skitters are changing their movements/deployments before the attack. Tom finds that demeaning, like he’s being dismissed, but it sounds kind of important to me.

Tom watches Ben sleep with the harness spikes still in his back. Dr, Glass comes to tell him some disturbing news. She says Weaver has been on some combination of sleeping pills at night and stimulants during the day. Tom tells her about Weaver kind of losing it last episode. They worry together. Tom then sends Hal and the tough chick scouting while he stays behind.

Meanwhile, Pope, our thug savant, has a real assembly line going. He’s manufacturing bombs and the new Mech metal bullets in a class room, the latter without a sign of any casting operation. But as I told you last week, Pope can do anything.

Tom confronts Weaver about his potential drug usage. Weaver is pissed that Tom disobeyed an order and didn’t lead the scout team himself. He orders Tom arrested and sent to a utility cage in some basement. It comes across as forced, an overreaction on both their parts. It’s also the cue to make a big deal about some new character called Lt. Danner. He’s apparently there just to be a mindless hard ass. He personally sits in front of Tom’s cage to guard him. That doesn’t strike me as the wisest use of everyone’s suddenly favorite hard-ass-accomplished-soldier-we’ve-never-seen-before given that they’re two days from a big attack.

Time for a radio interlude (there will be a lot of those). Remember the old guy who was trying to build radios? The one who made lots of obvious jokes about vacuum tubes and his being old? Well, he’s got a radio going and is looking for Skitter frequencies to jam. That seems like a silly weakness for a space travelling civilization to have in any significant way, but okay. Sure. Ben tries to help him and suddenly weirds out at one frequency. Later, he talks with Rick, the other harness kid still with spikes. Rick ominously says “you heard it, too.” Oh, and Rick wants to go back to the Skitters, doesn’t want to be human. Remember that for next episode.

Hal and the tough chick (does that sound like a bad sit com to anyone else?) come back from scouting. The Mechs and Skitters have redeployed and things look a lot worse. Weaver says “we’re punching through.” Taking that as their motto, Tom’s friends decide to bust him out of the basement cage. Young Jimmy uses the old bringing-the-prisoner-lunch ploy. Since that never fails on TV, Tom is free before you know it. Tom and Company converge on the injured Dai, who tells them Colonel Porter may be dead and the 2nd Mass may be on their own. He says Weaver knows that and is going ahead anyway.

Back at the radio, Ben asks the old radio guy to go through his frequencies again. He experiences real pain at one, which must be the magic jamming frequency. He cries and asks “What am I?”

Weaver is pissed that Tom is free. He’s also presumably pissed that one of his crack staff fell for the old prisoner lunch ploy. Mason breaks in on Pope. He wants to stop the attack and tells Pope to take the four big bombs he’s working on apart. Pope rather reasonably balks. Tom points a gun in his face and tells him to do it. Leadership 101.

At Dr. Glass’ office, Weaver demands to know where Tom is. Tom’s little band of sons and friends show up and surround Weaver. They all start arguing. About the time Tom says he had Pope dismantle the bombs, Pope sneaks up from behind, points a gun at Tom and frees Weaver. Everyone makes a big deal about what a traitor Pope is, how he can’t be trusted. That’s strange. Tom did shove a gun in his face to make Pope join their side. It hardly seems fair to complain about Pope jumping ship the first chance he gets. Turns out he didn’t even dismantle the bombs, either. That’s a good thing considering the next paragraph.

So we’re at the peak of our little mutiny’s tension, and then… They all just sort of talk it out. It’s the lamest mutiny you’ve ever seen. Everyone just needs to have their opinion validated. Weaver gathers the whole regiment in the gym to tell them how bad things are. He says if the 4th and 5th Mass are still alive they will make it; the 2nd can’t let them down. He asks for volunteers and gets them. End of mutiny. Tom will stay to protect the civilians, Weaver will attack, and Hal volunteers to join him. A few more snarks about Pope betraying the people who put a gun in his face follow, after which we’re done.

Note for future leaders: putting a gun in someone’s face works while the gun is there. But it’s not really a team builder.

All in all, not such a great episode. It’s a watered down mutiny cliché where everyone just needs to talk it out. The whole point of mutinies is that they generally occur when the “talking it out” option has already failed. Positions tend to get entrenched once the whole mutiny thing is actually out of the bag. So what we watched was an hour of faux drama that didn’t really advance the attack story. The first half of the two hours thus isn’t doing its job. It gives a muted hand off to the second half.

WILL CONSERVATIVES LIKE THIS EPISODE?

I doubt it. Conservatives aren’t generally wild about mutinies against lawful military authority in the first place. They’re even less wild about them when the supposedly crazed commanding office agrees to a group talk where he respects the mutineers and their concerns. Do you think maybe that mutiny card was played without proper provocation? Or was it just lazy writing?

Episode 10 – Eight Hours

The volunteer attack force is on its way. One of the really irritating things about this episode is that you will never see them actually attack anything. So the whole point of their sub plot is off camera.

Ben and the old guy think they’ve got something good going with the radio. Then “the generator” dies. Tom and Ben go out to add diesel to it. That is, unless the wunderkind Pope devised a way for it to run on dramatic angst. But then, it wouldn’t have run out of fuel around here, now would it? Left all alone, the old radio guy turns around to see Rick on the ceiling like Spiderman. Seriously. Rick says “I won’t let you hurt them” and jumps down at him.

Back to the attack force. This may be the only attack force in television and film history that forces you to watch them stop and send scouts ahead, talk and send scouts ahead, say move ‘em out and send scouts ahead, etc., but never actually shows them attacking anything. That’s got to be budget, right? No writers could be that obtuse.

Back at the high school base, the old guy is getting his head stitched up. He’s still folksy in a boring kind of way. Ben runs after Rick, who stole the one critical vacuum tube. Seriously. He’s about to catch Rick when the boy who wants to be a Skitter vaults over the barricades. Just like, yes, Spider-man. At this point, I was afraid he was about to start shooting web fluid, but thankfully the show didn’t go there. Seek the Lord in small favors, or so they say. Tom goes after Rick for fear he’ll give information away to the Skitters.

Rick meets a harness girl already going green around the neck. He says he wants to come back to the Skitters. She says of course, but first he has to tell her everything about the people he’s been with. Turns out the girl just takes the information and leaves him behind, though. Good scene, right? Look for clues in her enigmatic attitude, feel Rick’s desperation? So of course we don’t see it. We just watch Tom find a sobbing Rick who proceeds to tell him all that. Tell, not show, is the motto this week. It’s like they’re trying to win an informative speaking contest.

Tom, being the swell guy he is, tells Rick that it’s okay, that he didn’t ask for any of this. That’s true, though somehow I doubt that will resonate with Weaver and his now betrayed attack plan. But since we don’t see that, either, I guess it doesn’t really matter.

Weaver orders his squads to split up for the attack that we won’t see. We do get to see him order Hal back to base to tell Tom he should evacuate the civilians. Even Weaver doubts the presence of the 4th and 5th Mass now. Understanding this may be a suicide mission, but one they have to try, he wants to spare Hal and give the unprotected folks back home their best chance to start running.

Hah. Joke’s on him. Tom has already ordered an evacuation since Rick spilled the beans. Tom and a small force will stay behind at the high school to delay any attack that may come. And it does, apparently using up the episode’s green screen budget in the process. One Mech arrives by itself. Tom’s motley band kills it with Pope’s Mech bullets. They cheer. Then another 10 Mechs start coming down the road, and it’s like, well, actually, you know, we expended all our bullets killing that one. “I’ve got three…I’ve got two…I’ve got four…” That’s called undisciplined fire. So they’re dead.

But now it’s time for the heroics of Ben and the Old Radio Guy. They’ve found the magic frequency, but the signal’s not strong enough. They need a better antenna. They proceed to hook up jumper cables to the high school flag pole. And what do you know? The Mechs leave because their radio frequency commands have been disrupted in some unspecified way. It’s as thrilling as those bygone days when people used to invert the tachyon pulse modulator.

Hal arrives to tell Tom that Weaver is probably screwed, which Tom already knew. So Tom hooks up the magic radio to a car with a big antenna and heads out to help Weaver. He hopes the Skitters haven’t changed frequencies, which anyone being jammed would do as a matter of course. He also seems to think this portable jammer will keep him from being attacked. That’s strange, too. If the star-faring aliens have the rudimentary ability to plot points on a grid, being the mobile frequency jammer should guarantee you will be attacked. Oh, and before Tom goes, he asks Dr. Glass to look after his sons. They finally share the obligatory kiss that’s been building since the attack made them widower and widow, respectively.

To make a short story even shorter, Tom arrives on the scene after Weaver’s attack has failed. That’s right—you missed it. Tom gives his car to Pope and some survivors; Pope gives him a portable missile launcher with a Mech metal warhead. There may have been some Pokemon cards traded as well; I wasn’t paying that much attention. Tom goes to find Weaver, who also survived off camera. I bet his survival off camera was dramatic.

Tom says they might as well do something to let the aliens know they were there. That’s actually insulting since Weaver did lead a doomed suicide attack. But since we never saw it, I guess it kind of never happened. They shoot down a lone alien plane overhead, which crashes into the big structure they wanted to blow up. It starts a localized fire. Tom and Weaver laugh. I personally hope the Resistance finds its credit rating downgraded after this pathetic display.

Tom and Weaver find some other car and drive somewhere. They stop when a harness girl suddenly appears in the road. Then, even more suddenly, a big alien plane/ship of some kind lands behind her. The harness girl says: “They don’t understand.” Apparently the aliens watched this episode, too, and wondered where all the interesting stuff that happened off camera was. One of the tall, skinny new aliens gets out of the plane/ship. The harness girl says: “They didn’t expect this level of resistance and find it interesting.” Or something like that.

Tom’s pissed because they stole our children and now they want to talk. Weaver’s pissed because he wants to attack someone on camera. I’m pissed because this seems kind of lame after ten episodes. When Tom refuses to talk (now there’s a bright idea—refuse to talk to the powerful alien you know nothing about who is poised to blow you away), the harness girl issues a threat. She reminds Tom the harness is a process. Ben isn’t free, and the aliens will call Ben back unless Tom comes with them. Tom still refuses. Now, so help me God, she actually says: “They can force you, but they don’t want to.”

(Look, once again, for future reference: putting a gun in someone’s face to make them do something (last episode) doesn’t give you the right to presume their loyalty. Likewise, threatening the well being of a man’s son is forcing him to do what you want. Can we get these very basic behavioral concepts down next season?)

Tom goes with the aliens, and we’re done for this year. It’s a poorly developed cliffhanger. I’d have much rather seen the actual attack and just had Tom captured at the end of it. Overall, this was one very weird episode. Its focus and rhythm are all off. Will conservative like it? I can’t imagine why they would. It’s a frustrating end to the first season.

Hopefully, if they’re cable’s #1 show, they can afford enough budget to show us the interesting stuff next year.

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