EPISODE REVIEW(S): Falling Skies: "Silent Kill," and "Sanctuary (Parts 1 & 2) (Episodes 5-7)

Flabbergasted

Today we’re covering the most recent three episodes of Falling Skies, which has been renewed:

“Falling Skies premiered in the U.S. on TNT Sunday, June 19, drawing an extraordinary Live + 7 audience of 8 million viewers and ranking it as cable's top series launch of 2011. The premiere also garnered an impressive 3.8 million adults 18-49 and 4.5 million adults 25-54. Through its first three installments, Falling Skies has averaged more than 6.4 million viewers through a blend of live and time-shifted viewing.

Falling Skies is quickly becoming a global television sensation. In the opening stages of its rollout in more than 75 international markets, it has already drawn strong - and in some cases record - audience deliveries for networks airing it in the United Kingdom, Spain, Germany, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Venezuela.”

So let’s hear it. Three cheers for well-produced, not particularly imaginative science fiction. Of course, when you put it that way, maybe we should settle for one cheer. One and a half? Anything that convinces network’s it’s worth taking a shot on something sci-fiish can’t be all bad.

Episode 5 – Silent Kill

The title is kind of amusing in a TV sense. It’s pretty much what happens to shows with dreadful ratings that suddenly don’t have a next week’s preview at the end of the episode. But that’s not Falling Skies fate at present, so we soldier on.

We open with a motorcycle scout team coming in with all the drugs they could harvest in the remains of Massachusetts. As you may or may not recall, they now know how to take the harnesses off the kids. Our main protagonist, Tom Mason, is ready to rescue his son Ben and the other kids in Ben’s pod (for lack of a better name). They will then need lots of morphine to act as a bridge sedative while they use a blowtorch to cut the harnesses off. Fair enough. If someone is cutting something off my back with a blowtorch, a little morphine would probably be appreciated.

There’s a scene with Tom and Dr, Glass. He talks about how he wishes she were doing the operation because she cares. She counters that Dr. Harris, the show’s designated jerk, invented the technique and is critical to success. Also, she’s no surgeon. And did I mention that Dr. Harris is absolutely critical? As in it would be really tense and dramatic if they had to try and save all these kids without him. I’ve watched enough TV in my life that I’m willing to lay down serious money that eternal fate is about to turn its back on Dr. Harris.

A nice bit follows. Tom, our resident historian always ready with a historical battle tale, presents his plan of attack to the gruff Captain Weaver. Instead of the usual bluster, Weaver demonstrates his professional competence by politely pointing out that Tom is still something of an amateur. He’s drawn lines on a paper without thinking them through. Basically, if he’s making that much commotion, he has to factor in the enemy’s response. Weaver quickly points out how it will be lethal. So this needs to be a very quiet, sneaky operation.

Dr. Harris is being a total jerk with Dr. Glass. I think the writers are trying to make certain we won’t miss him. A little cross bow practice later, Harris is in the lab alone with the captured skitter. He gets careless, and what do you know? Harris tastes the rainbow and gets strangled by a Skittle (bad joke, I know). Weaver tells Glass to get whatever insights she can from the captured Skitter in 24 hours, after which he will personally kill it.

Poor Dr. Glass. She’s all tense and nervous now, and Tom is telling her he has faith in her. One funny aside, though. As Glass stares at the Skitter, the camera holds on her face a second too long and you actually see a blink that looks like a wink. I told you. Nobody liked Dr. Harris.

Rick, the first kid freed previously from the harness is acting weird. His cystic fibrosis was cured by the harness. He’s kind of blank and his loyalties remain suspect, but Tom’s oldest son Hal talks to him anyway. That inspires an idea. What if he puts on the deactivated harness cut from Rick and wanders into the abandoned hospital where the kids are being held? He might be able to escape detection when things are quiet at night just long enough to locate the kids and kill their Skitter keeper. Then the kids are already out when the covering attack starts. That’s sneaky.

Tom doesn’t like it. Dr. Glass says Hal will need to know how to kill a Skitter quickly. She remembers from a previous incident with the captured Skitter that they appear to have a nerve bundle in the upper palette of their mouths. Connected to the brain, even. So she grabs a cattle prod and a scalpel. Then she shocks the Skitter, jumps in the cage and drives the scalpel in and up. It drops fast. It’s a good scene, with Dr. Glass’ emotional reaction afterward well done.

The big sneak attack is appropriately creepy. Hal infiltrates the pod, which is actually being cared for in a surprisingly gentle manner by its Skitter. More hints of some type of symbiosis. Tom is hopelessly afraid for Hal and comes in early. Hal actually gets his knife in the Skitter’s mouth and is in a tough little grapple to the death. With the aid of a good cross bow shot (cross bow practice earlier, remember?) from the arriving attackers, Hal wins.

Back at home base, the kids are lined up, the blow torches are lit, and Dr. Glass does her tense, dramatic thing. The harnesses peeling off look appropriately gruesome, and of course Dr. Glass loses one kid for effect. Tom tells Hal how proud he is of him, to see his son turning into a man. Maybe a better man than him. When Hal protests, Tom points out that fathers want their sons to be better. It’s a good line.

All in all, a solid episode from front to back. It’s not imaginative sci fi, but it’s pretty passable as TV drama goes.

Episode 6 – Sanctuary (Part 1)

We open with a man robbing Dr. Glass for medicine. He no longer believes in the resistance and intends to take his family out on its own. Desperate times, people cracking, blah blah blah. It’s kind of sudden and comes across as awkward.

Anyway, he runs away. Weaver and Tom and company give chase. They’ve got him pinned down when someone with a gun comes up behind him and makes him leave without the medicine. The man with the gun turns out to be Terry Clayton of the 7th Mass (our heroes are the 2nd Mass, remember?). Weaver knows him, which leads into a jargon fest about the 2nd Mass, the 7th Mass, the 3rd Mass and around again. The show suddenly feels vaguely Catholic.

Seems the 7th Mass has been almost wiped out. Terry tells them he has orders from Porter. The 2nd Mass is to prepare to evacuate but wait until it is joined by the 3rd Mass. In the meantime, since a Skitter attack may be in the offing, the children in the 2nd Mass base are to be evacuated to a safe location where the 2nd and 3rd Mass will eventually move.

People don’t like the idea of giving up their kids. Discussions about that take up a lot of time. Lots of clichéd pep talks, too. We even see someone giving someone else a gun and giving them the tired old “point and shoot” line. You’ve seen it all before in other shows, and you’ve seen it done better. After last week’s better paced and integrated story, we seem to be drifting back to derivative clichés.

At night, one Mech attacks a sentry. The main sentry is killed and the kid with him flees back to base. He’s attacked by a Skitter but manages to hold it off until the big boys arrive to waste it. One interesting visual occurs. During the frantic struggle, a globe of Earth pops free and lands in one of the Skitter’s hands. He holds it for a moment before crushing it. Kind of clever that.

The explanation is that the aliens only send out one Mech and one Skitter as scouts. Okay. But if that’s so, why do these woefully understaffed scouting detachments engage at all? Shouldn’t they just note a human presence and relay it back for a coordinated assault. By ineffectually attacking, they simply alert the humans and allow them to take action before the Skitters can prepare a meaningful assault. Which is exactly what happens.

The 2nd Mass now agrees to send its kids to the safe haven while awaiting the 3rd Mass. Lots of emoting as the kids leave. Then the kids march off to arrive at some place called the Hidden Frontier Ranch. Mike (Rick’s dad) is the main character who accompanies them.

The big shock, which has unfortunately been telegraphed (more later), is that Clayton lied to the 2nd Mass. There is no 3rd Mass and the remnants of his command are trading kids to the Skitters in return for being left alone. Desperate times, people cracking, blah blah blah. You’ve also seen this before in other shows, and you’ve also seen it done better. The scene where Clayton delivers a child to the Skitters is kind of cool though. The Skitters are represented by a harnessed girl who actually communicates for them. The final shot of her and a Skitter carrying the unconscious child toward the halo-like light of a Mech is visually well done. It reminded me of the surreal sense of dislocation you can get from some of the better anime.

The final shocker is how Clayton found out about the 2nd Mass. Remember Pope, the convict turned cook turned general pain in the rear who escaped in Episode 4? Well, Clayton has him locked up in the basement and apparently had beaten him until he talked.

There’s a little more development of the children/Skitter symbiosis concept here. Tom’s son Ben talks about how the Skitters cared for them, that there was even some sense of family. And Ben, like Rick before him, is physically stronger for the experience. I think they need to start getting more specific about what is going on soon, because the attempts to drag this mystery out aren’t as compelling as the writers seem to think.

My basic problem with this episode is that it kills a lot of time getting to a cliffhanger ending that cam as no shock to me. Clayton seemed suspicious from the first, and the whole “desperate times, people cracking” bit is so arbitrary and prepared for just this episode that it made the ending obvious.

Episode 7 – Sanctuary (Part 2)

Snooze.

This is the first episode I really just zoned through. Honestly, there’s not an original moment in it, and the way in which the boxes are checked off is so lackadaisical it barely feels like a story at all. As an example, in one subplot, they want to humanize Weaver by having him help deliver a breach baby. But they just show him saying he helped his wife with a breach baby once and then saying, more or less, “Let’s do this.” That’s it. Worf and Keiko did a much better job of covering the same terrain years ago.

Weaver humanized. Check that box.

As far as the plot goes, Mike discovers Clayton’s secret and leads the kids in an escape attempt. He sacrifices his life to get them out, but not before making Hal promise to look after Rick (Mike’s son). The rest is barely worth summarizing. A lot of it is stupid, too. The kids are on the run from the armed remnants of the 7th Mass, they have no idea if Skitters are around, yet they take the time to play a freakin’ piano in a house they stumble across.

Basically, Clayton’s group surrounds the house. Hal tries to hold them off. He’s about to get taken out by a sniper, when Pope shows up and kills the sniper. He’d escaped earlier. Then Tom Mason shows up and insists he and Pope surrender because they’re outnumbered. Everyone surrenders and marches back to the Hidden Frontier Ranch. Since there’s only a few minutes of episode time left, Weaver is there waiting for them.

End of lazy story.

Silent Kill was decent stuff. This is tired crap. Hopefully, they’ve got the delaying out of their system, and we can kick it up a notch for the final three episodes.

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