Falling Skies: "The Pickett Line" (Season 3, Episode 7) and "Strange Brew" (Season 3, Episode 8)

Flabbergasted

So what do you know? Just when I was about to give up all hope, along come two watchable episodes of Falling Skies. Not classic, or great, or deeply memorable. Don’t take me for an advocate at this point. But competently written and filmed, yes.

Hopefully it’s a start.

“The Pickett Line”

This episode does something neither the Espheni nor the Volm have done to date this season. It establishes actual narrative tension. And it involves mostly just humans. So, it’s like, you know, an actual story, not just a strip-mined collection of science fiction plot devices.

Tom and the boys set off for Mechanicsville to find Anne and baby Alexis. And we don’t get anywhere near there. Instead, they’re ambushed by a group of humans in ski masks who steal their horses and supplies. The interesting twist here is that the villains are just another family—the Picketts.

Patriarch Wayne Pickett has been holed up with his brood on the family farm since the invasion. He’s just trying to ride it out. And while he’s the villain of this episode, he’s not a “bad” guy. He’s just someone overwhelmed by an overwhelming event who’s trying to do right by his kin. So when Tom and company track the Picketts down to get their stuff back, there’s drama aplenty. Lies, broken promises, regrets, reluctant face-offs and Matt losing all remaining innocence when he shoots a Pickett uncle. All fairly believable, too. It ends with the Picketts getting the upper hand, after which Wayne tries to organize an execution of the Masons. But he just can’t quite do it. So Tom turns the tables and takes back his horses and supplies.

All in all, solid stuff as TV goes.

Things are even interesting back in Charleston. Our Volm narrator, Cochise, shows up carrying the injured President Hathaway. And when the actual President, the President of Charleston, Marina Peralta, and Colonel Weaver can’t agree about the Volm weapon, Cochise spills the beans. The Espheni defense grid is about to go on line, and it will irradiate the plant. Meaning mass extinction in three months. The Volm weapon is intended to burn the Espheni grid out. If it fails, however, that attempt could speed up the extinction process. High risk, high reward. There’s some narrative tension for you. Finally.

If ever a show needed a 24-esque ticking clock, it’s this one.

The actual President gets assassinated in a neat way, too. Doctor-in-training Lourdes is the mole. She goes to the floor under him, marks off distances, and rolls up a stretcher bed to mimic the bed the President is lying in above. She lies down on it, aims a Volm weapon at the ceiling and fires. We later see her praying at a shrine with Espheni mind-control bugs crawling around on her face. Ugh.

And to top it all off, we even have some color. The stretcher bed Lourdes laid down on to kill the President was dark blue. The shrine she prayed at had lots of red candles. And the woods around the Pickett house were equally refreshing, had a nice misty day vibe going.

Now that wasn’t so hard, was it?

At the end of the episode, Tom and company see a Skitter patrol with some Mechs headed toward the Pickett farm. Tom rides back to warn Wayne. By the time he gets there, however, the house is abandoned. Tom finds himself surrounded by Skitters with a Mech closing in.

Tune in next week, same Bat-time, same Bat-channel.

Final note: This was sufficiently watchable I’m not even going to ask why Lourdes the mole can’t spare a mind-control bug or two for the President and Colonel Weaver. I’ve officially suspended disbelief for this episode.

“Strange Brew”

Tom wakes up back in Boston with his original wife in bed beside him. Wasn’t that a wacky dream about those aliens? He goes to work in his job as a professor (with a pretty nice office compared to most professors I remember).

This is your standard virtual reality plot. More or less the same as that Next Generation episode. Remember? The one where Riker is the Captain of the Enterprise and has suffered a memory loss, then keeps breaking through different layers of lies. It’s not original, but it’s kind of fun. For one thing, it has scads and scads of Boston color compared to post-Apocalyptic Charleston. On any other show you wouldn’t even notice, but here that’s like manna from heaven. Secondly, the weaving in of the people he knows from the 2nd Mass is enjoyable. Pope is great as a sleazy philosophy professor on the make. Colonel Weaver is a homeless psycho warning of the end of the world, and Anne is the jealous “other woman” with whom a bewildered Tom is led to believe he’s having an affair.

A bit of a hoot, all in all. Goes on for half the show, too.

Of course the mastermind behind it all is the evil Karen. She’s trying to get Tom to reveal where the Volm weapon will strike the Espheni grid. The candidates are the potential cities to which Tom may or may not be taking the virtual reality Anne for a weekend tryst. Kind of silly? Yeah, but it’s still perfectly watchable.

Once Tom breaks free, things go bad and good. Karen is always a drag. She’s an uninteresting actress. It’s also hard to take the Espheni’s level of interest in Earth seriously when they’ve handed over governance to a seventeen-year-old. The plot always tends to diffuse dumbly around her, too.

When Tom breaks out of the virtual world, Karen threatens Anne and Alexis: “Tell me which city the weapon will hit, or I’ll torture your wife and child.” Then we go to commercial. And I’ll be danged if, when we come back, she hasn’t already killed them. That would seem to limit their value as leverage. Of course, we know they’re not dead since she didn’t actually show Tom the bodies. She showed him something that vaguely looked like bodies wrapped in a semi-translucent tortilla. It’s a God awful special effect. And yes, it’s even less convincing than it sounds.

On the good side, Karen takes Tom out on the balcony of one of the Espheni junk towers to watch the defense grid start up. Lots of nifty lights, sort of a paler Tholian web in the sky. Again, color helps. It keeps the eye fatigue down. And Tom’s escape is kind of nifty. He hurls himself at a Skitter so they’ll both go off the balcony and land far below, Skitter-side down. It’s a solid splat. Of course, it’s odd that no one pursues him from that point on. No Skitters, no Mechs. Nobody. Hopefully this is part of some devious plan; otherwise it’s just dumb.

Did Karen take Tom all the way to Boston? It seems that way, since he wanders to the house from his VR dream, which is presumably the actual house he lived in before the invasion. Anyway, he goes up to the bed room and hallucinates his original wife. It’s touching enough even if his hallucination mainly tells him how great he is and how much everyone needs him. All hallucinations should be so ego sensitive.

Back in Charleston, Lourdes the mole is doing her level best to frame President Peralta as the mole. She’s helped by the fact that Peralta tends to act weird at times for no discernible reason. But Colonel Weaver decides us humans have to have faith in each other and continues the plan to use the Espheni weapon. They may be great soldiers, but they’re oddly lethargic and incompetent with moles.

We leave Tom wandering around Boston(?).

Will conservatives like this?

Why not? It beats the heck out of anything this show has done all season.

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