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Friday, August 24, 2012

Falling Skies still not quite hitting the mark

The second season finale of TNT's Falling Skies, "A More Perfect Union," evoked strong emotion. Striking several important moments, excitement coursed through viewers' bodies, and left them strung out. The ups and downs and twists and turns of the season came to a head in a highly entertaining and explosive way, ending the year on a series of big notes. But it still fell a little short of expectations.

Falling Skies is a popcorn series, to be sure. It's the television equivalent of a summer blockbuster. There are lots of characters doing daring things, with special effects and battles. But there is also a lack of depth to many scenes that should carry such, and sometimes turn arounds and achievements don't feel earned. Breaking into the facility where the big gun was being built was way too easy. Someone should have noticed that.

Take, for example, the 2nd Mass stepping in front of the Charleston army's guns to protect the rebel Skitters. This seems awesome, until one stops and thinks about it. This group has been through a lot, mostly at the hands of the aliens. Tom (Noah Wyle) decides to trust them because his son Ben (Connor Jessup), who has been living and fighting with the rebels, does. This means it is understandable that Tom and his family and closest friends step up to offer protection. But why does the rest of their group? Has Tom really inspired such loyalty? We keep hearing people question his reliability after his time as a captor, and we never see him interact with more than the central core of the survivors. For everyone to support Tom in this move, more needed to be done and shown for this scene to pay off.

Falling Skies does a good job with its leads, selling the relationships in the Mason family, and those of Weaver (Will Patton), Anne (Moon Bloodgood), Pope (Colin Cunningham), Margaret (Sarah Sanguin Carter), and Lourdes (Seychelle Gabriel). But practically no one else gets anything, and in a big picture series like this, there has got to be more for the supporting characters. In the showdown with the Fishhead, many of the rebels are captured, but only a handful are shown hanging and tortured, not even including Pope. Why put the blinders on? This is why when Dai (Peter Shinkoda) dies, someone who has been around since the beginning, but is barely seen, it has little impact. Ditto for Red Eye, the alien who should have been a much more central character before killing him off.

In "A More Perfect Union," and slightly before, there is another member of the group introduced. He is a former soldier who acts like a redneck. We learn his back story a bit, and all of the sudden he is deeply involved in the main plot. It comes out of nowhere, and it's so sudden I can't even remember his name when writing this review. But at least that's showing a bit of effort. It's past time to develop more characters like him.

Now, some of these considerations are budgetary, to be sure. TNT is already shelling out major cash for Falling Skies, and probably can't afford too large a cast, and certainly not one that includes a central alien. However, for this type of story to make sense, a larger world must be built, and keeping the number of characters who get any attention small is not the way to do it.

Another positive move Falling Skies makes is introducing the Charleston settlement. Bringing in Arthur Manchester (Terry O'Quinn, Lost) is a great move. It makes Tom question his morality and motivations, and appropriately deals with some real issues that would come up in a post-invasion world. But the constant switching of loyalties, and locking people up and freeing them, is confusing and unwarranted. Rather than pick a position for each character, the writing gets wishy-washy, and suddenly it seems like no one can make up their mind.

Then, before the power struggle in Charleston can be sorted out, Tom and Weaver decide they need to leave. Seriously? Here is a well-supplied haven, and they're going back on the road? At least tell me the civilians are staying behind! Tom has Matt (Maxim Knight) and a baby on the way to think about, and he's just intent on fighting more? The end of "A More Perfect Union" doesn't make sense.

Not to mention, Hal (Drew Roy) is asleep and won't wake up, but rather than being wracked with worry about him, Tom is continuing his other activities. Priorities do shift under circumstances like these, but to not show Tom as the concerned father is a big mistake. Especially when he handles leaving Matt behind from the mission so well earlier.

Of course, then there's the capper, where a new alien shows up and smiles at them. Could this be why the Fishhead was building a gun aimed at the sky? To keep this new guy away? So many questions, and such a cool way to leave things!

The problem with Falling Skies is that it aspires to something great, and has the potential to reach that height, but only succeeds about fifty percent of the time, at best. Part of the problem is a rushed pacing when it doesn't need to be rushed, and a meandering one at other times. Another problem is the way the characters are written, so ill-defined. But overall, it still manages to be a very enjoyable show that I look forward to watching each week. Imagine what it could be if it got its act together!

Falling Skies has been renewed and will return to TNT next year.

If you like my reviews, please follow me on Twitter! Check out my new website, JeromeWetzel.com! First posted on TheTVKing

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