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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

FALLING SKIES Premiere Does "Damage"

Article first posted as FALLING SKIES Review on Seat42F.

Grade: 90%

TNT’s FALLING SKIES returns this Sunday with two new hours, “On Thin Ice” and “Collateral Damage.” The story picks up seven months after season two’s finale, with the 2nd Mass now firmly ensconced in Charleston, their population ballooned, making a real dent against the alien invaders with some major help from extra terrestrial allies. Yet, not all is peachy keen under the leadership of President “Just Call Me Tom” Mason (Noah Wyle), as suspicions rise.

My biggest complaints about the first two years of FALLING SKIES are the problems with pacing and story complexity. Some arcs are breezed through, while others plod along forever. Minor characters are barely introduced, then killed or tossed aside.

Some of that is still present in “On Thin Ice” and “Collateral Damage,” especially in regards to losing characters too early, but I do feel like the writing has gotten better. There is a lot going on in these first two hours, to be sure, but the plots are well-balanced and develop at an engaging pace, revealing bits at a time, but not necessarily concluding many threads at the end of this week.

It’s pretty hard to talk about what is going on without dropping spoilers, especially because so much time has passed, and anything I say about what the characters are doing will take away some surprise. So, be warned, while I will avoid ruining anything too big, there are key elements discussed within.

The war section of FALLING SKIES is very exciting. There are definitely plenty of explosions and gun battles, and even a bit of hand-to-hand combat in this episode. The humans, bolstered by new friends and advanced weaponry, have really learned to hold their own. Those tuning in for these elements should be quite satisfied.

But it’s not all just shoot ‘em up. In fact, what I find most fascinating about this premiere, especially in “Collateral Damage,” is the human cost. Tom is forced to use some of his own men and closest friends as bait so that he can deal a blow against the bad guys. Not only that, but even though the humans now have a reliable way to remove the harnesses from enslaved teens, there isn’t always time to rescue them, and sometimes they just have to shoot the innocents.

These are clearly things weighing heavily on Tom. He seems to be weathering them OK, taking his responsibility of protecting everyone seriously, but also understanding that sacrifice must be made to win the war. Whereas before, Tom argues only for the sake of the morality, once he’s the leader of them, he doesn’t have the luxury of being quite so judgmental of military decisions, even if he isn’t flip about the value of life.

If anything, this seasoned attitude has strengthened the bond between Tom and Dan Weaver (Will Patton). They bond over a drink, and there is definitely friendship between them, even more so than before. They have met each other in the middle, and their close relationship makes leading the people easier for everyone.

Pope (Colin Cunningham) may be on the outside of the official government, but his role in keeping the peace is just as important as that of the other two. While his hooligans are among the most specist against the aliens, including their allies, Pope walks the thin line between letting them blow off steam, keeping their respect, and getting them to do what he wants. It’s a precarious position for him to be in, and he seems to be doing very well in it at the present. I do wonder how long that will last.

The biggest problem the humans have right now is that there is a mole in their midst who is feeding the enemy information. There are two strong possibilities as two who that mole might be, but unfortunately, the only character that knows for sure dies before he can tell anyone, and it has not yet been revealed to the viewer.

Option one is Cochise (Doug Jones, Hellboy),  the representative for the race supplying mankind with the weapons. Many are suspicious of his race’s intentions after helping the 2nd Mass overthrow the planet’s current rulers. Part of this could just be prejudice, but maybe there’s something real behind such accusations? If it is Conchise, the 2nd Mass’s prospects are dire, indeed.

Option two is Hal Mason (Drew Roy). The eldest Mason child would never intentionally betray his people, but he is being controlled by an implant put there by Karen (Jessy Schram), now the alien leader. It’s not only got Hal believing he can’t walk, but he meets her in his sleep and has sex with her (complete with a Battlestar Galactica-glowing spine rip-off). Can Maggie (Sarah Carter), who he has been pushing away, save him, now that she knows at least part of what is going on?

Hal may not be the only one affected by Karen’s manipulation. Anne (Moon Bloodgood) gives birth to her baby, Alexis, whom promptly shows great intelligence, crawls away, and calls her mama. Is this the result of something Karen did while Anne was held prisoner? It seems the only logical explanation.

Anne keeping the baby’s actions a secret from everyone, including Tom, is the part of this premiere that makes absolutely no sense. Perhaps she thinks she is imagining it because of exhaustion, but if so, she should do something to fix herself, not just sweep it under the rug. Major weak spot in two otherwise excellent episodes.

We also have Matt Mason (Maxim Knight). Not seeing the point of school, and accepted as a full soldier now, young Matt gets into trouble while his parents are otherwise distracted. There are so many directions FALLING SKIES can go with this, debating the importance of education in a post-apocalyptic society, examining how neglected children can be developmentally affected, exploring the rapid maturation of kids in a war environment. Hopefully, the series will take the time to do this, rather than flipping quickly past it.

Two other things I’d like to see happen are a long-harnessed mutant teenager being rescued, as their attitude would likely be quite a bit different from the short-term prisoners, and more development for the new scientist character played by House’s Robert Sean Leonard. While only appearing in “Collateral” thus far, Leonard, almost unrecognizable, quickly catches my interest, and I definitely want more from him. If he’s written off as quickly as other major guest stars, I will be quite upset.

Taken all together, these are very strong installments of FALLING SKIES, and definitely show the series is getting itself on the right track. With more ambitious plots and an appropriately expanding cast, I expect more good things to come this summer.

FALLING SKIES premieres Sunday, June 9th at 9 p.m. ET on TNT.

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