Great science fiction has not been hard to come by in recent years, adding all the more pressure to freshman series “Falling Skies” to get things right. While the show is a solid effort with its own merits, the formula is just not quite hitting the mark, even as the series enters its third hour. It is nonetheless plagued by clichés and a pacing problem that make it difficult for those of us spoiled by “Battlestar Galactica” to watch it with open minds. Unless the blueprint is fine-tuned in the coming episodes, “Falling Skies” looks to be falling prey to the common problems of high-concept television.

The Players:

  • Director: Greg Beeman
  • Writer: Fred Golan
  • Cast: Noah Wyle, Drew Roy, Moon Bloodgood, Will Patton, Colin Cunningham, Steven Weber

Episode Title: “Prisoner of War”

Mason leads several members of the 2nd Mass on a mission to rescue his son from the skitters and mechs holding him prisoner. The resistance network grows larger as connections are made to pockets of humans in Chicago, Texas, and elsewhere. Meanwhile, Dr. Michael Harris joins the resistance and attempts to answer questions that have been burning since the invasion began – an enterprise that proves to be dangerous.

The Good:

  • The atmosphere: “Falling Skies” excels at conveying an atmosphere as complex as human life itself. We see hope in the shots of children learning in a makeshift classroom and parents putting up photos of their lost sons and daughters. At the same time, there is a sense that their gloomy existence is normal life; there will never be a return to what life once was for the people of the 2nd Mass. The show conveys mood through simple, yet effective means that never fall victim to plot device.
  • Pope as chef: Once again, Colin Cunningham’s performance as Pope nearly steals the entire show. The sub-plot of Pope becoming the official chef of the 2nd Mass seems trivial at first, but it exemplifies the show’s ability to incorporate the minutiae of everyday life into a dramatic epic. It shows how even the seemingly insignificant details of living have a major influence on the morale and mood of the resistance.

The Bad:

  • The pace: “Falling Skies” has a chronic pacing problem. The episode is slow-moving, punctuated by moments of action towards the middle and end of the hour. The sense of urgency that is integral to the show’s tone is lost due to this issue of timing.
  • The characters: This episode does very little to further invest the viewer in individual characters. It presents caricatures of military and action characters (of particular note is Will Patton, who plays the hardened commander Captain Weaver to a “t”) without giving them significant motivation beyond what is normally found in science fiction/action fare. In fact, I find myself becoming less and less interested in Mason and the people of the 2nd Mass as the show goes on.
  • The plot: “Falling Skies” continues the premiere’s trend of recycling tried-and-true science fiction tropes: the (botched) rescue mission, the alien captive. While this series executes them well, without much originality, the show becomes trite and its direction predictable. I’m willing to bet money on where the next episode is going to head.

Overall:

‘Prisoner of War’ is worth watching if you’re interested in a moody science fiction that relies upon the expected cavalcade of character archetypes and plot devices. If you want more originality and emotional investment, you may want to look elsewhere.

Rating: 5/10

“Falling Skies” airs every Sunday night on TNT!

What did you think of last night’s episode?