Last week’s episode of “Falling Skies” saw a marked improvement in the development of its previously snooze-worthy plot. While the series is still riddled with the hallmarks of formulaic science fiction and unfeeling, action-oriented thrillers, the goings-on within the 2nd Mass were starting to get interesting, and some characters, particularly Anne, were beginning to come into their own. But the question has remained all week long: can “Falling Skies” sustain this upward movement in the second part of the “Sanctuary” story arc? Although I had made up my mind about the series early on, I’m happy to report that this week’s “Falling Skies” is nearly a whole different animal from previous episodes. Although not without some flaws, it has evolved into a much more engaging, thoughtful, and wholly exciting piece of sci-fi drama.

The Players:

  • Director: Sergio Mimica-Gezzan
  • Writer: Melinda Hsu Taylor
  • Cast: Noah Wyle, Drew Roy, Moon Bloodgood, Will Patton, Colin Cunningham, Henry Czerny

Episode Title: “Sanctuary: Part 2”

The 2nd Mass faces trouble in two different locations. Hal takes point when he and the evacuated children encounter a dangerous threat that emerges from the comfort of their new sanctuary. Meanwhile, Anne takes care of Sarah when she goes into labor at the 2nd Mass headquarters.

The Good:

  • Opening soccer match: The episode begins with a lighthearted scene of the 2nd Mass children, led by Hal, playing a pick-up game of soccer. It’s a humanizing moment that mirrors the one of Mason’s son skateboarding, a sequence that really stood out in the pilot episode. It’s scenes such as these that show what the real stakes are in the war against the aliens: not these grand notions of control for earth and humanity’s supremacy, but the fight for a sense of everyday normalcy. That is how desperate the situation has become.
  • Pope’s defining moment: It’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it sequence of shots, but when Pope escapes his captors early in the episode and chooses to spit on the downed man rather than stab him to death, it speaks volumes about Pope as a character. He may talk tough, but does he really have the guts to do such a thing as kill a man at his mercy? There, and later in the episode, Pope proves to be a fascinatingly complex character.
  • New digs: My prayers have been answered! Well, one of them, at least. We are treated to a totally new locale for a good portion of the episode, one that contains within it a whole new set of goals and challenges. The plot moved along much faster with a second location for use as a playground for ideas and character development.
  • A shift in morals: Clayton’s trade deal with the skitters signals a fascinating departure from the established morality of the “Falling Skies” universe. Whereas Weaver, Mason, and the 2nd Mass have operated according to one fairly ethical moral code, Clayton embodies completely different principles – although both camps have the same goals in mind. The diverse shades of morality add realism to a world that has, until now, skewed more towards one extreme – an honorable one, but a boring one.
  • Weaver, M.D.: I have been critical of Weaver thus far as a clichéd representation of military commanders. But in this episode, we see him in a whole new light as he cares for a woman in labor. Finally, a two-dimensional character enters into the third dimension. I would like to see Mason, Anne, and the other main characters of the series explored in a similar manner.

The Bad:

  • Girls, girls, girls: Last week, Anne’s emergence as an a**-kicker was a breath of fresh air in the men’s club that is the 2nd Mass. However, this episode seemed to regress a bit in its portrayal of women – in particular, its depiction of young girls. Two of the teenagers at Clayton’s sanctuary appeared to be there solely to fawn over Hal, as they did for the bulk of the first half of the episode. Again, I must ask, where are the strong female characters in this series?

Overall:

“Falling Skies” hits its highest note in this episode. The plot thickens in a thoroughly entertaining way, the characters are taking greater shape, and the “Falling Skies” universe is becoming a unique fictional world with its own idiosyncrasies. This is an episode that I can say I truly enjoyed watching, just as this is a series now worthy of being considered solid science fiction.

Rating: 8/10

“Falling Skies” airs every Sunday night on TNT!

What did you think of last night’s episode?