In the short span of two weeks, “Falling Skies” turned around a flailing science fiction enterprise and infused it with a much-needed burst of energy, both in its plot and its characters. While this week sees a reversion to some of the series’ earlier problems, particularly those related to structure and timing, the show seems to have found its footing as an entertaining hour of drama counterbalanced by its fair share of thrills. For sure, the growing mythos surrounding the invading aliens is enough to maintain a detail-oriented sci-fi fan’s interest. With a two-hour season finale left to go, “Falling Skies” is aiming towards ending its debut season on a decidedly epic note.

The Players:

  • Director: Anthony Hemingway
  • Writer: Mark Verheiden
  • Cast: Noah Wyle, Drew Roy, Moon Bloodgood, Will Patton, Colin Cunningham, Blair Brown

Episode Title: “What Hides Beneath”

Captain Weaver’s declining mental health endangers a reconnaissance mission. Anne performs an autopsy on a dead skitter, while Pope constructs a deadly weapon to use against the alien invaders.

The Good:

  • A vulnerable Weaver: For the better part of this season, Weaver has played the part of the able-bodied, sound-minded military commander with a keen sense for tactics and a gruff persona to match. While not the most original direction in which to take the character, offering glimpses at Weaver taking pills, drinking, and making poor strategic decisions due to exhaustion is one way in which to add dimension to a previously flat character and make him resonate with audiences. Certainly, the issue of Weaver’s mental well-being will complicate things for the 2nd Mass should this arc continue into future episodes.
  • Evolving mythology: Mason and Weaver’s recon mission yields some surprising results, ones that further broaden the world of “Falling Skies.” Until recently, we had only been introduced to skitters and mechs; now, there is another class of alien life to consider. While this episode fails to expound upon the discovery, I look forward to finding out more about the new breed of aliens.
  • The world expands: In the same vein as the broadening of the show’s universe, the introduction of Sonia expands even further the reach of the series. She offers a twisted sense of nostalgia for a time that we have never even experienced, a time when life was simply normal. Not only that, but her presence provides yet another twist to the human-alien relations that the series’ most recent episodes have been exploring.
  • Pope: Dynamic, funny, and edgy, John Pope remains the most enjoyable character to watch on the show. It is satisfying to see him take on an important role in the operations of the resistance. The renegade is clearly here to stay, and I, for one, couldn’t be happier. He breathes life into the 2nd Mass that it otherwise sorely lacks.
  • Anne’s discovery: Here is a twist that I wasn’t expecting. This is the sort of thing that I hope to see in great science fiction: inventive plot twists that turn our expectations – and the entire series, for that matter – on their heads. My only qualm is with how long it took to get to a major revelation such as this, the timing and structure of the series being an ongoing issue.

The Bad:

  • Making (more) plans: Last week’s episode was a refreshing break in the slow pacing that has plagued the show since its early episodes. Unfortunately, this week does not see a continuation of that well-planned structure. The first fifteen minutes involve – what else? – planning yet another mission for the 2nd Mass to take on. While the pace does pick up towards the halfway mark, without a hook to lure the viewer in, what reason is there to continue watching (besides writing a review, of course)?
  • Lack of action: Perhaps the writing staff felt that last week’s episode had enough action and violence to cover two hours, but I strongly disagree. There is very little in this episode to break up the quieter, emotional moments other than a few dramatic and tense sequences. But such tension can only sustain the hour for so long without the need for something more provocative. A confrontation with the aliens comes along, predictably given the pattern of this series, in the last fifteen minutes of the episode. Nevertheless, it is not enough to satisfy the show’s inherent need to display physical conflict between the humans and their foreign invaders.

Overall:

While this week’s episode is not as strong as the two parts of the “Sanctuary” arc, “Falling Skies” has clearly found its groove and is exploring fascinating twists and turns within its established universe. If years’ worth of season finales is enough to go on, expect the show to bring out the big guns, in both senses of the phrase, come next week.

Rating: 7/10

“Falling Skies” airs every Sunday night on TNT!

What did you think of last night’s episode?