Whether you’ve loved “Falling Skies” from the very beginning, or you’ve found that it’s grown on you in more recent weeks, one thing is difficult to dispute: season finales traditionally put bodies in seats, as they offer a satisfying conclusion for curious viewers as well as a Pandora’s Box of questions for the die-hard speculators. In both those regards, the two-hour of finale of “Falling Skies” does not disappoint. It is a thrilling conclusion to a summer’s worth of science fiction drama that has turned out to be a fairly entertaining ride, despite its faults. Although I maintain my problems with the show, I can now firmly say that I am looking forward to what the second season brings thanks, in part, to these last hours of the season.

The Players:

  • Director: Holly Dale (1.09), Greg Beeman (1.10)
  • Writer: Joe Weisberg (1.09), Mark Verheiden (1.10)
  • Cast: Noah Wyle, Drew Roy, Moon Bloodgood, Will Patton, Colin Cunningham

Episode Titles: “Mutiny” and “Eight Hours”

The planned assault on the enemy base draws closer, causing friction among members of the 2nd Mass. Mason, in particular, grapples with the implications of Anne’s latest discovery about skitter biology. In the second hour, Tom stays behind to guard the camp while the resistance launches it attack on the alien base. In the process, secrets behind the aliens’ motives for invasion are revealed.

The Good:

  • Fade in: The opening scene of “Mutiny” is chilling, to say the least. The contrast between the muted laughter at the projected cartoon and Mason’s decidedly more serious activities underscore the calm before the storm.
  • Tension in the ranks: The snappiness and the anger within the 2nd Mass that was previously directed at the skitters is now being directed at one another. This makes for much more interesting television, for sure, but it also adds a greater sense of psychological realism to the plight of the 2nd Mass. Naturally, after weeks’ worth of events such as the ones that have taken place on “Falling Skies,” even the most well-adjusted group of people would start to reach their breaking points. Instead of continuing to remain unified against a common enemy, people are splintering off into miniature factions designed to serve their own agendas.
  • Captain Weaver: While Weaver’s latest indiscretion is not the most original thing I’ve seen on television (is anyone else reminded of Saul Tigh taking to the bottle in “Battlestar Galactica?”), it does make things a lot more intriguing around the school. His previously airtight judgment must now be called into question, foreshadowing trust issues and problems with the impending attack on the alien base.
  • The alien within: I’m fascinated by the penetration of alien biology into that of the human children in the 2nd Mass. Particularly interesting to me is Ben, whose situation becomes even more complicated in the first hour. The idea that the humans cannot be safe even within the walls of the school is one that is worth exploring even further in the second season.
  • A well-paced first hour: “Mutiny” escalates the tension of the planning before the attack in a way that grabs the viewer’s interest and keeps it for the whole hour. Although there is no human-on-alien action, there is not much of a need for it at this time; the people of the 2nd Mass are close enough to coming to blows against one another. There is enough drama and subtly conveyed action to sustain the planning period without boring the viewer to tears.
  • A traitor in the midst: Rick’s mini storyline comes to fruition in “Eight Hours,” and it does so in a huge way. Mason certainly has his hands full defending the civilians of the 2nd Mass from one of their own while Weaver takes the attack squad to the aliens. The threat to the school location has suddenly become a lot more immediate, further building upon the already cut-it-with-a-knife tension that the show is sporting.
  • Confrontation: The mech assault on the school comes at just the right moment. After an hour and a half of building itself up, the show finds the start of its release in the form of a riveting firefight. As the first taste of a denouement packed with combat, the mech conflict works to make the threat to the livelihood of the 2nd Mass all the more alarming.
  • Revelations and propositions: The last few minutes reveal a great deal about the aliens’ expectations of their invasion of earth, in addition to providing Mason with a way to save his son. It is a great set up for the second season, and one that is sure to keep viewers coming back in 2012.

The So-So:

  • Rick: I’ve tried to ignore Rick for weeks, but there is only so much I could do until he became a more integral part of the plot. He is creepy. He is cryptic. His perpetual scowl is oddly irritating. Perhaps I would have found him more palatable as a character if he had served his purpose earlier in the season, as some sort of traitor or envoy from the aliens. Instead, all he has done is sit around, spew enigmatic nonsense, and sulk about being human. He does his fair share of that in the first hour, but his part does become a lot meatier once “Eight Hours” hits.
  • Mason and Anne: Here is where I feel conflicted. On the one hand, it had been obvious from the very beginning that a romance would blossom between these two, given the “laws” of television drama and the lack of any other viable candidates for Mason. On the other hand, there had been absolutely no development on that front for the duration of the season, unless you count their bonding over their collective misery. Maybe this romance will make both characters a little more interesting come the second season, but otherwise, I brand it as an inevitability that was nevertheless poorly handled by the writing staff.

The Bad:

  • Compelling together, flat apart: One thing with which the series has struggled from the start is making its characters compelling on an individual level. Taken together, the collection of people that makes up the 2nd Mass is gripping, but each of the individual protagonists, from Anne to Weaver, remains disappointingly one-dimensional. The show, unfortunately, has not followed through on attempts to rectify the situation, such as when Anne was trained in the use of firearms. The season finale does great things for its ensemble cast, but very little to boost Mason, Anne, Weaver, or any of the other top-billed cast members.

Overall:

“Mutiny” and “Eight Hours” provide a fitting and satisfying conclusion to the first season of “Falling Skies” while tightening up many of the series’ chronic problems. While it is still difficult to invest oneself in the emotionality of the characters, the plot is the ultimate nail-biter, building and sustaining tension with expert artistry. I was on the fence in the middle of the season about whether or not I would want to see a second one, but now I am certain that I will be tuned in for the season premiere next year.

Rating: 8/10

“Falling Skies” returns in 2012 on TNT!

What did you think of last night’s episodes?