After 10 episodes, Falling Skies finished up a second season that was largely an improvement over the first. While the paper-thin characters seem to be as much of a problem as they’ve been since the show’s beginning, the plot has had a semblance of forward momentum that the first season lacked. Unfortunately, any possibility of this show rising to another level has been shortchanged by Falling Skies’ writing staff yet again as they wasted obvious opportunities for emotionally gripping television and decided to instead fill the show with completely baffling character actions and “wow” moments that never really have a chance to wow us due to a lack of tension building and setup.
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD
This whole season has largely been about the 2nd Mass making its way to what is supposedly the new seat of the American government in Charleston, SC. This gave the show a purpose that it didn’t have in the first season, and an unknown (Is Charleston the new promised land?) that was built up beautifully through the course of six of the season’s ten episodes. In the next to last episode of the season, we finally saw what Charleston was all about and it brought on an interesting situation where Tom Mason and crew were hailed as heroes and welcomed into a community that was complacent in the midst of the alien apocalypse and had no interest in fighting back like the 2nd Mass had been doing for the past 2 seasons. The new de facto President of America happened to be one of Mason’s old history professors from college and courted Tom as a VP, while the Charleston Underground itself had this creepy vibe that pointed to there being something wrong with the place. Charleston’s really neat dynamic is reminiscent of a plot from The Walking Dead comic series and could have played out over a whole season all by itself.
This conflict that could have given the show an edginess and sense of danger that has been weirdly missing from a show about the post-apocalypse of an alien invasion, was instead pretty much resolved in one episode. When you have a brilliant tv actor like Terry O’Quinn (John Locke from Lost) playing a well-meaning dictator of the new United States, you don’t waste him by letting him throw all the cards on the table in his first appearance. In the same episode we get Matt Frewer (Max Headroom) playing General Bressler, the leader of what’s left of the U.S. military who makes it clear that he won’t do anything that the president doesn’t want him to do even though he disagrees with the president’s policy of laying low. Gen. Bressler looked pretty spineless but somehow managed to get the courage of his convictions enough to stage a military coup at the end of the episode, allowing Tom the opportunity to have a meeting with the Skitter rebellion’s leaders. And now we come to last night’s episode, “A More Perfect Union.”
So the season finale starts with a recap of where the last episode left off, with the isolationist president being put in jail by a general who was inspired by the talk of a possible alliance with the Skitter rebellion to finally fight back. This is important to note, because the last point in this episode where anyone makes a decision that approximates actual, logical human behavior is in the episode recap at the top of the show. Once Tom Mason actually has the ability to go meet with the Skitter Rebellion’s leaders now that a more like-minded man is in charge of the government, what does he do? He claims that this isn’t what he wanted and sides with the President. It’s at this point that Gen. Bressler decides that even though he staged the coup so Tom could go have his rebel Skitter meeting, now he’d rather throw Tom and crew in jail anyway just for disagreeing with him on the whole coup thing, making Tom miss his meeting. Huh?
While you’d hope that Bressler and Mason’s completely insane actions would be an anomaly in the finale, it’s not. As soldiers are putting the leadership of the 2nd Mass in their cells, a perimeter breach alarm sounds and they follow what I’m assuming must be a little-known war-time rule that allows them to just stop putting people in prison and run off to see what’s going on. That’s right, they just left their soon-to-be prisoners standing there, an inch from their cells. Mason and crew go chasing after their captors to see what the all the commotion is about, and find a whole slew of Skitters and Mason’s harnessed son, Ben, casually strolling into the “secure” city of Charleston. At this point we can only assume that the real reason Gen. Bressler hasn’t been able to achieve much in the way of military victories is because he always tries to kill alien invaders with a vicious staring contest at point-blank range. The 2nd Mass stands in front of the Skitters to defend them from the General’s vicious stares, until he decides to hear them out. It is now that we learn that if Tom had done what he should have done when he captured the alien overlord and killed him, he would have thrown the invasion force into chaos because the overlords serve as the main strategic computers for the war effort. Kinda makes you wonder why the overlords walk around out in the open if they are that important. Someone needs to sell these aliens some Pope-mobiles.
The red-eyed leader of the Skitter rebellion tells them that they’ll have another shot at killing this overlord when he visits a nearly finished, ultra-important, super weapon that we are just now hearing about for the first time. The Skitters would do it themselves, but due to their harnesses they could never get close enough without being spotted.
Hearing this, Bressler decides that it is all a load of crap and probably a trap, which makes perfect sense in light of the fact that the aliens just walked straight into their “secured” city without any resistance whatsoever. After a little bit of back and forth, Bressler decides to let the 2nd Mass go on this suicide mission to kill an overlord and change the course of the war mainly just to get them out of his hair, while he finally gets to do what he’s always wanted to do, which is sit around and think about striking back at the aliens…yeah, think about that. He then decides to sanction a covert attack on the very same rebel Skitters while they camp outside the city, I guess just to be an asshole. Anything making sense yet? No? Didn’t think so.
So, it’s while a team is getting ready to leave on this suicide mission that we learn that the 2nd Mass’s field medic, Dr. Glass, is pregnant with Tom’s baby. Now I can’t blame the show for showing this to us in the most utterly predictable way possible, because TV has taught us all that if a woman who is in a relationship vomits there can only be one possible explanation. The dialogue between her and her nurse is probably one of the most profoundly unintentional character-revealing moments in the entire series. In one fell swoop, we learn that Dr. Glass has lost all touch with reality when she tells Lourdes that she didn’t want to bother Tom with it until he gets back from his “suicide mission” that she also decides to go on (because pregnancy makes you invulnerable, apparently), and then shows how completely inconsiderate she is when she tells the same girl who spent a good threee episodes freaking out about the horrors of war after her boyfriend was eaten alive by space bugs that she’d be glad to get out of Charleston because she was addicted to the adrenalin rush of the war zone. And the Worst Person Ever award goes to Dr. Glass.
Now the 2nd Mass go and the mission and we finally see the giant weapon that could “wipe out everything” according to Ben, and it’s aimed at the sky and appears to be some sort of anti-aircraft weapon. Tom notices this and asks Ben about it (who somehow is able to go with them even though he is still partially harnessed) saying that we don’t have an Air Force anymore and Ben just cryptically says, “It wasn’t meant for humans.” So I guess that whole “wipe out everything” was just hyperbole, thanks Ben, very helpful. Now the Skitters catch everyone by surprise and attack the 2nd Mass’s strike force. Before you know it, the whole group is strung up in cables and are getting tortured by Hal’s harnessed ex-girlfriend Karen while the overlord looks on. It’s at this point that Karen shows another amazing ability of the harness when she turns into a walking e.p.t and tells Tom that Dr. Glass is pregnant with his baby, and gives Hal a magical kiss that knocks him out like a reverse sleeping beauty.
We are about to finally reach a truly emotional moment in this show for the first time as Karen is about to zap Dr. Glass with her alien pain stick and probably kill their unborn child, but instead the rebel Skitters completely screw that up by attacking the base that they apparently lied to everyone about not being able to approach. No, I don’t get my kicks on imaginary babies dying, but this would have been an easy way to introduce some real drama into the show, a powerful character-building moment, and the writers completely skipped it.
Following the overlord’s example, Red Eye fights from the front lines and promptly gets himself killed, but Tom does manage to take down the overlord in the end. The harnessed Karen then escapes in what is probably the worst wire-work wall climb in TV history. Finally, the 2nd Mass blows the super weapon and makes its way back to Charleston with a comatose Hal in tow. Staying true to form by not staying true to form, Gen. Bressler completely changes position again and treats the strike team as a group of conquering heroes when they return from the mission that he believed was completely bogus. As everyone is cheering and patting the 2nd Mass on the back, we learn that Karen has secretly tounged an alien mind-control device down her ex’s throat that will presumably pay off in season 3.
All of this is going on in a normal episode wind-down until everyone stops when they hear something crashing down outside. The whole city seems to have a death wish as they run up to the surface to see if they are being bombed by an alien airstrike, but instead see hundreds of unfamiliar spaceships landing all over the city. A ship lands right in front of Tom and out walks a power-suited alien that we’ve never seen before. Thanks for the heads up, Ben. And that’s a wrap. Season 2 of Falling Skies is over. Déjà Vu anyone?
I didn’t like the first season of Falling Skies. The plot was listless and the characters were so paper thin that they were wholly uninteresting. After season 1’s finale, I decided to give the series another shot and season 2 rewarded me with some interesting character development for at least a few of the characters and forward momentum that the show was severely lacking. That’s what really made this finale so hard to swallow. The show had tried to be something more in this season, and it almost had it, but unfortunately the most alien thing about the show remains all of these humans who act in utterly bizarre ways and completely sabotage any chance the show has of elevating itself. All the pieces are there, and if the show’s writers could just put them in the right place then the show could be awesome. But to top all of this episode’s mistakes off with an almost identical finale to the first season is so lazy (even though the new alien design does look pretty cool) it makes you wonder if all of the good things about season 2 were just lucky mistakes.
Love it or hate it (or both), Falling Skies is coming back for a new season in 2013. Hopefully the show will once more take a leap beyond the pitfalls of its previous season, and maybe even answer some of the questions about the alien menace that have been left unanswered since the very first episode. Ultimately, however, the biggest question will be if the writers are even capable of paying off the setup of why the aliens are here.