Falling Skies works best when the story centers on Tom (Noah Wyle) and his three sons. Correction -- the show works best when the story centers on Tom and his oldest son, Hal (Drew Roy).
Tom's youngest son, Matt, barely registers, and when he does, he always seems to be in prime Anakin in The Phantom Menace moppet form. It's not fun to watch. At all. As for Tom's middle child, Ben, well, he just woke up after spending a few months living as some creepy alien hen mother's brainwashed slave baby. We don't know much about Ben yet, but I do feel sorry for the kid.
From the very beginning, the heart of the show has always been Tom's relationship with Hal. With his wife killed during the alien invasion, Tom was forced to raise his boys on his own in a post-apocalyptic world of horrors (which, for some reason, looks like a nice, warm, and sunny place to live, but you can read about my issues with the show's production design in last week's recap). Wyle does a great job of selling Tom's struggle as a parent. He wants to give young Matt a stress-free childhood in a frightening world, and he's reluctantly teaching a maturing Hal to become a soldier on a deadly battlefield. It’s more compelling to see a different kind of father-son dynamic at play between Tom and Hal, one where the father trusts and respects his son and encourages him to do his best … at killing deadly aliens by shoving blades into their faces.
Tom wants to protect Hal, but he also trusts and respects him, as we saw in this week's episode, 'Silent Kill.' I liked the scene with Hal trying to convince Tom that his plan to penetrate the Skitter childcare center was the best way to rescue Ben. Tom didn't like the idea of Hal going in alone, but it was easy to tell that he knew it was a good plan from the start. The fear of losing his son gave way to his better judgment, and the show did a great job of selling Tom's faith in Hal.
You gotta feel for Tom. He also has to deal with the fact that the Skitters kidnapped Matt and did God knows what to his brain while he was stuck in that hospital. Any other actor might overplay Tom's pain, but Wyle's delivery is calm, deliberate, and believable. Tom gets worked up when things go wonky and lives are at stake, that's for sure, but his actions and personality rarely seem defined by what the plot needs him to do. He feels like a real guy, for the most part, which helps me lose myself in the show, even when other characters behave stupidly because the plot requires them to do so.
OK, let's talk creepiness … Like in weeks past, we were treated to a few creep-tastic Skitter scenes, but the Skitter stuff in this ep was more disturbing than suspenseful. I'm mostly referring to the image of the Skitter mother (or father?) crouched above the sleeping human children and caressing their heads, like BrundleFly petting a toy Chihuahua. Watching that made me feel all kinds of wrong. I actually felt pretty grossed out and nervous while watching that scene, so good job there, writers and creature designers (if your intent was to truly gross me out and to make me go all sweaty in the palms, that is)!
The second most memorable Skitter gross-out moment of the night came earlier, when Anne decided to stick a scalpel in the imprisoned Skitter's face. For the record, I think it's pretty silly that you can knock these crazy aliens out by punching the inside of their throats. Still, that scene was pretty great, and I even enjoyed the moment when Anne had her mini-breakdown and talked about her son and smeared blood on the newspaper clipping. Nice job, Moon Bloodgood, you're doing a much better job here than I remember you doing in Terminator: Salvation.
So, to, er, recap … Father and son scenes, Skitter creepiness, and Moon Bloodgood breakdowns: All good! (Well, except for Anne's second breakdown after the kid died on the operating table; that was a little cheesy.) Now let's talk about the bad.
A discussion about the badness of this episode has to start with Sarah Carter's performance as Margaret. The whole "tough girl" stereotype Carter is trying to pull off here was old and stale even before Eliza Dushku started doing it on Buffy almost 15 years ago. It's not entirely Carter's fault that the character doesn’t quite work, though. Margaret's dialogue leaves much to be desired, and her Big C back story seemed phony and tacked on in a lazy attempt to give the character more depth and dimension. There has to be a more artful way to weave this type of hot tough girl character into the show's ensemble cast instead of just giving her a mannish strut, having her dismiss the girlie girls and their silly baby showers, and showing us that she knows how to handle a crossbow (Where'd she learn how to handle a crossbow anyway?). As the character stands now, Margaret is about as outmoded and cliché as the nerdy tech guy in action movies (see Simon Pegg in Mission: Impossible III, Kevin Smith in Live Free or Die Hard or Patton Oswalt in Blade: Trinity.) And I have zero interest in seeing a romantic relationship develop between Hal and Margaret, especially when Hal already has every other age-appropriate girl making googley eyes in his direction. I'd rather see these two form a platonic bond that grows naturally over their time on the battlefield together, but something tells me I'm not gonna get my wish.
OK, on with the bad … Apparently no one remembered anything about what happened last week, especially the part when Rick, after Dr. Steven Webber surgically removed his alien harness, strapped the harness on his back again and tried to free the Skitter, only to have the Skitter take possession of his brain (or something). How else could you explain Tom and everyone else wanting Dr. Steven Webber to perform the “successful” procedure on more kids? You can't, because it makes no sense.
But the plan seemed to work, as Anne was able to remove the harness from Ben's back, and the backs of a few other kids, and Ben woke up at the end of the episode. Unlike Rick, Ben seemed to recognize his father and his brothers, possibly proving that Anne is a better alien harness removal surgeon than Dr. Steven Webber. I guess it's a good thing he's dead then!
I was happy to see Webber go. His character was more than unlikable -- he was unbelievable and boring. Good riddance.
TNT renewed Falling Skies for a second season last week. That's good news for those of us who recognize the show's potential. Here's hoping we'll get to see these characters start acting more like real, believable people caught in a dark and desperate situation as the show progresses.
I'm looking forward to seeing the second Massachusetts crew go on the move again, and I'm also looking forward to the return of petulant prankster John Pope. It looks like both of those things might come to pass next week. Until then …
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