It’s June, so that means TNT’s hit alien invasion drama, Falling Skies, has returned and it has done so with lots of changes, likely do to a combination of not wanting to repeat the same patterns as well as influence from the series’ new showrunner, David Eick (of Battlestar Galactica fame). As this is my first time writing about Falling Skies, let me just say that I find the show quite enjoyable overall. In a world where we have had The Walking Dead, Revolution, and Falling Skies (among some others I may be less aware of), Falling Skies is the post-apocalyptic series that I am most consistently entertained by. That does not mean best, as each of these similarly-themed shows have their merits, but it is rare that I feel down after episodes of Falling Skies and I am happy to now dive into this fourth season of the series.
Here is the quickest of quick recaps for where we last left our heroes: things were great. The Volm arrived, helped fight off the Espheni, and made a deal with the humans, which basically meant that Tom Mason (Noah Wyle) and the 2nd Mass could make their way back to Charleston. We begin “Ghosts in the Machine” with what was practically a parody of the show itself, as the 2nd Mass squad was indeed making their way to Charleston, with the city just miles away and everyone looking super pleased with themselves. If some like to get on this series for the influence that executive producer Steven Spielberg has over it, in terms of the general amount of ‘nice’ moments it tries to place in a series where the world has essentially ended, then this opening scene is a perfect way to turn those views on their head, as the inevitable took place and the 2nd Mass’ happiness was crushed by an Espheni attack, which led to all sorts of chaos.
A mech attack and the use of spiffy new laser fences split the group up, with many falling under fire, some escaping, and others becoming captured. Cut to four months later and we have a few new settings and groups to get used to, as the series has wisely scattered our groups to provide some new dynamics. We will get to who is where and doing what, but I have to say, this was both unexpected and an exciting development, as a series like this or The Walking Dead can only get so far with watching its heroes walk through the woods, fight off the enemy, find a new camp, flee, and repeat. The Walking Dead had a tough hill to climb as it attempted something similar this past season by separating its characters in an attempt to finally develop the ones not named Rick, while also making its story work as a whole. Falling Skies is actually in a better spot, as the characters on this show, while not necessarily the best ensemble on television, are fairly well-defined at this point and seeing the series mix it up is a nice step.
Let’s start with the most complicated – the Espheni ghetto, which consists of Tom, his son Hal Mason (Drew Roy), Pope (the always entertaining Colin Cunningham), and Cpt. Dan Weaver (Will Patton). With this section, we learn that many adults are being held in ghettos, where they are fed regularly via food drops from Espheni patrol ships, but kept confined to old city blocks, surrounded by those laser fences. Some are doing better than others, namely Pope, who unsurprisingly hogs plenty of supplies for himself and has his own sort of prisoner mansion, complete with a generator and working TV. Hal is working with others in an attempt to figure out how to escape, which of course requires him to butt heads with Pope. Then there’s Tom and Dan, who are being held in solitary (likely to keep them from organizing the troops). Dan is trying to hold onto his wits, as he has once again lost his daughter and is not one for being confined by the enemy. Tom has other things on his mind.
As we quickly learn, Tom has sketched out a map of the area and has found a way toget in and out of solitary confinement unnoticed, so he can (and I say this in all seriousness) act as a vigilante akin to Ghost Rider, as he rides around on a motorbike, with a mask and flamethrower. He does this to learn the skitter patterns, solve the people’s problems with Pope, and basically keep thinking of ways to better the situation. It’s a bit much in terms of the drama of this series versus what is “too over-the-top”, but it’s fun imagery, so I’m okay with it. I’d rather hang with a pro-active Tom, than a down-in-the-dumps Dan anyway. Beyond getting to know this area, the two big things we learn here have to do with Tom. First off, Tom manages to secretly meet with Cochise (Doug Jones) and he learns that the Volm have mostly left Earth to help their own species, which amounts to humans being largely on their own again. The other big of info involves the Espheni demanding the vigilante roaming the ghetto (Tom) to turn himself in.
While we are far from status quo for this series, the idea of the Volm taking off is a bit frustrating, but also understandable. How much story do you get out of a series if the main threat is being handled by another alien force? What does that leave for the humans? Well, you’ll have to wait until season 7 or 8, when it is time to rebuild, because, for now, we are back to humans having to figure out their own problems. At least we still have Cochise, who I personally really enjoy seeing on screen. I am not sure what the consensus is on the practical alien designs, but I really like seeing him physically interact with Tom and the others, and hope the two figure things out soon, as far as these ghettos go.
Moving on, we also have remnants of the 2nd Mass, which is now being led by Dr. Anne Glass (Moon Bloodgood), who is dealing with a lot, given the disappearance/abduction of her daughter Lexi (we’ll get to her creepiness in a bit). Catching up with her, we see that she is basically earning her stripes as a leader, as she heads an attack against an Espheni weapons shipment, only to find nothing but children inside the truck. Plenty of mystery comes with what the Espheni plan to do with children, but for now, we know that Anne and her squad are heading in that trucks’ direction, which will likely bring us to a re-education camp that Matt Mason (Maxim Knight) is now a part of.
Of the creepiest things to occur on this series next to the harnesses, which are seemingly no longer part of the Espheni plan, we catch up with Matt, who is now a “leader” at a re-education camp, which very clearly has Nazi parallels. What the goal with this camp is for the Espheni, I am not sure, but it certainly has a weird vibe that puts the younger kids living in this world in a vulnerable position. Even with Matt secretly wanting to build up a young army that can eventually free more minds and escape this place, there is a sense that these aliens are going to do some really upsetting things before we know it.
Part of what makes Falling Skies the most palatable of these post-apocalyptic shows is the way it incorporates a wide variety of characters, including children and teenagers. While the harnesses from the previous seasons were freaky to look, let alone dwell on the implications, there is a likable energy that comes from having characters like Matt and Ben to go with Tom (who is far more enjoyable to stick with than Rick Grimes) and Pope (who knows how to be a jerk with charisma). With that in mind, it is certainly a risk to separate the adults from the children and I can only hope that this series finds a way to balance these different storylines. It is one thing to check in with different characters located in and around the same area, but now they are all scattered (which can make for convoluted plotting), but I would like to think a plan is in mind for making this new scheme work. Whether or not our cast gets back together sooner or later, the general tone still seems consistent enough for this season premiere, which I can only hope remains that way, while granting the audience a larger understanding for how things currently are.
This brings me to the last of the new groups – China Town, which is where Ben Mason (Connor Jessup), Maggie (Sarah Sanguin Carter), and a newly grown-up Lexi are now located. This portion starts with Ben awakening from a coma, only to learn that this new location is weirdly serene. Maggie appears to have taken in with this new environment, disarmed and happier to relax than fight for a change, but this only raises suspicions further for Ben. The most alarming thing is Lexi, who has grown up and seems to know a lot about a future of togetherness or however you want to describe her mumbo-jumbo. It has been clear from the start that something would not be right with Lexi, based on the accelerated birth/growth she has gone through, so I can only try to be optimistic about her intentions, despite the “color me crazy” presence that she brings with her.
It is a lot to take in, but that comes with the territory for season premiers that double as a way of rebooting the series in a way. I have already mentioned how shows like this battle repeating themselves, so I am pretty pleased with how we have started off. If anything, a 2-hour season premiere would have allowed for more time to firmly establish where everyone is and what the current situation is for each group, but given that this season has already upped its season order count from 10 to 12 episodes, I can only imagine that big plans lie ahead and simply accepting that everyone has been divided into easily distinguishable groups is enough to have people ready for whatever is to come. So now it is time for a whole season of watching Tom and the gang fight off extinction.
Other Thoughts From The Desk Of Tom Mason:
- This is likely going to be the longest of my write-ups for the series (and the most plot-focused), but I am happy to be writing about this show as I tend to go back and forth on whether or not The Walking Dead or Falling Skies is the more effective of the two series and now I can express thoughts on both in long-written form.
- That said, while I will always praise The Walking Dead’s (occasionally gross) visuals, having Spielberg as a producer means you get a nice budget to work with, as Falling Skies consistently looks great and has some nice directorial flourishes (long tracking shots) that I am excited to witness again.
- Okay, so what do we name Tom’s vigilante persona? The Ghetto Ghost?
- Note to self: Do not touch laser walls.
- Will Patton is consistently great on this show (as is Noah Wyle) and seeing him work hard to turn the screw on his bed was pretty killer.
- This week in Pope Pop Culture: Gilligan’s Island
- Last thing, it’s TNT’s new network slogan: BOOM!