Falling Skies season 4 episode 1 review: Ghost In The Machine

Review Ron Hogan 23 Jun 2014 - 07:01

Ron is fully on board with Falling Skies' return. Here's his review of the season 4 opener...

This review contains spoilers.

4.1 Ghost In The Machine

Falling Skies has one real hallmark as a television show: it is relentlessly positive. It seems that no matter what you do to the Mason family and all their friends, everyone's super positive about how things are going to work out pretty much one hundred percent of the time. Sure the folks of the Second Mass might find themselves getting ambushed by an Espheni assault team, separated from one another by some sort of giant laser fence that turns people into paste, and kidnapped and herded into an internment camp/ghetto combination within the ruins of Charleston, but hey, as long as there are Masons around, everything's probably going to work out for the best.

Fortunately, there are a lot of Masons, because the Second Mass—after a pretty impressive cold opening that effectively captures the chaos of battle with the superior alien forces—are all over the place. Just when things looked pretty nice after that trip back from the human protection zone in Brazil, the human resistance is scattered to the four winds and given a variety of problems to solve. Tom, Hal (the oldest Mason boy), Tector, Pope, and Weaver end up captured by the Espheni and taken into a concentration camp near what I believe is Charleston. Anne, Anthony, and a bunch of red-shirts end up trapped on the outside of the fence, where they escape to the cover of the forest. Meanwhile, Maggie and Ben (the middle Mason) find themselves in an entirely different, new situation courtesy of Lexie, who is weirder than ever thanks to her alien DNA and accelerated growth. Also Matt (the youngest all-human Mason) ends up in an alien version of a Hitler Youth camp.

It's a credit to Falling Skies that the cut-away that I expected the whole time—that the opening was all a dream—didn't happen, and instead we cut forward four months to find out that everyone's in horrible shape and everything on Earth sucks as far as our heroes are concerned. That's a new strain of darkness that I don't remember being on the show before. Sure, Tom is working on some sort of escape plan, which he would because he's Tom, and Hal and Tector are working on an escape plan of their own, because he's Hal, but it's not a terribly hopeful situation for the two of them. (Meanwhile, Pope has used his pre-apocalypse knowledge of prison to become the kingpin of the post-apocalyptic prison, because Pope is the man to make the best of every situation he's thrown into, usually in hilarious fashion.) As it turns out, the aliens are keeping the adults prisoner, but to what end?

The aliens are also keeping the youngsters prisoner, but we kind of know what they like to do with kids. Before, they were putting them in alien harnesses and using them as slave labour. Now, they're apparently brainwashing them with the goal of turning them against their parents and using them as traps to ferret out pockets of human resistance. Given that the Second Mass loves kids, that seems to be a pretty good plan, assuming they can brainwash the kids. Unfortunately for the aliens, they don't know the Masons that well, and Matt Mason is not one to be brainwashed. Indeed, he's the kind of guy who'll do some plotting, just like dear old dad.

Falling Skies has done a good job moving the time line forward, which is a great way at both emphasizing just how bad things are and hiding the advancing ages of the child actors. Matt is practically a teenager and Ben ought to be putting the moves on Maggie, if he's not already, because he's a grown man. Splitting up the big cast is a necessary move at this point, given the number of plots happening at once, and it allows the show to cover a lot of narrative ground, even if it seems like the Espheni keep changing their opinion of humanity every season. I guess the use of kids is pretty consistent, and it's not like I'm putting the blame for this on writer David Eick, either; Eick wrote some very cute dialogue for Matt and his new friend in which his frame of reference is the History Channel and hers is The Sound Of Music. We have to see what this season has in store for us, which could be anything at this point. The script is strong, well-balanced across the four settings with a heavier dose of Tom and lesser amounts of the rest of the Mason clan—Maggie and Ben's experience with Lexie's weird commune is strange hint at what's to come, while Anne's storyline is the familiar hardscrabble stuff we expect from the Second Mass, but it's interesting to see just how much Anne has learned from the fighters when before she was solidly civilian.

As usual, Falling Skies makes great use of their sets, both physical and CGI, to really establish a sense of ruin and place simultaneously. Lexie's commune looks both serene and off-putting, while the ghetto of Charleston looks, well, depressing, except for Pope's stylish compound. Matt's Hitler Youth camp is one of the better touches of the show. Using some sort of reclaimed college, it looks part Harry Potter part cult, and the Evil Boy Scout uniforms are a great choice for dressing the to-be-brainwashed youth.

Falling Skies is always going to be the kind of show that has a steep learning curve, and unless you go out of your way to catch back up before the start of the season, there's always a little confusion in the early stages. The show does a good job of making up for that as the season plays out, but there's always a good fifteen minutes or so of the return episode where I'm struggling to remember which Mason is named what, and just what happened last season. However, the writers do a good job of catching you back up (and subtly eliminating a lot of the need for catch-up by throwing everything forward by a few months), and character names come back easily enough.

It looks like Falling Skies is back at roughly the same spot it left. Good summer sci-fi entertainment with a bit of an uplifting bent when it's not gunning down extras and destroying families in the name of drama. At this point in the show's run, you're either already on board or you're not. Consider me fully on board. 

Read Ron's review of the season three finale, Brazil, here

US Correspondent Ron Hogan is glad to have Falling Skies back, with Doug Jones and lots of weird new alien creations in tow. Space bugs for the win! Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi

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