This review contains spoilers.
3.1 On Thin Ice
Falling Skies has done a good job of solving the issue of child actors ageing, and it’s actually a pretty easy one. Rather than taking the traditional tack of most shows and picking up where we left off last year, Falling Skies has decided to jump ahead in the timeline and give the viewers a chance to get caught up to speed in the early episodes of the season usually by running two episodes on premiere night. It’s a mixed bag. On one hand, you get to have pleasant surprises like Tom’s appointment as the President of the United States. On the other hand, we missed the integration of an entire new race of aliens into the Falling Skies universe (even if there are only like twenty-five of them at the moment).
Those aliens, called the Volm, are old enemies of the Overlords, also called the Espheni. As the rebel skitters could tell you if they had access to a harnessed kid, this isn’t the first rodeo for the Espheni’s conquest ships. In the seven months since first contact with the Volm, they have proven themselves to be strong allies of the humans, providing awesome blaster weapons, de-harnessing technology, and logistical support. Chief among the aliens is a cat named Cochise, whom you won’t recognize by his face because he’s an alien. However, you will recognize his body language, because he’s the most famous physical actor ever. That’s right, Falling Skies has added Doug Jones as its alien version of Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben.
This is all information we find out in the immediate aftermath of a pretty stellar human raid on an alien mining facility. Violence is one of the things the show has always done well, and we get a lot of shouting, shooting, explosions, and dead aliens/dead red shirts before the Espheni spring forth their big trap in the form of a pair of mega-mechs, giant two-legged mechanical fighting robot things bristling with weapons that very nearly turn the tide of battle. Slowly but surely the humans versus aliens show is becoming something far more science fiction than I could have ever imagined, and it’s better for it.
One of the hardest things on Falling Skies is writing Tom’s various corny rally speeches. He makes a lot of these speeches as the spiritual and now political leader of the Charleston resistance. This week, we get to see Tom’s first speech in his new position as President of What’s Left Of The United States, and it’s actually quite good. It’s clear that Remi Aubuchon has been studying political speeches to get the tone right, and the execution on the show of these moments is always very good. That’s not the only writing highlight of the episode, either. Cochise gets a really good line during the command staff meeting, and the death scene during this episode is probably one of the cleverest I’ve ever seen. It’s not necessarily the execution – though that is fine – it’s the final line that the person killed speaks. It’s awesomely constructed and delivered by the actor.
Another thing the show is doing better this season is creating a world. Last season we had basically a road show, and that was good because the first season’s school wasn’t the best setting possible. However, they’re doing a better job this season with Charleston. Maybe it’s because the humans have been living there for awhile, or maybe because they’ve built Pope his own awesome shantytown/saloon to be the Al Swearingen of, but Charleston in this season is working a lot better for me, and Popetown makes a great setting for the walk-and-talk scenes the show loves to work in. It’s a clever film device, and it works better than you might expect. Having characters wander through a busy scene and talk, be they major roles or background color, helps fill out the world. If your setting is stationary and mostly empty, that gets old, but if your setting has some life to it – and Popetown is pretty lively – that helps the show feel more lived-in.
The show has had its struggles, but it looks like the cast and crew behind the show have found the right blend of Spielbergian schmaltz and sci-fi action/horror to make the show work. On Thin Ice was a great example of how to move a plot forward while introducing new elements to the viewer after a long hiatus. Looks like it might become more than just a summer fling.
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