This review contains spoilers.
3.5 Search and Recover
The fifth episode of the season for Falling Skies is one I’ve been waiting for since the events of last week. Basically, this week’s instalment promised a Pope and Mason festival, and do we ever get it. The show’s best actor and best-defined character together for the bulk of an episode? Thank you very much, Falling Skies. It’s strange to see that after all this time, Mason and Pope don’t get along, but it’s nice to see them fighting with one another. They’re very complementary characters, each filling in the gaps of the other in the show sense, and when you’ve got the star (Noah Wylie) and the break-out actor (Colin Cunningham) together in the A plot, it’s a great time being had by all.
Well, except for the two characters, I suppose. After a dogfight and resulting plane crash at the end of last episode, Pope and Tom Mason are stranded together, hundreds of miles from Charleston. They’re hungry, dehydrated, battered, bruised, and being stalked by a skitter patrol dispatched to look for any survivors. Of course, the two have both their alien pursuers and their natural dislike for one another to overcome. It’s a good character-building exercise for both actors, allowing them to express different sides of their usual roles. (Tom picks a fight while Pope actually talks about himself without the fake bad-ass attitude for once.)
The show’s A plot contains the bulk of its entertaining moments, thanks to some pretty sharp direction from director Sergio Mimica-Gezzan. He makes good use of green space and plant life to craft a pretty suspenseful stalk through the trees (since skitters are pretty green and brown, they’re perfectly camouflaged until they want to be revealed). The action choreography is fairly spectacular too, as they move from a fist fight to a knife fight and beyond into a fight with skitters, all with some very decent special effects. It manages to be both a cheaper and an interesting episode, if only because we get more Pope than we have all season in one episode.
The show has been careful to establish the two characters as separate but near-equals, with Pope as mayor of Popetown and Tom as President of the New United States. Both men have a lot of weight on their shoulders, both have been at one another’s throats at multiple times over the course of Falling Skies‘ three seasons, and both remain capable of finding new reasons to respect and hate one another, even after bonding over campfire stories. Both characters behave, well, out of character (in a positive way), and while the bad blood is clearly there, it seems tempered by respect. Finally. Neither one seems spoiling for a fight anymore, and both of them have chances to officially end the feud (via killing), but neither take it up. They’ll never be bromantic, but I’ll settle for frenemies, and the dynamic the two achieve by the end of the episode suggests that they’re far closer than they’re willing to admit to themselves.
The B plot, involving Weaver and the Mason kids/friends looking for the escaped Anne, is not up to the quality of the A plot. I like Will Patton and I like Weaver as a character, and I think he’s got a great relationship with the mini-Masons, but these scenes feel secondary, as if they needed an excuse for the Masons to get out of Charleston. Weaver’s motivation for searching for Anne makes sense, and his scenes where he has to relate to the Masons are handled really well by writer Jordan Rosenberg (who turned in a very good episode as a whole), but I’m so invested in Pope and Mason that it’s tough to pay much attention to anything else. It doesn’t help the B plot that it’s pretty cheesy at times – cheese is a requirement in any Falling Skies episode, but for once Tom isn’t the guy doing the grating – even if I like the idea that the survivors and 2nd Mass crew are finally getting a chance to grieve.
Even if Pope and Mason seem to have become friendlier as a result of their time in the woods, I like that the dynamic between them is still messy. The third season of Falling Skies seems more willing to play with the status quo, to leave things a bit messier, to paint a murkier picture in between rousing speeches. Just because people aren’t getting shot doesn’t mean they’re not suffering.
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