Falling Skies is not a show that likes to linger too much on things that happen off-screen. The first season starts with humanity in the midst of a fight against the aliens. The second season introduces a bunch of new characters, kills off other ones, and relies on the viewer to watch a web series and read a comic book tie-in for further information. The third season jumped right into the thick of things, too, with Anne massively pregnant and immediately giving birth, with the home viewers having missed pretty much everything from the end of the second season to President Tom Mason.
This week’s episode starts out with Tom waking up next to his wife. No, not Anne; his first wife, Rebecca, is there beside a clean-shaven and nearly unrecognizable Professor Tom Mason as he wakes up in his lovely home to the sound of screaming and gunfire becoming the buzz of an alarm clock. Tom had a nightmare, and immediately, I’m thinking of Dallas. However, rather than having this be a momentary dream of Tom Mason only to have him wake up in some sort of alien prison, the show commits hard to the idea, and Tom’s dream only becomes weirder.
The first warning sign is repeated mentions of Anne Glass having contacted Tom, despite the fact Tom doesn’t know who that is. The second, and more ominous sign, is when Weaver appears in Tom’s dream as a disheveled hobo with a cardboard “The End Is Near” sign. Tom heads into work and sees philosophy professor John Pope struggling to get into his classroom. The retiring dean, Anthony, stops by for a chat. President Peralta is discussing a potential staff trip to one of four locations: New York, Jacksonville, Chicago, or Boston. Those cities keep coming up, Anne keeps sending Tom notes and little presents, Maggie is one of Tom’s students, and the late, lamented Dai shows up playing Anne’s jealous husband. All the while, Weaver keeps showing up outside of windows, looking crazy and typically getting dragged off by the cops. All the while, the question keeps getting asked: New York, Jacksonville, Chicago, or Boston?
The bizarre nature of this weird alternate past lingers on and on throughout the episode, spanning roughly half its length and lingering well past the point of comfortable exit into the traditional Falling Skies universe. It’s what both makes the initial conceit annoying—it’s not supposed to go past the title card, given what we know from TV—and fascinating—because the show stretches it out for 30 minutes, and in gets progressively weirder with each passing moment. The show does a great job of changing character looks just enough to push them into uncanny valley, with Pope looking every inch the philosophy professor, Weaver making an excellent grubby homeless man, and Dai looking surprising as a result of his being alive. There’s some really strong stuff here courtesy of director David Solomon, it emphasizes the strangeness of writer John Wirth’s episode without making it too much like a Twilight Zone episode.
After a while, it becomes fascinating on its own, and the real of just what’s happening doesn’t lessen the impact of the situation inspiring Tom’s trip into his subconscious. This Inception conceit lingers on through another 10 minutes or so of the show, but Falling Skies eventually has Tom wake up and figure out which level of his dream state is real and what’s been fictional, which kind of takes away from the first 40 minutes or so. It’s still interesting, but the better idea might have been to leave Tom stuck in the depths of his own mind for the bulk of the episode, then have it ending with him getting away (or “getting away”) before resuming the Charleston antics next week.
That’s assuming that Tom actually did escape, rather than simply dreaming he escaped during the course of one of his many alien-based fever dreams. To be honest, the only things I’m sure happened in this episode are the things from Charleston and everything not involving Tom. Everything involving the eldest Mason remains a mystery to me. I guess, in that sense, it’s a job well done for Falling Skies.
Please, if you can, support our charity horror stories ebook, Den Of Eek!, raising money for Geeks Vs Cancer. Details here.