Falling Skies season 5 episode 5 review: Non-Essential Personnel

Will Falling Skies stick the landing of its final season? At its mid-point, Ron isn't hopeful that a satisfying conclusion is on its way...

This review contains spoilers.

5.5. Non-Essential Personnel

The game of cat and mouse between John Pope and Tom Mason won’t derail the war effort, but a lone gunman with access to explosives just might. While Tom is off on a wild goose chase, following Pope’s directions and going on a tour of post-apocalyptic South Carolina, Weaver and Anne are leading the Second Mass on the big trip to Norfolk Naval Base, to rearm and prepare to take the fight to the Espheni in Charleston, Washington D.C., and beyond. Meanwhile, Tom has thrown off the ‘for the good of the many’ idea, despite the alien hallucination telling him he needs to focus on saving humanity.

I am a vocal non-fan of the shaky cinema verite/too cheap to buy a Steadicam rig style of action scenes. Anyone who knows anything knows that, and my many complaints about that particular aspect of modern film making litter my history here at Den of Geek. However, sometimes it can work, and the infiltration of Pope’s new armed camp (at the hilariously named Lois Lanes) by a desperate Tom Mason works much better than it should. For once, the camera adds to the tension, rather than adding to my potential nausea. Tom slinks and creeps and runs and hides, and all the while Pope’s men very nearly catch him at every turn. It works as a suspense moment, and that tension is heightened by the surprise appearance of Pope right in front of Tom. It’s a logistically complicated shot, and Olatunde Osunsanmi pulls it off very well indeed.

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The fact that Tom pulls the trigger is pretty amazing, though that’s pretty quickly undone by an amusingly sloppy firefight and some weird deus ex extraterrestrial when an Espheni hornet comes sweeping out of the sky to scoop Tom up and lovingly carry him off to see the Wicked Witch. Of course, they lay the groundwork for it earlier in the episode, but it comes out of nowhere and it looks unconvincing at best. Plus it’s wholly unsatisfying; we finally get the two series tent poles exchanging something more serious than fisticuffs and it’s spoiled by some oversized mosquito swooping down and taking Tom away. Sure, the shot of a bloody, face-injured Pope is great, particularly Colin Cunningham’s thousand-yard-stare, but I really wanted something more satisfying.

However, Weaver’s conflict with Marty the survivalist worked out much better. To see Weaver work with his brain is always fun, and it’s nice to see him take off his baseball cap and use his negotiation skills rather than his gun skills. Of course, again, we get Weaver wounded in the process of the negotiation, much like Tom and Pope both shoot one another and Hal sustains a nasty arm injury, but none of that seems to matter in the long run for the folks of Falling Skies. For whatever reason, these injuries—which could easily turn fatal if not properly cared for by trained medical personnel with bags of infection-fighting drugs, are shrugged off as par for the course.

As a stand-alone bit, it’s really good, and strangely compelling. It takes a while to unfold, to be sure, but the Weaver character and the way he reaches out to Marty by recognizing in the other man what he himself went through is quite clever. Jim Barnes has put in a solid script, and the Weaver/Marty stuff ends up being pretty compelling. Weaver is a great father figure, and Will Patton is great for the role, and if nothing else, Weaver has a job for after the invasion as a grief counselor and middle-aged hair model. Even the cheesier stuff, like the Mason chase and the phony nurse/Hal still ended up working relatively well, particularly by Falling Skies standards.

I think both plots were helped by a surprisingly strong undercurrent of humour. Pope not so much, since Tom is running in a panic, but the Second Mass unit was pretty fun. It’s a trend as of late; Weaver is all of a sudden cracking the occasional joke, particularly at Shaq’s expense, and the two of them interacting in the caravan was really funny. That’s not really something Falling Skies has done, historically, but this season has occasionally created laughs—and not just the accidental kind that comes from an overindulgence of melodrama. 

Unfortunately, with five episodes left in the season, now’s not the time to be tinkering with the format, it’s the time to be wrapping things up. Sure, they’re killing off redshirts and giving lines to background extras we’ve been seeing for years now, but it still feels like they’re working towards something that might not be a satisfactory ending. All speculation on my part, but I don’t have confidence that they’ll stick the landing at this point, even if I’m sure they have an idea of where they want to end up.

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US Correspondent Ron Hogan is still kind of on Team Pope, if only because now Pope’s going to be scary with that facial scar, plus he’s still the most charismatic person left in the United States. Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.