Falling Skies season 5 episode 8 review: Stalag 14th Virginia

Noah Wyle makes his Falling Skies directorial debut with a middling episode that's still one step forward, two steps back...

This review contains spoilers.

5.8 Stalag 14th Virginia

There are now two episodes remaining in the run of Falling Skies, and true to form, we’ve spent the last two instalments mucking about in a Rio Bravo last redoubt military encampment where the commanding officer is running amok and governing by fear while allowing the soldiers to do whatever they like in the name of keeping folks together. Granted, this group seems a bit more together than the underground survivors of Day Of The Dead or the hospital from the fifth season of The Walking Dead, but there’s not a whole lot of difference between the zombie survival and the alien survival scenario, except the aliens are less of an omnipresent threat and more of a military force to be avoided until the assault is in your favour (to complete the trifecta of references: Red Dawn).

It hasn’t been all bad. The Katie Marshall story line has been okay, thanks to Melora Hardin’s ability to act frigid and weird when appropriate, and it’s been nice to see the Second Mass caught by surprise, but it plays out exactly the way it’s supposed to. There are betrayals, there are reversals, people escape, people come storming in to the rescue, and only the bad guys really seem to die aside from one martyr to the cause of justice (and he spent most of his time on the show being a jerk to the Masons).

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Tom, Hal, and Ben Mason face the firing squad after being found guilty for treason thanks to their various and sundry alien run-ins, from eye worms to beamer flights and neck spikes. All they’ve done, all they’ve said, all their heroism, is meaningless to Katie Marshall, and her word is the only one that counts among the soldiers left in Norfolk’s naval base. After all, she’s the boss. A paranoid, dangerous, strangely different boss who is under the sway of an overlord, but the boss nonetheless. What she says goes, at least until Tom and Weaver start picking out sympathetic people and winning them over to the Second Mass side with an assortment of rousing speeches and convincing arguments courtesy of scripter Jack Kenny. Of course, the fact that a few days before these arguments fell on deaf ears isn’t exactly rectified, but I guess the commanding officer’s slow descent into paranoia and willingness to scrap trials for summary executions might change some minds.

It’s actually kind of impressive that Noah Wyle hasn’t been behind the camera at this point in his career. He’s one of the producers of this show after all, and you usually see actors try writing or directing on their own projects eventually. I guess waiting until the end of the show means you can’t screw anything up, not that Wyle had to worry all that much about that. This is a pretty good debut. He uses shaky camera in the proper place (the exfiltration from the brig and aborted escape attempt) and his Mexican stand-off scenes are appropriately tense. The visuals at the beginning of the episode, blackness interspersed with marching boots, the rattle of a snare drum, and the black-hooded heads on the firing line, work really well as a cold open. The actual execution of the execution scene was also really well done, tense and not as melodramatic as it probably could have been.

All in all, the end result is the Second Mass pick up some extra fighters and guns, a couple of terrible people end up getting killed, and two new types of alien are introduced – one being a humanoid-type with black blood (possibly a pod person) and the other being some sort of semi-mythical uber-Overlord type that, until now, has remained unmentioned by Cochise and the other Volm. It’s pretty convenient how that works. Also, one of the turncoat soldiers escapes from camp after nearly getting Anne killed and runs smack dab into Pope and his Woodbury Jr. fight club establishment.

This week definitely had its moments, but for all the rah-rah speeches, it still doesn’t feel like the alien threat is being taken seriously enough, and characters seem to be making dumb decisions for drama-based reasons. After all, Anne spilling the guts about her weird alien child is probably a bad idea around strangers, particularly ones looking for any reason to call you a traitor and put a round into your head. Still, perhaps the Second Mass are compromised by their insular nature and their lack of contact with people who don’t understand their unusual history.

Either way, the next episode will probably be Pope’s gang having a run-in with the Mason crew, then perhaps the combined firefight attracts the attention of the aliens, and blah blah blah. Or maybe Tom will talk Pope down with a little help from Anthony. Tom’s not going to die, as much as it might make the show more interesting for both our hero and our villain/rogue/Han Solo to gun one another down in a Mexican stand-off gone right, so they’re going to have to figure some other way around that particular issue before they all join forces and take down the invasion force and the new Mecha-Overlord.

I’ve turned on this series slowly, but I’ve turned. One step forward, two steps back, and the occasional Charleston from side to side in between. I can hope for a great finale all I want, but I’m not confident at all that it’s going to happen.

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Read Ron’s review of the previous episode, Everybody Has Their Reasons, here

US Correspondent Ron Hogan is just waiting for the finale to be a let-down. Maybe not, but… let’s not kid ourselves. Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.

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