Pied Piper

Falling Skies

TNT, Sundays, 9 PM

"Sanctuary, Parts 1 and 2"

Part One written by Joel Anderson Thompson; Part Two written by Melinda Hsu Taylor

Parts One and Two directed by Sergio Mimica-Gezzan

"You definitely have a different scale of problems out here." -- Mike

I saw it coming. I hoped I was wrong, as I always do when a Cliche starts oozing its way into a story, but I wasn't. This two-part story on Falling Skies switches the focus of this alien-invasion series into the classic nihilistic we-are-our-own-worst-enemy trope you see in virtually every single story of war shown today. It's as if the betrayals and ambiguities of Vietnam were endlessly playing in the collective subconscious of Hollywood writers, telling them that there can be no honest alliances, no real loyalties, not even a genuine sense of self-preservation in real war. And this whole idea that we have more to fear from one another than an alien force bent on wiping out humanity is just plain stupid. It smacks of the worst kind of political correctness, the kind that says there is no good or evil, no black or white, no right or wrong, only that which appears fair and balanced, whether it is or not.

"This is not just about your survival anymore." -- Clayton

If I sound a little abstract, it's probably because I am putting off reviewing a second-rate story arc that was about as inevitable as sunrise. We open with an attack on Dr. Anne Glass, as one of her patients robs her of valuable drugs in a bid to take his family out of the Second Mass' refuge. Their getaway is foiled by the timely arrival of Lt. Terry Clayton (Henry Czerny, The A-Team), who has arrived with bad news and good news. The bad news is that his group, the Seventh Massachusetts, has been wiped out; the good news is that he's established a sanctuary not far away, with orders to bring all the children of the Second Massachusetts there for safety while the fighters stand off an imminent alien attack. In all the discussion about tactics, plans and strategies, only Tom and a couple of other fighters seem to hear the really relevant part of this avalanche of news and orders: Clayton wants to take their children away.

"He should be in junior high school with his arm around a cheerleader, not fighting some damn war." -- Weaver

The parents of these children are understandably reluctant to part with them, particularly Mike and Tom, who just got their sons back. No one seems to think it is remarkably convenient, then, when a single Mech attacks the school, backed up by a single Skitter. We get a fantastic fight in the deserted high school between young Jimmy (Dylan Authors, Covert Affairs) and the Skitter, in which the 13-year old shows courage, quick wit and a never-say-die fighting spirit. Weaver blows the Skitter away and then finds himself hugging a terrified little boy. I don't  usually find myself rooting for teenagers with guns in public schools, but young Authors gave a fine performance in a well-directed sequence that gave new life to a scene that otherwise might look overly familiar. Will Patton continues to give a bravura performance as Captain Weaver, whose gruff practicality seems to be single-handedly preventing this show from drowning in a flood of mawkishness. His quiet support of his young fighter is a welcome contrast to Tom's persistent infantilizing of his almost-equally young son Matt. Tom desperately wants his son to live in the safe and carefree world that was; Matt is painfully aware that that world is gone. Weaver, on the other hand, allows Jimmy to be a regular member of the team, to carry weapons, to fight and risk his life against the aliens like anyone else. I find it odd that Tom, the history professor, is blind to his own subject: boys of thirteen have had to be warriors, leaders and kings in past ages, when circumstances demanded it. Tom, of all people, should recognize those circumstances coming to life around him, and let his son grow up.

"It actually feels like they're more interested in watching us." -- Hal

After the Mech/Skitter attack, the parents relent and allow Clayton to march away with their children, including Mike (Martin Roach, Paradise Falls) and his formerly-harnessed son Ricky (Daniyah Ysrayl, Moby Dick). Hal goes along with his brothers as a guard. All seems well until Clayton re-directs their march off the map he gave Tom, which is where my spidey senses started sounding off like a car alarm. Sure enough, the group arrives at an isolated farmstead full of teenagers and sullen guards. Hal notices that the guards are facing inwards, not outwards as they would if they were watching for external enemies. Although their welcome seems friendly, and they are greeted with smiles and food, the whole area seems steeped in menace. Which we discover straightway, as Clayton visits the source of all his information about the Second Mass: Pope. I was delighted to see John Pope (Colin Cunningham, Stargate SG-1) again, since he always steals every scene and gets all the good lines. His snarling defiance is a welcome contrast to the anxious frowns everyone else seems to wear; while the rest of humanity is worrying about how to survive, Pope wants nothing better than a chance to kick Skitter butt. His warlike spirit is the most refreshing thing onscreen, and I was glad to see him back. As I suspected, it does not take him long to escape, and although he initially is interested only in his own survival, in classic good-bad-guy fashion he shows up in the end, at a crucial moment, to save the day. Han Solo would have been proud.

"You've been trading kids to the Skitters?" -- Mike

Even as Hal's instincts are warning him off, Mike is approached by Clayton with a deal: if he helps Clayton and his gang trade the kids to the Skitters, he can save Ricky. Mike is having none of this, and breaks the kids out of the house. A firefight ensues, in which Ricky watches stonily, detached and uninvolved. Hal leads the kids to an abandoned house for the night, but Clayton follows them. Ben runs for home to warn the Second Mass while Hal holes up with the kids, prepared to do an Alamo re-enactment. Pope and Tom arrive at almost the same moment as backup, but Tom persuades his son to surrender. Hal does not understand this, but as everyone arrives back at the farmstead, Weaver and his men pour from the doors. Tom had faith that Weaver would arrive in time -- as did everyone in the audience. There was zero suspense in this whole storyline, including Clayton's suicidal bid for revenge. And this was the moment when the entire logical structure of this show breaks down: instead of executing the entire farmstead for treason against the human race, Weaver allows them to go free. He thinks he's doing the right thing. Maybe he is. But a decision like that should be put to the entire community, in a trial or a vote or some such action. While one does not want an army run by a democracy, one also does not want a democracy run by an army. Securing the situation was Weaver's job, and he did it well. Then it was time for him to step back and let whatever civil authority was in place, or whatever civil authority could be mustered, to take over. He was no more justified in allowing these collaborators to go free than he would have been in mowing them all down where they stood. But as always, the soft hearts prevail, and these traitors are permitted a second chance. Bad call, and a real letdown of an ending.

"The world is coming apart." -- Clayton

As always, Cunningham stole every scene he was in. Can we get a spin-off showcasing Bad-ass Pope? Since we are pretty much at the mid-point of this truncated series, it's time to start killing off minor characters to inject some "realism" into this fable, so we lost Mike this week. I'm sure we'll lose some other character whose name I can barely remember next week. That's why these shows start out with such large casts -- so that when producers need a death to enhance the "tragedy" of a moment, they have someone available the audience already knows and maybe even indentifies with. In this case, I thought it was highly ironic to have Mike killed off  in a firefight involving Hal, since it was his hot-headed panic to rescue his own son that left Hall and Karen in the hands of the Skitters a couple of weeks ago. Karma, baby. Henry Czerny, as always, provided a smooth and sinister bad guy, plausible and therefore even more dangerous. Some day I will get to see Czerny, a fine dramatic actor, play a comedy or a romantic role, and I will be bouncing in my seat with glee.

"Why is it I always get the seat next to the crying baby?" -- Pope

This story was about the children of the resistance, so naturally we had to have at least one childbirth story. Naturally, there are complications as Sarah (Melissa Kramer, Covert Affairs) comes to term. Anne panics when she discovers the presentation is breech, but Weaver, surprisingly, comes to the rescue. His children had been born at home, and he had assisted their labor coach to turn his daughter. We end up with Pope in the maternity ward, recovering from being shot, next to the new mom and baby. His caustic remarks are the only antidote to the mushiness of that entire setting. We close with a conversation between the two former harness kids, Ben and Ricky. Ricky is  unconcerned about the death of his father, and is more disturbed about witnessing humans killing humans. He claims that "we", meaning Skitters, would never kill one of "our" own. Ricky and Ben have already discussed the hive mind of the Skitters, about how their minds were subsumed in the larger shared consciousness of the hive. Now it is clear that Ricky has drunk all of the Kool-Ade and gone back for more. Falling Skies held steady from part one of this two-parter to part two, at a 1.4 rating for adults 18-49. This is over a 1.3 million audience, which is pretty much par for the course for this show. This was a mediocre two-parter, not well written and very predictable, so I am hoping better writing, and higher ratings, are in our future.

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Copyright 2011 by Sarah Stegall. All rights reserved.