This latest episode of Falling Skies was action-packed, but it was also jam-packed with silliness and random soap-operatics. And yet, I still kind of love this show, even when it seems to be spinning out of control. There's just something about the characters and the world that feel right, even in spite of everything.
Actually, "At All Costs" was about half solid. There was some great stuff involving Ben Mason trying to decide whether to get his spikes removed. And some of the scenes with Tom Mason and Cochise talking to the President were pretty great. But the stuff about Tom Mason's son Hal and his daughter Alexis both being alien-controlled monsters sort of fell flat.
(Both Alexis and Hal have a similar shot in this episode, where they're looking over someone's shoulder at the camera and giving a creepy smile. Except that Alexis had that moment when she was being held by her mother, and Hal had it when he was in an immediately post-coital embrace with Maggie. Deliberate choice, or just random?)
This show's great strength continues to be its characters — even people who were annoying or sometimes repellent in the first season are now clicking pretty well. Lourdes is a million times more likable now that she's become one of the few competent adults around, who just gets on with her job. Pope continues to make his slow march towards being this show's truth-telling rogue, instead of just an obnoxious racist. And "Mad Dog" Matt Mason gets a few great bits in this episode, including debating whether it would be cool to have six legs, and also discussing whether his dad used weird historical anecdotes to get girls in college.
The characters pull the show along, even as the plot continues to be several hats piled on top of each other. The running theme of Falling Skies, since the very beginning, has been the way the invasion and the presence of aliens on Earth changes humans and our world, in good ways as well as bad — and the best iteration of that theme has always been the harnessed kids, especially Ben Mason. This time around, Ben's storyline takes another important step forward, as he struggles with the decision of whether to become just a normal kid again — giving up his amazing abilities, but also possibly extending his lifespan. When Ben and his friend Danielle decide to keep their spikes, it feels like the next logical step in a story we've been seeing unspool since the beginning of the show.
The other stuff — Tom's two alien-compromised children — feels less organic and more like there was a dartboard involved. Especially Hal talking to his evil self in the mirror, and then changing places, which feels like a really bad copy of many other similar scenes we've seen before. (And let's not talk about Evil Hal telling Good Hal he loves Evil Overlord Karen, which just seems like one last stab at turning this whole thing into a love triangle.)
And meanwhile, Anne freaks out and steals her half-alien baby, only to have Anne and Alexis predicably end up in the clutches of the Skitters. I understand that Moon Bloodgood had a scheduling conflict, and had to be written out of the show in a hurry, so this part probably isn't entirely the producers' fault.
Even these hackneyed storylines have a few good bits, notably Dr. Kadar bonding with Anne over the terrible silence the moment after your child dies. But for the most part, these stories have been moving too fast for us to feel any impact, sandwiched as they are in the middle of a dozen other storylines about people and aliens and how the two interconnect.
And there's a larger point here — at what point do we just assume that every character on the show is controlled or adulterated by aliens in some way? Given that the Overlords can put tiny insects inside people and control them or track them, why wouldn't they have put bugs inside every person in Charleston? Wouldn't it be a safe assumption at this point that everybody is compromised until you can prove otherwise? They already got a bug inside Tom at the start of season two — but everybody's decided to pretend that never happened.
That's the problem with having half your cast under alien influence in some way — you start to wonder just why the unaffected half have gotten so lucky, since it would be just as easy to go for 100 percent as 50 percent.
Oh, and there is Hershey's product placement. Yay post-apocalyptic chocolate!
Meanwhile, Garza from Continuum sees that the Volm really are helping to put the smackdown on the Eshveni, so she lets Tom talk to the President. Soon enough, they're meeting up, and President Hathaway brings up the question that nobody ever has a good answer to on this show: How can you trust the bubble-heads to help you defeat the fish-heads? What makes you think the bubble-heads don't have their own evil agenda? Nobody listens to Saul Tigh, as he sits there going, "Same shit, different show."
The best scene of the Tom Mason/President Hathaway storyline is when they go to talk to Cochise, who finally gives the speech we probably should have heard at the start of the season — the one which provides, if not an explanation, at least some context for the Volm defense of Earth. Cochise, who's just sort of wandered in and out of scenes up until this point, explains at last that he's never seen his own homeworld, and there's a flower that grows on his home planet that he hopes his descendants will one day see for themselves. Thanks to the awesome power of Doug Jones, it's a remarkably effective scene.
Watching the scenes with Cochise this time around, though, I found myself questioning once again the wisdom of jumping ahead seven months. If this was season four instead of season three — if we'd spent an entire season seeing the people in Charleston learn to trust the Volm — all of the stuff we're seeing now might carry more weight. As it is, I'm sort of on Saul Tigh's side. But maybe that's intentional.
And then the secret base is attacked and everybody's forced to flee by air (not the best strategy, you'd think) and this leads to a nasty crash.
In any case, this episode was a decidedly mixed bag, which the show lurched chaotically from solid to mushy storytelling, and back again. But this was the episode that made me realize that I just really like this show, enough that I'm along for the ride even when it can't stop wobbling. Mostly because of the characters, and the world they live and die in.