Seriously, Falling Skies is defying all your explanations for a show made by Steven Spielberg. For one thing, when it manages to get back to its original wheelhouse of being a gritty war show, it's powerful. But also, the cute little kid is actually the best character on the show.
Last night's episode really showcased Falling Skies at its best and worst. The best storyline, by far, was the one where poor Crazy Lee gets shot and falls, getting a piece of rebar stuck all the way through her skull. A lot of people have died on this show, but that was stil an outstandingly bleak and brutal death. And bonus points for having her get shot just as "Mad Dog" Matt Mason is watching her pee and confessing it's the most exciting thing he's ever seen.
Seriously, Matt has had some incredible development for a while now, but last night's episode really showed how far he's come — and the episode airing in two weeks, "Search and Recovery," is an even better Matt showcase. At this point, Matt is the only normal kid left in the Mason family. And he's the one who's dealing with real human drama — like watching his friend die, slowly and horribly, a grungy piece of metal through her head. The relationship between Matt and Pope, which started in season one, is continuing to develop in a way that feels organic — and we keep getting reminders that Matt is caught between two father figures who hate each other, without it ever feeling like we're being bludgeoned. Also, we get more reminders that Matt is nihilistic and doesn't really believe there's any point in going to school or learning anything beyond how to kill aliens.
Science fiction really is at its best when it focuses on human drama in the midst of the fantastical, and the Matt storyline seems to be the most successful example of that on Falling Skies.
The rest of that storyline was pretty great, too — this show has rushed forward at breakneck speed with having the humans team up, not just with the Skitters but with the bubble-heads. So it makes total sense that a party of human scouts would turn up, see the humans and aliens working together, and assume they were seeing collaborators. It's good that this show is addressing that point, since in fact it's hard even for people who've been watching the show the whole time to get our minds around how fast things have been turned on their heads. (No matter how often people say "It's been SEVEN MONTHS since the last episode.")
So Garza from Continuum shows up and takes up a sniper position to shoot at our guys, while the rest of her crew high-tails it back to their base to tell the real President of the USA about the crew of alien-lovers in Charleston. So it's up to Tom to convince Garza that these humans aren't traitors, before the President comes and puts some executive action on their asses and they're stuck fighting a war on two fronts. And meanwhile, Pope is mad at Tom because he's been working everybody to death and that's really what got Crazy Lee killed. (Side note: Now everybody knows about the secret project that the bubble-heads are building? I thought it was secret.)
All of that is pretty cool — and then there's the rest of the episode. Which, sigh.
This show is at its best when it's a gritty war drama about kids like Matt having to grow up in a bleak world where people get pieces of rebar through their heads all the time for basically no reason. The show's at its worst when it's doing storylines like "My baby is an alien" and "My boyfriend is being controlled by aliens," especially when it's doing them in a half-assed way.
And by "half-assed," I mean not really doing them with sincerity or giving them any real weight. The storyline about the baby being some kind of weird half-alien prodigy for example — why is the baby only talking and standing up with Anne is around? Is it doing that on purpose, just to screw with her? I get why the show is doing this — it's so everybody else will think Anne is nuts, and we can generate some drama. But why is the baby discriminating like that? And why doesn't anybody believe Anne, after all the other crazy shit they've seen. It's not like they haven't seen multiple types of aliens and weird phenomena in the past year. It would be one thing if someone in today's alien-free world said, "My baby is acting like an alien." Plus, Anne has proved 1,000 times that she's level-headed.
So instead of turning this into a "there's something weird about the baby and we need to figure out what" storyline, it turns into a relationship storyline — Tom feels like this is his fault, because he's been too busy serving as Fake President to pay attention to Anne. Lourdes is concerned about Anne's mental state, etc. etc. Ordinarily, it makes sense to focus on human relationships instead of plot mechanics, but this time it just feels like drama for the sake of drama.
And then meanwhile, the same thing happens with Hal and Maggie — Hal appears to have figured out that he's the Mole, which means he killed Arthur Manchester and also caused the deaths of several others. And somehow this turns into a relationship spat between Hal and Maggie, in which Maggie is like, "All my previous relationships ended because my boyfriend turned out to be an alien mole, and I'm not letting this one end the same way." Seriously, there are bigger issues than your relationship right now. Later, Maggie decides that even if Hal is the mole, he ought to keep it secret until he's sure — because people might overreact.
(At least we don't get her acting jealous because he's sleeping with his Overlord ex-girlfriend while under her mental control. Or maybe she doesn't know that part.)
There's also the usual helping of cheese. Like Dan telling his daughter that it doesn't matter if the aliens are going to kill them all — if they don't keep being themselves and building monuments and expressing their inner selves, then they're already dead anyway, yadda yadda. And Tom's heart-warming speech. And the schlocky singing at the end. But moments like those are part of what you signed up for with this show, and at least it's also giving us some gritty realism to go with it. Honestly, I don't really mind the occasional Hallmark Channel moment, if it's balanced out by other stuff.
But it's harder to deal with this show's attempts to build faux drama around "nobody believes me that my baby is an alien" or "you mustn't tell anyone that your sexy Overlord ex is making you into a mole." Especially when you only have to look at the story of Matt Mason to see how well this show can do, when it focuses on real drama instead of the bottled stuff.