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Top Ten Best and Worst Moments from Falling Skies Season 3
Intrigued by a television series centering on the human survivors of a fairly one-sided alien invasion, and backed by one of the greatest cinematic storytellers of all time (Stephen Spielberg), Falling Skies has become something of a mixed bag after wrapping up its third season. While viewership has dropped since the first season, numbers have remained steady throughout seasons two and three, and a fourth has been picked up for Summer 2014. Despite introducing an entirely new alien race, making our hero Tom Mason President of their new semi-underground home in the ruins of Charleston, and starting to turn the tide of the whole war against their alien oppressors, the best episodes of the third season have been smaller, character-focused affairs while the lumbering plot centric episodes typically stumble out of the gate and fall flat. To take a look back at all ten episodes would require two top ten lists – the Best and Worst Moments of Falling Skies Season 3.
Top 10 Best Moments
10) Ben’s Decision (At all Costs)
Sure the whole struggling with having superpowers versus being ostracized by humanity has been done to death and is one of the most common superhero tropes but in the case of Ben’s partial alien, ex-mind controlled biology it makes sense within the fiction and provides a nice little character arc for him as the writers clearly didn’t have anything for him to do after he was a major focus of the first two seasons. Having a girlfriend that was in the same situation provided a good foundation for a strong relationship, especially as she made the decision to remain a super-powered half-alien despite his own misgivings. When being able to leap buildings, hear enemy forces, and translate skitter talk helps make you an integral part of the war effort, can you throw all that away to lead a more normal life?
9) Pope’s backstory revealed (Search and Recover)
After their plane goes down Pope and Tom are alone in the woods with aliens all around them. Male bonding time! While the obvious route would be for the pair to reveal a little of their backstories (they do), grow closer, and get into a few scrapes together before they emerge being buddy buddies (they don’t), Tom actually flips out when Pope attempts some decent if slightly cruel humor and the two end up fighting until Pope finally leaves Tom to die. Well, not really, he saves him because Pope is not a horrible human being, he just has a lot of hangups. In fact we finally get the reason Pope was sent to prison – he attacked an upper class snob who nearly ran over his son, and the man ended up dying. It’s a tale that shapes Pope’s character into both a sympathetic figure and one that’s still unstable and not to be fully trusted. Still, as long as there are aliens left to fight Pope is a far better ally than enemy.
8) The new President (Be Silent and Come Out)
Introduced in the premiere as one of Tom’s Presidential aides, he soon promotes Marina Peralta to Vice President as she proves herself to be a far more level-headed leader than Tom could ever be (though secretly I think a lot of us love the cowboy presidents a la Harrison Ford in Air Force One). Though she remains a fairly minor character throughout the season, Tom ultimately resigns his position as President when he sets off to look for Anne, knowing she would make a far better leader. While I was half-hoping she would end up being the mole in a massive plot twist, her being a strong and capable, non-warrior leader and a woman is a refreshing and welcome addition to the show. They also hint at a possible burgeoning relationship between her and Dan Weaver built out of mutual respect, which although cute, would hopefully be secondary to her role as a leader.
7) Crazy Lee’s crazy death (Badlands)
The first half of the third episode plays out like a scene from Saving Private Ryan – Matt has been growing closer to bad-boy Pope, who treats him less like a kid and more like a miniature soldier, but suddenly one of the two main side characters of Pope’s Berserker force is pinned down by sniper fire. Crazy Lee’s homemade bullet-proof vest protects her chest, but she falls on an exposed piece of rebar, which pierces through her head in horrifying fashion. Matt and Pope have to struggle to free her, and it’s a traumatic moment for a kid that is surprisingly well written and not annoying. Matt learns the hard way that war is hell as he visits the dying woman in the hospital, and we get a bonus emotional scene from Pope as he drops his normal sarcastic shell to comfort his old friend.
6) Tom’s dream torture (Strange Brew)
I’ll be honest – the opening moments of Strange Brew caused me to instantly roll my eyes and exclaim “Really?” directly at my television. Life-like dream sequences that attempt to be clever and trick the audience make me groan every time, but as I watched more of the episode I grew to like it more and more. It was fun seeing our cast with makeup on and dressed in normal clothes, getting glimpses of Tom and his family in a typical normal day, and I very much enjoyed the Something Is Amiss feeling as the new people in Tom’s life: Pope, Weaver, Anne, etc cropped up in his normal life. Especially enjoyed Weaver as a homeless guy acting as Tom’s subconscious protector and trying to wake him up, Pope as an academic philsophy nerdball jerk, and a rare Doug Jones sighting without pounds of makeup and special effects. Thankfully the entire sequence lasts only about half of the episode as it definitely would’ve overstayed its welcome, but as far as dream sequences go it was definitely the example of how to do it right. Strange Brew was also season three showrunner Remi Aubuchon’s favorite episode as well!
5) Protecting one’s family (The Pickett Line)
Tom and sons leave the safety of Charleston to go on a Search and Rescue mission for Anne and Alexis, but almost immediately run into trouble. This time we get to see the alien invasion from the human side outside of our group, something that had been sorely lacking all season. The Picketts rob the Masons and take all their supplies, so naturally our crew go after them. In the ensuing surprise attack, young Matt ends up shooting one of the Picketts, the Uncle, to save his brother, and what follows is a tense back and forth between two men that will do whatever it takes to protect their families.
4) Tom shoots Karen…Twice (Strange Brew, Brazil)
After Tom’s dream torture sequence, Tom is seemingly rescued and immediately tries to interrogate Karen. When he’s rebutted, he shouts that she’s no use to him and shoots her in the head. It was such a quick and shocking moment and I couldn’t help but pump my fist, followed subsequently by yelling at the TV when the whole thing ended up being a second, gotcha dream sequence. Oddly enough, Falling Skies tries to have its cake and eat it too but pulling off the same thing in the finale (thought it’s Maggie that gets to deal the final killing blow) but by then the shock of it had worn off.
3) Opening battle (On Thin Ice)
The Season Premiere opened with what I feared would be the largest full scale battle of the season, and most action packed sequence we’d see all year (I was right). We finally get to see a coordinated attack by the resistance, including cavalry and reinforcements from the rebel skitters, new advanced robots, and advanced weaponry provided by the Volm. The seven month time jump between seasons is a bit jarring but it was definitely the right call – gloss over Tom’s rise to President, the 2nd Mass settling in to Charleston, and the Volm’s arrival, and get right to the good stuff!
2) Cochise’s flower (At All Costs)
Since we had a substantial time jump between Seasons Two and Three, we’re left with a ton of questions about the new alien race the Volm with only a scattering of tantalizing information from our main access point – Cochise, played by the brilliant Doug Jones. When our heroes set up a meeting with the supposed real President of the United States (what’s left of it at least), he understandably asks at least one question we all want to know – just why are the Volm fighting the Espheni? While Cochise skirts around describing his people as intergalactic watch dogs and peace keepers, we do get a small taste of his society and culture when he mentions it’s all for a flower. The Catarius flower is a beautiful sight, but Cochise has never actually seen one – he was born on a spaceship and into the life of the soldiers hunting the Espheni. He wishes an end to the war (through the Espheni’s defeat) so one day maybe his grandchildren can see their homeworld. I’m a sucker for learning about alien culture and society and hung on Cochise’s every word. The flower speech is enough to convince President Hathaway that the Volm are here to help, even if our acceptance is not required.
1) Weaver threatens Pope (Be Silent and Come Out)
Be Silent and Come Out was one of the weaker episodes of the season. Hal’s Jekyll and Hyde routine had gotten old, even with Mr. Hyde completely taking over, and it takes the entire episode to resolve his weird surprise attack on Tom (You blew your whole cover for that, really?). The one good thing to come out of this nearly pointless diversion was an amazing scene in the bar. With mind-controlled Hal holding his father hostage, Pope acts even more of an asshole than usual and sets the odds for if one, both, or none of them survive, and then later for the likelihood of Hal being charged for espionage (3:1) murder (12:1) or being set free (5:1). The rowdy crowd is having a good time until Weaver walks in, silencing everyone with a few glances. Even Pope shuts up and looks down, like a petulant child that just had a parent lay down the law. Weaver walks in, orders a glass of whiskey, and Pope sidles in next to him, attempting to preemptively assuage Weaver’s fears that they’re taking the hostage situation a little too lightly. Weaver responds by grabbing Pope and verbally threatening him: “If anyone tries to affect the odds one way or another, I will personally mount your head on the wall of this establishment.” It’s an awesome character moment, as stone cold serious Weaver hates Pope’s attitude, but is smart enough not to shut down the whole bar and what it represents. Instead he reminds everyone what’s at stake and cleverly shames them. Even Pope gets the message and sends Lyle to stand guard outside Hal’s room.
Top 10 Worst Moments
10) Manchester’s murder (On Thin Ice)
There’s a mole on the loose! It will peter out into pointless plot threads but not before killing off the best actor on the show! Seriously though, losing Terry O’Quinn right off the bat in the premiere made me super sad, as I thought he was a fantastic addition to the cast in the latter half of Season Three.
9) Tom’s capture (The Pickett Line)
As great as I thought the Picket Line episode was, the end was a sorry excuse to simply set up Tom’s capture in the next episode. The fact that he would return to them, alone, in the midst of an alien attack is incredibly foolish and short-sighted. Not to mention that I’m pretty sure Old Man Pickett would’ve shot him on sight this time! I enjoyed the episode and the dream torture one that followed but the way Tom actually got captured in between was just sloppy.
8) Maggie and Hal’s relationship (On Thin Ice, Journey to Xibalba, Brazil)
Maggie started off with such interesting potential in season one: a tough woman with a damaged past and a shaky future. Sadly her role in the show has completely devolved into Hal’s Girlfriend, and every one of her scenes either directly involves her and Hal together, or she’s talking about Hal with someone else. She’s determined to stand by and support Hal despite his awful treatment and attitude toward her, and she certainly doesn’t help either of them by keeping Hal’s confessed bug-probe a secret. Really disappointed with the writers on this one. A slight wedge is seemingly shoved between them in the form of Hal’s sudden interest in Lourdes, but a love triangle between those three sounds like the worst thing ever. Dear writers: please let Maggie be awesome again and not a love-sick puppy. At least her little speech about how she doesn’t want to live a normal life with Hal (and seems to enjoy the fighting) gives some hope for the future.
7) Karen as the new overlord (On Thin Ice)
While mind-controlled Karen provided some useful manipulations and a particularly good episode in Season Two as the Espheni overlord’s right-hand woman and translator, her role as the new evil overlord became tiresome right from the beginning of Season Three. The Espheni were uniquely tall, slender, and cruel looking, while Karen is, well, just a human, and her constant manipulations, either through copious amounts of mind control bugs or just direct verbal assaults never elicited the least bit of excitement, and she seems to spend most of her scheming with the go-nowhere Evil Hal plot thread. They’d already played the Maybe There’s Still Good in Me card in Season Two, and she had definitely fully embraced her alien evilness. Her new role seemed like an excuse to not have to include a single Espheni special effect throughout all of Season Three, and I was satisfied when Tom became just as agitated and fed up with her as I was.
6) Anne goes completely off the rails (At All Costs)
Since giving birth to her half-alien baby (sigh) Anne has become increasingly paranoid at the fact that no one believes that her baby is seemingly super-powered. When her fears are confirmed via a DNA test, she basically snaps, knocking poor Dr. Kadar unconscious, drugging Lourdes, and fleeing Charleston. So much for security! What was your plan, Anne? You were going to walk to Tom? You couldn’t wait a few days for his return? This act effectively writes her out of the entire second half of Season Three, and frankly her wacky character development in the first half didn’t make her missed.
5) Tom’s escape (Strange Brew, Journey to Xibalba)
You could tell the writers desperately wanted to make the mind torture episode in Strange Brew, but clearly had no idea how to get Tom there and back again. Him getting captured was lame enough, but his escape was downright insulting. He simply leaps off the tower hundreds of feet in the air and uses a nearby skitter to crush his fall. The next scene we get he’s walking around his old hometown, which while providing a decent moment of him breaking down emotionally, still leaves us utterly confused as to how he escaped from one of the Espheni’s main strongholds so easily.
4) Evil Hal (Be Silent and Come Out)
The big groaner from the Season Two finale was the introduction of Evil Hal (from a mind-control bug Karen had implanted), and I was not looking forward to that plot thread at all in Season Three. It basically just serves to give Hal something to do this season, because his poorly written relationship with Maggie isn’t enough, and once Hyde fully takes over it just devolves into ridiculousness that takes a whole episode to resolve. Is there any concept of internal evil more obvious than talking to yourself in the mirror?
3) Lourdes is the mole (The Pickett Line)
I admit this little twist surprised me, but more in a “oh, huh,” way rather than anything shocking. Since mind-control bugs are a fairly common thing now the actual identity of the mole hardly mattered, so might as well give it to the odd, unlikable side character that changes philosophies depending on the writers’ whims. Lourdes was never an interesting character, and making her the mole seems like a wasted opportunity considering how hilarious she went about it. As one of the few doctors (and seemingly the main one when Anne disappears) she has access and ability to do whatever she needs to do. But the big reveal for the audience is when she goes downstairs from the recovering President and fires up through the ceiling with her high-tech alien weapon, instead of using any myriad of drug combinations to quietly kill him. I literally laughed out loud during this scene – worst assassin ever!
2) Magical Star Child (Brazil)
The particular moment would be that terrible reveal near the end of the finale when we see that Tom and Anne’s alien-baby is now apparently a six year old; but the entire alien-baby plot line takes up way too much screen time and it’s nothing you haven’t seen before in countless other science fiction. She’s super-intelligent and advanced with psuedo-healing powers! I’ve no idea where they’re going with this, and maybe it’ll turn out interesting, but for Season Three it did nothing but make Anne into a crazy person, take up way too much screen time, and ultimately drag the whole show down.
1) The entire finale (Brazil)
The final episode was one big awful moment after another:
- Weaver leads a decoy unit on a still functioning train all the way to Chicago. It goes off perfectly. They bring a tied-up Lourdes along for no apparent reason (bait?)
- Lourdes by the way is now seemingly suffering from a bad case of bug-withdrawal, as if we didn’t hate her enough.
- Our heroes have seemingly dug out the Volm weapon that had been buried in the previous episode and fire at the completely undefended Espheni tower. All of two ships attack our heroes, and are quickly dispatched with a mounted machine gun.
- The tower crumbles, the grid comes down, and the Volm ship settles down right in the same spot, hitting us over the head with the symbolism.
- At no one’s surprise, the Volm are less than enthusiastic about the human resistance, imprison Tom, and begin plans to relocate everyone to Brazil. Apparently South America is a safe zone or something.
- Tom convinces the ancient alien commander with the usual “we’re humans, man, we gotta fight for our freedoms,” speech that we’ve grown accustomed to in every story ever.
- Weaver has a heart condition that he’s been hiding this whole time. No doubt setting him up for a self-sacrifice in the future.
- The 2nd Mass leave Charleston, for some reason. I guess rebuilding society isn’t as important as fighting the war, even when far more advanced aliens that have been fighting the enemy forever are more than willing to do all the fighting for you.
- Karen shows up with a white flag to return Anne and Alexis, and Tom shoots her. Alright I enjoyed that part, but why did Karen show up in the first place? Especially knowing that Tom was more than willing to kill her in a previous episode.
- Magical Star Child is revealed to have aged six years in a few episodes and heals Lourdes’ eye bugs.
Despite such a letdown of a finale I’ll tune in next year for Season Four, and hope that the writing staff can figure out how to present major plot arcs as elegantly as the character interactions. To its credit the finale did wrap up several major plot threads from Season Two’s finale and all of Season Three: Evil Hal, the Volm, Karen, and Anne’s pregnancy, and would’ve served as a decent enough end to the entire series (minus Magical Star Child’s existence), but apparently TNT believes enough in the show to expand its lineup from ten to twelve episodes. If there’s one thing Falling Skies has going for it, and the reason I’ve been tuning in all these years is its strength of schedule; smack dab in the middle of Summer, with the oppressive heat bearing down on you and a lack of new television programs airing, why not watch some actors of questionable skill battle awful-to-mediocre special effects, scripts that rehash every other Sci-Fi storyline, and the occasional awesome battle scenes and cool character moments? I know I will.