On a show like “Falling Skies”, there is an extremely tight rope to walk. On the one hand, you have to tell a grand story about an alien invasion. On the other is a limited budget, forcing the writers, producers, and actors to create a more personal story than a sweeping epic. “Falling Skies” has been hit and miss on this particular front up until now. But “Silent Kill” is a huge step forward in pretty much every department, capitalizing on the well laid foundation of the plot and producing an excellent episode of television.
One of the pitfalls of telling such a personal story amidst such a grand tragedy of an event is that it is easy for the audience to lose sight of some of the motivations of the characters. One of the earliest plot conflicts outside of the invasion was the ‘soldiers v. civilians’ trope. To be honest, I was dreading it. I haven’t found it to be particularly believable as it’s been handled on other shows and given the propensity of the writing staff towards ham-fisted writing, I was worried. But to their great credit they have created two far more compelling characters that represent these two factions. Captain Weaver has gotten a great deal of depth in the last several episodes, and now its Anna’s turn.
So far her character has been defined by two traits: a love interest for Tom and as the ‘softie:’ the character in the series whose dominant virtue to the point of caricature is compassion. This has put her at odds with Weaver, whose abrasive methods and focus on the military side of matters came into her compassion for the civilians, and Harris, whose cruel methods focused her compassion on the captured skitter. But this episode we get to see another side of her character, the part that was devastated when the skitters invaded. The scenes have drawn some criticism, as Anne kills the skitter who she had just been taken care of moments earlier. I don’t particularly find these criticisms particularly convincing at all: she even explains it to Tom after she kills the skitter. Because of the way the series is written, it is hard to remember as a viewer that the world has essentially ended. These people have been through hell and back. That no one cracked and killed the thing before now was surprising. But Moon Bloodgood helped sell the character. The raw emotion was pretty powerful and far and beyond most of what we’ve seen so far on the series.
On the plot front, we see the culmination of the plot arc in the first half of the season: the rescue of the harnessed children. As with most plans, nothing lasted past first contact with skitters. The attempt to have Hal follow the harnessed kids seemed a little suspect to me, considering the skitter’s inability to count (it’s not like it was watching over a horde of kids, there were only SIX!) and the fact that his harness was pretty clearly deactivated (it didn’t glow like the others). But unlike some of the other moments in the series so far, the tension helped push those concerns out of the way. Watching Hal lay down with the other kids and experience an extremely creepy moment of affection from the skitter and his difficulty at keeping his emotions under control was pretty remarkable.
The final character moment of note was the conversation between Hal and Margaret. Hearing Margaret’s story could have easily descended into a phony, forced conversation, but like Moon, Sarah Carter pulled it off excellently. She sold the trauma that the character has experienced, and throughout the series has done a good job of portraying someone who is projecting the tough exterior to hide the emotional damage they’ve experienced. Like pretty much every moment is this episode, her confession to Hal was genuine above all else.
With the rescue plot concluded, it will be interesting to see where they take the series from here. There are a couple of other plot lines that can be explored, particularly as we see the children adapt from their deharnessing and their reintegration into what is left of human society and what insights they can give the rebel fighters as they work through everything. There is still the matter of finding Karen and the potential for a growing human resistance against the aliens and how much there is to learn. If the writers can sustain the momentum they’ve built in this episode, it will promise an excellent second half of the season.