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Review #2921: Falling Skies 1.7: “Sanctuary: Part II”

Posted on the 26 July 2011 by Entil2001 @criticalmyth

Contributor: J.M.

The difficulty with evaluating any two-part story is that inevitably the impression of the quality of the first episode nearly always influences the perception of the second half. Sometimes that works to the benefit of the show, as a good set-up for the first half can really cover over numerous small flaws in the conclusion. But I found myself thinking exactly the opposite with the second part of “Sanctuary”. Watching this episode I felt pretty underwhelmed and disappointed that the conclusion failed to execute on the pretty decent set up of the first half. But looking back on it, I wondered if I was simply giving too much credit to the opening episode.

Review #2921: Falling Skies 1.7: “Sanctuary: Part II”

It’s a bit of a philosophical debate, whether you can effectively evaluate episodes like this that tell one story separately. I have a feeling that if these shows were aired together, it probably would feel like you could have paired it down to a single episode. Part of it is the preponderance of characters who alternatively don’t serve a purpose in the story and aren’t sufficiently interesting to make up for the lack of purpose. For example, Mike served almost essentially to advance the plot, but wasn’t particularly interesting at all until this episode, and even then it was hard for me to get too worked up about his death. An example of the second would be Pope. Since his group was defeated, he’s served almost no role in the plot, but because he’s an interesting character who is pretty strongly opposed to most of the rest of the characters in the story, he’s a more tolerable character. The fact that the writers have been paring down the rest of the cast is a good one, but there are still far too many characters that are there to simply fill up the time.

This brings me to another problem: plot getting priority over consistent character development. Usually there are one or two pretty serious instances of this per episode, and this episode is no different. This one is Jimmy’s sudden and vicious distrust of Ben. While Ben is unsure of what exactly being harnessed has done to him and has expressed some ambivalence about the whole experience, he is clearly on a different plane as Rick, with whom something has been seriously wrong since the he was rescued. To project suspicion on Ben is not only petty and stupid, but nowhere in Jimmy’s character development (which hasn’t been insignificant) has he expressed any distrust or the harnessed kids who were rescued. It just seemed remarkably out of character.

One character who has gotten some pretty good development is Hal, Tom’s oldest. His evolution into a confident leader who is willing to stand up for what he believes in the right choice and being willing to make those difficult choices has been about as natural as any development on the series. It’s nicely patterned after his father, demonstrating some subtlety at the father-son dynamic. The only frustrating this is his relationships: first he’s ready to go after Karen hell or high water and now it’s been episodes since she’s even been mentioned and now Margaret is one of his many love interests. That’s not even mentioning the daughter in this episode! It’s getting slightly ridiculous, and it bothers all the more because it’s one of the few flaws in dealing with him.

We get reminded that Weaver is human again in this episode after several of him being portrayed as sympathetic, but it fits within his characterization as a by-the-books leader who struggles with making personnel decisions and reading people. I liked that he and Tom didn’t spend time vilifying each other as would often happen in a series like this. They buried the hatchet and moved on to deal with the pressing matters at hand: namely their sanctuary at the school was now likely to be under threat.

I’ve spent most of the review so far criticizing, and I guess I need to step back and say that I enjoyed this show more than perhaps I’ve communicated so far. But the fact is that the show has such potential it’s starting to get frustrating how uneven the season has been so far, and I’m tempted to go back and lower my estimation of the series as a whole. I’m critical because I want this series to succeed pretty badly rather than just let it slide away into mediocrity. And I’ll admit the previews for the next episodes really seem to point up to a more exciting and well thought out plot. Here’s hoping the writers can capitalize on our expectations.

Rating: 6/10

*****

Contributor: Henry T.

Written by Melinda Hsu Taylor
Directed by Sergio Mimica-Gezzan

We’re deep into the first season and it still feels like the show is trying to find its way. I find it really odd that they would choose to address the big picture in one episode (though this episode confirms that Clayton was lying to Weaver all the way) and go back to the small in this one. With this methodology, I find it doubtful that the show would have some sort of ambition beyond what we’re seeing with the 2nd Massachusetts. This episode as a whole felt like the reset button was pushed, setting things up for the final third of the season. It felt rote for the most part, but the unsettling thing to me is how Ricky acted throughout the episode. There has to be some explanation as to why Ricky is reacting to being harnessed as opposed to Ben. That could add a very disturbing edge to this show, one they seem to be reluctant to fully explore right now.

The sanctuary for the kids of the 2nd Massachusetts ends up not being what they thought it would be. The terms of the deal Clayton made with the skitters aren’t acted on here so there’s a bit of confusion on my part. No, there’s a lot of what went on in the school, with the kids and adults acting like the days before the alien invasion. The comforts of home didn’t sit well with me. How long before things really get hairy?

It’s all resolved so quickly, there’s little time to dwell on suspense or tension. Pope leaves the nest, only to return to protect the kids. There was never any time when I thought the children really were in danger. I know now this is a series that just won’t take risks. So yeah, the ending was kind of expected. I even expected Mike’s death as well. He saved Ricky, but there’s something off about Ricky that Mike didn’t seem to recognize. Once it was revealed that Clayton played him to get the kids to the sanctuary, I had an inkling that Mike’s time was up. I should hope they deal with the fallout of his father’s death on Ricky, but there is something else going on with him that makes that unlikely.

Back at the school, Sarah finally has her child. I could think of nothing but the fact that the newborn can only be a problem for the 2nd Massachusetts when they have to move somewhere. How will the civilians be protected if the skitters or mechs decide to attack with a crying baby in the midst? They might have to perhaps consider staying in the school for as long as possible. Though, that might not prove to be a good idea as the skitters are probably headed their way. The delivery and Captain Weaver’s involvement serves to humanize him in some way, though again, the show strays from what might truly prove interesting in probing more of Weaver’s psychology. Does he have a soft spot for children masked behind the gruff military exterior? Will that potentially affect his ability to command? These are all questions that the series has failed to answer in the time it’s been given. I fear this may be the way of this world right now.

The most fascinating part of the episode is what seems to be happening to Ricky. It’s never been established how long Ricky was harnessed and part of the apparent alien collective. One has to assume that it was longer than Ben’s time at being harnessed. That could be one explanation for why Ricky acts the way he did during the entire episode. He seems much more connected to the aliens than the humans. Or it could be that Ben rejected the harnesses and came back to his human pscyhology much easier than Ricky did. That would suggest that the kids react to being harnessed in different ways. That might even explain why Megan is able to talk for the skitters while being harnessed. I’m willing to go along with this theory until the show proves otherwise.

I have to say again that this adds a dangerous and insidious edge that has been missing for much of the series. There has to be a reason why the aliens want the children so badly. If they are willing to use the children against the remaining humans (as I have long thought), everyone should be very wary of Ricky right now. It would really be something for the aliens to use the children as a way to annihilate the humans from the inside. Mason has proven before that the children are our biggest apparent weakness. The aliens would have to be blind not to use that to their advantage.

I have some questions heading into the final leg of the season. The show hasn’t been adequately answering them and for a post-apocalyptic series, it’s getting woefully light on the danger factor. Again, I think it’s a consequence of not seeing or addressing the big picture. I think the series has been holding back and doing so for some time now. They have to get moving, though I have doubts it’s really going to go as far as fans think it will. Exploring more of the alien psychology may hold the key in kicking up the interest level from myself on this series. It just doesn’t seem like the series wants to be that ambitious given what we’ve seen so far from seven episodes, all of which have varied wildly in quality.

Grade: 6/10


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