Entertainment Magazine

Review #2935: Falling Skies 1.8: “What Lies Beneath”

Posted on the 02 August 2011 by Entil2001 @criticalmyth

Contributor: J.M.

Episodes like this one are all about payoff. Revelations aren’t just about whether they make sense within the plot, but about whether the writers earned the emotional payoff behind the twists. “Falling Skies” has done an excellent job of doing so plot-wise: the hints that the skitters have not been all that the Resistance have assumed them to be. The writers definitely earned that one. Similarly with Captain Weaver, the foreshadowing has been pretty significant. But here the writers stumble again at their inability to create convincing dialogue.

Review #2935: Falling Skies 1.8: “What Lies Beneath”

It’s been one of my longstanding criticisms that the writers have been unable to create viable characters outside of Tom and Anne, and while the writers have tried to expand the range of the characters, they have been unable to for the large part. Even Pope, who has the advantage of being one of the few characters with some sort of charismatic anti-heroism, comes off as being relatively shadow after the first episode where he was portrayed as the intellectual equal of Tom, a sort of dark mirror to his character, one who chose to abandon the family that Tom chose to protect. But instead he remained a shallow imitation, a rebel without a cause if I may.

But Weaver has been the pleasant exception, though his development has felt a little forced. But it has been remarkably consistent nevertheless, and the cracks have been showing for a couple of episodes. Will Patton does remarkably well with the material he’s given, but like most of the other characters, it’s not much to work with. The dialogue and actions are so clichéd and predictable that it was really difficult for me to buy into it. Right down to finding his wife’s glasses in the house that made him changed his mind about drinking himself into a stupor; it was just too melodramatic and lacking in subtlety to be very convincing. Which considering if in the hands of a superior writer the very same material could have been extremely haunting given what the writers implied: that he killed his own daughter after being unable to unharness her.

While Weaver’s revelations and plot line faltered, the major revelation about the nature of the skitters was well-earned. Throughout the entire series, there has been a sense that the skitters have not been all that there is and that their relationship with the mechs was really uncertain. The fact that the skitters themselves are harnessed really changes the dynamic about the whole situation. It also explains the question raised in the pilot about the nature of the mechs. I still don’t necessarily think this is the end to the revelations about the aliens and where the harness technology comes from. It still seems far too different from the main aliens’ aesthetic and art style and even biological nature to just be a natural technological development.

But by planting certain clues all throughout the season, the character of these main aliens, the bean poles, has already been revealed to an extent. As Pope quipped, they like recycling. They reuse human bullet casings, human construction materials, and even human children as slave labor. This gives us a picture of some kind of scavenger race, perhaps with its own world having been destroyed and thus forced to rely on plundering other worlds. This leads us to the final two revelations of the episode: that the harnesses appear to be transforming the kids into skitters and that the Resistance now has a way of attacking the mechs.

As far as the kids go, it’s been pretty clear that something very odd happened to Rick mentally, and to Ben physically. The fact that the Resistance has been keeping Ben around without even having a discussion about his clearly alien influenced behavior is a little frustrating. But it will be interesting to see where they go with this. It would be interesting to see Rick be stuck in a human form physically, but be for all intents and purposes an alien mentally; all the while Ben is become a skitter physically but remaining a human mentally. It’s an interesting dichotomy and potential for some good plot fodder down the road. It makes sense to give the Resistance an effective weapon on the eve of their big attack on Boston.

Ultimately, while the many revelations did a great deal to advance the plot and did so well and with some startling implications, the continued inability of the writers to create good dialogue and subtle character development undermined what should have been the best episode of the series so far.

Rating: 7/10


Contributor: Henry T.

Written by Mark Verheiden
Directed by Anthony Hemingway

I may have miscalculated on the expectations I had for this series. Given the pedigree of those intimately involved with the show, I might have wanted more than what it’s willing to give at this point. The parts are present for this to be a great series, yet the whole just doesn’t seem to add up. Take Captain Weaver and this episode’s take on him. I would argue that Weaver has been the most interesting character of the show thus far; the one I would root for outside of Tom as the de facto hero. I couldn’t stand what they did to the character in this episode, changing who he fundamentally is, even though they at least made a valiant attempt at giving him some depth. All of the other flaws in the show can be easily tossed aside. When they go after a character and misfire the way they did, I really question if the people behind the scenes really know what they’re doing or where they might be going with the show.

Part of it is the network’s willingness to rush through this short, ten-episode season. Given such a short timeframe, it’s altogether too apparent that the show shoved what could’ve been a half season’s worth of character development into one hour. We were given little scraps of Weaver’s deteriorating mental state within the show so far so it’s a shock to have his character fleshed out in this manner when he takes center stage. All of his actions had an air of inevitability to it. He has the dream with the skitter attacking him, he snaps at Rick for drawing what looked like a generic block of city buildings, he suddenly volunteers for the scouting mission to the big superstructure that hasn’t been seen since the pilot episode.

Was anyone really shocked he would go off mission and head towards his home and reveal his tragic backstory? It had all the usual tropes: the excessive drinking, the survivor’s guilt gnawing at him, with everyone getting out of his way because he commands a military regiment on very little sleep. If Tom was anywhere near intelligent as he has been portrayed so far, he should’ve shackled Weaver to a chair at the school. He has to know that it’s very dangerous to have a military commander operating out of sleep deprivation and now, vengeful motivation to get his wife and daughter back. I was never immersed in Captain Weaver’s story because it all felt so rushed.

A big problem with the series so far is how obvious everything seems. This was endemic of Weaver’s story in this episode, but it also extends to other characters here. Continuing what was presented as a dynamic last episode between Ben and Rick, there seems to be a disconnect with Rick and his humanity that could prove dangerous. Ben confronts him about it after some needling from Dr. Glass under the guise that he needs to talk about the death of his father. What Rick says upsets Ben, rightfully so. Though I wished they didn’t have Ben snapping and screaming at Rick.

The worry is that Ben may slowly become what Rick is, and that could tie into what Dr. Glass discovered about Ben and the skitters. It’s revealed that the skitters are harnessed themselves, fortifying a theory I heard that the skitters are mutated children. The harness spikes are perhaps still mutating Ben’s human physiology, however slowly, with the deadening of the nerve centers in the area around the protrusions. The possibility exists that, as we approach the season finale, Ben could still turn towards the aliens and Tom would lose his son all over again.

Elsewhere, we see that little Matt takes to Pope when Pope is tasked with building the bombs that will take out the alien superstructure. Matt rightfully fears Pope because television rules make it so obvious that a criminal (even one as charasmatic and interesting as Pope) cannot interact with a child without some tension. Tom’s warning that Matt should stay away from Pope means that ultimately, Matt will get drawn towards Pope. It’s just how television operates. Given that “Falling Skies” has an annoying tendency to soft-pedal anything that has to involve the children in this dangerous post-apocalyptic world, I found it odd they would pull such an apparent ploy for our heartstrings. It screams of manipulation, especially the end scene where it’s revealed that Pope can make bombs but also mech-penetrating bullets. Cue the celebration, which I found not to be uplifting but rather the norm, since it has to be the fifth or sixth time something ends well for the 2nd Massachusetts in eight episodes.

Of course, that’s not true in other parts of the episode. During the scouting mission, Hal, Tom, and Weaver encounter a woman in the city named Sonja. She has apparently survived the attacks and was released by the aliens on account of the fact that she was old. Having spaced it so close to Clayton’s betrayal of the 2nd Mass just last week is a detriment because Sonja turns out not to be what she appeared. Something looked off about her from the beginning. Turns out, she’s been giving information away to the aliens, and Karen happens to be the person she’s relaying the information to! It’s too convenient, but dismissed just as easily. Karen isn’t alone, having been accompanied by these never-before-seen tall humanoid-like aliens that the skitters apparently answer to. How will the show use these new aliens? Are they the new target now instead of the skitters? Will Hal now fly off the handle because Karen is with them?

Tom made the smart decision to come back for Karen at a later time, and that makes me worry because the Mason family may be split up yet again. Hal goes after Karen while Tom has to deal with Ben possibly turning into a skitter. It raises the stakes, but, like much of the series so far, everything is too obvious and lacking any subtlety. I fear this is the best the show can give us right now. The short season of just ten episodes isn’t doing the show any favors. It doesn’t seem to want to go where it would be a standout television staple rather than a shallow, ordinary science fiction series. That could change in the season’s final two episodes, but there is ample evidence to the contrary so far. That’s proving to be the ultimate disappointment.

Grade: 6/10

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