Monday, September 22, 2014

'Falling Skies' Season Three (2013)

Starring Noah Wyle, Will Patton and Moon Bloodgood
Created by Robert Rodat

Life has changed considerably at the rebel camp of Charleston, SC. The surviving humans, now led by former history professor Tom Mason (Noah Wyle), have allied themselves with a group of rebel alien Skitters as well as another race from the stars, the Volm. Over the past seven months since the arrival of the Volm, the three groups have run joint missions attacking Skitter posts and liberating the Skitters' slave labor force - Earth's children.

Commander of the 2nd Mass, Dan Weaver (Will Patton) is now a high-ranking military official. He doesn't quite trust the Volm, and that finds him oddly in agreement with Pope (Colin Cunningham) who has taken to joining rebel raids as well as running his own bar and trading post in the revived Charleston. But Tom has struck up a friendship with the leader of the Volm, nicknamed Cochise (Doug Jones), and the two have begun construction of a weapon the Volm promise will strike a decisive blow against the Skitters.

But all the while, something is wrong with Tom's son, Hal (Drew Roy). He's having strange nightmares of an affair with Karen (Jessy Schram), the new overlord of the Skitters' east coast operations. And there's a mole hidden somewhere within Charleston, a murderer and saboteur no one can identify. Hal thinks he might be the mole, and worse, he's not sure if he can stop himself.

The third season of TNT's "Falling Skies" presents a pretty massive shift from the first two seasons, almost like a soft reboot for the series. While the first two seasons presented the main characters on the run, always low on food, medicine, gasoline and other provisions, this third season has them settled in and rebuilding their lives. Charleston seems to have abundant food, electricity, and so on. The characters strike out at the Skitters from this single base, rather than their mobile and vulnerable convoy from earlier episodes.

On the one hand, it's good that the writers decided to move their story forward in such a manner to give the impression that they're not just spinning their wheels. On the other hand, it presents a series of odd problems that the show doesn't seem to know how to tackle. Though they live in a city that now has power and running water, something the characters vocally longed for in earlier seasons, they're still all wearing the same dirty, ratty clothing. Indeed, Tom Mason hasn't shaved at all and even wears his gloves while sitting around in his office or wandering about the underground compound he's found himself living in.

For that matter, the producers really ought to have chosen a different city than Charleston, South Carolina to base the new seasons of their show. "Falling Skies" is shot in Vancouver, and this version of Charleston is rather hilariously depicted as dreary, rainy and cold. This is probably worse than when the show was barely pretending to take place in Boston.

Further, Tom insists on going out on combat missions despite his role, apparently, as President of the New United States. The show never really goes deep enough into what that entails for him, and so it feels glossed over. People are taking orders from Tom, but that's not really anything new for the series, so it mostly just feels like window dressing instead of giving it real dramatic weight. And that's something the series has struggled with from the beginning - on a technical level, the show is slick and well made, but very little that happens feels big or important, or has much depth.

And despite the new settings and characters, the series still relies on the same tropes it did in the first two seasons. Characters withholding information from each other continues to be a focus, and it's grown more than aggravating. This season has three such storylines, and each time it comes up, it's more inducing of an eye-roll than the last.

Which is all too bad because some of the changes on display do present some intriguing possibilities. The Volm, for example. The producers decided to have these creatures, like the Skitters, be mostly computer-generated creations. To that end, Doug Jones, who has performed characters like Abe Sapien in "Hellboy," joins the cast as Cochise. This alien is actually a rather wonderful creation - His movements, facial animation and voice are all excellent. Jones' performance is first-rate. But, this being TV, he rarely actually appears because of the expense involved. The Volm, therefore, are often spoken of but mostly exist off-camera.

That said, the special effects have been kicked up another notch this season. "Falling Skies" features some of the best effects work on television, if not the best. No other series is doing this level of creature animation that I'm aware of. It's still obviously done on a TV budget; you can tell where the producers decided to budget the most dollars to the season opener and the finale.

There's also a brief moment during an attack on a Skitter facility where Tom's group is faced with the moral quandary of firing on children the Skitters are using as soldiers. This is a concept that the show has brought up previously, but continues to mostly ignore - but it's one the show should be tackling head-on. Perhaps the writers feel the subject matter to be too dark for their series, but it's such an obvious oversight that paying it lip service in the current fashion just makes it all the more problematic.

But ultimately, the core of "Falling Skies" remains unchanged. It does all the right things in some respects, but critically ignores others. For all the money spent on new settings and creatures, the writing still follows all the same patterns the show has struggled with in the two previous seasons. There's very little in this third season that will change your mind about the show because the changes it does present just don't go deep enough.

See Also
Falling Skies Season One
Falling Skies Season Two

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