Stars: Noah Wylie, Moon Bloodgood, Drew Roy, Jessy Schram, Maxim Knight, Connor Jessup, Will Patton, Colin Cunningham, Sarah Sanguin Carter, Seychelle Gabriel, Mpho Koaho, Gloria Reuben, Robert Sean Leonard
Writer: Jordan Rosenberg and Heather V. Regnier
Director: Sergio Mimica-Gazzan
Network: TNT, airs Sunday Nights
Original Telecast: July 14, 2013
Finally, FALLING SKIES is righting the ship. After spending most of this season meandering through the aftermath of a genocidal alien invasion that somehow no longer seems scary enough, “The Pickett Line” went darker, added a real sense of danger to the proceedings, and in the process made a lot of other things about this show more enjoyable.
The episode begins with Tom and his three sons, Hal (Drew Roy), Ben (Connor Jessup) and Matt (Maxim Knight) out scouring the countryside on horseback, looking for Anne (Moon Bloodgood) and their baby sister Alexis. Here we get the first sense that things could potentially break apart for the Charleston-based human resistance when Tom tells Ben that, despite fighting with the 2nd Mass since the beginning, he may not take the family back to Charleston once their mission is complete, and that he “doesn’t see much of a future for them there.” I’m not completely sure what brought this on, but I like it, since it presages a whole bunch of other scenes in “The Pickett Line” where characters, either subtly or not, start to lose their faith in the idea of building a real, functioning human community from the ashes of the old one. FALLING SKIES should keep up this doubt-fest; because the threat of the survivors turning on each other makes every other threat they face from the evil Espheni seem more imminent and scary.
But it’s also good that most of the threats in this episode don’t come from the aliens. Early on, the Masons are ambushed by the Picketts, a mountain family who’ve survived the Espheni invasion by staying out of sight, and by stealing supplies from other travelers who make the mistake of passing through their woods. After they’ve stolen the Masons’ horses, food and weapons, the Masons track them down at their cabin and ambush them, with the intent of getting their supplies back. This leads to a series of fistfights, reversals of fortune, and Mexican standoffs, and climaxes with the Masons facing death at their hands. To save his family, Tom tries repeatedly to make the case to the Pickett patriarch that he should not be so quick to surrender his humanity, and that the fact that his family has managed to survive the invasion thus far doesn’t mean their strategy will protect them forever. Tom’s words ultimately keep the two families from killing each other, but it’s not clear he actually convinces the Picketts to buy into the idea of a community beyond their immediate kin. Either way, I did appreciate that FALLING SKIES wanted to remind us that the world they’ve created isn’t exclusively populated by humans who always follow the better angels of their nature. The fact that it has been more often than not has made for a fairly dull apocalypse to date, and I’m glad they are showing us more characters succumbing to fear rather than hope, because that’s the kind of thing you’d expect from a world this awful.
The other good things about “The Pickett Line” include:
- Actual American President Hathaway, (Stephen Collins) returns and takes over from President Peralta (Gloria Reuben). However, this transition is short-lived, as he is promptly assassinated by the Espheni mole in Charleston, (who turns out to be sweet, lovable Lourdes (Seychelle Gabriel)). Generally-speaking I didn’t love this development, not because I had any great investment in Lourdes not being evil, but because I’m tired of humans being constantly possessed by aliens on this show, especially when the “Hal’s Possessed” storyline is only one episode in the rearview mirror. That said, I did think the scene where Lourdes is kneeling in prayer before a row of candles and the reverse shot reveals her face to be teaming with wriggling bugs under her skin to be legitimately creepy, so that’s not bad.
- The fall-out from this assassination apparently casts doubt on the legitimacy of once-again President Peralta, who’s now taken the reigns from both Tom Mason and President Hathaway in the span of a few days. Col. Weaver (Will Patton) is either blowing smoke up the rear end of Pope (Colin Cunningham) by telling him to prepare for a full-scale mutiny, (in an effort to get Pope to feel important enough to stop being a jackass for ten seconds), or this particular Espheni mole is giving the aliens more bang for their buck than previous ones, and actually causing serious dissention in the ranks of the humans. (Which makes me wonder, if the Espheni can seemingly possess another character every episode without much trouble, why don’t they just possess all of them and then win the war that way? Is it because those bug things are prohibitively expensive)?
- Most importantly, “The Pickett Line” finally does something I’ve wanted this show to do for a while: lay out for the audience what the stakes actually are for the surviving humans, and get the clock ticking so that some suspense can be built. They finally do this by revealing what the Espheni’s ultimate plan is. Per ostensibly-friendly alien Cochise (Doug Jones), The Espheni are building a “defense grid” around Earth that will irradiate the planet and render it inhospitable for organic life within three months, leaving the aliens free to do whatever they want with the planet (whatever that is). Cochise’s comrades the Volm are building a weapon that is “over-powered” because it intends to flood the Espheni defense grid with energy and render it inoperable, which is supposedly a better strategy than half-measures like trying to blow up individual grid signal towers, but it also carries the risk that the overload could backfire and speed up the irradiation process. Anyway, knowing that the humans are in this much jeopardy makes their struggles a lot more interesting, and makes me wish FALLING SKIES had given us this information long before now.
This episode concludes with Tom Mason holding on to his own humanity and risking his life to go back to warn the Picketts about the Mega-Mechs and Skitters that are headed right for their farmhouse, while telling his sons to go ahead and look for Anne and Alexis without him. While noble, this was a miscalculation, as the episode ends with Tom taken captive by those same Mega-Mechs and Skitters. Since he knows all about the Volm weapon plans, (and because the teaser for next week’s episode seems to imply it), we can assume that he’s in for some serious torture next week at the hands of the Espheni. And for this reason, and because of the emergence of all these other threats facing its characters, FALLING SKIES is finally starting to seem like it’s not just spinning its wheels, which is a great relief. Now, to keep this newfound momentum going, all it needs to do over the final three episodes of this season is to make sure that those wheels not only stop spinning, but that they keep coming off.
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Article: TV Review: FALLING SKIES – Season 3 – “The Pickett Line”