Wednesday, 29 June 2011

FALLING SKIES, 1.3 - "Prisoner Of War"

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Falling Skies is already higher up in my estimation than The Walking Dead ever was. It helps that an alien invasion is more interesting than a zombie apocalypse—because zombies represent a decay that can't be reversed, only halted. There aren't many examples of a zombie story with a truly happy ending, or much to say about zombies themselves once you've established the rules governing them and pondered their allegories for the millionth time. Aliens are a different matter entirely because they're intelligent beings we can communicate with, and there's more hope in a situation where humanity's been ostensibly overcome by extra-terrestrial invaders. It's just a broader canvas to paint on, basically—even if a great many artists have already tackled that particular painting. But you could say the same thing about the zombie genre, too...

"Prisoner Of War" was a very decent follow-up to the two-part premiere, where ordinarily you'd expect a drop in quality. In this episode, Dr Michael Harris (Steven Weber) joined the 2nd Mass, claiming he has the expertise to safely remove (or "unharness") the lobster-like devices the alien "skitters" attach to the spine of human children in order to control them. Naturally this inspired great hope among parents of children who are currently enslaved—in particular Mike (Martin Roach), whose son Rick (Daniyah Ysrayl) was eventually recaptured from the enemy and underwent the procedure. It was a high-tech process that involved, um, a blowtorch.

As I said in my review last week, the only problem facing Falling Skies is that it's hard to hit a wellspring of ideas that haven't been done before in some way. The creepy notion of brainwashed children doing the alien's bidding is the show's only unique aspect to Falling Skies, so far, and easily its silliest. Do advanced aliens from another world really need children to work as slave labour? I hope the show has a good explanation for this. Still, it gives the majority of Skies' characters something to fight for (they even made a Battlestar Galactica-inspired wall of missing kids), and it's a mission that doesn't feel almost impossible when compared to defeating an alien occupier.

In its favour, I'm enjoying how the show doesn't shy away from giving us a good look at the District 9-esque aliens (in both their "mecha" and "skitter" forms), and each episode has so far delivered enough surprising moments. Here, the aliens made it clear they'll ruthlessly slaughter a gang of children every time one is successfully rescued, by demonstrating that fact in front of Tom's son Hal (Drew Roy). And the later reveal that Dr Harris effectively let Tom's wife die during the alien invasion was also nicely handled, with Wyle and Weber proving to have a good rapport together.

I'm not sure what to make of wily Pope (Colin Cunningham) just now; the scumbag leader of the street gang encountered in episode 2, who's become a prisoner of war. He reminds me of Lost's Sawyer, if Pauly Shore had won the role—which really shouldn't work, but somehow it does. The guy has a fun, roguish charisma. Even the discovery that Pope's a trained chef whose culinary skills can be used to provide the survivors with quality food somehow wasn't as stupid as it sounds when written down.

Overall, Falling Skies is basically The Waking Dead with a more involving milieu (minus that AMC show's budget), with a pleasing emphasis on character, but never at the expense of giving us explosions, spaceships and aliens. It's the occupation of Caprica in Battlestar Galactica, but transposed to present-day Earth, borrowing elements from all manner of sci-fi properties. It consequently doesn't score highly for originality, but it's doing a sharp job for a show so young (they've already captured an alien for interrogation), and even managed to give us a decent cliffhanger ending.

written by Fred Golan / directed by Greg Beeman / 26 June 2011 / TNT