Wednesday, 6 July 2011

FALLING SKIES, 1.4 - "Grace"

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Another good episode of a show where the only major obstacle is the fact audiences are overdosed on alien invasions lately—with movies like Battle: Los Angeles, Skyline and Super 8, or TV dramas such as V and The Event. I'm pleased the emphasis of Falling Skies is on character and the show's not boring viewers too much, with enough fresh insights into its bug-like aliens to keep you watching if the characters haven't quite grabbed you yet.

A particular success has been the alien "skitters" themselves; masterfully brought to life using a mix of CGI and traditional puppetry. It's great to see a show with aliens that aren't entirely digital (and therefore detached from scenes) or humans with makeup/CGI augmenting their appearance. The skitters are tangible beings and this really helps sell the show's reality, particularly in an episode that was all about the survivors trying to communicate with the ET they've captured and caged. It was a little predictable that Dr Anne (Moon Bloodgood) would favour the benevolent approach of showing the skitter photos of Earth and the Milky Way to try and start a dialogue, while Dr Michael (Steven Weber) preferred to scare the creature by showing it an alien corpse, but in general these scenes worked well. Like the characters, we're interested in these aliens. Why are they here? Where did they come from? What do they want? Are there more coming? Can peace be achieved? Why do they enslave children?

Oh yes, the enslaved children. That element of Skies is also working very nicely, as we learned the aliens aren't so much brainwashing children using spinal "harnesses", but literally controlling them telepathically (as they can broadcast something akin to radio waves mentally). And the removal of a harness doesn't automatically mean freedom, as one creepy sequence proved when the imprisoned skitter willed Rick (Daniyah Ysrayl) into reattaching his removed harness and opening its cage. The subtext of an African-American boy being the figurehead of the enslaved kids also gave the situation added resonance. So are kids just more susceptible to alien mind-control? What added benefit does the harness have, if a skitter could control a child who wasn't wearing one? If a child goes through puberty, will they regain control of themselves? If so, will their memories return, as amnesia is another problem that needs to be overcome with unharnessed children. Do the harnesses apparently cure sicknesses in the children so they make better slaves, or is there another reason the aliens need the kids in tip-top condition?

I keep saying this show has a focus on character, which I stand by, but it would be nice to get to know the individuals a little better. Tom Mason (Noah Wyle) has quite rightly been given the most attention, and it's clear what the roguish Pope (Colin Cunningham) is all about, but characters like Anne and Dai (Peter Shinkoda) are still just familiar faces long for the ride. We're not so far into the show that it's a huge problem just yet, as knowing someone's basic personality type and role is enough to be getting on with, but I hope Skies has a few stories to flesh out the supporting players. It would be particularly good to learn more about the redoubtable Weaver (Will Patton), who occasionally drops hints of a tragic past, but is close to an archetypal cliché—almost a cut-price Stephen Lang.

Overall, I'm finding this show to be very easy to watch and it's managing to develop its nascent mythology well, as we learn a little more about the aliens every week. There's a good balance of character-based moments and zippy action sequences (such as a moment when harnessed children lay siege to a motorcycle dealer's and the group inside couldn't retaliate, or when Pope discovered a nest of skitters hanging upside-down like bats beneath a bridge), and I'm enjoying how the story's gradually unfolding. There's less of the inconsistent pacing that spoiled The Walking Dead (a brief six-part season, tarnished by dreadful longueurs), and it's less obvious where things are headed, despite the fact the concept's been seen countless times. That's a neat trick to be pulling off for a show so young.

written by Melinda Hsu Taylor / directed by Fred Toye / 3 July 2011 / TNT