Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Falling Skies, Season 3, Episode 1 & 2: On Thin Ice/Collateral Damage

Falling Skies is back, with new aliens, new plans, more deaths and no doubt Tom throwing out more daft ideas that work out because he’s the protagonist and so special. And Pope still isn’t dead. Let’s see what this series brings with a double episode starter.

In a very dusty mine, a line of filthy harnessed kids digs while guarded by Skitters and Mechs. They are watched by Colonel Weaver, his daughter Jeanne and Matt Mason – and they recognise one of the kids – Diego. Mat goes in planting explosives around the mine equipment. When Matt returns, Weaver talks to the other team using a radio larger than an 80s mobile phone, and the bombs go off, un leashing waves of blue light and, possibly, EMP by the way the Mechs get shaky.

Teams move in from all directions, Ben and a new character, Dani, (she keeps calling Ben Benji which Annoys him so I approve) stab a Skitter and a team moves in whose bullets manage to knock down the Mech. Maggie and Hal drive up in a jeep. They lead the harnessed kids into the back of a truck and, alas, Pope is still leading the Berserkers (and still isn’t dead).

At which point 2 new, much bigger Mechs appear from where they’re hiding behind rocks. They have very big guns.

Everyone dashes to cover as the new MegaMechs unleash a torrent of firepower, killing several soldiers and sending others scattered. And from the mine emerges a wave of Skitters. Ben and the new woman grab each other’s hands as his harness flares blue and they’re overwhelmed by the Skitters. Pinned to the floor, they try to fight

At the top of the mine another wave of Skitters appear – lead by one with a red painted eye. Rebel Skitters – they pull the Skitters off Ben and attack their fellows.

As Hal runs out of Ammo and one of the MegaMechs focuses on Maggie, Tom arrives on horseback with several others – and they have a gun that completely rips the arms off the MegaMech. With Tom, also on horseback is an alien that looks like nothing we’ve seen before. His gun easily slices down the other MegaMech.

Everyone gathers up and Weaver discusses the ambush with Tom – and Weaver, Colonel Weaver, calls Tom “sir” when he suggests leaving before more surprises pop up. Everyone heads home

Home, of course, being the ruin of Charleston, though unlike last season there are people moving around on the surface as well as hiding underground. He’s greeted by General Bressler as “Mr. President”. Well that explains the sir I guess. Both General Mason and a Ms. Perlata (who seems to be Tom’s new assistant) tell him he’s a naughty president and shouldn’t be leading attacks. Tom makes it clear he’s going to keep fighting. As he walks through the returning people we have a few recaps – Professor Arthur is now chairing committee meetings, he tells Weaver to call him Tom – not sir, professor or president and we learn 7 months have past. And Hal is helped down from his firing position into his wheelchair. Well that’s new, last we saw of him he was getting his evil side together with an alien parasite, not being disabled.

Pope is still a horrible person who is really not thrilled to have either the Skitter rebels or the new aliens about.

In the infirmary Lourdes and Jeanne lead Diego to a heavily pregnant Dr. Anne Glass and they put him in the new shiny anti-harnessing machines which Lourdes says removes harnesses completely, painlessly without any sideeffects (so sounds more comprehensive than with Ben). By the blue light and strands it uses, it’s clearly alien technology. Anne reunites with Tom, they’re still a couple and he wants her to take things easily though she’s the only one who knows how to use the alien machine.

And Tom finally makes it to his military mission, with Ben, Hal, Weaver, Bressler, a Skitter rebel and a lot of military folk – and in behind Tom comes Cochise, of the Volm. The new alien; Weaver questions his presence by Tom points out that as an ally they should be involved in military planning. Especially since the ambush the bad aliens (who I will call the Overlords from now on) was so neatly planed that it looks like they knew the humans were coming. A major possibility, especially considering the eye-worms and other alien moles. Of course, Bressler is more on the side of “waaaah aliens evil! Why do we have these aliens around! Evil aliens!!!” A much wiser Colonel Porter points out that a year ago they could barely survive and now they’re scoring so many victories that the Overlords are resorting to espionage. And the only reason they’re doing so well is because of the rebels and the Volm.

Cochise speaks up in an echoy alien voice thanking the general – and then gets all awkward when everyone looks at him. Awww, poor Cochise. But he adds that the Espheni (what the Volm call the Overlords) have also deployed their MegMechs which usually are reserved for enemies with better technology – proof that the humans have unnerved the Espheni. Bressler stomps that they haven’t had a large decisive battle. Cochise points out that’s actually what the Espheni are good at – guerrilla warfare is what confuses them and defeats them.

Bressler says that makes no logical sense. Cochise doesn’t call him a fool but does ask why he expects extra-terrestrial beings to observe human logic. Returning to the mole, Tom decides to appoint Arthur Manchester to search out the mole since he’s both good at such investigations and didn’t know about the mission anyway so can’t have been the spy.

The meeting breaks up and Hal and Maggie go to bed – and Hal dreams about walking out into the woods to meet Karen – that’s Espheni possessed Karen – and kissing her. He wakes up in shock, Maggie comments on the nightmare which has apparently been common and he hasn’t been remembering them. He doesn’t want to talk about it and is sharp when she pushes and snaps at her for putting his wheelchair out of reach.

Tom walks with Marina Perlata, his assistant, as she gives him a list of things he needs to handle, including a citizens’ council to be ready for – with news of the possible spy already leaking out. And he meets Ben and Dani who tell him the leader of the Rebel Skitters wants a word but doesn’t want to come into the city because he doesn’t feel comfortable with the anti-Skitter talk.

In the clinic, Hal is working through physiotherapy. Maggie and Lourdes watch, with Lourdes reassuring Maggie that he’s doing well but Maggie confides her worries with her. Apparently, there’s nothing physically wrong with him – and Maggie blames his disability on something Karen did to him. Hal also apologises to Maggie for how he’s been acting.

Dr. Arthur begins his checking for a mole and for that he talks to Anthony who has experience as a cop – and an undercover cop at that. He wants Anthony’s experience and investigative skills – and provides him a list of files he wants him to look at. They include names of people Anthony knows and trusts.

Weaver and Tom go to the meeting with the Skitter Rebels with Ben acting as a translator/puppet to tell them that the Espheni are plAnneing a new offensive (Dani has the same glazed, emotionless look suggesting she is similarly plugged in). This doesn’t bother them much as they keep trying but the Volm defences make Charleston too strong a target for the Espheni to bring down. The Skitter reminds Ben that the humans aren’t actually the Espheni’s target – the Volm are, and their troops are arriving, purportedly to fight the Espheni – but the Skitters are less sure of their motives. Also there’s a new Overlord in command after the last one was killed – this one is apparently human. Karen.

Tom goes to see Anne and finds she’s taken a nap but he wakes her covering her up. They both moan a little about how little time they have together with their busy schedules. He goes to do his thing while Anne goes to the clinic, talks to Lourdes – and her water breaks.

Matt runs to collect Tom, and he runs, leaving Arthur behind and his list of possible suspects, to collect later, it can wait. Yeah, he’s dead. He’s so dead. Anyone who says they can wait to give you the big important information ALWAYS DIES. It is a rule. “I need to tell you something” are probably more common last words than “it can’t get any worse!”

Outside JeAnnee and Diego reconnected, she talks about them trying to find him and how they can remove harnesses and they see the large Volm structure which is very impressive. There are, apparently, about 20-25 of them though they keep to themselves, and they fight the Espheni because they were invaded by them and seek to liberate other victims. She speaks about all the many good things they’ve given them – but she doesn’t trust aliens. Ben and Dani cross their path talking about manga and we get to follow Pope (who isn’t dead) some more who goes into a rowdy bar. One of the men in the bar is mouthing off about killing off all the aliens, including their allies and Pope tells him to shut up and orders another round of drinks to keep everyone calm.

While the Mason family and Maggie flock around Anne, a shadowy figure approaches Arthur’s desk. Yes, he’s dead. He recognises the figure – who shoots him. This points to the spy not being Hal as the figure is standing and if he was out of his wheelchair, I assume Arthur would say more than “is it that time already?”

They investigate the scene the next day and confirm that only a weapon modified with Volm tech could do so much damage – guns that are only in military hands. Tom blames himself for not listening to Arthur and then sets Anthony on seeking the spy. Lots of sombre faces

And off to Anne’s bedside, she’s in labour. The baby is born – a little girl. From there he goes to the Citizen’s Forum, where he Anneounces the birth of his new daughter – Alexis Glass-Mason. And to mourn Arthur Manchester’s death. Time for a big dramatic speech about winning the war and turning the tide.

Hal has another dream about Karen, only this time he’s questioning. She says she planted a probe in his brain to connect them forever, because they’re meant to be together. She kisses him but he pushes her back and tells him he was paralysed from the neck down – she says it’s because he was fighting the probe. She kisses him and pushes him onto the floor, straddling him and removing her shirt. They begin to have sex through 2 layers of denim, and Karen’s spine glows red.

In Tom’s office, he and Weaver share a drink – and Weaver repeats his reservations about the Volm – and if they’ll leave once the Espheni are defeated. Weaver thinks it’s a bad idea to depend on anyone but humans to win the war – but Tom raises the second world war as proof of having to ally with people you don’t trust to win a war.

And Hal wakes up from another dream to find Maggie looking for his boots – that have been moved to the wardrobe – and are filthy. As if the dream were real! Who didn’t see that coming? Anyone? Anyone at all?

To try and convince Weaver that friendly aliens are good, Ben and Cochise take Weaver to a super-secret project. Turns out the big tower they tried to destroy in Boston was created to stop the Volm ships from landing and it’s just one of thousands – eliminating one will let the Volm squeeze through the atmosphere barrier. And in these tunnels they’re making a big gun – more than a gun, but a weapon to win the war. It does something – I presume they tell Weaver but not us.

Following the guide by the Rebel Skitters, Ben and Dani go scouting – and find a base of Espheni troops – including a lot of Megamechs ready to move in and attack. The facility also charges all the mechs – and all the fliers for the east coast. But it’s well guarded (presumably because they have more tactical skill than, say, Bressler – whose even now in command centre gasping “defend supply lines?! This makes no logical sense!”) At least the front anyway – the cliff at the back is much less defended. Because it’s a cliff. Actually, no, I take it back – to the multi-limbed Skitters that cliff must be fairly easily traversed – so why isn’t it guarded? The harnessed kids carrying the fuel tubes have severe rashes and scabs – and one collapses in front of them, to be disposed of on a pile of bodies by a Skitter. Dani assumes radiation is involved.

Back in Charleston Pope (who isn’t dead yet) tells Tector how sure he is that the Volm are up to something (so he doesn’t trust them but is against people mouthing off about it in bars?) We also have new soldier Lars boasting and flirting with Maggie – I think he’s there to make Hal jealous and lo, Hal shows up. Ugh can we not? Can we really do without the love triangles and jealousy and concentrate on saving the world? It’s not like it’s the CW! The tension is made more difficult but Maggie being convinced Hal can walk, hence his muddy boots – and for some reason doesn’t want to since she knows he’s hiding something. And Hal thinks Maggie may have muddied his boots to convince him he was sleep walking as some kind of placebo to make him walk.

At the HQ, Ben, Weaver et al plan their strategy, attacking down a cliff – the Volm and most human forces will stay and protect Charleston – and Weaver will lead a raiding force. But no matter what, the plan won’t work if the spy reports them. Also – it’s a nuclear plant. Sabotaging them means things go boom and spread badness about. They need an expert – and Marina speaks up about Dr. Kadar, the expert who runs all of Charleston’s power – and an agoraphobic who never comes up from the underground power plants. They have a deal with him to keep everything running so long as they send all supplies down so he can avoid the surface.

Going down to see them they find a very erratic and eccentric man who wants to know why they’re bothering him. He subsides a little when he meets President Tom, but he’s quickly distracted by his devices. Weaver gets his attention by discussing destroying nuclear reactors  - the conundrum of destroying the reactor without rendering the state uninhabitable – this is a fun puzzle! Come back tomorrow

Problem solved it’s to Anne and little Alexis – who is already tracking movement with her eyes at a week old. And she’s crawling. Oh and she’s talking as well. This rather worries Anne to say the least (personally I’d be running out the room yelling “demon child!” but that’s just me).  Later Tom comes home and they have a wonderful reunion and Anne tells him that Alexis is a very… different little girl. Very… advanced. Faced with explaining it, Anne decides it was just her imagination and goes to her night shift.

At the hospital Lourdes talks about her envy of Alexis, a baby so innocent and new that has no idea there’s an apocalypse or that anything ever went wrong with the world. Of course this just makes Anne even more troubled about the Demon Baby Weirdness.

Away from the Demon Baby, Matt and some friends are skipping school and blowing stuff up – ah the innocent joys of childhood. Though there’s an interesting point in them being frustrated by “conventional” school lessons in a dystopian world under alien invasion. Of course, causing explosions also means the guards think they’re under attack by aliens – and the hurrying patrols quickly catch them. Matt gets dragged in front of Anne by Anthony, who lectures him for blowing things up, skipping class and not doing his homework. To which Matt, predictably, spits his dummy out and tells Anne she’s not his mother. Gah, someone get the kid a harness. Harnessed teens are quieter.

Back to Dr. Kadar and he knows how to destroy the reactor without destroying the state – turning it off and place demolition charges in the right places (after dumbing down considerably). Except they don’t have plans so he can’t do the fun maths problems to work out where the charges should go. They have to take him with them – which must be a risk given he’s the only one who keeps electricity flowing through Charleston (shouldn’t someone be learning from him – get some redundancy in case the eccentric person who never sees daylight dies?). Of course, no-one worries about that – the only barrier they see is his agoraphobia. Kadar walks away, refusing but Marina follows him, encouraging him, reassuring him and telling him that their lives depend on it.

To the battle room where everyone is told their part of the plan – and only their part of the plan. Which would make more sense if the plan was more complex than “sneak in the back, blow shit up”. It’s not exactly multi-faceted here. Lots of bonding before everyone steps up – and some nice interaction between Weaver and Tom after 2 seasons of clashing and slow respect, they’ve not got a really good relationship.

But there’s a problem! The spy breaks into their laughably unsecured and unguarded war room and scans all the maps. They used nefarious methods like… a key. No, really, that’s all it took to break into the war room during a panic about a spy – a key. A simple key. This doesn’t take a super-spy to raid their top secret information – it needs a lock smith. The scanning thing turns into a bug and flies off to report.

And on the attack, the humans run right into an ambush.

Of course, Tom has predicted this and is actually with Maggie and his own force at the front gate. Weaver, Pope et al are distractions – and the troops guarding the front gate are drawn off. They expected the spy to leak the information. Of course, Pope among the distraction troops is complaining up a storm.

Tom, Maggie, Anthony and team move in the front gate and run into Harnessed kids with guns which they drive off with a flamethrower. But in the aftermath one of the children cries for help; Anthony and Maggie say it’s a trap but Tom can’t just leave a child. They go to him and find the child has been massively changed by the Harness – which is in too deep to be removed. He dies in front of them. While they look on being sad, another mutated child jumps on Lars injuring him before they shoot. Tom tells an extra to take Lars back to the rendezvous point while he, Maggie, Anthony and Kadar go in.

Weaver’s team are still being badly battered until Hal drives in with big guns taking down some Mechs; giving Weaver’s team chance to retreat.

Inside the power plant, Kadar tells them they have 15 minutes to act before the radiation levels inside cause them damage and he points out where they need to set the charges. They take Kadar to the control room to hut things down, but on the way run into more Skitterkids and he loses his glasses. He can’t see without them, not well enough to turn the reactor off and he starts to panic. He talks Tom through it while Maggie and Anthony hold off Skitterkids. Following his instructions they turn off the power while Anthony puts the charges – then plan to leave.

Outside at the retreat, they load up the dead and everyone is accounted for. Pope (who isn’t dead) has a hissy fit because he thinks the Volm are using them as sacrificial lambs because they’re not out there dying. What – the Volm are using humans as sacrificial lambs by giving humans technology to fight an enemy that is attacking them? I get suspicion of the Volm, but this all “they’re not dying for us” seems… ridiculous. Weaver tells him to shut up and get moving – though the Berskers looking on look all pouty. Leaving the reactor, Tom et al look back and see it collapse in on itself.

At the hospital there’s a frenzy to treat everyone – and Lars has taken a bite from the Skitterkid, the Harness bite is toxic as we know from when Weaver was bitten and this is too severe. Anne can’t treat him, only make him comfortable. Colonel Porter and Tom go to comfort him while he’s dying. Lars asks Maggie to keep his dog tags since she’s his only family.

Tom and Weaver drink to the dead and Tom is all concerned because he sent Weaver out on a near suicide mission (Tom, that’s what Pope’s for!) Weaver has no doubts about Tom – but he still doubts the Volm; he doesn’t believe the idea of a travelling race of crusaders, it’s too good to be true. But Tom can’t deny the Volm have turned the tide for them. Weaver adds they don’t even know what the weapon the Volm are making does or if they’re telling the truth. Mason considers having Kadar look at it – which is when Cochise joins them; to praise them at how skilled and impressive the humans are. He warns them that the Volm has learned the Espheni is pulling in all the mechs and beamers they have in the area to hit Charleston hard to try and prove they haven’t been weakened.

Later, Matt comes to see Tom about the whole blowing buildings up thing – Tom says he’s signed him up to help fix it. Which he agrees to but he still doesn’t see the point of school, of memorising the names of dead people and how it will help them win the war. But Tom says they need to be ready to rebuild the country, not just fight the aliens. And Tom’s not angry because he blames himself for neglecting Matt while he was so busy. But he says he did something worse than blow up a building – he was mean to Anne, he considers how he spoke to her to be worse than the damage he caused; Tom tells him to talk to her. Matt goes to see Anne and apologises – and asks if he can call her mom. Demon baby is still strange

And Maggie wakes up to see Hal not in bed – and his wheelchair empty. She goes out into the woods, following him. When she catches him she wakes him up, and he collapses, unable to support his own weight. Karen and her Skitter minion look on as she helps him home.

Ok, first issue – 7 months?!

I’m not against a show skipping ahead several months when nothing much has happened so we can move on with the plot rather than have several months of daily life. But this wasn’t daily life. Tom became president. Anne was pregnant. Hal was paralysed. The Volm and the Skitter Rebellion joined forces. A lot happened in those 7 months we just glossed over.

I think it was, perhaps, a mistake to release 2 episodes as one long episode as they did here (this is episode 1 & 2) because we ended up packing in far too many issues in one episode. We could have just had a reintroduction to the characters and fighting the Skitters – and then have Anne give birth next episode, Matt have his issues next episode and Hal have his sleep walking maybe at the end of the episode. As it was I felt a little overwhelmed by plunging right in a new series and having so many storylines at once.

Generally Bressler is apparently a general. In an actual army? Yet he does not understand why the Overlord/Ashveny military force designing their armies around large scale pitched battles tends to fail badly at skirmishes, guerrilla warfare and an enemy that refuses to engage their main strength. He apparently doesn’t realise that when fighting a guerrilla war (or “asymmetric warfare”) that a “decisive” battle is not the point.

How does he not understand this? How is this not logical? How is this not blatantly obvious to anyone with even a passing knowledge of strategy or actual history? How could this not be known immediately by a General serving in the US military in the 20th and 21st century? This is a minor point I complained about last season, to create conflict between the people in command, they have them support ridiculous tactical decisions so they can argue about them.

I think this show does tend towards the simplistic – like the secure war room that is held by a key; sure they wanted the spy to leak, but a simple key? That doesn’t look suspicious?

We have a definite uptick in inclusion – we have Dani, Marina Paralta, the return of Diego and Anthony seems to be playing a marginally bigger role along with Anne and Lourdes. I would take his as hopeful, but given the casualty rates, I can’t help but feel this may be due to the sheer number of casualties that have been inflicted on the POC – and I wonder if this is just restocking before the next round of death. Yes I’m cynical.

I am interested to see some disabled characters – particularly Hal being both disabled and a warrior. But in both cases I have concerns – Hal’s disability is quite literally all in his head because of the way Karen used the probe we’re now in the realm of both inevitable cure AND him being able to walk if he just tries hard enough. Similarly, Dr. Kadar has severe agoraphobia and hasn’t come above ground since before Tom & Co arrived in Charleston. But Marina says lives are at stake and he… gets over it. In both cases we have disabled people whose disability can be set aside and cured – there’s no suggestion of having a long term disabled character without the miracle cure. And the strong sense that if disabled people really wanted to be well they could be – with these characters curing their disabilities by effort of will.

It feels like a good start and that they’ve made some major steps to try and patch some holes, but I’m not sure they’ve started in the best way and I’m feeling a little overwhelmed.