Falling Skies: Hey Man, Nice Shot

Thanks -- again -- to Caroline Evans for covering my ass last week. I'm sure there will be no more problems now that a four-month construction project has started on my house.

TNT awkwardly crammed together the final two episodes of Falling Skies to produce its alleged cliffhanger season finale. I say "alleged" because the final shot was more of a low foothill-hanger. More disappointing is the way the network seems to have pulled the plug on some promising early ideas and then crapped out on the boffo Big Battle Scene we've anticipated for the last four weeks.

On the other hand, Tom's quite the marksman with a rocket launcher.

Executive producer Steven Spielberg's hands were all over the finale, which opened with the first of many syrupy moments, yet juxtaposed with Anne explaining her theory that the harnesses do more than control their subjects, they're also apparently some form of alien pupa (I always hear Hannibal Lecter's voice when I see that word) that eventually turns their hosts into skitters.

Dai shows up gutshot from his visit to Col. Porter's. Tom and Anne use the break to quiz Tom on why he and Weaver have fallen out. Tensions between the two escalate when Tom asks annoying questions, and Weaver puts him and Hal on sentry duty at an FOP. Lourdes spills the beans to Tom and Anne that Weaver has been hopped up on goofballs. Hal wants Tom to confront him, but Tom doesn't want to jeopardize the stability of the 2nd Mass., or some such.

...and then Tom confronts him. Weaver reacts with appropriate restraint: He relieves him of command and has Lt. Danner, a combination of Douglas Niedermeyer and Biff from the Back to the Future movies, throw him in the boiler room.

Rick, the creepiest kid left on Earth, wants Ben to embrace his inner skitter ("skinner?"). Ben resists, which makes no sense. I mean, who *wouldn't* want to turn into an arthropod slave that serves at the whim of some alien intelligence? Ben neglects to tell Tom about Rick's alarming swerve into the Dark Side. Bad idea.

Hal and Karen return from their observation post to inform Weaver that the aliens are on the move, to no avail. Jimmy tells Hal where Tom is, and the two of them help him break out and truss up Danner. Dai wakes up and has more good news: Porter ordered the attack aborted unless the 4th and 5th regiments reported in. Dai left him under attack, which of course we don't get to see.

So the tense standoff between Weaver and Tom turns into a scene about "trusting each other" that -- in motivational poster form -- wouldn't be out of place on Barney Stinson's wall. The apparently pill-free Weaver decides to ask for volunteers for what is sounding like a suicide mission to strike the alien structure in Boston, and Hal elects to go.

And that's just the first hour.

Well, I was right about Rick. He's moved beyond fits of unpleasant Kubrick-ian staring and advanced straight to crawling on the ceiling, where he attacks Scott, who's working on a way to intercept the aliens' radio communications. He also escapes and rats out the humans at the school. Tom finds him, and instead of doing the humane thing and blowing his alien-infected brains out, takes him back.

"I thought they loved me, but all they wanted was information." Well, and to turn you into a giant bug, Rick. Don't forget the giant bug thing.

Meanwhile Weaver's strike team continues its advance. I only mention this because Pope gets in a nice Wages of Fear reference.

It took awhile, but Tom finally found a way to invoke his history prof credentials again, comparing their last stand against the coming aliens to American revolutionaries. I love military analogies that ignore quantum advances in technology and tactics. Maybe next time he'll quote Sun-Tzu, who's just as relevant to modern military theory.

As the mechs descend on the school, Scott figures out the radio frequency and basically turns up the volume, driving the attacking mechs away from the school. These aliens are real tactical geniuses, standing bunched up and pausing for dramatic effect, not even getting a chance to attack before they're dispersed. Here we also see the show's budget limitations, as every mech is a mirror image -- in movement and appearance -- of the others.

Tom decides to follow the strike team in with a modified El Camino to carry the radio interference signal. First, he kisses Anne, a development most of us were expecting (I expected a lot more desperate rutting during the End Times, but again: Spielberg) but not especially looking forward to.

Tom finds the strike team. Pope and the Black Guy Who Isn't Rick's Dad are still alive, as is Weaver, but everyone else is dead. The 4th and 5th never showed up, and the audience is cheated out of the one big set piece we'd been teased with for a month.

With little else left to do, Tom decides to take a shot at the alien arcology with the mech armor-piercing RPG. In theory, it's about as effective as shooting a .357 at an aircraft carrier, so it's lucky for Tom he miraculously hits a ship that flies into a hangar and blows up a bunch of shit.

Thus unsatisfied, we end the night with the reappearance of a harnessed Karen, who says the aliens have newfound respect for the humans' fortitude and want to negotiate. In the final homage to St. Spielberg, Tom walks onto a waiting spaceship with Karen and one of those skinny, iridescent Greys we first saw last week. Weaver watches in awe/confusion. Roll credits.

Leaving aside the ridiculous deus ex machina ("What if they change the frequency again?"), the biggest problem with the finale, and the first season of Falling Skies itself, is how its ambition is hamstrung by TNT's budget (or lack thereof). The F/X became increasingly chintzy as the season progressed, and I'm sorry, but you can't hype up a battle royale and then skip the royale entirely. People aren't watching an alien invasion show for weepiness and hand-wringing; there are daytime soaps and the Ronnie-Sammi storyline on Jersey Shore for that.

See you in summer, 2012.

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