Monday, October 26, 2015

Falling Skies S1 Ep5: Silent Kill

"I don't know what's crazy anymore.
We're fightin' aliens from outer space."
-Captain Dan Weaver suggesting any plan of attack against the aliens really isn't as crazy as the sad reality they are actually fighting aliens-
"I'm a little busy with this whole war thing."

The science fiction drama of Falling Skies takes place firmly on American soil in the heart of the Boston area and its surrounding suburbs. How fitting writer Joe Weisberg joins the alien fight against a foreign invasion since Weisberg is not only a writer for this series, but a creator/writer for the FX series The Americans (2013-present) about two Soviet (foreign or alien) KGB spies living in the Virginia suburbs near Washington D.C..

Here, Weisberg delivers the first of two scripts in the ephemeral ten episode first season of Falling Skies. Following the sometimes poignant entry of S1, Ep4, Grace, director Fred Toye returns for his second and final entry on the series with Falling Skies, Season One, Episode 5, Silent Kill. Toye had directed an episode (D.O.C.) of Lost in the much maligned Season Three. He also served as a producer and directed eight episodes of Fringe including five entries, some exceptional (The Dreamscape, Bound, Inner Child, The Road Not Taken), from the also much maligned first season of Fringe.

Our survivors continue to do what survivors do best following an alien insurrection---survive.

At the center of Silent Kill, is not a human prisoner of war but rather a skitter. This portion of the story is genuinely the heart of Silent Kill as the creature observes us from Anne's makeshift medical lab.

This component makes for a more interesting setting and scenario and further serves Falling Skies story potential.

As the installment opens, Hal and Tom Mason talk tactics with Captain Dan Weaver as the group hopes of attaining missing Ben Mason with the right strategy.

The Skitter itself offers a glimpse at some of the marvelous production work and practical special effects that went into establishing and bringing the series to life.  Eschewing CGI effects for close ups of latex prosthetics and animatronics is always the way to go and Falling Skies reaches high, aims big and succeeds more often than not in the arena.

Uncle Scott and Matt still ponder a use for radios from the 1940s to access the radio waves used by the Skitters as a form of detection or to create an early warning system. The application of old analog technology served the crew of the Battlestar Galactica well in Battlestar Galactica (2003-2009) against the war with the Cylons---the same idea applies here.

Combined with the prayerful moments of Grace, old school colloquialisms like "sweetheart" (a term of endearment not a charged insult) there's indeed a traditional, throwback quality to Falling Skies that is refreshing. It does have an old-fashioned science fiction vibe in spirit complete with the terrific practical effects which recall the classics.

The writers create an interesting scenario by allowing viewers to identify with the skitter to a certain degree while presenting a human, Dr. Harris, as unlikable and rather disagreeable.

Weaver demands the creature be killed. But Anne makes a valid case for continued study of the creature. Often times we hear scientists and doctors declare how they must study the creature. They must learn more but yet there is often an agenda and seemingly the best interests of humanity are not at heart. With Falling Skies, you really sense Anne's sincerity. In fact, Falling Skies is loaded with sincerity perhaps to its detriment and to a fault as I found. Tender moments tend to populate Falling Skies almost endlessly at times. Tom visits the prayer board. Anne asks, "Why?" "It's just how we are," replies Tom knowingly and tenderly. By the end of the series it became a little too much for my tastes because it erred to the side of overly schmaltzy. It was a bit overkill.

But all in all Silent Kill is a terrific little episode that takes its time addressing the reality of the situation for these human survivors and their adjustments. The Second Massachusetts isn't all bravado and guns a blazing. Tom and company understand the enemy is real, superior in many respects and must be respected and studied in order to achieve their goals. The means must be reliable and sound to achieve a desired end. It's all considered appropriately like a real professor.

One sequence in Silent Kill is particularly gripping. Anne explains to Tom and Hal while the trio are alone that the creature has a soft palette inside the mouth. To prove Hal could kill the creature through this method of access, Anne risks her life and grabs the captured creature by the throat plunging one of her scalpels into the back of its throat killing it. It is a stunning,
utterly shocking and powerful moment given what might have transpired further with this prisoner of war not to mention Anne's character. It is truly unexpected turn because the writers never openly or outwardly play Anne's disgust for the Skitters. Her reserved, calm nature makes for an inspired moment of genuine surprise. Anne is shaken but clearly alive in letting go of her anger. Emotionally she is awakened to face the reality of this war and the search for her missing son. The viewers too are shaken by the fairly seismic moment in the entry as this silent kill sneaks up on all of us.

This is followed by Anne running to the prayer board. Emotional she confesses she has nothing to remind her of her family. She doesn't have a single photo to post. All she has is the blood of this alien creature on her hands to remind her of what was taken from her. She slams it to the board in memory of her son Sam across a newspaper page with the headline THEY COME IN PEACE? The headline suggests there was perhaps a period of relative calm before this impending alien storm perhaps like the concept found in V.

Again it's a very potent moment as Tom watches in stunned, empathetic silence. "And don't think it was hard for me, because it wasn't. All I had to do was think about my family. I just pictured them for one second. And that's all it took," Ann decries in anger now uninhibited.

So the hunt for Ben is on. Tom, Hal, Dai, Anthony and Maggie are the elite force. The sentry Mechs are on patrol. These are impressive, hulking beasts but sleek and silent. They do not clank metallically on patrol whilst making their haunting horn sounds.

Hal affixes an alien harness to his back to gain entry to the hospital where harnessed human are held prisoner. And those harnesses are sufficiently creepy. The minutes to follow are filled with sizable tension and suspense.

Hal manages to fall in line directly behind a procession of harnessed children and directly behind his brother Ben as they are led by a Skitter leading to an unexpected nest-styled Skitter nap.

Hal makes his move on a silent kill stabbing the Skitter through the head. The harnessed children awaken and attempt to protect the Skitter. The children appear to express sadness for the fallen Skitter. And surprisingly and as ugly as those things are, there is something incredibly sympathetic about them. The thing even exhibited a kind of maternal affection for the children lending viewers an emotional connection to the creatures.

Returning to the school, Ben and other children are saved. Surgeries are prepped to remove the harnesses. This process is also not pretty and not easy. Some attempts even result in death.

Sweet moments ensue between Maggie and Hal and Tom and Hal offering an expression of his fatherhood. These frequent asides at times become so syrupy it's hard not to cringe just a little.

Falling Skies once again constantly reminds us we need each other. We are social animals meant to live together not die alone and we will gather and we will assemble and find comfort in one another. This is how we are. We all require love and nurturing. We honor the dead. We respect our past as we fight for the future. There is indeed an old-fashioned sense of human connection to Falling Skies.

Falling Skies delivered hard-hitting, guerilla-based science fiction for five seasons, unfortunately, sometimes, with overly generous amounts of tenderness and sentimentality. But with mechs, skitters, harnesses and consequences oh my, there was just so much damn potential to this series and fans were rewarded.

Ultimately, if you are a fan, you ask yourself did Falling Skies deliver on all that potential from Season One?

For me, somewhere along the way, beginning with season two, I just kind of lost interest in Falling Skies and its intentions. Often it felt like the series was really going to take off, but never soared into the skies quite as I had hoped. As a result it never became the compelling alien invasion story I desired. Sure it was far superior to V, but it wasn't nearly as interesting as Defiance. Things would get interesting and then Falling Skies would fall back into these fits of melodrama and slow down to a halt with excruciating interpersonal moments. Those fits and starts became very much the beats and rhythms of the series and that resulted in frustration for me. That didn't change too much and for whatever reason it never felt entirely authentic despite a very credible world and setting. At times, I even rolled my eyes. Perhaps one day I will revisit the series, perhaps it's necessary to view it in small doses, but for now Falling Skies, Season One is a genuinely solid season of science fiction. Silent Kill is a fine example of its best qualities and story cohesion.

Silent Kill: B+. Writer: Joe Weisberg. Director: Fred Toye.

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