[photos: Cate Cameron]
Remember when Star Trek: The Next Generation did one of those shows that stayed completely on the ship? They came to be known as “ship in a bottle” stories. Every show has them, whether due to budgets or schedules or (sometimes) having the right story.
This is the Falling Skies “ship in a bottle” story, and it’s a slightly maybe necessary story bridge to transition the 2nd Mass from Boston (*cough*Vancouver*cough*) to Charleston (*cough*still Vancouver*cough*), but is it a strong enough story that we stay inside the bottle?
It’s more a necessary story than an effective one, and it serves the function of setting up new character arcs that will play out in Charleston. For the most part, there’s not really much of a story in this, and there are even a couple of wasted opportunities that could come back to haunt the writers – unless they’re very carefully setting up new arcs that will impact the group outside their cozy little coffee klatch.
The show limits itself to the vehicles as the group makes its way along the road at night. Which is convenient from a production standpoint, because they don’t have to worry about sets or props or anything like that. It’s an opportunity for some character-defining scenes, and some of those scenes work better than others.
In the “works well” category: the scenes between Weaver and Tector. The fact that Weaver has the Berserker figured out just adds to the level of smarts that Will Patton has to work with in his character. And it’s Will Patton, so the performance is going to be nuanced a bit, giving Weaver a few layers as he peels into Tector to find out what makes him tick. Because Weaver’s figured out Tector has to have served in the military. Despite Tector’s wild abandon when it comes to protocol and chain of command, Weaver can see it in the way he does his actual job – recon and other things more suited to combat troops.
Not only does it give us a little insight into Weaver’s thinking – his admission that he was ready to pack up and abandon the 2nd Mass; real or fake? – but it also gives us more depth to Tector’s character. With his military training, he’s a natural leader – if he’d let himself fill that role. But he’s reluctant to do so. Thus setting up an arc that will surely play itself out over the next few episodes.
Another arc that gets a little more play is Maggie’s. We already know she’s got a past, and Pope has something to do with it (so we’ve been led to believe), and she’s reluctant to tell Hal much. So it comes as no surprise that Pope comes at her with it, challenging her to spill everything to Hal. It’s interesting that Pope is the first to mention “love”. I mean, come on. It’s Pope.
So when they get back on the road for scout duty – with Pope leaving a trail of empty beer cans – Maggie finally tells Hal about her past. And it’s everything you’d expect. Drugs, bad boy, crime, baby in prison… wait. What?
The reveal that she had a kid in prison sends this into stereotype territory. Maggie is a walking mix of cliches at this point, but Sarah Carter sells is so well you want fries on the side. She’s able to make Maggie more than the sum of her parts, which is a good thing, because just that laundry list of everything she’s done in her past makes her a prime candidate for a Lifetime movie or something.
But, given Maggie’s reluctance to talk about her past, what else could it have been? The writers have been telegraphing this for a while. I mean, she wouldn’t be ashamed had she been a housewife who spent too much time with the PTA. So it’s not completely unexpected. But still. They could have stretched a bit. Unless this is setting up something far more creative for the character.
Hal reacts the way you’d expect the Lifetime Movie Boyfriend to react: stiffens up, withdraws into himself, has to process this. All this after he reassured her – what? two episodes ago? – that her past didn’t matter to him. This is one of those scenes that feels a little paint-by-numbers with an AfterSchool Special paint set.
But I go back to my earlier premise: this entire episode is laced with story arc setups. And the writers have demonstrated an ability to take stereotypes and one-note characters and situations and turn them into something more interesting, so I’m giving the show-runners the benefit of the doubt for now.
Because everything will change in Charleston (*cough*still Vancouver*cough*).
Which is conveniently hidden underground, beneath the ruins of the original city. So, a little Buck Rogers influence? That whole thing about the writers taking something trite and making it interesting? Sure. We’ve been expecting to be disappointed upon the arrival of the 2nd Mass at Charleston. Many were thinking it was a trap. Some thought it was going to be a whole lot of nothing when they got there.
Are they right? No telling yet. But Porter’s appearance – in full “1st Continental Army” uniform that looks new – shows that something is going on in Charleston. The fact that Tom is becoming “something of a legend” may be good, or it may not. Who’s been talking about Tom? Who knows about him except for the Skitters and Overlords? What kind of intel is the 1st Continental Army getting?
And where will Weaver fit into the hierarchy of the new government? He’s a soldier, and he’s been the only leader the 2nd Mass has known since they started fighting. Even Tom was moved over to the group from some other outfit during the pilot, so he’s not been there as long. Weaver now faces something of a dilemma. Whom will he get to lead?
His speech was a little clunky, but it fits his brand of perserverance – as Weaver is determined to keep going, to keep fighting to survive, no matter what the 2nd Mass comes across. And that defines him as a leader, something the people respond to – as noted by the pilot Avery Churchill (you remember her, right?).
But a nice scene between Weaver and Tector at the end, as Tector starts to acknowledge his military past. Even though he plans to leave, it seems there may be more going on than we’ve come to expect from the Berserker. Look for Tector to become more involved in some way.
Missed opportunity – or another setup for something much bigger – the whole sub-plot with Jenny the Damaged Harness Girl. Not sure what to make of this. It didn’t add anything to the story, and felt really underdeveloped. Almost like they needed to have something for Matt to do besides make out a will and freak Dad out. But there’s not much here yet. So yeah. Another setup. That makes four or five in this episode.
And Jamil’s still dead. But make a note: Anthony and Dai are still alive through the end of this episode. Given that most of the other minority characters have been killed off, should we start a “death watch” for them?