FALLING SKIES: Major Tom to Ground Control

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[photos: Ben Mark Holzberg/Syfy]

I’m smooshing these two episodes together as they played back-to-back to end the season.

Episode 411: “Space Oddity”/412: “Shoot the Moon”

The first 20 minutes or so are preoccupied with the return of Lexi to the enclave. Considering the last anyone saw of her, she was murdering Lourdes with her mind, they understandably have reservations about her return. Pope even goes so far as take a shot at her, but she plucks the bullet from the air.

Tom also has reservations about Lexi’s return, as does Anne. Lexi appeals to both of them, with Tom the much harder sell. She admits that she can control all forms of energy, not just gravity. Because of her abilities, she offers to trade places with Ben on the beamer trip to the moon. Dan and Anne wear Tom down to accept her.

On their way to the ship, it seems that the entire cast takes the time to let Lexi know how she let them down individually. That’s a fun little gauntlet to run. Before they launch, Hal gives Tom a syringe full of a fast-acting Volm poison to use on Lexi should she decide to go native again.

As an aside, Cochise also reveals that he defied his father’s wishes to abandon Earth. He and his team stayed to find the power core and destroy it. There is no Volm safety net (wink, wink).

So with Lexi repeatedly asking for forgiveness and trust ad nauseum for twenty minutes, we finally have blast off, with Tom experiencing all the commensurate G-forces one could expect from escape velocity. And in the spirit of most of Tom Mason’s plans, things start to go pear-shaped quickly. There is a leak in the outer hull of the beamer, with power being drained to maintain life support at a higher-than-planned rate. If they don’t do something, there will be no return trip from the moon.

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Lexi offers to cocoon Tom until they complete the trip to the moon. Tom is not sold on the concept, but it’s the only option he has versus freezing to death while running out of oxygen. So he assents to it and Lexi cocoons him to the hull and fills his mouth with oxygen-rich protein goo that she can spontaneously generate with her hands (ewww).

The next thing he knows, Anne and Hal are breaking him out of the cocoon, saying that Lexi successfully completed the mission and they triumphantly returned to Earth. The day is won, Lexi is now “normal” with radiation having “burned out” the alien DNA. All is well…except it’s not real and Tom starts poking holes in it damn near immediately (the timing of events, the behavior of people who are there, people are still alive that Lexi doesn’t know are dead), it just doesn’t ring true and Tom determines it’s all a mental construct Lexi created.

This dream sequence turns violent, as various cast members confront Tom about his inability to accept his daughter for who she is. Lexi realizes that she’s lost her whole family because of her actions and she’s fearful that she will never be forgiven for what she’s done. Tom confronts Lexi, who apparently caused this whole scenario by accident when she cocooned herself with Tom, about her feelings and his failures to forgive her. They wake up in their cocoon and break themselves out of it. The auto-pilot engages, with the moon within their sight.

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And then…

It’s been 24 hours since Lexi and Tom left for the moon. Dingaan is out on patrol when he encounters one of his squad, trapped by a “fog” on the ground, with a slug-like creature crawling up his chest. He screams at Dingaan for help, but then the slug latches on and the trapped human starts…to turn. Turns out all of Dingaan’s patrol group is affected the same way, trapped and screaming in the fog, being “skitterized”.  Dingaan flees back to the enclave to warn the others. This must be the horrific new weapon that was spoken of last episode that can skitterize humans on the fly.

An incoming beamer then airdrops in a bunch of “pods” into the enclave proper that start to ooze fog and slug monsters (that appear to be attached by some kind of tether to the pod). The fog secures the prey in place, while the slugs do the skitterizing. Some of our surviving humans find this out the hard way.

Our humans are broken up into several groups, all of which are assailed by the slug monsters. Elise, a human who has only been in Season 4, is captured fairly quickly (it helps that she doesn’t bother to run). Hal, Ben, and Maggie end up together, with Ben and Hal being stuck on the ground. Maggie rescues Ben first as he’s closer while Hal shoots at the incoming slug monsters. Then she and Ben use a fire hose and their enhanced strength to whip Hal to safety atop an abandoned bus.

Dingaan and Pope try to climb away from the fog on to the top of the world’s shakiest stack of pallets, causing both to fall into the fog and become stuck (not a bright move). One of the slug monsters climbs on Dingaan, but before it can seal the deal, Pope bites through its umbilical, killing it and spilling skitter fluid everywhere (but the slug monster is still attached to Dingaan, causing no small amount of discomfort). Sara returns at the last minute to save Pope and Dingaan’s life.

Matt and Dan Weaver try to find shelter inside a building, but the fog starts coming in through the ventilation system and around all the doors and windows. Matt and Dan soon become stuck as well and Matt is forced to kill one of the slug monsters with his newly acquired knife-throwing skills. They start chanting, “The fight isn’t over til it’s over!” over and over again to keep up their spirits.

Anne is by herself, avoiding the fog. Anne has some success pushing back the fog with a flare, so she grabs the next logical thing to expand on that idea – a flamethrower. She goes to help Dan and Matt, but before she can free them, a slug monster attacks Dan. Anne runs out of fuel and gets stuck, so Dan has to save himself before the skitter process starts and even then he still has the slug monster attached to his person.

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Meanwhile in space…

Tom and Lexi continue their trip to the moon. Unfortunately, due to the hull breach last episode, the extreme cold has compromised the bomb casing (sabotaged?), rendering it useless…unless, Tom suggests, Lexi triggers the bomb with her mind. Lexi tells Tom how the power core works. It’s a mining/smelting unit that extracts helium 3 from the rocky surface of the moon, which is converted into wireless electricity that is beamed to earth to power everything the Espheni run. Before they can move on to plan B, their ship is caught in a tractor beam from a larger Espheni spacecraft and they are captured.

It just so happens that the Espheni Torch is in control of this larger ship and he has harnessed Mira as his latest voicebox (so no happy reunion for Matt and Mira in the cards). Torch chokes Lexi with her triskelion necklace, apparently a hidden failsafe from Monk. Torch starts to torture Lexi, but Tom stabs him with the poison syringe Hal gave him, grievously wounding the Espheni. Before he dies, Torch sabotages his ship. Lexi sends Tom back to their beamer to release it from the larger ship, but it’s a trick: she gets him back on the beamer so she can pilot the larger ship manually into the power core while he goes back to earth.

They share another moment in their combined dream state, hugging each other goodbye. As Lexi closes on the moon, additional Espheni beamers appear to pursue Tom (though oddly, not Lexi). Cochise’s father arrives faster than you can say “deus ex machina,” destroying the pursuing Espheni.

Lexi successfully pilots the beamer into the power core, causing a massive explosion. Tom’s ship is caught in the blast wave and is knocked into space, off its return homing beacon and spinning out of control.

Back on earth…

With the power source destroyed, the slug pods and their accompanying slug monsters break down. Anne, Matt, Dan, Hal, Ben, Maggie, Dingaan, and Pope all survive. A group of additional 2nd Mass survivors led by Anthony rejoins them in the morning, but we’re now done to somewhere between a dozen and 30 members of the 2nd Mass. As if the defunct slug monsters wasn’t enough, proof of the moon explosion is visible from the earth’s surface (it’s a pretty big blast zone).  Pope and Sara share a moment, as the 2nd Mass gathers to continue the fight now that the power core is gone, with the members of the 2nd Mass resigned to the fact that Tom will somehow show up again, just like he’s done before (when even the characters in your story tire of the conceit, you have problems).

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Then back in space…

In his out-of-control beamer, Tom looks at the book that Anne gave him last episode and an old picture of his family. He passes out…and comes to in a bed, apparently in his old pre-invasion house. The only problem is it’s an illusion (and he’s obviously still in space given the giant star field out his bedroom window). Before he can wrap his mind around what’s going on, he hears a woman’s voice in his head, saying that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” and then we see a new alien in a reflection (lots of tentacles and legs, this one), apparently the source of the voice and presumably the 4th alien race that has the Espheni in such a tizzy. Tom looks at it and says, “you’re beautiful” when he sees it, and we fade to black. So Tom ends the season on an alien ship, with echoes of the season 1 finale coming to mind.

Thoughts on the finale…

The second part was much more energetic than the first part, which felt mainly like they were just killing time. The whole dream sequence section felt contrived and its use largely unsatisfying (a. it’s been done many times before – and undone in the same manner, “oh hey, look at all the dead people”; and b.) Lexi’s pursuit for forgiveness starts to grate after a while). Part 1 was also overlong for what it delivered. Outside of some character stuff between Tom and Anne actually behaving like a couple, this episode was almost superfluous.

Part 2 definitely had more of a spooky creature feature vibe, down to wolves howling in the distance (the creatures of the night, what sweet music they make…) and lots of ground-hugging fog.  The slug monsters are disturbing, though there are many more questions than answers about them (like how the Espheni went from putting humans into camps next to gas-spewing machines a mere two weeks prior to quantum leaping their technology to skitters-on-the-go).  This is the first time we’ve had an explicit monster vibe to an episode either.

We get our first obstructed view of alien race #4.  No idea how it’s going to shake out (they have less than a season to develop them and the creators haven’t really accomplished that with the Espheni in 4 seasons, so I’m not holding my breath).

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Thoughts on the season…

This is not the strongest of the bunch (of course, coming off season 3, which was arguably the strongest of the series, it was always going to be an uphill battle). Some of the new characters are worthy, welcome additions like Dingaan and Sara (the only two of substance, for that matter), while other mainstays are gone before their potential was fully realized (Dr. Kadar springs to mind).  This show has never been one to shy away from a body count and we certainly got the bloodiest season thus far, reducing some 200-odd members of the 2nd Mass down to two dozen.  But the main movers and shakers all emerged more or less intact, so no risks being taken there.

And I think that the lack of risk-taking is what the made the show less compelling this season.  If none of the flagship characters is in real jeopardy, that’s going to undercut whatever dramatic stakes you are attempting to validate. They literally live in a world where they can die for the most asinine reasons (we’re talking about a world without medical care so people can die of the flu or step on a rusty nail and develop tetanus)…and they don’t. Even when characters are given HUGE physical ailments like quadriplegia, that’s all whisked away with the amazing healing power of alien technology. How convenient! It all felt very “safe” and “safe” in television is quite frequently boring television.

There were high points and some strong episodes, but the overall arc of the season felt muddled and confused.  Lexi, the largest question mark of the season, was resolved conveniently by the last episode, so while I’m sure some baggage is going to carry over into season 5, she’s gone.  The problem with that is the Lexi storyline wasn’t anywhere near the strongest or most interesting storyline of the season.  Tom’s journey from ghetto to outer space was much more involved and engrossing, while Lexi’s story was mostly a footnote until the finale.  But at that point, the audience has no connection to her, feels no affinity for her, and when she sacrifices herself, it generates relief that she’s out of the picture.  Nor does it really resolve the outstanding issues of her betrayal.  Sure, Tom forgives her…but no one else on the show did.  That’s not closure, that’s just the first eensy-weensy step towards closure.

While the future of next season is no doubt (it is happening), the future of the narrative is. If the two main Espheni we have been introduced to are now dead, who is going to lead the Espheni forces on the ground? Is the little fascist camp, which really should have been given more attention, just going to fade into an afterthought? Without Espheni to boss them around, will we get more friendly skitters? What about all the humans turned into skitters by the slug monsters and other devices? We sure saw a lot of people subjected to the process but only encountered one skitterized human in the course of 12 episodes.

Woodchuck sez, “That’s all for now!”

[Defiance web site at Syfy]     [Previous Recap – “Painting from Memory”]

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