As they progress, certain shows begin to adhere to a particular rhythm in terms of the beats of their storytelling and how they move from chapter to chapter, or even season to season. In the case of Falling Skies, the season-to-season rhythm seems to include a jump forward in time to deal with a massive cliffhanger and to help establish the parameters of the new season’s narrative.
At the end of season 1, it was Tom Mason (Noah Wyle) boarding an alien ship, while season 2 introduced an entirely new alien species into the conflict. In the season 3 opener – which consists of the season’s first two episodes ‘On Thin Ice’ and ‘Collateral Damage’ – Falling Skies has quite a few questions to answer and it begins to do so by pointing out how much things have changed since we last saw any of these characters. For starters, Matt (Maxim Knight) has gone from undersized moppet to full-sized Ryan Phillippe look-alike, joining the recently promoted Colonel Dan Weaver (Will Patton) in using alien technology to prepare for an all-out assault on a mining facility filled with mechs and skitters.
All the major players show up, including Dan’s semi-estranged daughter Jeanne (Laci J. Mailey), and soon, all three Mason boys are present and fighting. It’s a swift and impressive scene for the series that’s had some complaints in regard to the way certain aspects of the aliens or their technology is portrayed on a rather limited budget. But the opening sequence manages to pull off multiple shots of mechs and skitters (those still under control of the overlord and those who have joined the resistance) engaging in battle that looks good and gets the viewer right back into the Falling Skies frame of mind. More importantly, however, the raid on the mine has a few tricks up its sleeve that help to add a new dynamic to the overall storyline, which, rather than rely on heavy exposition or a lengthy info drop to resolve, chooses to go with the tried and true time-jump, allowing the episode an opportunity to dole out information in short, surprising bursts of exposition that feel right at home with how the show operates.
And that means letting the characters fill in the blanks with dialogue that’s supposed to sound conversational, but most of the time comes off as oddly specific in reference to the amount of time that’s passed, or the regime changes that have taken place. Of course, the aliens who landed in the closing moments of the season 2 finale turn out to have been kindly enough to join forces with the human resistance, offer them some advanced technology (as seen by the explosives and pulse rifles used in the assault on the mine) and finally provide a little backstory on just who the invading force is and what they want.
As it turns out, the invaders are known as the Esphani, while their pursuers, the Vohm, apparently led by an alien the humans have dubbed Cochise (played by Abe Sapien himself, Doug Jones), spend their days traipsing across the galaxy, helping to liberate the worlds that have been overrun by the Esphani.
Most of this information gets doled out piecemeal, as the first two episodes are really more interested in exploring what’s transpired in terms of the human resistance in the past seven months. Late last season, it seemed Tom Mason and his followers were ready to hightail it out of Charleston, but as the season establishes early on, not only have they not left the new hub of the U.S. government, but Tom has been elected president (of 20 square blocks). Part of Tom’s new duties includes leading the resistance, arguing with military commanders (particularly the excellent Matt Frewer) and providing platitudes to the war-weary citizens of Charleston. It’s essentially the same role Tom’s been playing since the series premiere, but now he has significant authority to back it up.
There’re also the additional subplots of Tom and Anne’s (Moon Bloodgood) newborn daughter who is very advanced (in an incredibly creepy talking E*TRADE baby sort of way), as well as Hal’s (Drew Roy) psychosomatic paralysis and somnambulistic trysts with Karen (Jessy Schram) who has taken over as the Esphani overlord. But much of the plotting for the season ahead seems to do with the general distrust of the Vohm and their plans for the super weapon being built, and the mole who assassinated Arthur Manchester (Terry O’Quinn) for getting to close to his or her identity.
While the time jump took away the opportunity for the audience to learn about the Vohm in real-time, the decision to skip ahead still feels like the right one. Falling Skies works best when there’s an element or moment requiring the characters and plot to work back from, rather than eventually come to accept. In many ways, this set-up is just like the series premiere, which saw the resistance in full swing following the invasion. There’s a period of adjustment, but since many of the characters (aside from a nearly unrecognizable Robert Sean Leonard as Dr. Kadar) are so familiar, season 3 manages to quickly acclimate itself and get off to an intriguing start.
Falling Skies continues next Sunday with ‘Badlands’ @10pm on TNT. Check out a preview below: