Throughout much of season 3, Falling Skies has had an issue when it comes to building and delivering on the tension generated from the arrival of another alien race in the closing moments of season 2. Much of this had to do with the leap forward in time during the premiere, a move that shuffled the getting-to-know-you stage of the human/Volm alliance to a series of quick, expository statements that pinned the season's focus on a shaky mixture of the promise of a superweapon and a nearly season-long game of guess-the-mole.
That's not to say that either plotline was unsuccessful; in fact, both managed to efficiently drive the storylines toward their respective conclusions in an efficient manner, but, overall, in its hurried effort to get to the destination, much of Falling Skies season 3 felt as though it overlooked (or undercooked) the journey.
Much of the reaction to what's transpired over the course of the season has to do with the expectations put in place at the end of last season. Aside from the surprising, game-changing arrival of the Volm, the finale also introduced a potentially devastating dramatic challenge in the reveal that Hal Mason was under the control of Karen (and the Espheni) via the silver worms that've recently become a major (cost effective) component of the series' depiction of the ongoing conflict between the humans and the invading alien force.
The season premiere even set it up to look as though Hal might have been the one to assassinate Vice President Arthur Manchester, which presented several interesting dramatic possibilities. Initially, all of this was well and good, as both a potential character arc for Hal and mystery subplot for the season where the vice president could be murdered as an early and potent demonstration of just how high the stakes were going to be. And yet, as the story progressed, instead of generating considerable apprehension and pressure in regard to Karen's battle to control Hal and all the narrative possibilities that could have stemmed from that, it became a short-lived expansion of that Hal/Maggie romance, and an even shorter confrontation between Hal and his father. This accelerated pacing of what could have been an important and dramatic leg of the season's overall story, wound up being ostensibly swept under the rug and chalked up as an unpleasant fact of life for the characters and a missed opportunity for the narrative.
As it stands, the hasty tempo of key moments and the eschewing of dramatic tension prior to their arrival also sums up a great deal of what transpires in the season 3 finale 'Brazil.' The episode begins with the much-ballyhooed Volm superweapon being transported to its intended target, and while the opening moments cleverly interweave two separate locations – i.e., Weaver and Pope driving a train straight into an Espheni ambush, while Tom, Cochise and the superweapon appear to be on one of the train cars – the sparkle from the reveal is momentary at best, as the Tom's naval assault on the Espheni tower powering the energy grid boils down to a few moments of apprehension and a brief skirmish involving two alien aircraft.
The decoy headed by Weaver and Pope certainly does a lot to explain why the assault on the tower only faced a few minor and easily dispatched foes, but placing a small verbal or visual patch over a potential plot hole before it becomes too noticeable shouldn't be a substitute for actual compelling and driven dramatic storytelling. Moreover, now that the sum total of their forces have successfully landed on Earth, the framework of the episode was clearly designed to introduce the Volm's plans for shipping humankind off to Brazil, rather than focusing on the larger issue of the Espheni/human conflict. And while the continued presence of the Volm and their confusion with regard to humankind's unwillingness to sit out the fight poses an interesting challenge for the future of the series, the actual delivery of the revelation – along with Tom being reunited with Anne and his rapidly maturing and seemingly powerful daughter Alexis – feels like a more compelling story was glossed over to better accommodate the season's sprint to the end.
As Falling Skies plans to bring in David Eick as the new showrunner for season 4 (replacing the outgoing Remi Aubuchon), 'Brazil' feels more like an effort to wipe the slate clean and prepare for that transition than a truly significant chapter in the Falling Skies saga. And after more than a season of the resistance being cooped up in Charleston, the suggestion that Tom, Weaver and rest of the Second Mass may once again be hitting the road is a good sign for the storyline that lies ahead.
The more successful or inventive episodes this season – namely, 'Search and Recover' and 'Strange Brew' – offered a glimpse of what the series is capable of when the storyline operates beyond the confines of a single space. With any luck, season 4 will capitalize on that realization and the future storylines won't feel so confined and claustrophobic.
Falling Skies will return for season 4 in the summer of 2014 on TNT.
Photos: James Dittiger/TNT
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