Falling Skies: “What Hides Beneath”


Falling Skies

TNT, Sundays, 9 PM

“What Hides Beneath”

Written by Mark Verheiden

Directed by Anthony Hemingway

“Turns out our alien friends are big on recycling.” — Pope

With John Pope back in the mix, this show suddenly became interesting again. Though a deliberately ambiguous character by design, his relentless self-aggrandizement, caustic wit, and ruthlessly warlike spirit casts everyone else in this drama into the shade. If there were no other characters on this show worth watching, I would still be here for him. In this episode, he volunteers to concoct explosives to further the Second Mass’ campaign to bring down an alien construct being built over Boston. Colonel Porter (Dale Dye,Entourage) doesn’t trust him, but discusses the plans at length not only in front of this guy he does not trust, but in front of Ricky, the formerly harnessed kid who has already revealed himself (to us, anyway) as a Skitter loyalist. It never seems to occur to the adults on this show — at least, not to the ones in charge — that the formerly harnessed kids might be a danger. To do so would force them to confront unpleasant truths about hostages, Stockholm syndrome, and the moral weakness of children. To admit that kids could be traitors would conflict with the Spielberg Ethos that rules this show, where all parents are loving, all children are good, and all endings must be happy.

“Why don’t you roll Radio Free Europe into the hallway and let me play with the hard stuff?” — Pope

In the science lab, Pope rapidly demolishes the authority and standing of Uncle Scotty (Bruce Gray,Medium), the cardigan-wearing Mr. Rogers who fiddles with the refugees’ meager supply of technology. The best he’s been able to manage recently was a vacuum-tube based radio; this week he gets elbowed aside by Pope’s brash self-confidence. Pope sneers at the incompetent bomb recipes being proposed, and starts tinkering with machinery. Young Matt, drawn to machines but fearing them, ventures in and gets received with honesty, truth and more concern for his future than Tom has shown for his own son. Tom wants to ban Matt from engagement with the real world around him; Pope is prepared to arm him to face it. In their discussion of Mech weaponry, Matt arrives at a pretty obvious insight that nevertheless wows Pope, and inspires him to produce a Mech-killing breakthrough in arms. Suffice to say that it involves recycling.

“Maybe they weren’t always Skitters.” — Anne Glass

Meanwhile, Dr. Anne Glass’s exam of the surviving harness kids, particularly Ben, yields some disturbing discoveries. Not only are their metal “spines” not disappearing, the skin around them is hardening. She conducts a very belated autopsy on their former captive Skitter (the stench must have been incredible, after all these weeks) and discovers what we’ve been suspecting all along: the Skitters may not be aliens after all. The carcass she is dissecting incorporates a harness like the ones they removed from their own returned children. Since Ricky has been expressing pro-Skitter sentiments for weeks now, and even Ben occasionally says things like “I miss them”, the adults of the Second Mass should have been imagining something like this long ago. Apparently, the alien invaders are really into recycling, in ways the adults have not guessed.

“Bastards might be from outer space, but their engineering is strictly Architecture 101.” — Weaver

Tom spends a lot of time worrying about Captain Weaver’s sleep deprivation; maybe he should spend more time worrying about his son’s spinal accessories. We only discover that Weaver used to be a contractor when the plot requires a reason for him to go on patrol in the field: he leads Tom and Hal into Boston to reconnoiter the alien platform and look for weaknesses. Weaver marvels that the supposedly advanced aliens are using “Earth construction techniques” (how would Weaver recognize any other technique?), ordinary rebar, concrete, and so forth. Then they make a stunning discovery: a third type of alien we have never seen before — tall, chrome-skinned, humanoid, looking vaguely like a cross between the aliens ofRed Mars and the UFO inhabitants of Spielberg’s own Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Naturally, having given us a glimpse of these all-too-familiar creatures, we spend the rest of the episode concentrating on relationships. Yawn.

“Knowing where to hit this thing is just as important as knowing how.” — Weaver

Weaver displays his own lack of structural integrity when he then falls into a bizarre melancholy, returning to his former home, drinking heavily, droning on about his lost family. I barely recognized this maudlin loser as the strong, non-nonsense commander of the past few weeks. Only Will Patton could have pulled this switch off, and thankfully he doesn’t have to do it for long. While he mopes, Tom and Hal take tea with Blair Brown (Fringe). Living alone practically next to the alien construct, she is unmolested, has food and water and comfort. This sets off no alarm bells in the pair, who tell her all about their mission, their target, their plans. Seriously, someone should muzzle Tom every time  he steps beyond the perimeter of his own tribe. Naturally, as soon as they leave the old lady with her tea, a Mech shows up and tracks them. Discovering his wife’s glasses in the rubble of his house, Weaver decides she’s still alive, snaps out of his funk, and leads his men against the Mech, destroying it. Tom then wises up enough to feed false intelligence to the old lady, who is clearly unhinged and being used as a spy. They are interrupted by a grocery delivery from Karen (Jessy Schram, The Mentalist), who was taken by the Skitters weeks ago and is now harnessed (to the surprise of absolutely nobody). 

“They love us, Ben, and they will come back for us.” — Ricky

I am increasingly impatient at the way harnessed kids are being handled. Even if Tom and Mike blinded themselves to the changes in their sons, both Hal and Dr. Glass have noticed changes in Ben and Ricky. Neither of them sees fit to mention this to Weaver or any other officer, fearing that it will make the boys more feared than ever. This is the PC, feel-good mandate, which is about as stupid an approach as one can imagine in this scenario. The Second Mass cannot survive anyone holding back secrets like this. If people are afraid of the boys, that fear should be confronted and addressed, not coddled or ignored. Rather than treat the obviously disturbed Ricky, everyone pretends he’s normal, and speaks freely around him. He has already made it clear to Ben, at least, that his sympathies lie with the Skitters, so it is no surprise at all when, after Pope demonstrates his new Mech-killing technology, Ricky slips away. You know he’s going to report to his Skitters, but even Ben, who suspects this, says nothing. Despite having uncovered a Fifth Column in Boston, despite having been deceived by Lt. Clayton, this bunch is still too trusting to live. This is contrived and stupid storytelling, and I was very disappointed.

“We can’t exactly afford to lose you.” — Tom

Next week brings the two-hour finale of Falling Skies, in which we may expect to see the Second Mass link up with other groups to try to take out the alien construct in downtown Boston. Presumably we are in for many explosions, some utterly predictable betrayals, and probably more than one character death. I am hoping Pope, Margaret, Weaver and Jimmy survive; I’m not so concerned for the others. I’ll take smart, snarky and brave over earnest and stupid any day.