Over the course of three seasons, two of which I’ve had the privilege of writing about on a weekly basis, I’ve come to regard my relationship with Falling Skies as a largely bipolar one. Unlike Revolution, which turned into an abusive relationship midway through the season as the show spiraled into an irritating mix of tedium and batshit, Falling Skies is a show I always feel is capable of being better than it is. All of the elements are there for a quality program—a solid cast with some colorful performers, a writing staff that includes veterans of Lost and Battlestar Galactica, a concept that promises action and high stakes—but the times when it reaches highs are infrequent, and often come after two or three episodes of tedium.
The third season of Falling Skies has by far been the worst in terms of introducing those annoyances, and has on the whole felt like a wasted season for the show. I don’t know how much of that is due to circumstances beyond the writers’ control—writing around Moon Bloodgood’s real-life pregnancy for instance—but so much of what’s happened this season felt repetitive and unnecessary, with a lot of red herrings and side missions that didn’t hold together as a cohesive story. And even when the show’s tried to do new things, it’s felt as if the writers have kept too tight a grip on the reins to let the ideas run free. Tom and Pope’s sojourn in “Search And Recovery,” the concept of a family isolated from the invasion in “The Pickett Line,” Tom’s gaslighting experience in “Strange Brew”: on paper all of these feel like they could have done something special, but instead they came across as padding.
In that light, “Brazil” is one of those most frustrating of episodes—not because it’s a bad episode, in fact quite the opposite. This is one of those Falling Skies installments where the better version of the show shines through, one that’s appropriately epic in some places and full of smaller human moments in others. Unlike the second season finale, which relied on a series of deus ex machinas that left a bad taste in my mouth for a third season, this finale ties up the major struggles of the season and leaves us looking forward to a more streamlined fourth—even if history tells us that probably won’t happen.
Positive feelings about “Brazil” are engendered almost immediately by the high-octane fashion in which the episode opens. With the Volm weapon completed and the human resistance full of vengeful thoughts, a two-front war is launched on the Espheni command center. Weaver, Pope, and Anthony take a train deep into Chicago to draw the majority of the alien artillery—even bringing a chained-up Lourdes in tow to make sure they get their attention—while Tom, Cochise, and the rest of the fighting force take the weapon on a boat into Massachusetts Bay. Months of uncertainty are finally put to the test as the weapon powers up and strikes the tower dead on, some faint implosions soon giving way to a chain reaction as the entire apparatus crashes into the ruins of Boston.
I’ve said on several occasions that the better episodes of the show are the ones that actually have money put into their special effects, and there’s plenty of that on display here: gunplay as the alien ships swoop in, an impressive light show as the grid deactivates, and of course the collapse of the tower leveling Boston. And if that wasn’t enough to get the point across, the arrival of the Volm command ship certainly does: a massive six-pointed vessel that lands directly on the tower ruins and grinds what is left of the city to dust. It gives the show an epic feel it’s been sorely lacking, and reflects that accordingly on the faces of the resistance: They may have won the day, but watching that tower fall reflects how much they’ve lost. (And my praise of the special effects shouldn’t be taken to mean I consider them necessary; the celebration around the fires with toasts from Tom, Pope, and Weaver was a fine bit of acting from all concerned, especially as they share glances about how much they’ve been through.)
The victory turns out to be short-lived, as for all their celebrations the resistance may well be trading one alien oppression for another. Tom and Weaver meet with Cochise and the Volm commander (whose name I won’t even try to pronounce), and while there are pleasantries and words of friendship that rarely counts for much in new environments on Falling Skies. Last season in “The Price Of Greatness” it seemed as if the Second Mass had walked into salvation with Charleston, only for its seemingly perfect exterior to break down under closer scrutiny. Here, the Volm don’t waste a minute before getting down to business, stating that from this moment forward they are in control of the war with the Espheni and the humans will be relocated to Brazil under Volm protection. Tom and Weaver’s arguments fall on deaf ears, and Tom earns himself a stint in jail for daring to lay hands on the commander.
The question of what the Volm want out of humanity has been asked time and time again over this season, and the answer we get is narratively satisfying. Playing them as another secret alien threat would have been the easy option, and playing them as entirely benevolent would have just been boring. Here, it generates a more genuine tension as the Second Mass has tasted the feeling of victory and doesn’t feel like kowtowing to another alien menace, even if this one is polite enough to ask for their weapons before opening fire. “The Volm have done what the fishheads never could, brought us to our knees,” Pope bitterly taunts Weaver, and the aura of disappointment and tension hangs over each member of the previously victorious cast. (Literally in some cases—Weaver’s back popping pills again, only this time they’re for an increasingly worrisome heart condition he’s been keeping under wraps.)
Of course, the conflict might remain more interesting if it didn’t fall back on bold statements from Tom Mason to clear things up. Tom, back in his role as historian, cites humanity’s stubborn streak, with such statements as “We violently resist or oppress those who would violate our freedoms.” Once again, Falling Skies’ Achilles heel is its compulsive need to restate the same speeches on the virtues of humanity, and even though the Volm commander hasn’t heard more than fragments from Cochise it doesn’t change the fact that we as an audience have heard this time and time again.
The most frustrating part of that speech? It works. After the humans are marched ostensibly to the transport ship, Cochise reveals a change of plan, giving them back their weapons and advising them to get as far from the Boston area as possible. Disappointingly, the show avoids potential season four conflicts by showing Cochise wasn’t acting on his own, and the decision was made in congress with the Volm commander. And when the Volm commander speaks of the oath he and his people have taken to defend these humans, it further dismisses the possibility of ambiguity and makes the Volm, if not exactly admirable, at least as honorable as they’ve presented themselves to be.
A little more ambiguity over the Volm’s aims would certainly have been appreciated, especially given the first encounter the Second Mass has once they leave the area. Lourdes, now being carried in chains by the Second Mass and reduced to an almost Gollum-like state by the multitude of Espheni worms in her head, still serves as Karen’s radio transmitter and allows her to bring a ship in for negotiations. Appearing under a white flag—a nice parallel to their standoff in “Molon Labe”—Karen warns this is only the first of many unpleasant surprises they will learn about the Volm and opens the possibility of alliance between them. Tom, however, is in no mood for any of this, and once again, the “Tom Mason stops talking and shoots things” card is played to excellent and suprising effect, as he follows the example of Dream Tom from “Strange Brew” and blows a hole in Karen’s chest. (Followed shortly by two rounds from Maggie, cutting off any attempt at a heartfelt goodbye with Hal. Given her rejection of his earlier hopes for a simple life, I predict increased tension in season four.)
Karen’s departure from the show heralds a return though, as she brought a peace offering in the form of Anne and Alexis. I didn’t believe for a second those characters were actually dead—if only because that would have been a manifestly disrespectful way to write Moon Bloodgood off the show—and was relieved to see their mystery wouldn’t be dragged out until the next season. More intriguing is the fact that evidently Alexis has aged six years in three months, a move that takes Tom deeply aback and which Dr. Kadar can’t begin to explain. The “scary little girl” is a horror trope that’s paid dividends many times over the years, and given Falling Skies’ penchant for the unsettling the show could do something similar here—certainly do more than it was capable of doing with an infant. It’s off to a good start in the final scene, as Lexie calls the bugs out of Lourdes’s eyes (in one last horrifying visual that looks like she’s weeping leeches) and grinds them into dust with a placid smile.
By the end of the episode, Alexis is the only thing outside of the status quo. Once again we’re back to a mobile approach, on the road with the Second Mass on missions to form a resistance and find like minds. We even get one of the show’s expert tracking shots, showing us all the beats of this ragtag family life: Pope grumbling over an engine, Weaver barking out orders, Hal and Maggie navigating their friction, and Tom concernedly looking towards the future. It took a whole season for us to get here—the show was heading to this exact development prior to the Volm landing in the season two finale—and it’s possible that our extended detour has finally brought us back to the run-and-gun approach that serves the show best. Here’s to hoping for a leaner, more kinetic season four.
Season grade: B-
- Things I wish we’d seen more of in the grand alien attack: Pope wielding the equivalent of the BFG9000 against the Espheni hordes. I still haven’t forgiven the show for denying me the minigun-wielding Pope they toyed with in season two.
- I can’t decide which comment is more meta: Weaver saying “This is getting old” re: constant reunions with Tom, or Tom saying “I’ve given enough speeches.”
- Cochise is revealed to be the son of the Volm commander, most likely because the show was one spot away from Cliché Bingo.
- Glad to see Dr. Kadar survived the final attack and seems relatively at home amongst the Second Mass—even if he’s worried about all of the mosquitos and deer ticks in the woods. Robert Sean Leonard was a good addition to the cast this year, and I hope he sticks around for the fourth season.
- On the survival note, RIP Karen. While in my opinion they never gave Jessy Schram enough to do as a central antagonist (nor did they ever justify why the overlords made her the central antagonist) she played the villain role well and added some color to the faceless Espheni horde.
- Speculation time: Jeannie seemed to be giving a lot of significant looks at Lourdes at various opportune moments. Between that and her request to her father to kill her if the Espheni ever got their hands on her in “Search And Recovery,” I think the clock is ticking for her to be revealed as an alien plant or to become one in the future.
- “Compared to the quiet desolation of the suburbs, I’d say an alien apocalypse is peace on Earth.” I grew up in the suburbs, and I agree with Pope’s statement wholeheartedly.
- And with that, another Falling Skies season draws to a close. This is in all likelihood the last time I’ll write about the show—enjoyable finale aside, the show doesn’t look like it’s in a position to try something drastically different next year, and it serves no one’s best interests for me to keep rehashing the same arguments. It’s been a frustrating season on a lot of counts, but it was a pleasure to discuss it with all of you and air our grievances.