Falling Skies: “Prisoner of War”

Posted on June 27, 2011

We find ourselves really admiring the creative restraint on this show. In our first post about the show we noted that the premiere, which was essentially 2 episodes, was establishing a mission-per-episode format and we thought that was a fairly good idea. If you look at each episode of Lost, especially in the first couple of seasons, you’ll note that the creators did roughly the same thing. They weren’t always “missions,” but early episodes usually dealt with one goal per episode and all the themes and motifs in the episode were in service to that goal. It’s something we rarely ever saw in any of the Lost ripoffs, which could explain why all the Lost ripoffs failed.

Not that this show is a Lost ripoff. If anything, it’s closer to Battlestar Galactica in its spare, tense, militaristic style and themes. We’re still not convinced of the show’s long-term quality, but if we’re making favorable comparisons to Lost and Battlestar Galactica three episodes in, that’s a pretty decent sign. The BG-like atmosphere is not particularly surprising, since BG Executive Producer Mark Verheiden was brought in as show-runner from this episode forward. Again, we make no predictions, but that does bode well. If we’re sounding skittish, it’s because we’ve been burned so many times with shows like these.

Anyway, we like that they stuck with the format for the third hour, even though the temptation must be great to break free of it. Restraint is difficult with any writing, but it’s especially difficult when you’re trying to launch a successful TV series. You’re going to want to throw as much information and explosions at the viewer as you can, in the hopes they won’t change the channel because they’re not invested in the show yet. This is the normal approach, but the FS team must be pretty confident they’ve got something here, because they’re doling out developments by the teaspoon and letting the actors have a little room as they settle into their characters. Most of the main cast is good, but Noah Wyle and the fabulously named Moon Bloodgood are doing wonderful work establishing themselves as the moral heart of the story.

Of course, no story is complete without a little tension. Last week we got the Sawyer-esque Pope and this week we got the Gaius Baltar-esque Harris, played by Stephen Weber. Of the two suspiciously familiar characters, we’ll take Harris. Weber’s good at playing sleazy guys and he’s given the character and undercurrent of self-loathing that makes him more interesting than the bound-to-turn-on-everyone Pope character.

Which reminds us, if there’s one criticism we have of the show, it’s that it’s relying on the characters doing really stupid things in order to give us story possibilities. We don’t mind that the blonde girl whose name we can’t be bothered to look up accidentally knocked a brick off a roof during a recon mission. That was clumsy (in every sense of the word), but it struck us as human. Especially since we’re not exactly talking about highly trained special forces here. But giving the murderous and violent Pope access to the food supply? Not to mention to cutlery? We don’t care how disgusting the food is, you don’t hand the chef duties over to the guy who tried to kill all of you a day before. In addition, we got that other guy whose name we haven’t learned yet, suddenly going off-mission and stupidly running towards his son in full view of the aliens. We get it; he’s a father and he lost his composure at the sight of his child, but his actions were so stupid he almost seemed like he wandered in from another show. And what bothered us the most was that Tom (the character), was so saintly about the whole thing, even though it meant he didn’t get to rescue his own son and his other son got captured because of his foolishness. We don’t want Tom to devolve into a Jack Shepard-like mess, but so far, he’s coming off a little too perfectly heroic.

And finally, what could possibly top the stupidity of keeping a captured alien in the same building as all of your civilians and – most incredible of all – leave no one to guard it?  They have no idea what these creatures are capable of (and some form of telepathy seems to be part of the arsenal), so this one was a howler of a plot point. We just don’t buy it.

While these complaints aren’t minor – especially that last one – we’re still feeling pretty optimistic about the show. Except for the plot-induced-stupidity, the rest of the writing is spot on; minimalistic, no-nonsense, with just enough humanity injected every now and then to get your investment in these characters to grow with each episode.

Oh, one more complaint: Tom’s kids. We have this thing about casting actors who don’t look remotely related to one another. His oldest son not only looks completely unlike Noah Wyle or the actors playing his brothers, he also looks way too old to be Noah Wyle’s son. It’s incredibly distracting in every one of their scenes. In addition, the youngest kid is already getting the heavy-handed Spielberg treatment and he’s become nothing but a cuteness and wisdom generator; a magical child. Spielberg gave us a lot of wonderful contributions over the years, but his fondness for angelic children who spout wisdom beyond their years is a particularly tiresome and silly trope.

[Picture credit: Ken Woroner/TNT]

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    • Anonymous

      yea!  so glad you guys are watching–everything is better when you blog about it.  i’m liking the show so far, although it is hard not to compare it to the walking dead.  the typical spielberg sappy music and heroics is kinda hard to take, but noah wylie is cute and will likely take off his shirt at some point, so i will keep watching–especially since you are recapping. i do think they need a hurley or a miles type character for some comic relief.  

    • Anonymous

      I posted in your Pilot recap that I think it also has references to Battlestar Galactica which I don’t mind at all. And I completely agree with the restraint — having slow momentum, building up the anticipation (don’t give the milk away with the cow, right?) equals a much more enjoyable TV show.

      I’d like to see more air time from Maggie as she seems like an interesting character to want to know more.

      I also agree that the youngest son is a little bit annoying at times with his innocence and then wisdom. It always bugs me that Hollywood has these youth actors (under 10) that can spout out advice/comments that are just so unrealistic sometimes.

      Glad you are watching as its another recap I can come and enjoy — your summaries always have more insight and interesting comments than I can find elsewhere.

      THANK YOU!!

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_FNFWER3VPXZGG4B6QCJVIPYEDM AntonijaM

        Totally agree! 

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_FNFWER3VPXZGG4B6QCJVIPYEDM AntonijaM

        Totally agree! 

    • Anonymous

      There’s definitely a lot of BG to the show. Gives me great hope. Hoping the stupid plots points that annoy me don’t overwhelm the storytelling.

    • http://profiles.google.com/shannonlstewart Shannon Stewart

      I get annoyed by casting of family members when the age is clearly wrong, but unless the cast is genetically impossible (2 blond, blue-eyed parents cannot have a brown-eyed, brown-haired biological kid, without some serious genetic mutations that are statistically unlikely) I don’t care if they look alike.  Sure, my siblings and I are creepily similar, but my husband’s family doesn’t even look vaguely related let alone like immediate family.

    • http://twitter.com/MandyAndyCandy Anonymous

      Making Pope the comedian-chef is my biggest problem with the show so far. Some of the character interactions come off a bit cheesy, but the cheesiness is forgivable. 

    • MilaXX

      I can’t deny any of your complaints, but so far I’m really liking this show. Sadly I think the kid they recused is doom. The minute they grabbed him and not Ben they may as well have put a red shirt on him. It was no big surprise when they revealed a telepathic link with the skitter. Also I cant get over how much the skitters remind me of the alien from that SouthAfrican movie where the aliens were addicted to catfood.

    • Anonymous

      Yes, use “magical kid” is annoying.
      And the kid is annoying.

    • http://twitter.com/sockandaphone Gaby

      I wasnt too excited after the first two eps, but now Im definitely watching. Also Im glad you pointed out the “stupid plot” thing – I was wondering why no one made a big deal about that guy ruining their entire mission because of his son. His reaction is understandable, but the way everyone was like “aawww okay lets move on” didnt feel real at all.

      • http://profiles.google.com/shannonlstewart Shannon Stewart

        Full disclosure, I haven’t watched yet — I have no objections to spoilers and frequently read TLo’s recaps before watching an episode of a show I like or a few before committing to a new show.

        However, if the aliens are taking children, maybe everyone was resigned to his ruining the mission because it’s so common?  I mean, he can’t be the first guy to ever fall apart regardless of the consequences when faced with them having HIS child.

    • Anonymous

      The background score is particularly annoying for me, perhaps because it is so Soap Opera-ish.

      I get the feeling that the doc is hiding something. I find it interesting that he got that impressive arm wound but got away. So far the weaponry of the skitters and mechs seems more along the lines of vaporize not 2nd degree burn. I wouldn’t be surprised if he turns out to be a part of the aliens’ catch & release program

      • Mary K Coleman

        that was my first thought when they said he found a way to take the harness off…no way they figured it out that early

    • Anonymous

      I totally agree on leaving the alien prisoner alive and unguarded.  They’ve got pope under guard but not the alien?  Seriously?  

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_FNFWER3VPXZGG4B6QCJVIPYEDM AntonijaM

      This was the first epi I’ve seen (we’ve taped the pilot but have not watched yet) and I enjoyed it.  However–You are so right about the guy and his son…and dragging that till-alive alien right into the compound.  Couldn’t he have left it on the loading dock or something??!
      Also–I can see where the kids cast as Tom’s sons could be his.  He’s 40 y/o, so he could have a son as old as 20-22.  He only LOOKS like he’s still 16 years old! 

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=768540908 Badriya Al-Badi’a

      I think it’s got a lot of potential, and has been on a steadily upward trajectory for the first three hours.  I watched too many years of ER not to be a sucker for Noah Wyle ;-)

      One other plot point–Pope blustered about the undercooked chicken in the dish he was served.  Um, where did they get fresh chicken meat?  Unless I missed the scene where they went out and scavenged all the loose livestock we have here in metro Boston…

      • http://profiles.google.com/shannonlstewart Shannon Stewart

        That would be a bigger problem if it were beef; chicken can be raised virtually anywhere.  They don’t take a lot of room or a lot of resources to feed, and since they produce eggs, they would be an outstanding choice for a survivor community.  Even a small stock of chickens can provide enough protein for a group of survivors on a regular basis, and even when butchered, you can eat the entire animal quickly without worrying about storing several hundred lbs of meat.

        Since this is supposed to be awhile after the invasion, maybe they managed to bring some in?

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michelle-Shields/1200782178 Michelle Shields

      I’m starting to warm up….still on the fence with some of the characters. Overall a good episode.

    • Anonymous

      Agreed on all the nitpicks… and agreed that Noah Wylie wears his years well.  He is in his 40s now, we just all remember him as young & sweet Carter on ER, when he was in his late 20s, and that was… 15+ years ago.  He looks terrific, but would probably look more his age if he wasn’t sporting the beard.  I appreciate all the beards on the guys, though, since shaving supplies (esp water) would be the last thing the survivors would be worried about. 

      I was really pissed when the father went after the son — why is the show sacrificing the only non-white males with speaking roles already?

      Also, in the “I’m sick of Speilberg’s influence already” category:  the music is driving me nuts, between the sad piano and heroic strings, the musical cues are so heavy-handed that they’re removing any suspense whatsoever.  Spielberg never could trust his audience to feel their own feelings, he had to be sure they felt what he wanted them to feel, and this is just a symptom of that.  BSG’s  (and to some extent, Lost’s) music was far superior in that it was much less manipulative.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6P2LSFIDJ73YZLM4XK6HCZI67E Brad Watson

      What’s bugging me is that everyone seems to be moving thru this experience as though they were sporting one of those armadillo backpacks.  It’s so whispered and quiet… annoyingly restrained and composed… even bordering on urbane wit at times.  To me, it’s completely lacking any kind of tension.  (Went from this to a first-viewing of the tension-fest that was the Dexter Season 4 finale, and I’m still in knots!)

    • http://pleasewelcomeyourjudges.com/ Brian @ PWYJudges

      Pope’s scenes are the most grating so far. Even when Sawyer was being manipulative and arrogant, he still had charm (and the looks)… Pope is just annoying.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Catherine-Rhodes/602850414 Catherine Rhodes

      I liked the pilot because what struck me was the character’s intelligence and ingenuity. In this episode they’re making a lot of seriously stupid mistakes. Please guys, don’t let this devolve into farce. Episode 3 is where “The Killing” took a dive, so I’m gun-shy about devoting 13 hours to another loser :–) 

      The thing I find the most annoying (besides that youngest kid) is the overwrought soundtrack. Yank that thing, people, or give us some Trent Reznor! 

      Noah Wyle is 40 years old, so his character is most likely in the ballpark. His son looks 18-20. Sure that’s unlikely, but it could be explained with a line or two of dialogue. Maybe he’s talking to Moon Bloodgood about his wife. “You know she got pregnant when we were in college, but we decided to go for it against the odds…” Whatever.

    • Anonymous

      Hate to tell you this, but Noah Wyle is 40 — old enough to have a 17 year old son. The problem is Drew Roy, who plays oldest son Hal, is actually 25: Typical casting for “teen” characters.

      • http://www.tomandorenzo.com Tom and Lorenzo

        Hate to tell you this, but you’re essentially restating our initial complaint.

        • Anonymous

          Meanies.

          No, I see your point about the younger actor’s age. I read it as a complaint about Wyle, who is plenty old enough to be the father of that kid. But TV never casts teens in teen roles (Buffy much?). I think most people wouldn’t recognize a teen if they saw one on TV.

          The two younger sons look passably alike. I disagree about the older one not looking related. I have six siblings; I’m comfortable with the range of variation possible in a family.

    • aimee_parrott

      Moon Bloodgood does have a fabulous name, doesn’t she?  She was on the short-lived Journeyman, which had promise, and I liked her on that as well.

      Yeah, I didn’t really get them letting the Sawyerclone cook, and I CERTAINLY didn’t get the lack of a guard on the alien.  But overall, I’m enjoying the show quite a lot.  I’ve always liked Noah Wyle, and I think he’s matured as an actor.  They do need a bit more depth for his character, but I think he’s a good enough actor that if the writing holds, he can make us feel that.

    • Anonymous

      I really liked the premiere, but this episode made me think it’s not going to be  as good as I thought it would be, time will tell. The problems being everything you already stated, and it was lame that they had the guy go after his son, he knew what the mission was, it was a weak plot choice, as you know this means this kid’s a goner now and thus the reason they didn’t take Noah Wylie’s son, who yes, was a poor casting choice. I hope it gets better as there is not too much on TV worth watching this summer.

    • Anonymous

      I’m enjoying this one too; it IS hard not to compare it to The Walking Dead (or Lost) but I hope it will stand on its own. I noticed that Greg Beeman is a director. He did a lot with Heroes, and I did love that first season. So hopefully we can look forward to interesting camera angles and effects from him. Thanks for the recap, guys!

    • Mariah J

      I agree with almost everything. I get major BSG vibes from it, especially those mechs.

    • Anonymous

      WHO ARE YOU PEOPLE? A- – - – - – -, INC?

      • Anonymous

        I believe TLo is an LLC, actually.

      • Anonymous

        I believe TLo is an LLC, actually.

    • Anonymous

      Sigh. Here we go..

      First off, it was only a matter of time before Spielberg’s WWII obsession crept in, but kudos for waiting until the 3rd ep to mention Nazis.

      Second, these dudes come all the way to Earth and it turns out they’re the space equivalent as the Mexican guys with the high-sided Toyota pickups that scavenge scrap metal? And their most efficient way of doing this is to enslave kids to pick up teeny pieces of wire and lawn chairs?

      Third we have the FS equivalent of V’s Tyler; Tom’s youngest kid. Don’t know or care what his name is, just want him dead. I now refer to him as “Huggy”.

      And last but not least, why, oh why, are we always in abandoned warehouse buildings? Every sc-fi show seems terminally trapped in warehouse and docks. I understand the logistics of filming, but jeesh.

      I won’t even go on about why are the aliens always naked, how come the harnesses attached over the kids’ shirts, why do they decide to send this one kid back “as a warning” as opposed to just blasting these people to smithereens, since when is the taste or your scavenged food such a priority, how did Steven Weber get so old, why is the soundtrack so overwrought, etc, etc.

      And yet I will keep watching.

      Sigh.

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_67EFV332QYZAG7UOXN5OXJMS4I hilaryvm

        Actually, there was a throwaway line that explained the warehouses.  They mentioned scouting some location, but it had too many windows and doors, or something along those lines.  Warehouse buildings theoretically have fewer windows and doors, so they’re much easier to defend.  Of course, this means that later on when they’re camped in a school, it doesn’t make as much sense…

        • Anonymous

          I am talking about ALL sci-fi (and crime) shows. My point was that it’s easier to film in “abandoned” warehouse and docks, but it gets annoying when EVERY flipping show does it.

          And you are 100% correct; “Let’s hide out in a high school with tonnes of windows on every side”?. Just ridiculous.

    • Anonymous

      Sigh. Here we go..

      First off, it was only a matter of time before Spielberg’s WWII obsession crept in, but kudos for waiting until the 3rd ep to mention Nazis.

      Second, these dudes come all the way to Earth and it turns out they’re the space equivalent as the Mexican guys with the high-sided Toyota pickups that scavenge scrap metal? And their most efficient way of doing this is to enslave kids to pick up teeny pieces of wire and lawn chairs?

      Third we have the FS equivalent of V’s Tyler; Tom’s youngest kid. Don’t know or care what his name is, just want him dead. I now refer to him as “Huggy”.

      And last but not least, why, oh why, are we always in abandoned warehouse buildings? Every sc-fi show seems terminally trapped in warehouse and docks. I understand the logistics of filming, but jeesh.

      I won’t even go on about why are the aliens always naked, how come the harnesses attached over the kids’ shirts, why do they decide to send this one kid back “as a warning” as opposed to just blasting these people to smithereens, since when is the taste or your scavenged food such a priority, how did Steven Weber get so old, why is the soundtrack so overwrought, etc, etc.

      And yet I will keep watching.

      Sigh.

    • Kelly Broderick

      Thank you!!  I commented on the last post about the older son looking WAY too old to be Tom’s son.  I didn’t buy it then and I still don’t.