Falling Skies: Death March

Posted on August 06, 2012

What an oddly tedious little episode. Granted, with a title like “Death March,” we had no reason to expect it would be a romp, and it’s difficult for writers to depict worn-out, shell-shocked people in a manner that’s going to be exciting or entertaining, but still. Something about this episode felt off to us and it’s the first time this season that we ended the hour feeling disappointed.

We respect the creators for going so far in depicting the exhaustion and hopelessness of the 2nd Mass. As post-apoc TV shows go, we think this is one of the better ones at depicting the psychological aspects of life in this world (as opposed to The Walking Dead, where laundry folding seems to cover half the cast’s activities).  There was a lovely brief moment between Anne and Tom that illustrated just how exhausted they both are and just how much they rely on each other to keep them standing and pointed in the right direction. With the sudden talk of what to do with the harnessed children after the war is over (a topic that seems outrageously premature, given the current status quo), we briefly flashed on the idea of all these people surviving the war and realized that Tom and Anne would probably never remain together in peacetime. There’s no way they can sustain that relationship in a world where they don’t need to rely on each other so much; a classic wartime romance.

But we’re getting far ahead of ourselves, just as the characters are when they talk about the post-war world. Right now, they’re all in the thick of it and we have to credit the show for another smart and nuanced depiction: that of refugees on the run. It’s a dreary life and that ride through the night was tense and awful for everyone involved.

Maybe that’s why we were a bit underwhelmed. It felt like the writers needed to give the characters something to do or talk about because 42 minutes of night driving is inherently uninteresting. Fine. But they either rehashed existing points – Lourdes is grief-stricken and acting out, Tom is worried about Ben, Hal and whatsherface are flirting badly – or they injected plot points that came out of left field. Cute bearded guy is actually a highly trained soldier with PTSD, Whatserface has a darker past than Hal ever realized. Both of these plotlines inspired nothing more than “So what?” in us. There are plenty of former soldiers in the Second Mass. There are also plenty of ignored backstories in this new reality. We found Hal’s reaction to whatsherface’s story to be both irritating in the extreme and nonsensical, given everything else going on. Why is he so freaked out that she was in prison or had a child? He’s been riding around with all kind of criminals for months now, effectively ignoring their pasts. It would be like Tom getting jealous of Anne’s dead husband. The whole point to the story so far is that these people have said goodbye to their former lives and live as a unit of freedom fighters now. Hal’s reaction was a total dick move on his part and really doesn’t make sense in the context of the show.

And then there was the introduction of yet another lightly-harnessed kid and what to do with her. Haven’t we established by now that there’s practically nothing they can do for the harnessed and that picking her up and making her part of their entourage is still an incredibly bad idea, given the likelihood of her attempting to leave the group? Hasn’t every harnessed or formerly harnessed character made it perfectly clear that they can’t be trusted and won’t stay with the group? It felt like sloppy writing to us. Outside of sentimentalism, there was no need to pick her up and bring her with them and the show has made it clear over and over again that all the sentimentalism in these people has been slowly beaten out of them.

And then there was that weird last-minute twist. We admit, we felt pretty dejected when they got to Charleston and found out it was a smoking ruin. We were really looking forward to seeing a massive shift in the setting and goals for these characters. But that was one thing about the writing that worked. We felt the disappointment the characters were feeling; maybe not as strongly, but we were right there with them as they realized just how bad things were. Then Weaver gives a pretty good rousing-the-troops speech and we’re ready to see what the Second Mass is going to do now, when suddenly — just kidding! Charleston is real and let’s go see it! The end. Really, really strange pacing there.

We’re all in on seeing what happens next but for the most part, we could have skipped this hour, with its strange fits and starts, as well as the characters (quite uncharacteristically) acting a little stupid with each other. Oh well. The show’s been hitting on all cylinders up till now. We’ll chalk this up to a momentary lapse as the story shifts to a new setting.

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  • GorgeousThings

    Yeah it was pretty slow, but I figure they needed to do some back story housekeeping. We’ll see where this takes us. And hey, Locke is in next week’s episode!

  • MilaXX

    At first I thought this was going to be a *bottle episode. Just the established characters sitting in cars, talking. Then they picked up the little girl, show Ben told all their business to and I suspected that she was a scout sent along to make sure they were indeed still on their way to S. Carolina.  When they got there and saw nothing but burned ruins, I actually breathed a sigh of relief that maybe they weren’t walking into a trap after all. We the other team came out of hiding looking all “hey, how ya’ doing” I was more convinced than ever that they have just walked into a trap.

    *From Wikipedia:
    In episodic television, the term bottle episode
    refers to an episode produced inexpensively and restricted in scope to
    use as few non-regular cast members, effects, and sets as possible. Most
    bottle episodes are shot on sets already built for other episodes,
    frequently the main interior sets for a series, and consist largely of
    dialogue or scenes for which no special preparations are needed.

  • evolutionista

    my first thought about hal’s reaction to maggie(?)’s confession was the same as yours — why wouldn’t he just say “so what?” like any of that crap matters anymore, but then i thought that, despite his importance to the group and his bravado, he is really still supposed to be an eighteen year old kid, right?  as i recall, most eighteen year old boys are pretty selfish and immature. maybe it was a little dose of reality and a way to remind the audience how young he really is.  anyway, it was quite the slow-moving episode, the harnessed kid part was ridiculous, pope is such a stereotype its nauseating, but noah wylie is so very pretty, and i’m looking forward to seeing john locke next week. 

  • Regina Harrison

    I did like getting the back story on cute bearded soldier, because I loved him as Henry on Sanctuary and wanted to know more about him.  I also thought a major–but unspoken–point in showing us the harnessed kid was that it looked like she and her brother were changing into skitters, with her bumpy skin and freakishly long nails*, and his leaping onto the side of a moving vehicle.  If I’m right, maybe that makes Tom and Anne’s conversation about what to do in the future with all the harnessed kids a little more weighty.  Maybe there won’t be any harnessed kids, just more skitters…

    *granted there are probably no skitter salons for regular manicures, but ordinary human nails don’t stay that long on people who are running around in the woods, carrying around construction materials, or whatever else the skitters have kids doing.

    Excited to see a certain actor appearing in the preview for next week…

  • Pennymac

    I was—bored??? with the midnight travelling theme, if that’s an apt description. And really disappointed in Charlestons’ ruins. And completely OVER them trying to save harnessed kids. Hoping that next week doesn’t feel like another waste of my time, cause they are losing me….

  • Boring episode, too much time spent with Pope, Hal, and Maggie. I find it hard to believe Maggie would have confided in Pope, at least not the personal details. They shouldn’t ever have an episode without Ben! 

  • Alyson Epstein

    When they showed the band of weary travelers looking over the broken bridge to Chuck-town, I immediately thought of the scene in Battlestar Galactica when they all finally  landed on Earth.  And then when Weaver gave his little speech, which I found lacking, I thought he was trying to channel Adama.
    Overall my feeling was meh.  They should change the name of the show to Falling Expectations.

  • Like Alyson, I also thought of Battlestar Galactica and Adama during the false ending, and like Mila, I’m not yet certain Charleston isn’t a trap. But I both think and hope it is not, and here’s why. While I am far from an expert in military history, I have learned that one of the most important elements of military success is the ability of each side to produce and transport materiel to their troops, and to conduct repairs when necessary: food, fuel, weapons, ammunition, medicine, etc.
    Right now the humans are limited to scavenging, and therefore their hope of prevailing against the alien force is borderline preposterous. If the show does not demonstrate some growing capacity to produce supplies, they are doomed to little more than futile skirmishing. With the aliens overwhelming superiority in air and weaponry, it would be extremely hard for the humans to organize and start producing the items they need. Doing so using deception and stealth, which is what they have hinted Charleston  provides, is probably the most plausible method.  So I hope they develop the show along these lines, otherwise I see no way forward to a meaningful resistance.
    Similarly, the skitter resistance story line also provides a minimally plausible device for human victory, and I think ties in to both the premature discussion between Tom and Anne regarding how to salvage the harnessed children, and the repeated visits by harnessed children who can never seem to be trusted. If the skitter rebellion develops into something real, and I think it has to from a plot perspective, then it also offers a plausible way to potentially learn how to wean the harnessed children from their harnesses and back into something resembling humanity.

    • I’m concerned the writers are going to go the predictable ’28 Days Later’ route. I.E. – The military is really a new dictatorship and lots of yelling between the menfolk ensues.

    • Jeaniy02

      Fascinating. I hadn’t thought about the points you bring up, namely that humans need to get going with various types of production again if they want to prevail. Personally, I figured that Charleston would be a trap, and frankly I’m not convinced it isn’t. I could very easily see a high ranking human being a traitor and working from the inside to sabotage the resistance both physically and emotionally/mentally to try and get them to give in to the aliens.
      Seeing the little girl and her skitter-ish “brother” is a vivid reminder that if they don’t free the harnessed kids and soon, they’re going to to just have to worry about reincorporating harnessed kids, but that some of those kids aren’t exactly human anymore.and what will that mean to humankind as it goes on? What will their place be? Love this show and the interesting ideas it brings up!

    •  You make excellent points.

  • I agree about the problems with Maggie/Hal and the harnessed girl. I don’t know why they attempted to rescue her or let the youngest boy (Matt?) tell her so much about Charleston.

    And did I misinterpret things, or did they just stare at Charleston from across the river? I would think they would at least send a couple of scouts to check out the city. Why would they expect the humans to be in plain sight, when that would set them up for an air raid by the aliens?

  • SVLynn

    I agree, I want to see what Ben’s up to!