Falling Skies: The Price of Greatness

Posted on August 13, 2012

Fine. We were wrong. We admit it. We thought Charleston was going to be a trap set for the Second Mass by the aliens. Instead it was something we really should have seen coming; a story that practically every post-apocalyptic tale of any worth needs to tell: other humans are the worst enemies of all.

It’s hard to do a story like this one without lapsing into cliche. Certainly, there was a “checking items off a list” feel to the proceedings, from the disarming of the Second Mass, to their rocky integration into the group, to the moment when it looked like they were all going to be herded off to jail cells, it’s all somewhat expected, once you know where the story’s going. But like we said, this is an aspect of poct-apocalyptia that always needs to be addressed at some point and perhaps the familiar tropes can’t be avoided. In a subversive twist that says more about modern politics than the show is probably prepared to explore, our would-be dictator (a very welcome Terry O’Quinn, late of Lost) is a history professor who has modeled his new society entirely on the classic American democracy as envisioned by Thomas Jefferson and embodied by George Washington. In most post-apoc stories, the learned are the good guys and the strong implication is usually that with ignorance comes fear, which in turn spurs on violence. In other words, the standard lesson is that knowledge begets civilization; ignorance begets anarchy.

In this version of the tale, it’s knowledge that comes in for some criticism; more specifically, how knowledge can be twisted in order to achieve an end and, more nuanced, how knowledge can beget fear just as well as ignorance can. “President” Manchester, with his suits and his well-appointed office, stacked high with books (hoarding of knowledge), is paralyzed by his fear of the enemy and argues instead for all energies to be poured into forming a new society; one at which he sits as the head and the unquestioned leader. It’s classic egotism wrapped up in good intentions and a PhD, and thus, makes for a nicely unexpected take on this kind of story.

Even better, the Second Mass was not presented as the righteous heroes in this scenario. Instead, we saw them from the perspective of the Charlestonians: dirty, violent, and tainted by alien contact, making them untrustworthy. Knowing that Tom was abducted and then let go doesn’t quite absolve Manchester of his actions, but putting yourself in his shoes, it does explain why he would find Tom a questionable ally. Of course, he didn’t find him questionable at all when he thought Tom was going to back his side. It was only when Tom started challenging his authority that he suddenly became an enemy of the state. Again: classic egotism fucking up good intentions.

And finally, the story went off in a slightly unexpected direction, but one that makes perfect sense in terms of real-world politics; namely, that burgeoning dictatorships are highly unstable forms of government and far more likely to spur a coup than more established forms of government. And in a final nice twist, it’s not Tom who’s in charge of the coup – or anyone else in the Second Mass. They found themselves smack in the middle of a simmering argument and wound up setting it off. Personally, we kind of miss seeing the alien action, but this is a story that needs to be told in this world and we appreciate that it’s being told fairly well.

Also: Anne got to be all bad-ass with a snotty heart surgeon. That was nice.

Very much looking forward to next week’s finale. We want things to get all explodey before the end.

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  • http://twitter.com/Kathy_Marlow Kathy Marlow

    From the previews, it looks like the aliens are bombing Charleston..I’m hoping it is something else, but I cannot wait!!!

  • donnaINseattle

    Damn. I’m three episodes behind and have been avoiding reading your posts and I slipped up. But now I am more intrigued than I was before, so I withdraw that hastily typed damn.

  • GorgeousThings

    Can’t wait for next week!!!

  • MidArmJewel

    I really like what the writers are doing with this show. It seems to go in unexpected directions more often than not.

    Thank you so much for your take on this show.  I had written it off at the end of last season but started watching again after reading your commentary.

    • MilaXX

      I did too and I’m glad I gave it a second chance/

  • mjude

    i am usually behind in watching to comment. but not this time :)   i thought last night was really good & looking forward to next week but i wish we could just have a few more shows, right when its starting to pick up, never fails.  i loved anne getting up in snotty heart surgeons face.  i cheered just seeing our beloved “john locke”

  • Jangle57

    While Charleston may not have been an alien trap (damn, so much for my ability to predict a storyline) it was still a trap of sorts, but one that was human-made.  I thought it interesting that Pope refused to rat out Tom even though it would have give him a pass; of course on the other hand, it made you realize just how much Pope apparently dislikes Tom that he wants to bring him down himself.  Or does he?  There I go, wondering if Pope really hates Tom THAT much or was it just an act?  Given my past ‘success’ rate at precognition, I guess he really does hate him that much…..

    • MilaXX

      I think it just shows us hie ability to spot a douche powers. I think Pope quickly sussed out that Manchester is up to no good. On the other hand Tom may be naive at time, but he certainly has everyone’s best interest at heart.

    • Wakey1

      I think Pope hates Tom, but with a respectful hatred. He’s going to side with anyone who’s faced skitters with him against some comfortable bureaucrat living underground. This is a war movie; think of how someone would feel if asked to rat out a comrade he’d been on the front lines with, no matter how much he might dislike the guy otherwise.

    • MidArmJewel

      I loved Pope’s Twilight Zone reference!

  • DinahR

    Good recap.  I agree with all.  Adding that I think they are giving Pope a much needed character adjustment and I hope it continues.   Pope could be a wonderfully enigmatic, unpredictable loose canon that the 2nd Mass isn’t sure they can depend on or not.  I’d like to see him grow from a self-absorbed jerk to a dependable member of the group.  I didn’t like the direction Pope seemed to be heading down, where he was actually trying to screw over the 2nd Mass.  It seems like he’s coming around, so I hope that continues.  

    My biggest annoyance is Maggie.  She was awesome before this random problem of her prison baby came to light.  Then she was upset with Hal for his reaction, followed by being upset that he *wasn’t* upset about it.  It seemed really out of character for her.   I hope that little backstory goes back into mothballs.      

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

    Does anyone know where I can get watch previous episodes of this?  I keep wanting to watch, but while I’m up on the major plots from reading here, my husband is not:(

    • mjude

      i would check the website for falling skies, i am quite sure you can find past episodes?

    • MilaXX

      Yidio, netflix and I think hulu

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

         Thanks!  I’ll check Netflix the next time my XBox connection decides to work — it’s got the R2D2 color scheme and a C3PO temperment.

  • MilaXX

    Good ep. I don’t mind revisiting tried and true plot devices if they work and this one worked. Also? Max Headroom on my tv!
    One other thing, I don’t buy Weaver’s daughter’s story for a minute. I was kind of side eying her and expecting her to be the alien plant.

    • mjude

      oooh interesting theory about weaver’s daughter.  so glad you mentioned max headroom!  LOL

    • Pennymac

      I thought Max Headroom Army guy!! Glad I wasn’t the only one!

    • annieanne

      Max Headroom AND Taggert from Eureka. Guy gets around.

  • http://twitter.com/karenwalsh Karen Walsh

    I really enjoyed this ep.  Terry O’Quinn was awesome (as always), and I did like that though it is a standard story, it had great twists.  Looking forward to next week!

  • http://twitter.com/MandySCG MandyJane

    This episode was seriously WTF? for me. None of it made sense, it was poorly written, and none of the characters behaved in a realistic manner. There’s no way Manchester could have so much power already. The alien invasion is still happening! What’s left of the military isn’t going to be hiding out with a professor who has delusions of grandeur.  Total waste of Terry O’Quinn. I was so looking forward to him being on the show. 

  • michelle shields

    I’m going to be a whole bunch of sad when this ends.

  • CatherineRhodes

    One thing I like about this show is that the hero, Tom Mason, is a real hero rather than an anti-hero, as in all my other favorite shows — Don Draper, Mr. White on Breaking Bad, Alicia Florick on The Good Wife, etc etc. While it’s admirable that such multi-layered anti-hero characters have been written for the small screen, every once in awhile it’s fun to root for somebody who is good through and through, without irony, without ambiguity. 

  • annieanne

    Just once, I’d like to experience the alien invasion story where humans don’t turn out to be their own worst enemies. I was pretty disappointed the writers had to go there. I think it would have made for a much better story to have 2nd Mass think they’d found the true beginnings of a new civilization, and an organized resistance, and then have it taken away by the skitters again.
    IMHO, the writers did a terrible job portraying Manchester. If he’s as paranoid about the aliens as all his actions would seem to indicate, he never would have let the 2nd Mass know about underground Charleston. He had no way of knowing if the aliens were tracking them and would be led right into his little kingdom.
    And they wrote Weaver into a complete u-turn as well. There’s been nothing in his actions to date to indicate he would have let Manchester disarm the 2nd Mass. At least not right away. Assuming he’s as smart as you guys and knows that alien invasions always result in humans vs humans, he would have waited to see if Manchester’s New United States was really the shining city under the hill before he gave up his armory.

  • Jennifer Coleman

    Any society with John Locke & Max Headroom in charge is bound to be a hot mess. 
    I really enjoyed last night’s show. It seemed to show that Charleston is a carnival mirror of the 2nd Mass – it sets up people in charge whose principles never changed in the face of the invasion and kept up the political gamesmanship. The 2nd Mass has blended the academic with the military in ways to survive and grow and be faithful to their ideals.

  • Alyson Epstein

    Last week I said they should change the name of this show to Falling Expectations.  This week I am glad I was wrong.  But really, why does this show have the best episode ever just before the season finale?  and really? season finale?  didn’t this show just begin?

  • http://twitter.com/mgarbowski Mark Garbowski

    Pope explained very clearly why we wouldn’t help Manchester destroy Mason, when he told Manchester: “Tom Mason is a pompous semi-erudite history buff with delusions of grandeur.” Of course, that describes Manchester even more than it does Mason, and Manchester knew it. 
    Other than that, I’m holding off judgment on this episode depending on where it goes. Lots of it didn’t make sense. Why didn’t the pilot Churchill tell Mason that the Charleston government was headed by his buddy? Yeah I know word might not have yet reached Charleston at that time, but they made it clear in this episode that the 2nd Mass and Tom Mason specifically were notorious so it’s more likely Manchester sent her to find Mason, and then why be coy?
    Also, this is supposed to be the reconstituted US national government? There’s no sign that they are in contact with anybody outside of Charleston. This was a strictly local affair. Maybe they’ve taken in refugees from around the country, but that’s not a national government. Even under these circumstances, a national government would mean there was some communication and authority running from Charleston to other regions. We saw no evidence of that. Sure, it could become the government: maybe when a few such areas got together they could agree that Charleston was best suited for the seat of authority, but nothing like that happened here. 
    I have other nits, but on the plus side I liked that the bad petty tyrant was the educated civilian, not the military or some other standard villain. Not because I think academics are especially evil or prone to tyranny, but the military or para-military post-apocalypse dystopia has been done to death and it was good to see another angle. Of course now we have martial law. I suspect/fear we’re going to see that done, with General Headroom sowing chaos in the season finale, until Mason and Captain Weaver step in in Episode 1 of Season 3, and show how civilians and military can work together in harmony and so on. I hope to be mildly surprised if it takes a less obvious turn.