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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