We all tune into finales for fireworks, and the best series light their fuses at least a couple episodes in advance, creating an air of tension that fills the audience with nervous anticipation in the weeks leading up to the final hour. This did not happen during Falling Skies' second season. In fact, the show didn't even go to the fireworks store until the after the opening credits tonight, and by that point the only thing left on the shelf were those little black tablets that turn into ash snakes. Thanks to a pair of dull episodes with no forward thinking leading up to the "A More Perfect Union," tension had to be artificially created and the result was sloppier than a 'sploding Skitter head.
As you may recall, I called last week's penultimate episode a big misstep for the series as it headed into the finale because there was such a lack of focus, and that's even more apparent now we know that everything that happened in "The Price of Greatness" was inconsequential. We ended the last episode with Tom and the 2nd Mass caught in the middle of a military coup as General Max Headroom (real name Bressler) assumed power of the Charleston Mall, and this swap of megalomaniacs proved to be completely pointless. I'm still trying to understand why the power struggle needed to happen or why Arthur Manchester (Terry O'Quinn, who's no doubt pretty pissed off at his agent) ever needed to exist if he was just going to get thrown in Mall Prison and released on house arrest to lend Tom an ear and give the same advice anyone else could have given.
Meanwhile, Bressler ascended to the role of spineless villain, rolling over multiple times when Weaver disobeyed his oh-so strict orders. Bressler: "You can't go meet with the alien resistance!" Weaver: "Sorry, bro. We're going to do it." Bressler: "Hmmph. Fine, but just this time." Later... Bressler: "Hey you can't go on that mission to blow up the Super Laser Space Cannon!" Weaver: "Sorry, bro. We're going to do it." Bressler: "Okay fine. But make sure you take plenty of our guns first." Tough guy! Now that's what I call martial law. Charleston was the show's Mecca, and it ended up being the biggest dud of the summer.
And about that Super Laser Space Cannon: It became the main goal/target/plot of the finale (and therefore the season, one can argue) and we just found out about it now? This really goes back to what I said at the beginning of this review: One surefire way to sabotage a season finale is to create the big battle and expose the enemy's master plan IN THE FINALE instead of using previous episodes to set it up. As viewers, we should be saying, "OMG OMG OMG IT'S FINALLY HAPPENING!" instead of what we were saying during "A More Perfect Union," which was, "Oh, this is what we're doing now?" I've said this before, but it bears repeating: That's just poor storytelling. (← potential new catchphrase!)
So all our favorite 2nd Massers followed Ben to the Super Laser Space Cannon to blow it up, even though they didn't know what it does. All they had was the intel that the same overlord they previously held captive would be there, and this time they weren't letting him go. But after they planted a bunch of C4, they were ambushed by, oh I don't know, five Skitters and a blonde teenage girl? And they were instantly and completely overwhelmed by a squad that couldn't fulfill the minimum requirements for a game of full-court basketball. It seems like poor tactical strategy to engage in a mission that infiltrates the enemy's stronghold if you can't even take on half-a-dozen grunts, but what do I know, I'm no military strategist!
Cut to some of our heroes caught up in the Super Laser Space Cannon's electrical-wiring tentacles (???) while Anthony, Tector, and others were sitting up against a wall (???) while Karen delivered one heck of a smug speech. That was interrupted by a sneak attack from some of the alien resistance because the writers needed something to move the story along. And then it was ON. I may not have been a fan of the episode, but I sure was a fan of seeing Red-Eye bitch slap the Overlord (even though the scene looked like it was rendered by a PlayStation 2) and Tom Mason bludgeoning in the head of the Overlord with the blunt end of the Super-Tazer. Now we know what the aliens' weakness is: multiple crushing blows to the face! However, I would have paid $50 to have actually SEEN the action instead of an effects-saving close-up of Tom accompanied by the sounds of a mango being squished providing the aural imagery. Meanwhile, Karen got away by skittering up the wall because no one thought to shoot her during the hours and hours that she was vulnerable. Sure, whatever. It wasn't a bad fight, but does anyone remember the fight that opened the second season? That was legitimately badass. This was... not.
But that wasn't the end! Tom and company blew the Super Laser Space Cannon to smithereens almost as an afterthought (great job, guys), and the 2nd Mass returned to the Mall of New America as heroes while Bressler reinstated civil rule. But hey, Falling Skies is coming back for Season 3, so it was time to cram in some things to think about during the off-season. Hal got knocked out in the assault on Super Laser Space Cannon and woke up with a space worm in his eye and an evil grin on his face, which felt totally tacked-on. Maybe the eye worm will bring Tom, Ben, and Hal closer together since they've all been penetrated by aliens now. How long before Matt gets probed so the aliens can say they've had their way with all the Mason males?
And in the final minutes, the ones that TNT had been touting as THE MOST AMAZING MINUTES OF YOUR LIFE, lightning crashed and strange pods dropped out of the sky. Out of one of these pods popped an alien that looked kind of like the comic character Spawn, because when Falling Skies needs to take things to the next level, it does so by introducing a new species of alien instead of writing compelling stories. But by the time he (or she!) stepped out of the pod, so much had happened at a pace that was so jagged and sloppy that I'm not sure too many people cared. And just to keep things completely open, we got no information on the new species at all. Are they friend or foe? Was that Super Laser Space Cannon pointed skyward to keep these guys off Earth? We have about 10 months to ponder that question before Season 3, and the writers have about nine months to come up with an answer. I'm not sure it's enough time.
I actually enjoyed the Season 1 finale of Falling Skies because it felt like the story was finally opening up and a plan was in place. I can't say the same about "A More Perfect Union," which panicked when it realized that it was the last episode of Season 2 and tried to squeeze in everything it could. Did someone in the writers' room forget how to count?
If Falling Skies was a collection of standalone episodes, "A More Perfect Union" might have fared better. But this show is as serialized as anything out there, and the final three pieces—"Death March," "The Price of Greatness," and "A More Perfect Union"—fit together like a foot and a glove and a watermelon. After a promising start, Season 2 totally collapsed.
– Which of these is NOT a quote from Captain Weaver in this episode: a) "The Skitter talks through a human, don't ask me how." b) "... or this stylish, rugged size 11 boot will commence to kicking some ass!" c) We've been living at the razor's edge of death for so long we don't know any different, and besides, you know we're just going to be a thorn in your backside as long as we're here." d) "Yarrr... shiver me timbers!" e) "Let's roll, don't want to be late for our date with that Fish Head!"
– Is it just me or did the new alien have a grandpa face?
– When Hal got knocked out and was back at Charleston, Anne told Maggie," I promise we will keep an eye on him." And right after that they all left the room. That's Obamacare for ya!
– R.I.P. Dai, but way to live up to your name. You will always be the Asian T-Dog (The Walking Dead) to me. A man of few words, and even lesser importance, but somehow still a character in a show.
– R.I.P. Red-Eye. You were a very special Skitter because you were the only one we could really recognize due to your horrible disfigurement. Now that I think about it, how did the 2nd Massers know which Skitters were resistance and which were alien loyalists?
– We finally got a name for the fish heads, but I don't know how it's spelled. Ysfenni? Ifshenny? Eef-shen-nay? Spell check, you're no help!
– How far back did your eyes roll when Anne announced she was pregnant? It's a finale plot twist so classic that it's horrible!
– This show needs to spend less time on people trying to convince other people that they should be allowed to fight in battle. We expect this from Matt, but Weaver's daughter? Really?
– Ummm... how safe is Charleston if dozens of Skitters can simply walk into the middle of the food court without meeting any resistance? Bressler's army is THE WORST. And how hilarious was it that Ben just popped up from behind one of them like a jack-in-thee-box?
– So what happened to the story from early in the season about Tom possibly being bugged by aliens? Falling Skies Season 2 loved to make a big deal out o' nothing.
Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom