Falling Skies: The Mall of New America

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Falling Skies S02E09: "The Price of Greatness"

If the real goal for Falling Skies' second season was to get the 2nd Mass to its ultimate destination of Charleston, then congratulations, 2nd Mass! You made it! If the real goal for the writers of Falling Skies' second season was for the 2nd Mass's arrival at Charleston to be the big event of Season 2, then... whatever the opposite of "Congratulations!" is. "The Price of Greatness" was a big misstep for the series, introducing philosophy about rebuilding human civilization and history lessons when the show wasn't ready for it. What this episode needed to do instead—and this is quite a simple concept for this simple show—was set up some form of conflict with the enemies that we've been fighting all season. And those enemies are (everyone say it with me now) the aliens. Or whatever it is inside of us that compels to keep watching this show. Just so we're clear: I didn't fancy this episode.

The promise of Charleston as a refuge from all the hellishness that is an alien invasion could have gone many ways. The 2nd Mass could have arrived to find smoldering rubble and charred bodies, crushing all hope in a fist-shaking, Twilight Zone kind of way and re-emphasizing survival. Or they could have arrived and teamed up with the Charlestonians to form a united front that rained napalm and boiling oil and spoiled milk down on the alien bastards for a temporary victory before the start of Season 3. Or they could have showed up and discovered a half-formed society struggling due to lack of resources that represented just how far humanity has decayed since the skinny aliens arrived, which could have been a perfectly hackneyed and acceptable metaphor for overpopulation and putting Styrofoam in the right recycling container (good sci-fi always reflects reality).

Instead, Charleston was just full of dicks, which was probably the worst direction this story could have gone in. When the 2nd Mass arrived, everything was all sunshine and puppy dogs, complete with a fancy buffet and a slow clap celebrating the new arrivals. But it took fewer than eight minutes in television time for things to sour in Charleston, and once they turned, they turned HARD. So hard, in fact, that we were pummeled with scene after scene of some variation of a 2nd Masser whining, "I don't like this place!" and yesterday's jubilant citizens of Charleston shaking in their boots, fearful of their new masters and slopping what looked like white beans and ketchup onto the plates of the miserable and hungry. The celebratory underground Mall of America became a Nazi-run homeless shelter overnight, and the transformation had all the subtlety of the Kool-Aid Man. This is poor storytelling after a lot of buildup, and a big letdown. Welcome to New Dicksburg!

Dick number one: Arthur Manchester, a waste of a role for the talented Terry O'Quinn. Tom Mason's old college prof is a megalomaniac who's holding on to power thanks to a subservient military unit full of lesser dicks. He doesn't want to fight the aliens because he'd rather rewrite the history books and become a founding father. It's not that I agree or disagree with his ideals (in fact, I was shocked so many others were as bloodthirsty as they were when they could have enjoyed showers and clean sheets for a few days first), it's that his character—a character all of us Lost fans have been waiting for—came off as such a toothless villain, and his grip on power was so tenuous that by the end of the episode he was already overthrown. He was like a bad contestant on Bachelor Pad, assuming he held the cards when he didn't. This man couldn't handle a second-grade class, let alone the 2nd Mass, and nothing about him was satisfactorily established.

Dick number two: that jerk military man who had nothing better to do than be a jerk. Dick number three: some random bully kid in Matt's school. Dick number four: Dr. Dick, the heart surgeon who told Anne to take care of the children (Okay, I actually liked that guy). What happened to the overwhelming warm welcome from the day before? Quit confusing us, Falling Skies writers!

So how did the 2nd Mass react to the pinching of their freedom? Well, Pope and his men went directly to the armory and not-too-slyly plotted to steal some big guns which at one point were completely unguarded despite a heavy military presence EVERYWHERE. Tector (or Aloysius Murphy, as we learnd) saw fatigues and immediately fell in military line, turning his back on the 2nd Mass because someone saluted him. He even SHOT one of his former Berserker friends (and then insanely changed sides again later), and yes, he claimed it was because one of the others was going to kill the guy, but that's B.S. Colonel Porter, happy as a clam in Charleston, flip-flopped all over the place with his allegiance, telling Weaver that rules are rules but also saying, "Unless you want to break them, then I'm totally with you." Hal threw one of Manchester's military men down a staircase for a skull-crushing landing after Manchester didn't want him to meet with the alien resistance. And Maggie—sweet, hot Maggie—was only concerned that Hal showed some emotion over last week's confession that she had a kid pre-apocalypse, you know, back when stuff like that mattered. If you looked at all this stuff from Manchester's perspective, the 2nd Mass behaved like a group of lunatics.

Manchester's next move was to round up the entire 2nd Mass because he thought they were all potential threats, but General Max Headroom, head of the military, threw Manchester in jail instead and declared martial law... which was essentially what Charleston was under before, but with a different name. Presumably this is good for Tom and company since they're ready to kick some alien ass and Max Headroom is too, but they're not happy about it at all. The end.

Penultimate episodes are supposed to build tension for a rocking finale and even provide some thrills on their own, but "The Price of Greatness" ran around in a circle and ended up pretty much where it began: with the 2nd Mass semi-prisoners of a power-hungry asshole in an underground shopping center. The only difference is that this asshole will allow them to meet with the alien resistance, and if that's all we accomplished in an hour—the second-to-last hour of the season, may I add—then we done wasted our time.

The only thing that can save this story (and make some sense of it) is if Charleston is actually some alien stronghold manned by human turncoats who've been promised their lives by alien overlords in exchange for suckering other humans into thinking they're safe. Hey, if there can be an alien resistance, why can't there be humans who have sided with the aliens? Perhaps Charleston is like some giant Roach Motel that attracts humans and them spits them out right into an alien onslaught that's disguised as a meet-up with the alien resistance. What a twist! See? I can write this show, too!

I seem to remember Falling Skies being about aliens. Can anyone confirm?



NOTES

– Why did Weaver's daughter—if she knew the 2nd Mass was coming—wait until her dad was in line waiting for chow to come up and see him? Shouldn't she have been one of the first people waiting to greet the 2nd Mass? Why didn't she do one of those running-into-his-arms hug things?

– Dr. Anne always gives us a gem each episode, and this time it was: "Hold on, I'm the combat medic from the 2nd Mass who is going to have you walking bow-legged unless you talk me through each patient's chart!"

– I like the way Pope eats!

– Prisoner security in Charleston is TOUGH. Hal: "Hey, can I get a moment with Maggie?" Security guard: "Sure okay, whatever."

– First thing I would say when entering the Charleston underground safe haven: "You have all this electricity and you don't even turn on the escalators!? WHERE ARE YOUR PRIORITIES!?!?"


Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom