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Falling Skies S04E01: "Ghost in the Machine" 


I'll admit that I didn't have very high hopes for Falling Skies' Season 4 premiere. Season 3 was plagued with uneven pacing and random WTF-ery, plus there was Tom and Annie's magical alien baby—and mysterious, "special" weirdo children just aren't my thing. 

And then Lexie grew up. 

And Lexie the reluctant (maybe) cult leader is kind of awesome. 

After three seasons of wandering around a post-apocalyptic USA and finally settling (but not really) in a shopping mall beneath Charleston, Falling Skies kicked off Season 4 with a premiere that managed to find a sweet spot between returning to its roots and blowing everything up. At the end of Season 3, the deus ex aliens—Cochise and the 2nd Mass's other Volm allies—ditched Earth to go save their incubator ships in another system (or something), leaving the humans wide open for some Espheni hurtin'. 

And now, four months later, Tom's in solitary with Weaver (sloppy, Espheni, sloppy), Annie is a BAMF in search of her lost alien baby, Matt is the cool subversive kid at Espheni Hitler Youth Camp, and Lexie has herself a fanatical following of bizarro hippie-types with creepy and probably evil Lourdes acting as some sort of ringleader for the whole thing. Hal and Ben are around. It's okay, they've gotten cool stories of their own before. It's time to give someone else a turn. 


Some of this is very "been there, done that." After giving the dwindling human population hope with the Volm, their groovy alien weapons, and a permanent home of sorts, Falling Skies' move to decimate all that progress and once again leave the humans on the edge of defeat—scurrying around in the shadows and barely getting by—feels like a throwback to the series' first couple seasons. At the same time, though, it feels good and natural. 

I would never accuse Falling Skies of being sleek or shiny, but the relative comforts of Charleston certainly detracted from the grittiness of the show's early episodes, and it was that grittiness—the fact that the 2nd Mass's survivors were dirty, unshaven, and clearly desperate—that made this particular version of the end of the world appealing. It also helped that for a basic cable genre show, Falling Skies' special effects had generally been rather good up until they were simply overdone. A mech here, a skitter there: great. Once we started boarding Espheni ships and hanging out in Evil Karen's squishy orange lair, the stark reality of an Earth that'd been ruined by an alien invasion gave way to typical CGI blandness. Returning to the gray, dreary sets is a welcome shift in tone right now. 

The reduced interference of the technologically superior Volm also signals a return to Falling Skies' original set-up, as it began as a story about underdogs and resistance in the face of certain defeat. Victories earned by humans alone always tasted sweeter than those with a heavy Volm assist. 


"Ghost in the Machine" also saw the return of the Espheni fascination with brainwashing children and using them to take over the world. With the harness system backfiring, the Espheni have opted for a different approach: good old fashioned re-education camps. Someone's been watching the History Channel! The lone Mason child to remain mostly untouched by the Espheni's influence, Matt, has so far remained impervious to the brainwashing and spearheaded a resistance effort. Papa would be so proud. I'm a little surprised the Espheni have given him so much freedom, though. I mean, they have to know whose kid they have and that their Mason-brainwashing track record is pretty crummy. 

So we have gritty ghettos and baby-crazy Espheni—which is all rather old hat (VINTAGE. LET'S GO WITH "VINTAGE"), Falling Skies—but then there's Lexie's Chinatown commune with its startling color and unsettling peacefulness. I couldn't stand the Lexie story when she was an infant, but now we're dealing grown-up Lexie, who nonetheless remains childlike despite her appearance, yet has evolved into a real character instead of remaining a flesh-and-bone plot point.


Yes, there is still some element of people acting for Lexie and because of Lexie, but she's no longer restrained to simply being a thing people revolve around, and I don't think the series has made it clear whose side she's on just yet... or if she's even aware that there's a conflict. Despite her questionable origins and spotty history, Lexie still manages to come off as sincerely well-intentioned, particularly when contrasted with Obviously Evil Lourdes. LOL Lourdes. I also can't believe Dr. Kadar has lived this long. Anyone else with me? 

For a series that left me with some awkward feelings at the end of last season, Falling Skies retuned with a solid premiere that offered some old-school comforts and some brave new craziness. I haven't been genuinely excited about Falling Skies in about two seasons, but "Ghost in the Machine" roped me back in... and I'm so delighted to be back in.


NOTES

– How does Tom manage to stay so relatively groomed in prison?

– Hal to Maggie: "You've been weird with me since Karen." Um, you think?

– I kind of miss Matt's ridiculous Mad Max faux-hawk, but only kind of.

– Is Lexie evil?

– Speaking of Lexie, she's blonde now. Okay.


What did you think of the premiere? Where do you think Falling Skies is headed in Season 4?


Previously Aired Episode

AIRED ON 8/31/2014

Season 4 : Episode 12

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