Every day, Judge Jason Panella aspires to have a beard like Noah Wyle.
Battle them or become them.
"Dan, in case you haven't noticed, crazy is where I live now."—Tom Mason
Facts of the Case
After running for nearly two years from the aliens who wiped out the human race, the survivors in the Second Massachusetts resistance group manage to strike a decisive blow against their oppressors. Of course, as they prepare to keep the momentum rolling on their offensive, the unexpected happened: a force of new aliens land in Charleston, their intentions unknown.
The third season of Falling Skies picks up seven months after the second season's cap. History professor-turned-freedom fighter Tom Mason (Noah Wyle, E.R.) has been elected president of the New United States, and he's expecting a child any day with Dr. Anne Glass (Moon Bloodgood, Terminator Salvation). Second Mass commander Dan Weaver (Will Patton, Remember the Titans) has been promoted to colonel. Perpetual wild card John Pope (Colin Cunningham, Stargate SG-1) runs his own shantytown. And with the help of the Charleston survivor, the Second Mass have formed a functioning society. Will the new aliens—led by Cochise (Doug Jones, Pan's Labyrinth)—help the humans flourish, or will they lead to their demise? And will the presence of an enemy mole in Charleston ruin the Second Mass once and for all?
I was pretty skeptical of TNT's Falling Skies early on, but it quickly won me over. Despite the caliber of talent involved (biggest name: Steven Spielberg as executive producer), I was scared this was going to be yet another post-apocalyptic setting-plus-pathos deal. It kind of is, in a way, but it adds up to something with the best of both worlds: quality entertainment with just enough meat on the bone to keep it from being mindless. With the third season, the sci-fi drama adds some new wrinkles that pay off.
Changing a show's dynamic can be problematic, especially when the change gets characters to settle down (even temporarily)—see the divisive third season of Battlestar Galactica for an example. The characters in Falling Skies spent two seasons on the move, and the decision to anchor them to Charleston gives the creative team some new material to play with. The Second Mass gets to slow down and take stock of what's happened over the past two years. I think most of the drama this season was well-done; characters were given room to breath and figure out the challenges that come with building a new society, and the Mason kids in particular have become more compelling as they age. A few plotlines edged dangerously close to overwrought melodrama (oh, the baby subplot is rough), but showrunner Remi Aubuchon (24) thankfully steers clear of anything causing lasting damage.
That doesn't mean the characters are inert—a new base of operations lets them strike back against the Espheni. There are a lot of gripping action sequences this season of Falling Skies, ranging from tense cat-and-mouse moments to large-scale battles. There's a real sense of danger in many of these scenes, something that gets ramped up as the season moves along. The cast does a nice job, too: Wyle is a charismatic lead, and now that his kids are older they're developing in interesting ways. Cunningham also gets a lot of room to flex his acting muscles, and some new faces pop up this season, all good additions. Doug Jones is, as usual, fantastic as the enigmatic Cochise, and Wyle's fellow E.R. alumni Gloria Reuben is a stand-out as Tom's presidential aide.
Some of Falling Skies usual problems are here. It's painfully clear when Tom Mason's endless speechifying grows old fast, and the Mason family collectively has a great way of causing more problems for the Second Mass than any alien threat. And no episode escapes untarnished by some silly cliche or lame chunk of dialogue. But overall, it's a solid season of an above average show, and the slight changing of status quo definitely helped out. If Falling Skies keeps pumping out seasons like this, I'd be more than content.
Falling Skies: The Complete Third Season (Blu-ray) features all ten episodes on two discs. If you were hoping for a dramatic improvement in the audio and visual department from the previous seasons' releases, well…sorry. The 1.78:1/1080p widescreen transfer often looks quite sharp: features are nicely defined in close-ups, and the transfer makes the most of the show's limited color palette. The picture is often murky, though, and artifacts really become clear in the show's frequent nighttime scenes. Instead of nuanced blacks in these scenes, you often get a mess of dark-grays or ill-defined black. It's disappointing, certainly, but doesn't detract from the show at all. The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround track works well enough—the channel spread is good, though gunfire feels like it's buried in the mix…and the music is anything but.
Bonus features are pretty good: six behind-the-scenes shorts (7:43); nine installments of the Falling Skies interview segment "2nd Watch," hosted by Wil Wheaton (about 126 minutes total); and featurettes"Warrior Poet: Creating the Character and Emotion of Cochise" (19:36) and "Karen: The Overlord Next Door" (21:23).
While both the show and the Blu-ray release have their problems, Falling Skies: The Complete Third Season is a lot of fun. Long live the Second Mass.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
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