Review – Falling Skies “A Space Oddity/Shoot the Moon”

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I’m officially calling this season of Falling Skies the Season Out of Left Field. From the first moments of the premiere in June – with new alien ghettos being formed with no buildup – right up until tonight’s season finale, the plot seems to just keep lurching from idea to idea without any overall plan or finesse. Every angle comes straight out of left field like they’re making it up as they go along.

This 2-hour season finale was no different, as we sprinted through Lexi’s unsupported redemption plotline, hurdled over a totally new Skitterization plan, and barreled to a forced confrontation with the Scorched Overlord.

So, in honor of the rushed season ending stories, let’s get started, shall we?

Lexi returns to the devastated Chinatown, all doe eyes and apologies for having chosen the wrong side. No one trusts her, but they decide that she’s their best chance of successfully flying the Beamer to the moon and destroying the energy factory. Tom agrees to take her with him, and they head out.

While en route, the Beamer malfunctions and Lexi uses a cocoon to protect them both from freezing in space. In a dream state, she expresses her fears that no one will ever forgive and accept her. Tom reassures her that it’s still possible.

However, as they approach the moon, the Scorched Overlord hijacks their Beamer.

Meanwhile back on Earth, the 2nd Mass are attacked by a new Espheni bomb that freezes its victims and Skitterizes them where they stand. Through various means, they manage to defeat the fog-bomb.

Tom and Lexi also manage to defeat the Fish Head, as Tom sticks him with a poison dart. Their bombs damaged beyond repair, they turn the Overlord’s ship into a missile headed straight for the alien power core. Lexi must fly the ship manually, so she sends Tom away in the Beamer and dies while destroying the core.

Cochise’s father saves Tom in the Beamer. Unfortunately, Tom is lost in space. He wakes up in a strange room, greeted by a new alien that he describes as ‘beautiful’.

 

What Hit the Target

Sorry, Tom, but Pope was right to take his shot at Lexi. In early seasons, Pope provided some dramatic conflict but was usually on the wrong side of morals and ethics. However, this season, he’s actually made more sense than other main characters. This was one of them. And his breakdown over losing so many of what he’s only come to just realize are ‘his people’ was well-executed.

Nice call-back to the syringe (despite a heavy-handed mention earlier) that Tom was given in the prior episode!

I’m oddly intrigued by the new aliens’ arrival. Their holographic room and strange appearance intrigued me more than most of the rest of the episode.

 

What Missed the Mark

Let’s talk about Lexi’s rushed change of heart and redemption. The series spent so much time building up the character in Chinatown as a mystical hybrid savior convinced that the aliens had the right plan for evolution, that there was no real time to develop her change of heart. After one nightmare and an eavesdropped conversation, she suddenly changes sides and spends the rest of the episodes apologizing and trying to destroy the Espheni. It was Straight Out of Left Field.

Also Straight Out of Left Field was the previously unseen new method of Skitterizing people via the La Brea Tar Pits and a fog machine. The introduction of this device was badly handled and confusing. Why would someone just stand around watching an Evil Alien Bomb hatch? Did no one just try taking off their boots or clothes? Was it really the fog, or just the liquid underneath that immobilized victims? How did it immobilize people but not the vehicle Sarah confiscated? There was too much left unexplained about this development.

Mira is not nearly as interesting a mouthpiece as Karen or the guy after her.

How is it that Matt has better aim with his knife on his first live victim than Hal has with a gun after years of fighting a war?

Possibly the most Straight Out of Left Field are Anne’s sudden epiphany that the flare will fight off the fog, and Pope’s fluid-cable realization. Neither idea had any development, and just seemed to be tossed in as a deus ex machina. If the writers aren’t even going to try to write solutions that make sense, how are we supposed to believe them?

Where was Sarah, and how did she come to show up at exactly the right time and place?

 

The Final Body Count

A hurried ending to several hit-or-miss plotlines, the final two hours are less moving than confusing. Lexi was never going to survive the season, but her return and sacrifice might have worked a lot better if it had had more time to be developed. While the first hour, “A Space Oddity” was a bit heavy-handed, the dream sequence was fun and the Beamer trip interesting. The second hour, though, went off the rails with too much plot. The fog-weapon peril was a cheap trick to try to keep the rest of the cast involved, and it robbed the Beamer storyline of time it needed to make a decent showdown with the Fish Head and get us to care about Lexi before she sacrificed herself.

I enjoyed the earlier seasons of the series much more than this one, and I suspect that this might be one of those shows that needed to have ended gracefully rather than limp along for more seasons than can be supported. While there were a few bright spots in the season, overall it lacked cohesion, was too overfull of plots, and threw too many curve-ball plot ideas at the audience. Next year is purported to be the final season, and I hope that Falling Skies goes out with a better season than this lackluster year.

 

 

 

Review – Doctor Who, “Into the Dalek”

In the second full episode of the 12th Doctor’s time, we see once again a Doctor set apart from his prior incarnations.  We also meet a new regular character and revisit the age-old question of whether there’s any good Dalek besides a dead Dalek.

While fighting humans, a Dalek becomes so damaged that it has turned good.  “Morality as malfunction,” the Doctor calls it.  And so, he and Clara find themselves miniaturized to enter the Dalek body itself in order to determine how such a thing happened.

As it turns out, it really was the damage that changed the Dalek’s mind.  Radiation leakage opened its mind to the idea that life is beautiful, and that life always wins over destruction.  Unfortunately, fixing the radiation leak reverts the Dalek to its natural EXTERMINATE! tendencies.

The Doctor and Clara figure out how to unlock the memories of the goodness it once saw, in an attempt to reawaken that change of mind.  But when the Doctor bares his soul to the Dalek, it sees infinite beauty, divinity… and hatred.

Feeding on the Doctor’s own hatred for the Daleks, the injured Dalek destroys its fellow invaders.  The humans are happy that it all worked out, but the Doctor is disturbed by what darkness he found in his own mind.

Meanwhile, Clara flirts with the new teacher at school, a former soldier named Danny Pink.

The Goodness

It’s assumed, of course, that the ‘darkness’ referred to in the title was the Dalek’s mind.  However, the real darkness was also in the Doctor’s soul.  It’s fascinating that someone we’ve come to see as such a universal savior – one who seems to believe in redemption and goodness in pretty much anyone –  has such a deep-rooted judgement against one race.  And how ironic that he *was* able to save the Dalek, but only succeeded in passing on his own darkness after doing so.

“Gretchen Allison Carlisle. Do something good and name it after me.”  This moment was just so moving, to me.  I really wanted to see what ‘amazing’ thing the Doctor would do in the name of such an excellent human being as poor Gretchen.

Missy again!  Who is this woman?  I’ve heard several theories already, and I’m mostly in favor of one particular idea.  I won’t spoil who I think she is, but she does have the perfect personality for it.  Michelle Gomez is fantastically creepy and vaguely threatening, even though she’s done nothing so far but gush over a garden and serve tea.

This Doctor is, I think, more of an enigma than we’ve had in the reboot series so far.  He loves people, but doesn’t particularly like them.  He was genuinely moved by Gretchen’s sacrifice, but perfectly willing to let her make it.  He briefly believed in the idea of a good Dalek, but gave up on them almost immediately as well.  He’s more of the absent-minded professor type this season, with an off-putting personality that still allow glimpses of the Doctor we all know and love.  There are a lot of layers we’ll unravel with the 12th Doctor, I think.

 

The Not-So-Goodness

Perhaps it was the edited US transmission, but the team’s return to normal size was badly edited or mishandled.  While we were still reeling from the Doctor’s realization of what he had motivated the Dalek to do, suddenly we cut to the wrap-up scene without explanation or segue.  It was jarring.

The budding relationship with Danny Pink was a bit rushed.  Clara just met the guy, and not only did he fall head-over-heels for her, but multiple characters heavy-handedly suggested she was in love.  It should have been given some more time to percolate, in my opinion.

The episode reminded me a lot of Season One’s “Dalek”, with the 9th Doctor.  That’s not necessarily a totally bad thing, but we did retread a little bit of territory – the question of Dalek redemption, the Doctor’s anger toward them, a Dalek rampaging through a human facility, the Companion knocking some sense into him about Daleks.

 

The Final Body Count

Following the lighter premiere episode for Peter Capaldi, this episode addresses some deeper – and darker – issues that the new Doctor has.  As always, bringing back his archenemy provides some interesting insight into his character.  Capaldi once again provides a layered performance, being both brusque and deeply moving at the same time.  This Doctor is still taking some getting used to, and even though we believe he’s still a ‘good man’, we are seeing him in a new light.  Clara continues to have a life beyond the TARDIS, and we are introduced to her potential beau, Danny, in a bit of a rushed storyline.  I like Danny, and I look forward to getting to know him better.

 

The Quote of the Week is from the Doctor about miniaturized doctors:

“Fantastic idea for a movie. Terrible idea for a proctologist.”

Fall TV, Night by Night – Monday

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Well, the bad news is that summer is winding down. The good news? The Fall TV season is coming! I’m a huge TV nerd, so this is always an exciting time of year for me. Even if there’s nothing new that appeals to you, there’s always the Deathwatch of the Terrible Shows to entertain you.

But Deathwatch comes later. For now, let’s take a look at the geeky offerings on the 5 networks starting in September. I’ve decided to go night-by-night this year. We’ll start with Monday. Look for future installments covering the rest of the week as we get into the new month.

Onward and upward!

The Big Bang Theory fans will finally be able to find out what happened to Sheldon as he headed off to ‘live off the land’ (via malls, of course!). They’ll also see Penny take a job with Bernadette’s company and turn the tables on Leonard in the income department.

Of course, the big news about ‘Bang’ this summer didn’t involve Sheldon’s road trip or even Jim Parson’s big Emmy win. It involved reality intruding into our entertainment. After the comforting news in March that the series had been renewed for this and two additional seasons, we all got a reminder of the reality of being a TV fan as the cast went through difficult salary negotiations at the end of summer. Said deal-making ended up delaying production until contracts were finally signed with the trio of Jim Parsons, Kaley Cuoco, and Johnny Galecki — all will reportedly earn about $1 million per episode plus additional backend money. Kunal Nayyar and Simon Helberg also renegotiated for somewhere around half that amount, according to various internet ‘sources’.

Gotham, though, is clearly the must-see new addition for geeks like me. I mean, a pre-Batman series all about the city that will spawn him and some of the most famous DC villains of all? Who wouldn’t be excited?

The only problem is that the reviews coming in seem to be a mixed bag. Early reviews a couple of months ago were glowing. Great series, fun for all, lots of promise. However, since the screening at Comic-Con in July, the more recent reviews have been a lot harsher. Disappointing, overfull of in-jokes, bad production values. It’s hard to know what the truth is about this show.

I’m not the most hard-core of Batman fans, so I suspect I’ll be a lot more lenient on it than some of my fellow comic nerds. And pilots can be a tricky lot. Sometimes, they’re the best part of a mediocre series. And other times, it takes several episodes for a series to really grow into its own boots. If the pilot is as weak as some reviews indicate, I’m hoping that Gotham falls into the latter category. Still on my Must Watch List.

Gotham starts September 29.

image courtesy: www.cbs.com

image courtesy: http://www.cbs.com

Aside from Gotham, the only new entry for Mondays on my Must Watch List will be Scorpion. Based on real-life Irish genius Walter O’Brien, it follows a group of super-smart experts as they race around stopping bombs, saving planes, and otherwise protecting the free world for dullards like you and me. Based on the promotional material released so far, the series seems pretty engaging to me. Lead Elyes Gabel, who plays O’Brien himself, is likeable, as are his team of misfits. The show is giving me a super-intelligent, high-octane Leverage feel. And given my love for that team dynamic, that’s not a bad thing.

Giving Scorpion its steepest competition will be Sleepy Hollow, which returns for its second year following a surprise hit debut. In addition to bringing back Crane’s daddy, look for a couple of moms to make appearances. The new season will also explore trust issues between Ichabod and Abbie, as well as their relationship.

Rounding out the night, Castle starts its seventh season on September 29. Given that last season ended on a huge cliffhanger, it’s been a long summer for Castle fans. “Driven” will begin right where the season finale left off, but will eventually involve a time jump.

And, even though it looked pretty grim for the groom in the last episode, it sounds like Rick’s crash causes more mysteries than injuries. He will spend a significant arc investigating what happened himself. Creator Andrew Marlowe said to TV Guide that this will be Castle’s year for digging up secrets from his past: “Why does he do what does? Why is he interested in murder? What has gone on in his past? These are rich questions we haven’t really explored.”

 

Non-Spoiler Review – Doctor Who, “Deep Breath”

 

This is the NON-SPOILER review of “Deep Breath”.  To read the SPOILER REVIEW, go to my SPOILER POSTS page.

 

Like Clara Oswald, this was my first experience with regeneration as it happened (I began as a fan just after Matt Smith had been cast). Unlike Clara, I embraced the change. Which, unwittingly is my excuse for this review being a little late – I had a viewing party to plan and execute.

So, I feel like I’m a real Who fan now that I’ve waited with bated breath for the new Doctor along with the rest of the fandom. It’s a uniquely Whovian thing to have to do. Other shows live or die with their main actors, or bring in entirely new characters to fill the voids. A new Doctor is neither the same person in the lead nor a different person, all at the same time. It’s confusing, to be sure.

This episode – more than possibly any others – explored that confusion openly. In many ways, it was reminiscent of David Tennant’s first foray in The Christmas Invasion. But it went even further by making the newly regenerated Doctor not only confused about himself and those around him, but also markedly different from the prior Doctor. Tennant was a personality change, but Capaldi is a mindset change.

Mind you, I found that mindset to be fascinating and deep. The new Doctor appears in this episode both powerful and fragile at the same time. There’s a sadness to him, a vulnerability that hasn’t really been present in the earlier reboot Doctors. I was particularly moved by a couple of monologues, in which he seems to realize he’s missing something profound – something he can’t name or touch, but that’s very important. Capaldi’s performance was tremendously layered and oddly slow such a fast-moving hour.

Much was made of this Doctor being less ‘user-friendly’ and harsher than Matt Smith’s version. And to be sure, that definitely came across.  I was expecting this because interviews had alluding to it (even in specific ways/scenes).  Others in my viewing party were quite shocked at some of the Doctor’s actions.

But it really all paid off in one pivotal scene involving Clara’s faith in the Doctor and whether it was deserved.  Looking back, this moment (you’ll know it when you see it) was hugely important for the establishment of the 12th Doctor. It exposed us to the idea of a very different Doctor, made us question him at the most basic level – and then made us believe all over again. This moment was possibly the most important one, even if it didn’t have quite the emotional punch of some other scenes (particularly one at the end).

What about the episode itself?

I thought it was wise to make use of established characters like Vastra, Jenny, and Strax. They, along with Clara’s continued presence, gave continuity and reassurance to the audience. The trio can always be counted on for humor and adventure, and they provided all amply. Strax, true to form, was hilarious. I was never a big Sontaran fan, but Strax (Dan Starkey) has become a welcome sidekick in any Who episode. Having watched Guardians of the Galaxy recently, I realized that we love Strax in many of the same ways we love Drax. That brute warrior who gets so many simple things wrong but still would happily fight for his team to the death. Strax would welcome death a bit more, but Drax would look better doing it.

The Victorian setting also provided some shades of old-fashioned macabre without being too gross or scary. (I was aware of this because we had kids in our viewing party.) The return of a Who monster from earlier seasons was another way to connect with the past and provide continuity. And even though the dinosaur was added in just to provide some shock value and a fun non-sequitor, I still grew fond of that big gal. That hit a perfect Doctor Who note for me.

Was it perfect? No.

The episode had to get a lot done in a short time (even with an extended running time), so it did have its drawbacks. The central mystery was resolved a little too easily, in my opinion. This was accomplished as an opening to a new mystery arc, of course – but it was still a bit too pat and not entirely well-explored.

Also, I found the discussions of Clara’s reaction to the new Doctor as well as the phone call to be all a bit heavy-handed. Vastra’s comments to Clara and references to the prior Doctor were less about convincing Clara to accept the new Doctor and more about convincing the audience to do so. I don’t need to be told how to feel about a new character – I want to be convinced of it through storytelling skill. And I did feel that there was a lot about the new Doctor to love, so I didn’t really need to be beaten about the head with the suggestion.

But, overall, I’m on board with the new Doctor. I’m glad they went as diametrically opposite to the two recent Doctors as they did, providing an opportunity for variety in the TARDIS and a chance to get back to maybe a more traditional Doctor Who. And even if I wasn’t, how could I not love the Doctor after his diatribe about his massive eyebrows and his own Scottishness? They had me at ‘shush’.

And for good measure, the first 12th Doctor Quote of the Week:

“Five-foot-one and crying. You never stood a chance.”