The second episode of Outcasts is another strong showing. A handful of escape pods have made their way to the surface of Carpathia, leaving the citizens of Forthaven the task of finding them and bringing their inhabitants to safety. But there are other people out in the wilderness of Carpathia. People thought to be dead. People who have a dark history with Forthaven and its first settlers. And they’ve taken a survivor from the CT9, the first ship to arrive in Carpathia in five years, well after the pulse beacon from Earth went silent…
I love this show. I really do. Everything about it screams “I am good.” The cast is solid, the characters diverse, three-dimensional, and interesting, and the production quality, as I’ve already said, is remarkable. The first episode set the groundwork for what promised to be a show about survival and human baggage. What more could you ask for in a science fiction show?
And that’s where episode two comes in. It’s not enough to have a show about characters trying to survive in a miniature “utopia.” Such things could sustain a series for one “season.” But the writers of Outcasts had hoped for more, and loaded up the second episode with a heavy dose of political, ethical, and philosophical baggage. The arrival of Julius Berger (Eric Mabius) brings in a religious element that no doubt will conflict with the heavily secular Forthaven government; the writers have written this in as an opposition between UK and U.S. political identity, I suspect, and it will be interesting to see how this develops in future episodes (my guess: slimy brainwashing and manipulation). But even Berger has his own baggage, and much of this episode is focused on developing that so we understand why he’s a potential threat (or why he’s in opposition to the way of life of the Forthaven people).
Yet it’s with the ACs where all the geographical drama will take place (i.e., the conflict between humanity and Carpathia itself). The ACs are breeding, but that ability is beyond their genetics, which implies that there is something more going on in the wilderness where they have been staying. What we learn through them about Forthaven’s past is shocking; the genocide perpetuated upon the ACs in order to “save the children” lends a certain complexity to the narrative and the characters. Outcasts doesn’t shy away from making the people behind genocide central to the story, which may be a clever act (on the part of the writers) of disarming the viewer.
I, for one, can’t wait to find out what’s going on, and what Carpathia has in store for humanity.
Cast: 4/ 5
The third (technically second “aired”) episode of Falling Skies is a continuation of the thin characterization laid out in premiere, setting up the show for a quick death, and science fiction fans with yet another reason to turn away from the television screen. Tom Mason (Noah Wyle), having found Ben (Connor Jessup)–his harnessed son–sets out with Hal (Drew Roy) and a ragtag group of fighters to launch a rescue mission. However, the plan goes south, revealing the brutality of the aliens (skitters as they call them) and forcing Tom to take drastic action.
I’m one episode away from giving up on this show, which is saying a lot. I want to like Falling Skies. I really do. But the more I see of the world TNT has attempted to construct, the more I wonder whether they’ve bothered to set up a narrative that does something interesting. It’s not that Falling Skies is a bad show. In many ways, it’s entertaining and filled with some pretty interesting ideas. But it is a show that cannot, for whatever reason, decide what it wants to be, which means it doesn’t take any of its individual narrative paths seriously enough to develop the characters within that particular context.
As a science fiction fan, I find the show’s continued disinterest in its characters frustrating. As I said in my review of the premiere, there are nothing but cookie-cutter characters here, which makes the show feel like a forced family drama laid over a vacuous action thriller; this is not well-construct “serious” SF. It’s almost offensive to think that Noah Wyle has given over his life to this project; his previous work on ER was a far superior achievement in terms of the development of three-dimensional characters. ER had something resembling a fluid narrative arc. Falling Skies, however, feels strained, forced, repetitive, and predictable.
And that’s just it: Falling Skies is painfully predictable. The moment we learn that one of the other characters has a son who has been harnessed, we know that he is going to pull the stereotypical “screw over the mission by letting my emotions get the best of me” routine (which he promptly does). I suppose we were meant to feel sorry for this man, but all I could think of was how badly I hoped his son would die. That’s not an emotion I want to feel while watching a TV show. The only redeeming quality of this narrative farce is a single scene, in which Noah Wyle is asked to demonstrate that he can be the badass history-professor-turned-warrior we’ve been promised. Tom sets out to save his son(s) from the aliens, two of which have now been captured, is ambushed by an alien, and uses a sawed-off shotgun to disable and knock out the creature; in true Will Smith fashion, he drags the beast to home base amidst civilian and military stares of fear and amazement, and then leaves to find his sons, telling his commander he works better alone. Granted, this play of force leads up to, well, nothing, since Wyle is not required to do anything but stumble onto the right street to find his non-harnessed son, but you have to appreciate the construction of that one scene, even if the rest of the show makes you cringe.
I’ll give Falling Skies one more episode in the hopes that the Mason family-drama-character-arc pulls out the stops. But I suspect what we’ll see are more cliches and more cool ideas, flashy graphics, and gunshots at the expense of character development. With what little character they have right now, it’s hard to imagine this show doing much more than giving us a few more gun battles and Father-Son hugfests.
Cast: 3/ 5