Falling Skies 1.06: "Sanctuary Part 1" and 1.07: "Sanctuary Part 2" Review

A column article, Shot For Shot by: Danny Djeljosevic
Falling Skies 1.06: "Sanctuary Part 1" and 1.07: "Sanctuary Part 2" Review

The hit TV show based on the Robert Kirkman comic book series continues! In the "Sanctuary" two-parter, Rick's sons are in the hands of a distrustful human being and Morgan and T-Dawg fall victim to Hollywood's vile "black dudes die first" rule. Also, there's a surprising lack of zombies in this one.

Note: Due to post-Comic-Con scheduling issues, Comics Bulletin's Rafael "First Impression" Gaitan couldn't review this episode. I'll try to make this as painless as possible, but I make no promises.

I have a sneaking suspicion that The Walking Dead is to blame for Falling Skies. AMC had a huge hit last year with their zombie apocalypse drama, so TNT's trying out an alien invasion drama. Except, in Falling Skies the whole survival effort is more organized thanks to some firm military leadershp, which makes it hard to worry about everyone. Humanity seems to be doing just fine, huh?

Thankfully, Episode 6 -- the first of the two-part "Sanctuary" -- steps up in the danger department. Not only do we get an alien attack on the school where our human resistances is hiding out; we also get an enemy from within!

The episode sets the stage thematically by opening with Dr. Moon BloodGREAT dealing with a young patient while his mom and dad look on. It's all a big ruse, however, as the parents try to rob the good doctor of all her medicine. Even during an alien invasion, you can't trust people!

After that, we meet another human resistance leader, Terry Clayon, played by Henry Czerny, who comes from the Josh Charles school of treacherous character acting. Representing a cell from another state, Clayton offers our heroes a chance to protect the group's kids at his sanctuary in the woods, so they agree to send their young'ns out.

As for the alien attack, while it sounds exciting, is actually kind of silly. Jimmy (the kid soldier) and Parker (a character we've never seen before) are chilling, playing chess in a school bus when an the pieces begin to shake, Jurassic Park style. An alien mech shoots the thing up, killing Parker, whom every viewer in America surely expected to die not only because he was a black character keeping watch, but also because we had never, ever met this character before. You gotta develop these guys first for us to care, TV writers.

Jimmy escapes into the school only to find himself facing an alien on foot -- all alone and with no bullets. For a moment, it seems like Jimmy's going to blow his head off rather than let himself be taken, but instead he just throws his pistol to little avail. Just before the creature goes in for the kill, Will Patton blows the thing's head off in a moment of genuine badassery.

While there's absolutely no danger because of this show's aversion to murdering children, it does feature an alien grabbing a globe and crushing it in its hands. GET IT?

After some deliberation, our heroes decide to send the kids out (including Noah Wyle's sons) to Clayton's forest sanctuary, which is nothing like the weird cargo cult oasis in Beyond Thunderdome. That night, while everyone is settling in, Clayton leads out the kid from the opening out into the woods, and into the hands of a harnessed girl. Surprising no one, it turns out Clayon is selling kids to the aliens in exchange for immunity. Also, he has Pope tied up in his basement.

It's a fairly expected situation -- it's almost a given in these "humanity's desperate bid for survival" shows that they'll have to face one (or several) of their own. Still, as a reveal at the end of the episode, it makes for some good drama and certainly increases anticipation for the next episode. Plus, we get Pope back, which is never a bad thing.

"Sanctuary, Part 2," opens with the kids playing soccer at the sanctuary. However, the show manages to convey this in the stupidest way possible -- by a fakeout of Jimmy running that quickly reveals that he's playing a bit of the ol' European football. Ben, Wyle's formerly harnessed son pulls of a good play, but Jimmy distrusts him. This, I suppose, qualifies as the episode's C-plot.

We also meet a cute girl with a nose ring whose dad is in on Clayton's conspiracy. Despite this fact, I consider her 100% innocent of all charges.

And I am 100% innocent of all charges because all Hollywood teenage actors are actually like 20.

While everyone's cooking dinner, Clayon and Cute Girl's Curiously Inbred Dad visit Pope in the basement. Pope can't not comment on the food: "I smell asparagus. Which means you're boiling it. Which means you're ruining it." Welcome back, Colin Cunningham.

Just as we realize that Pope is once again captured by someone and complaining about the food (surely a sign of stagnation in character development), he escapes, knocking out Cute Girl's Curiously Inbred Dad. He prepares to stab the unconscious hillbilly, but decides to spare him. Which is a weird bit of cognitive dissonance -- I thought Pope was supposed to be a take-no-prisoners badass. And, considering he cold snipes a dude in the back of the head later in the episode, he certainly has no trouble killing these guys. I don't get it -- it's like the writing staff of Falling Skies are afraid that their characters will come off as too mean if they kill the bad guys when kids aren't at risk.

Cut to our first scene of someone having a hunch that something's not right and another character being incredulous for dramatic purposes. This time, it's Noah Wyle who's unsure that the kids are entirely safe, and the usually distrustful Will Patton who doesn't quite believe it.

Meanwhile, Hal and Cute Girl start to get buddy-buddy and Mediterranean Olivia Thirlby (whose name I'll never learn) gets curious and finds a backpack belonging to the kid who got sold out at the end of the last episode. She points this out to Hal, and they bring it to the attention of Mike, the only adult who isn't in on this conspiracy, who responds in the most preposterous manner: "I've known Terry Clayton since the week after the attack!" R U SERIOUS

Let me put this in perspective: Pregnant Lady (who's about 9 months at this point), during a scene of exposition where she recounts the story of how she ended up in her position (hilariously, "I had sex" isn't the explanation here), remarks that she was about a month-and-a-half along when the aliens invaded. So, what Mike has essentially said is, "Clayton can't be untrustworthy! I've known him for nearly eight months!"

Don't worry, Mike gets punished for his ignorance. After helping the kids escape into the woods and stalling Clayton's men with some oppressive fire, Clayton kills him. Instead of being heroic, it's hilarious because the show cuts to the kids reacting with shock at sound of the gunshot ringing through the forest. Even though, y'know, there was just a loud firefight. This, by the way, makes two black dudes killed in the span of 90 minutes during a series where characters who are constantly in danger hardly ever get killed off. So far, this show has taught me that, if aliens invade, you're probably safe if you're a kid and/or white. I can't believe in the year 2011 that the "black dude dies first" trope still exists. I almost want to see Will Patton checking the dwindling racial diversity of his army as a gauge for how safe his men are.

Either way, Mike's death leads to an interesting (albeit brief) situation where Hal and Mediterranean Olivia Thirlby are the mommy and daddy of the escaped kids, holing up in an abandoned house, coming off like some de-aged version of Wyle and Dr. BloodGREAT. Jimmy once again expresses distrust of Ben (this time at him going out to find the cavalry) while Mediterranean Olivia Thirlby finds a songbook of her favorite church hymn. Which should only fill you with dread.

As for Pregnant Lady, she's in a dilly of a pickle in the episode's B-plot, as she's about to give birth and the real Dr. BloodGREAT reveals that the baby is in a breech position and the good doctor, who was only a pediatrician before the invasion, has no idea how to deal with that. Conveniently, Will Patton has some experience because one of his daughters was a "breech baby" before. And, because it was a home birth, he had an active role in helping turn the baby around to make it get born properly. R U SERIOUS

The actual climax of this episode is completely lacking in tension. Clayton's men show up. Then Pope fortuitously shows up with a sniper rifle only to get wounded. Then Wyle fortuitously shows up to pretend that Pope's dead and surrender to Clayton's men. Clayton drags Wyle and the kids back to the sanctuary, where Patton's men are fortuitously waiting for them. Clayton pulls a gun, intending to hold Hal at gun point, but Wyle guns him down. Jimmy hands Ben a soccer ball as a show of a change of heart. C-plot: complete.

Cut to Mike's tearful funeral, where Hal and Wyle deliver speeches and -- you guessed it -- Mediterranean Olivia Thirlby sings that goddamn hymn from earlier. As the funeral breaks up, we get an intriguing finale, as formerly harnessed kids Ben and Rick talk. Ben seems normal, but Rick has the mentality of one of the aliens. Shock!


While there's some intriguing bits in this two-parter, by the end it all feels cyclical. Mike dies, but otherwise the bad guys are dealt with and everyone is quickly reunited. Wyle's got his kids under one roof and Pope's back in resistance hands as a cook. Elements like the kids out on their own could have comprised a really great multi-episode arc, but are so rushed that there's no time to explore very much of anything.

To its credit, I didn't really notice the lack of aliens in "Part 2," so kudos to Falling Skies for at least being engaging enough on a dramatic level to distract me from missing the genre elements.

At this point the season should be starting to ramp up, but I suspect that Falling Skies is going to continue to squander its obvious potential.

For more Falling Skies, check out our reviews of previous Season 1 episodes:

Episode 1 & 2 Two-Hour Premiere
Episode 3: "Prisoner of War:
Episode 4: "Grace"
Episode 5: "Silent Kill"

Danny Djeljosevic is a comic book writer, award-winning filmmaker (assuming you have absolutely no follow-up questions), film/music critic for Spectrum Culture and Co-Managing Editor of Comics Bulletin. Follow him on Twitter as @djeljosevic or find him somewhere in San Diego, often wearing a hat. Read his newest comic, "Sgt. Death and his Metachromatic Men," over at Champion City Comics.

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