Sunday, July 27, 2014


DIRECTED BY: Jonathan Frakes
WRITTEN BY:  Melissa Glenn


Our sixth episode was a fun one for us here at FALLING SKIES.

First off, veteran director Jonathan Frakes, who is good friends with Noah Wyle, was back.  And newcomer (to us), writer Melissa Glenn was up in Canada for most of the shoot.  Both of them are a lot of fun.  So, while on the one hand this was an episode shot during the drudge of Vancouver’s November rainy season - this was also an episode, where, behind-the-scenes we laughed a lot and had a good time.

It’s also the season when we have to do a couple of bottle show to make up for the financial sins of the earlier part of the year.  In this case, Melissa had designed an episode that all took place within the confines of the Chinatown mall, where Lexi’s contingent has made camp all season.

There has been an inevitable pull as the 2nd Mass. slowly comes back together – and this week, all parties are reunited again after their separation in the opening minutes of the opening episode.

We also had to do this episode in one less shooting day than our norm.  We’ve done that in the past, and, as I said the script was compressed to be in only one major location…  But still it is a big story with many characters who have many, many points of view.  The actors also have many points of view about their character’s point of view.  And there were numerous scenes, more than usual, with a large number of cast members in each scene – as the two factions grow within the 2nd Mass – The Pro-Lexi faction and the anti-Lexi faction.  So, all in all, Mr. Frake’s task – to keep these varied balls in the air – was far from easy.

The scene where our heroes come together was an extended sequence that slowly revealed more and more characters as it went…  This was a very important scene to get right – and as such was one that Director Frakes, and alternating Director of Photography Barry Donlevy and I discussed quite a bit.  It all had to be staged in a long, but rather narrow pathway that leads into the Chinatown – dubbed, by us, as “The Kill Zone.”  (To know why it has that name you’ll have to watch next week’s episode).

The trick was to stage the scene in such a way so that each new character or group of characters would be revealed in a realistic way, but with impact…  So we walked the location ahead of time a number of times and discussed “Hal’s team will start here” “They’ll be stopped here.”  “Tom and his group will be revealed here.” Etc.   It was also emphasized, quite a bit, that we had to take our moments with each reunion…  Tom and Hal had seen each other recently but Hal and Tom and Mat had not seen Ben for months – so the emotion of the Mason boys getting back together had to be given it’s time.  I especially liked the performance that Moon Bloodgood gave – as Anne sees Tom – it’s complex and sweet – but not gushy. 

Anyway – knowing the importance of the scene, Mr. Frakes took his time shooting it and got us many angles and cuts.  He shot it from the wide shots we like so much, he shot the Close-Ups we need, and he and Barry also decided to shoot a number of almost voyeuristic, sniper-like angles – which were interesting in that they added tension.
In the final cut, that’s in the episode you watched tonight, we really concentrate on Tom/Noah and move with him as he goes from character to character.  Other than a quick cut of Hal hugging Ben, and Weaver clasping hands with some other 2nd Mass’ers – we stick with Tom.  But, you should know, that Mr. Frakes staged a number of other scenes, giving everybody their time.   These were all in the first cut of the episode – but it was just too long.  As we often have to in the editing room, we have to make our choices about what we think really matters – who are we really following.  

I’m happy with the sequence and, as he so often does, composer Noah Sorota put the cherry on top of the cake with the score that plays under the images – it’s sweeping and grand, but with bittersweet notes and not too sappy.  I really love the work he does for us.

A big project on this episode was the creation of Lexi’s cocoon.  Production Designer Rob Gray had to build something quickly and affordably that looked like it was of Espheni organic design, which could be self-supporting, could support Scarlett’s weight, which could glow and pulse in this episode, and which in the next episode – well, I can’t spoil too far ahead – but, let’s just say, which would “evolve” in episode 7.

A big task.

Luckily we had rough story outlines well in advance – and so we knew this project was coming.  Rob actually built a wall in Lexi’s domicile, with a big circular doorway opening that allowed him to build the cocoon into it – using supports between the walls to do so – knowing that the cocoon was coming six episodes down the road.

It’s worth noting, also, that when we chose the Chinatown location – we did so knowing well certain very restrictive limitations.  The location we used is the Sun Yat SenGardens in downtown Vancouver (You can go there if you’re ever in the city).

It was a brilliant and unique idea on Rob and line producer Grace Gilroy’s part. As I’ve discussed in an earlier blog, the writer’s original conception was for Lexi’s world to be inside an abandoned shopping mall, or Costco.  These type of places aren’t readily available for shooting, the numerous products needed, in volume, are hard to obtain and harder to license.  (TNT won’t allow us to advertise within the show except for in very limited and pre-approved ways.)  The idea of making Lexi’s world in a mall in Chinatown was unique, realistic (many cities have such malls in their Chinatowns… Los Angeles certainly does as does Vancouver.)  

We in production never quite agreed on whether this mall, in our story, was in Philadelphia or in Georgia – both were close enough to North Carolina to be credible – and, in the end, we fudged, and different internal factions held onto their opinions of where we were.

Sun Yut Sen had an outer garden which we made look like the exterior courtyard of a mall – there was a nearby true mall, which we used in the opening episode when Ben woke up (which had very restrictive middle-of-the-night shooting hours) and the inner garden with this amazing bonsai garden and tea house – which we turned into Lexi’s inner temple.

The problem from Rob’s construction point-of-view is that the inner temple is a 18th century Chinese structure that was imported to Vancouver in the early 1900’s.  It is a work of art made with no nails. The aforementioned restrictions are that we could not nail into it or attach anything to it.  Rob’s set pieces (and all of our production lighting and grip equipment) had to be freestanding.  A challenge!

For Mr. Frakes another challenge appeared – in that these locations I just mentioned are not directly connected.  Neither is the exterior bombed out Chinatown street that the characters move through.  Rob built transitional pieces…  A bombed out entrance on the street set matched a bombed out entrance in the outer garden.  A circular portal in the inner garden matched a circular portal in the inner garden – but none of those three venues actually connect.  So it was Mr. Frake’s and Mr. Donlevy’s job to give the illusion of connection by double shooting the entrances and the scenes that take place at the entrances (a lot of them in this episode!)

The design of the cocoon also had to accommodate Scarlett Byrne.  She was supposed to be asleep in one frozen position, supposedly in the nude, for almost the duration of the episode.  So, one of our first tasks was to get her into a wireframe version of the cocoon and figure out a position that she could lay in, supported by the infrastructure of Rob’s cocoon and by some hidden padding – for long lengths of time. 

But, no matter how long she was able to stay still in there, we had three full 12 hour days scheduled in the cocoon room – and there was no way Scarlett, or anybody, would be able to stay still that long.  So, Todd Masters makeup effects group, also took a mold of Scarlett’s face and made a very excellent replica “Lexi face” which then attached to a pre-existing dummy.  Both Scarlett and the dummy were dressed in full body nude-colored suits, and we switched back and forth between them as needed when we shot.  (All of this is documented in photos below.)

In the end though, Scarlett spent a lot of time in this episode, holding perfectly still inside of that cocoon.

That’s it for this week…  Next week is full of action and surprises…  So don’t miss it!





.  CLOSER... CLOSER... .

.  IT'S ALL DONE!  .
















Hyperion said...

Ah sweet reunion in this episode... But mainly because it brought the story telling to a much more coherent place. The actual reunion of the Mason family was pretty fraught overall.

The episode began with what looked like the beginning of the much teased love triangle between Maggie, Hal and Ben, but it turned out to be a wet dream of Ben's. That in itself was a departure for the oh-so-family friendly Falling Skies, but was one to be welcomed in terms of giving a jab to what you think the show has to be about. And this time in a good way rather than using convoluted story telling. Ben has certainly come rather a long way from the Season 1 math geek. And Connor Jessup can now add love scenes to action hero stuff for his resume!

Overall I think the show is handling the Ben/Maggie dynamic rather well with a lot of subtlety in the performances, particularly in the one on one dialogue scene between Ben and Maggie and when Maggie sides with Tom/Ben over killing Lexi. This serves the story arc much better than anything too melodramatic. Perhaps it develops further later on, but the slow burn is so far working well.

The main plot of the episode was the reunion and then whether to kill Lexi as an Espheni tool. Everything being in one location with one central story line helped the episode greatly and unfortunately shows just how misguided some of the earlier separation plot lines were. It did not need 6 episodes to get us to this point, and what is amazing is that in all this we did not even get to spend that much time with some of the main characters of the show.

Elsewhere a commenter noted that the main weakness of FS is that too many new characters are introduced with attempts to give screen time, story lines etc etc. But in the end, other than Tom, as a result there is far too little time spent with the few characters that people really care about. Everyone has their favorites, but generally people care about the Masons, Weaver and Maggie the most with Pope as the oft-recurring antagonist. Even this is a lot of characters to deal with in every 43 minute episode. Injecting others into this mix just dilutes the impact the main characters can have and therefore the overall impact of the show.

It is interesting to me why FS has not had the impact that TWD has. Primarily it is sloppy story telling (gaping plot holes) and only enough focus on one main character when more need that attention. But not Lexi - she has no character to care about. For me the basic premise of FS is inherently far more interesting than that of TWD, and in an odd way more believable too until the show went with all this Lexi supernatural nonsense. There are also those moments in FS such as Matt not wanting to kill the rabbit last episode which make you despair that anyone is applying genuine quality control to the end product.

All in all this episode was the best so far this season for all the reasons framed above but there were still a few things that did not pass the "Really?" test. We still have no idea how Lexi came to be a hybrid but perhaps we have to thank the Season 3 writers for that. Frankly that is why I would have disposed of her as a character if I had been given a clean slate for Season 4. Secondly Hal's clash with his father did not ring true. Sure he is a leader in his own right but the way it was played up in this episode was out of character. I just cannot readily see Hal leading the pitchforks (meaning Pope) against his father, brothers and Weaver.

Lastly we have polymath extraordinaire Dr Kadar getting Anne to remember her experiences. It is amazing how much nuclear physicists get to learn about psychotic medications and DNA. But mainly we have another annoying Anne moment combined with yet more Lexi supernatural bulls**t. Audience reaction to all this stuff has been very negative (see Twitter and Facebook) but I fear it is too late to save this season from all the nonsense - let us just hope that the final season will not go down this path.

Aldenata said...

@Door Number Three:
"Somewhere, to what remote and fearsome region I know not, Denys Barry has gone. I was with him the last night he lived among men, and heard his screams when the thing came to him; but all the peasants and police in County Meath could never find him, or the others, though they searched long and far. And now I shudder when I hear the frogs piping in swamps, or see the moon in lonely places."


"As I fled from that accursed castle along the bog’s edge I heard a new sound; common, yet unlike any I had heard before at Kilderry. The stagnant waters, lately quite devoid of animal life, now teemed with a horde of slimy enormous frogs which piped shrilly and incessantly in tones strangely out of keeping with their size. They glistened bloated and green in the moonbeams, and seemed to gaze up at the fount of light. I followed the gaze of one very fat and ugly frog, and saw the second of the things which drove my senses away.

Stretching directly from the strange olden ruin on the far islet to the waning moon, my eyes seemed to trace a beam of faint quivering radiance having no reflection in the waters of the bog. And upward along that pallid path my fevered fancy pictured a thin shadow slowly writhing; a vague contorted shadow struggling as if drawn by unseen daemons. Crazed as I was, I saw in that awful shadow a monstrous resemblance—a nauseous, unbelievable caricature—a blasphemous effigy of him who had been Denys Barry."
The Moon Bog, by H. P. Lovecraft

Not his most well-liked short story, but I always found it particularly unnerving. For those who don't get it: Lexi is Denys Barry, Chinatown is Kilderry, the Espheni are the Naiad Swamp Demons and everyone else is (going to become?) the workers/servants-turned-frogman abominations.

-Here's the biggest problem with this episode: Lexi=weapon. Weapon=dangerous. Um, duh? Would Hal have tried leading a riot if they had gotten their hands on a functioning, if slightly leaky, nuclear bomb?

(Not Hal. I think Matt is now the resident peacenik. Oh by the way, did Pope and the lynchmob's best plan really boil down to trying shoot something that could explode or call down Hellfire upon them?)

Weapons don't form allegiances. As far as I know, my shotgun has nothing personal against the raccoons who like to pilfer my garden. But I do, and I'm the one controlling it. The humans are the ones controlling Lexi, so where does that put the Espheni?

(Wonder if Espheni meat goes good in dumplings? Probably too fish-like; they look more like frying fare to me.)

Evacuation should have happened a lot earlier. I'm guessing there's no mineshafts within an easy drive of Chinatown, because the smart thing to have done would have been to drop the cocoon into one, seal it, leave, let her do the butterfly thing down there and have some volunteers (Anne and Lourdes?) go down to see how it turns out. Drama averted and everyone's happy... except Lexi, and perhaps Anne and Lourdes, which makes the other commenters here very happy.

On the other hand, well, drama averted. So of course something like that could never happen.

(Yes, Stargate SG-1 did do that to one of their mutant babies and it was one of the few mutant baby storylines that they handled well.)

Aldenata said...

-All that said, glad to see that someone on the writing team agrees with me on the fact that cocoons/butterflies are friggen' creepy. Almost as bad as frogs.

-I was going to put a fairly petty note here about Dr. Kadar having any mind-altering medication on hand beyond pot and shroom juice (although...), but y'all did a pretty good job of justifying it. I'm still surprised at how quickly we see THREE medical professionals—or close enough thereto— jumping to something as unreliable and empirically-ungrounded as Repressed Memory Therapy.

Then again: Kadar has come quite a long a ways from the cynical materialist that he was implied to be in Season 3, Lourdes is pretty much out of her mind, and Anne is just desperate.

I think repressed memories can happen, but I don't think it's very common, and I wouldn't trust any method of "reclaiming" those memories as far as I could throw it.

-Even though it sometimes seems like Lourdes is being deliberately portrayed in the most useless and annoying manner possible, I do think she should have been present when Anne went under. Anesthesia of any kind is dangerous and complicated; I can't imagine Dr Kadar knowing more about it than she does, given that she actually went to med school briefly and then spent a couple of years as a field medic.

-Anne is not one to think things through in bad situations, is she? (Most people ain't, most people won't survive an alien apocalypse either.) If she had managed to kill herself on those horse tranqs, it's would remove half the arguments that could stop the rest of 2nd Mass from going beyond even my "mineshaft" suggestion and rolling the Lexiball off a cliff.

-Out of body experience was... odd. Just how much can Lexi's do to an unconscious/subconscious mind? Hack into the brains of her enemies and cause them all to sleepwalk off a cliff? The fact that they didn't try to destroy her is now either a very good or very bad thing.

-I agree that the series has dawdled a bit, and much to its detriment. I wonder if things like that can be helped in a TV series where you don't know how long you really have to tell your story. Perhaps not.

-The Ben/Hal/Mag thing, much like the Luke/Leia paring from Star Wars, needs to be quietly dropped and never spoken of again. At best it causes some pretty frightful jumps in characterization and at worst it's, well, incest.

If I remember rightly, you're supposed to wait till your bro dies before you can shack up with his girl.

-TWD: The Walking Dead? Tried watching that a while back and couldn't stand it. Partially I think it's because zombies, as westerners understand them, are an inherently-stupid idea, and anyone who winds up in any danger from them is probably an inherently-stupid person. It might also be because Walking Dead ain't even about zombies (LastPsychiatrist has a lot to say about Walking Dead, so does Pastabagal)

I think Walking Dead is reaping the fruits of good timing more than anything. Zombies have been perculating below mainstream culture for quite a while now (how old is the Resident Evil series?) and once all the console gamer kiddies got old enough for some disposable income of their own it stands to reason that someone would be first in line to milk them.

Also one of the later additions of the shows/films based on "graphic novels" (in my day, we called them comic books) that were popular for about 10 years there. Maybe it came out at the point where they were just starting to get good at it but before it had gotten too old.

Falling Skies was ever going to surpass that. Compared to, say, Revolution or Defiance or Jericho I'm really surprised that it lasted as long as it has.

Aldenata said...

Revolution had promise at the start but the characters were just awful. Jericho never managed to recover from its mid-season slump. Defiance was just a train-wreck (combination of Firefly, Jericho and Falling Skies that somehow exclusively used the bad ideas from each).

"We in production never quite agreed on whether this mall, in our story, was in Philadelphia or in Georgia – both were close enough to North Carolina to be credible – and, in the end, we fudged, and different internal factions held onto their opinions of where we were."

This makes sense. The georgraphy seems to be in the South, but many of the scenes in "Enemy Within" had a definite Rust Belt feel to them.

Otto Carius said...

Door Number 3 or Blumpkins Be Free Yo!!!

The entire pitch-folk toting mob lead by Pope and an Usurping Hal seems a bit unnecessary to say the least. First off if Lexi is a danger-- then why not just move all the civilians out of the sanctuary to some other location. I mean if she really is as dangerous as the Volm claim then the Sanctuary will not be a Sanctuary any more. So, clearly moving the population away from it to some undisclosed position is the safest option. Not to mention if the Espheni that has escaped has a plan for the humans then it is very possible that he will return with superior forces to retake his daughter/weapon/lab experiment. So, if I were the gang from the 2nd Mass who just lost an Espheni-- I would make my way towards the exit.

As for the Lexi-Weapon Cocoon thing... It seems like like some one on the production staff just decided to steal the ideas from Babylon 5 with the Vorlons making Physic Weapons remember Patricia Alexander the Physic Tsar Bomba? And the Cocoon metamorphose thing screams how Cmdr. Sinclair became the Mumbri Vallen and how Delenn became the half-Human-Half Mumbri Dream Date of Capt. Sheridan... The only difference is this Lexi now has SUPER POWERS! I wonder if is because of Earth's Yellow Sun? It screams sloppy writing if you ask me.

We all know why Lexi is a super baby-- small children are expensive on sets: twins, child protective services, and so on all add to the cost of filming. So it is cheaper to have Lexi grow up to an adult fast so you don't have to incur all of this extra cost in the production. My question-- why not just have a child die and have Moon and Noah's character's deal with the death of their child? Too me a normal human child that dies from whatever causes is probably far more traumatic to a couple who have seen everything ripped away from them than this Monster Baby is.

The Walking Dead makes no sense because Zombies are pretty silly ideas. Not that alien invaders being beaten back by humans with such inferior technology that it would be like the US Armed Forces showing up to confront a Roman Legion isn't silly either. But at least main villain doesn't fall in the undead category!

Too me this episode seemed to forced and too troubled with silly problems that could be easily solved.

If Tom and Anne just stayed with their daughter it would have been a more powerful statement that they are the parents of this child. And frankly since Pope is supposedly a father too, one that did something incredible stupid to end up in prison for his kid-- then I would have had him standing with Tom's decision to stay with his daughter. That would have been a good character moment for Pope. Pope is a one note character-- misanthropic and self serving... but you know he did have a family at one point so he cannot be totally self-serving. That would have helped the Pope Character out a lot this season.

The Maggie and Ben thing... I like a little infidelity. Besides Brown Sugar seems to have just vanished so Brother Ben needs some LOVIN'!

Aldenata said...

-Mob Scene: well there are still the enemy patrols surrounding the place, but I likewise can't see why they didn't try sneaking out. Couldn't be any harder than getting in was. Also a good point on the Espheni.

-I only vaguely remember Babylon 5 so I'll have to take your word on that one. I do seem to recall that the "touched by vorlons" thing annoyed an awful lot of fans for that series.

-Cost of babies: I mentioned that in the Season 3 finale.

You wouldn't even have to kill off the baby. Just write a series where both parents are in the field for so long that they seldom get to see their own children, who are put in the care of someone who's no longer able to serve in combat. God knows that the Falling Skies world should be full of such people.

(Get a lot of brownie points with the PC crowd by featuring a disabled support character. Jericho did this and their deaf girl was the only teenager that I actually liked.)

-US Army vs Rome: ahem...,_Sweet_Rome

-Pope the dad: even if Pope had sympathized, I doubt he would have let Tom know. He mentioned something like this in his blog and his rational would probably be that the safety of the many outweighs the wishful thinking of the few.

-Brown Sugar: *snort*

Naw dawg... bros before hoes, always bros before hoes.

Dani, as far as I know, was alive and well at the time this episode was written. No idea as to her present health.

Change for the worse said...

I don't understand how this Ben/ Maggie thing can work ???
She has .. I don;t know 25 years?! and he 16 or 17?? do you think it's too much? Maggie looks like a Ben's younger sister !
you couldn't find him someone else? I hope that in S5 you abandon this horrible idea. Maggie and Hal should be together Or Ben and Maddie after talking recognize that it isn't worth hurting Hal. They can recognize that it was a mistake, and their romance will die in the bud ,please! And what happened to Danny? In S3 Danny and Ben were good friends. Because of Ben Danny hasn't removed her spikes and then suddenly you abandon frienship between them?
  Can we expect that we will see them together once more ? they even don't talk to each other now, not to mention fighting together

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