Falling Skies: Stalag 14th Virginia (recap and review)

Tom Mason in the brig Falling Skies
Falling Skies last week introduced a figure from Weaver’s past, who seemed to be suffering from Caine Mutiny complex. Captain Marshall (Melora Hardin) may not have had a set of ball bearings to click and clack in one hand a’la Humphrey Bogart, but she did have an unhealed wound on her neck, complete with leaky bandage, that she could not stop fiddling with. After welcoming her old paramour Weaver to the 14th Virginia things went quickly south as her fixation on Tom Mason resulted in the whole Mason clan, sans Ben, being put in the brig.

This week, sees Weaver finally getting suspicious enough of his old flame to follow her off the base and into the woods. He learns that Marshall is not heading out for a teddy bear’s picnic but to receive orders from an Espheni Overlord. After an attack six weeks previously Marshall has been under the control of the alien and arresting humans for colluding with the Espheni and executing them.

By the end of this week’s episode, Noah Wyle has the chance to once again show off his chops in grand fashion as the articulate and heroic Tom Mason. We also get quick glimpse into what John Pope has been up to, continuing his Colonel Kurtz impression, and having his camp set up in the manner of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome “Two men enter, one man leaves.”

That Pope has gone this direction is not really surprising. Certainly not as surprising as his appearance toward the end of this episode and his lolling on a sort of throne, with torches around it. It was also not beyond the realms of possibility that he was putting on some sort of gladiatorial display for the troops. What was shocking, however, was the tossing of the pistol to the “loser” of the match who then shoots the victor.

Clearly, John has not been thinking too many happy thoughts since Tom was plucked out of their gunfight by a giant hornet. When the member of Marshall’s 14th Virginia stumbles into John’s camp we have no doubt that, despite Pope’s apparent delight that Mason is still alive, this treacherous soldier who relayed the news will be next in the “Popedome.”

Back to the odd acting Captain Marshall, it has to be said that this episode was not nearly as frustrating as last week’s. Weaver has, at long last, recognized that his old pal is not herself. Although it does take the colonel following Katie out to the woods and killing the Overlord that she has been taking orders from to prompt any real action from the man.

As the title of the show indicates, the episode was all about escape, who one could trust and who the enemy really was. Sgt. Kagel turns out to be, as Maggie says, a diseased pig who is shot just as he takes aim at Tom Mason. Anne, gets turned in by the guy whose life she saves and Lt. Wolf gets shot and then set up to be executed. Lt. Shelton, who turns out to not be a douche puppet for Marshall after all, dies.

Keeping to the what appears to be a nod and wink to The Caine Mutiny Shelton has been convinced by Mason that what Marshall is doing is wrong. The lieutenant finally realizes that his captain has lost the plot and he attempts to take charge of the 14th Virginia and as he moves toward his commanding officer, the diseased pig shoots Shelton in the back and kills him.

While there was an almost satisfactory ending to this two-parter, it was still a frustrating interlude where no one, it seems, was smart enough to put two and two together. This pause from the march to D.C. did accomplish two things though. John Pope is now back in the storyline and Ben gets a vision from the Espheni communication device.

Spike-implanted Ben shoves his hand into the glowing transmitter and has a vision. He sees a plethora of Espheni Overlords in poses of supplication, apparently humbling themselves before a higher entity. Somewhat annoyingly, Ben is pulled from the device before he can see what the Overlords are looking at/worshiping.

Weaver says accusingly to the Volm “Higher than an Overlord? Cochise is there something you haven’t told us?” Cochise replies with a little stammer, Uh, I never thought it possible.”

Stalag 14th Virginia was a real mixed bag of plot and storyline. The Mason’s narrowly avoid being exterminated by an Espheni bio-creation (Marshall was not human although she apparently had the real Katie’s memories.) Maggie has to tell Hal twice why she had her spikes removed, John Pope has clearly managed to go even more mad and Tom has not only picked up a lot of reinforcements but he has also, unknown to him, picked up Pope again.

Falling Skies fell back upon the old, “we fear what we do not know” premise and it worked very well. The fear of Marshall’s troops of the unknown allowed her to kill innocent civilians with impunity and to keep her soldiers from attacking the Espheni. This is splendid television and excellent science fiction.

This TNT series, in its last season, has a brilliant cast and features a number of positive female roles. Falling Skies airs Sundays on TNT and is almost compulsive viewing, despite the show killing off Mira Sorvino‘s character, Sarah.

Bogart by A.M. Sperber & Eric Lax: Here’s Looking at You, Kid

Duke Mantee, Fred C. Dobbs, Charlie Allnut, Philip Marlowe, Sam Spade, Harry Morgan, Rick Blane, Roy Earle, Frank McCloud, Lt. Cmdr Philip Francis Queeg, Linus Larrabee…

Humphrey DeForest Bogart was all these men and more. His life and career went through three marriages, survival from playing two-bit thugs, and an almost career long battle with Jack Warner. “Bogie” survived his second marriage to Mayo ‘Sluggy’ Methot, who literally stabbed him in the back, and more importantly survived his ill-advised trip to Washington to stand up to the Un-American committee. During a time of cold war paranoia and a “better dead than red” mentality that spawned a communist witch hunt in Hollywood, Bogie managed to keep one step ahead of the hunters, but he never recovered from the stress and strain of “losing face” that he had to resort to.

What Bogie could not survive was oesophageal cancer, despite a two surgeries and a valiant fight by the man who immortalized the gangster with a heart. When Bogart died he left the most beautiful woman in Hollywood a widow with their two young children in a state of mourning. Stephen Bogart was lucky, he got to spend some time with his famous papa, Leslie was just 4 when Bogie died so her memories were non-existent.

A M Sperber spent 9 years collating all the material that went into the book Bogart. When she died in 1994, the publishers had boxes of material on Bogie, but no one to put it all together. Eric Lax (what an ironic name, the same last name as the initials of the LA international airport) took over and managed to put all the collected material together in a cohesive manner.

This book tells a lot of things about Bogart, his childhood, his parents, and his start in the business. From a juvenile actor on Broadway to more leading character driven parts that lead to his working with English actor Leslie Howard on The Petrified Forest as Duke Mantee. Playing Mantee made Bogart and it was due to Leslie Howard’s insistence that Bogart reprise his Broadway performance in the film with Howard that ensured Bogie got his “proper” start in Hollywood.

I have read quite a few biographies about Bogie and this one is quite easily the most complete. The authors manage to make us privy to his private life without being overly intrusive or sensational. The book goes to great length to show the disparities of Bogies personality and his inner demons that made themselves apparent all too often.

It is interesting that I managed to pick up both this wonderful book about Bogart and another wonderful book about Cagney. Both actors were childhood heroes. Like many other men my age, when I was younger I would walk around lisping, “Play it again, Sam,” as Rick in Casablanca or snarl menacingly as Cagney, “You dirty rat.” Neither of which either actor really said in a film, but impressionists used both of these lines to great effect.

Still from just one of the films that Bogart and Cagney made together.

Both men started playing gangsters and both men moved to the top of their profession. Completely different backgrounds, Bogie born with silver spoon in his mouth and Cagney born into abject poverty. Cagney of course was an expert song and dance man and Bogie was a consummate actor.

It is also interesting that both books left you in a different state of mind after reading them. Cagney’s book left one feeling good and full of kind thoughts.

Bogart left one feeling sad and not a little depressed. Such a horrible end for one of life’s more interesting characters who was such a wonderful actor.

As an actor Bogie played roles that were unforgettable, whether he was the “loner” Rick Blane forcing his true love to go with her duty instead of her heart, or whether he was the “mad” Lt Cmdr Queeg incessantly playing with his two ball bearings, Bogie brought a truth to them all. He was another of the “remember your lines and don’t bump into the furniture” type actor, like Cagney or the unique talent that was Spencer Tracey.

Bogart was a living contradiction. He got his start playing two-bit thugs on-screen and this continued after his break-out role of Duke Mantee. Yet he was an educated man from good stock. He was so politically active he wound up on the FBI’s list before his involvement in speaking out against the unfairness of the Un-American committee. He was at turns, a tough guy and sentimental slob.

Bogies story has been told with tact, humour and sensitivity. He was a perfect example of someone who “paid” for his success in terms that most of us would find too painful to accept.

This book was a wonderful telling of Bogart’s story and the people in his life that he worked with and lived with; a 5 star book about a 5 star actor and man.

Humphrey DeForest Bogart (b: 1899 – d: 1957)