By John Keegan and Henry Tran
When I saw that this episode was titled, "Death March," I was a bit puzzled. Would a show known for taking it safe with nearly every plot element in its arsenal really pile on the death at this point? The survivors are on their way to salvation in Charleston and so maybe that could happen. Then, I watched the episode. This was not a death march the way I had imagined it in my mind. In fact, no one in the episode dies! So I had to ask the question of whether the title was ironic in some way during the viewing of the episode.
What we got was a meditation of sorts on the effects of war from three different perspectives amongst the survivors of the 2nd Massachusetts. It's something that every apocalyptic story does as an attempt to humanize the characters and perhaps show where they are in the story psychologically. Unfortunately, there was little in terms of a payoff for all of the story threads presented throughout this episode. We see Matt befriend another harnessed child that the survivors seem to constantly stumble across. We see Hal and Maggie on yet another mission together. We see Captain Weaver in deep conversation with Tector as they lead the large convoy to Charleston. All of the conversations lead to nothing. It's left out there to give shading to the characters, but there seems to be something missing. The ending of the episode was also a manipulative cheat, but I'll get into that later.
The bulk of the plot in this episode focused on the medical bus as the convoy works its way towards Charleston. They are rambling along, in the dark, and then a harnessed child named Jenny comes right out of the blue. The show's characters acknowledge their past history by showing distrust towards Jenny due to the experience with Karen in the previous episode. Beyond that, though, they tie Jenny in the back of the bus and continue on. So the subplot changes from paranoia over another harnessed kid to the softer side of things with Matt befriending Jenny. Matt is so lonely as basically the only really young, school-age child of the group that he will latch onto any person of his own age.
The writers give him some depth by giving him young child things to do like writing a diary full of his private thoughts and mainly worrying about his older brothers. He had high hopes that Jenny would be his friend once the group gets to the relative safety of a big city. He gets a cold dose of reality when Jenny tells him that she's still attached to her skitter "guardian" and her "brother" Tyler is looking for her. It's a cropped version of some of the things from Matt's previous life before the aliens invaded stripped away in a sense.
I think that's what the episode was going for as a whole. Everyone in the camp has to leave their old lives behind because they're in a war right now, and the sole purpose of war is to live to fight the next day. I really had a problem with how Jenny was used in the episode, though. I think she'll pop up again later on (she seems too prominently featured in this episode to just be a one-off type of character), but she's only on the bus and then disappears into the dark woods. No one in the 2nd Mass. even thinks to chase after her, especially since she could be an alien spy who was told by numerous people that they're headed to Charleston.
Inter-weaved with all this is the advance scouting done by Hal, Maggie, and Pope. It's gotten to the point now where I think the show needs to separate Hal and Maggie for a long period of time. Their romance is starting to feel like it's being played out again and again. The same beats and the same awkwardness/flirty banter. Their truck breaks down and while Hal is off-screen, Pope grills Maggie on the horrible "truth" about her past that she should tell Hal. Pope mentions that she should tell him "what she is," and for the briefest of moments, I thought she'd say she was in league with the aliens all along. Frankly, I think that would have been a heck of a bombshell game changer. No, her past involved a descent into illegal drugs and petty crime along with a stint in jail where she gave birth to a child. Honestly, I thought this revelation was underwhelming and straying straight into soap opera territory. It has no impact on the plot other than messing with Hal's feelings towards Maggie. It's an apocalypse. Do you not realize the world you are living in now? Your past hardly matters. It's yet another barrier to keep these two obvious lovebirds apart.
The futility of dwelling on your past also applies to Tector, too. It's revealed that he was a Marine in the life before the aliens came and that he led his platoon of men into an ambush. Sure, it's noble that Tector doesn't want to repeat the same mistakes again, but the past remains in the past. There is nothing Tector can do about it. If he was so wracked with guilt, how does that explain his almost sadistic joy at blowing the heads off of the skitters from a couple episodes back? It doesn't mesh with what we've seen from the character. Boone's death must have awakened the memories, but I doubt all of it will stick to the next episode. None of these revelations have any effect on the overall plot at hand. It's aimless filler to make sure there is some kind of story being told in the miles that the convoy cover from Virginia to Charleston.
When the convoy reaches Charleston, it's depicted as a pile of rubble. Admittedly, the shot of ruined Charleston was effective in showing the epic scope of the series. The mournful music swells as the 2nd Mass. looks on in horror. They lose all hope. Captain Weaver gives a rousing speech and somehow, within the space of maybe two minutes, they go from abject despair to having some semblance of hope. Honestly, I couldn't buy it. I was reminded of a big plot point in the fourth season of "Battlestar Galactica" where the characters discover that their potential salvation is actually a burnt-out heap. Everyone loses hope and things descend into chaos. It's meant for the show to dwell on because the shocking revelation changes the entire dynamic of the overall plot.
That doesn't happen here. If you see that there is no salvation, you lose hope. I found the group's reaction to the speech puzzling. It is such whiplash to go from seeing a ruined city to having renewed hope again. It doesn't mesh entirely. But not a moment after Weaver's speech, Colonel Porter shows up with newly-pressed military uniforms claiming to be the commander of the 1st Continental Army based in Charleston. Apparently, looks can be deceiving. So that means Charleston isn't a lost cause?
The episode just leaves it as a cliffhanger of sorts. I really don't know what to make of it. The ending asked the audience to feel one emotion then move all the way to the opposite end of the spectrum without processing the first emotion more thoroughly. It's haphazard and sloppy plotting, and just piles on the numerous problems I had with this episode. What happens in Charleston had better be worth the small payoff that it was here. Otherwise, this was a real waste of time when the show could have done other things.John Keegan is Editor-in-Chief for Critical Myth, a partner site of SciFi Vision. Henry Tran is Critical Myth's reviewer for Falling Skies.