By John Keegan and Henry Tran
The season premiere of "Falling Skies" split off into two storylines in the wake of Tom Mason's decision to join Karen on one of the alien ships at the end of last season. I think it's a curious decision, albeit a necessary one, to set up what is to come for the members of the 2nd Massachusetts army. We catch up with the ragtag bunch of survivors three months after Tom went on that ship, and instead of staying at a home base like the school last season, the army keeps themselves mobile.
This is partly because skitters and mechs are constantly on the hunt for any survivors who are part of the resistance. This adds a much more exciting element to the show, something that felt absent at times last season. Also in the mix is the mystery of what happened to Tom once he came onto the alien ship. The scenes there are of the more obtuse variety, setting up a mystery that looks to be explored more in-depth as this season progresses. It makes for an intriguing, if incomplete, episode where some of the payoffs are in the episode that follows it.
As time passes and the 2nd Massachusetts went without Tom, ostensibly their second-in-command behind Captain Weaver, the character dynamics have changed. Hal has stepped in Tom's place and taken to Weaver's new strategy of guerrilla warfare. They are picking their spots to launch a major assault on the aliens, but they seem content with taking out alien patrols in small bunches. We see at the beginning of the episode just how much the guerrilla tactics take out of the skirmishers, though. Lots of ammunition and rockets are needed to end what looks like a small threat.
While Hal is the leader and becoming more like his father every day, his brother Ben is integrated into the fighting force more smoothly than what happened to him the previous season. I like that Ben is essentially this wild-card where anything could happen and it might be a benefit to the good guys or a detriment. He disobeys his older brother and fires on a skitter, which results in Tom getting a bullet to the midsection. He doesn't say it out loud until "Shall We Gather at The River", but Ben's hatred of the skitters for what they did to him in captivity may have blinded him from seeing that the skitter he killed was struggling with his father.
The character dynamics within the 2nd Massachusetts get more coverage in this episode. Hal has to take care of his brothers while answering to Captain Weaver (who has become a hardened leader and a hero for everyone to follow) and occasionally flirting with Maggie. The lone part of that whole thing I didn't like was Matt, who joins the bunch of child actors who are really annoying. He wants to join the fight, fire a gun, and Hal won't let him. It's a character arc that has been done so many times before and I don't know why it was necessary to put in here.
Pope remains the colorful character that he is, with a band of outlaws that have joined up to be the "security element" of the 2nd Massachusetts. He remains in the background here, but I'd like to see him involved in more of the storylines for the future, mixing it up with the command structure of the resistance. It would add more tension and color to the show.
It's a curious decision to me that the show essentially keeps Tom away from the main action in the 2nd Mass. I thought the device to show the flashbacks on the alien ship was contrived, too. When Tom gets shot by Ben, he goes into a coma and that's how the series decides to show what happened during the time he was on the ship. His conversation with the tall, presumably lead alien is revealing, if in an obtuse kind of way. The aliens try to broker a peaceful resolution with the resistance and draws from human history to come up with what sounds like a post-apocalyptic version of internment camps.
It's a familiar trope with alien invasion stories, which makes distrustful that it's their actual agenda. Yes, human history is littered with one group oppressing other groups, but there are also plenty of examples of exactly what is happening now: The smaller, perceived-to-be weaker force overcoming all odds and driving the more powerful force out. I think the aliens acknowledge those parts of human history, but choose to ignore it. Why else would they be desperate to invite a historian onto the ship as the representative to broker their terms?
A lot of what happened to Tom on that ship is left to mystery. I have to assume the show is going to explain why we first see Tom in restraints and on some sort of examination table for days. Given what the aliens have done with kidnapping and transforming kids, it's not entirely out of line to expect that they would test adults for some other reasons. Perhaps to find weaknesses or to understand what makes humans tick? When the aliens release Tom back to Earth, the storyline makes little sense. Why did the mech kill everyone who was released except for Tom?
The show then streamlines and condenses what was supposed to be a three-month trek through a part of the country to connect it with what happens at the beginning of the episode. It short-changed what could have been a harrowing event for Tom and fast-forwards it to keep the main plot moving. Questions linger, like where he got fuel to run the motorcycle for as long as he did for one. They're largely brushed aside to re-unite Tom with the rest of the 2nd Massachusetts.
This first hour of "Falling Skies" was all setup for the episodes that follow. It's nice to actually see some character progression on many fronts. It feels like the writers got together after the first season aired last year and took a post-mortem, focusing on what was working, enhancing that, and reducing the elements that didn't work. I don't think the show will ever really solve the problem with whiny child actors or go away from some of the corny dialogue and the need to inject constant positive intonations, but that doesn't seem like much of a problem from what was shown here.
Constant darkness in a show with a post-apocalyptic setting has been a problem for other shows, however, so a balance would be a nice goal here. There aren't a lot of expectations with this show going into this season so I'm curious how it's going to progress as each episode airs.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.