By John Keegan and Henry Tran
For all of its tries at showing the epic scope of its stories, "Falling Skies" seems to have trouble with the minor details. I would normally be one to ignore these kinds of things, but they add up in the face of an episode that keeps the skitters, mechs, and alien overlords completely off-screen (for obvious budgetary concerns), thus limiting the threats our heroes must face. An amazing amount of coincidental events pop up yet again in this episode, with the sudden reappearances of two past characters who were thought to be out of the big picture.
Karen's return to the 2nd Massachusetts is fraught with suspicion and indications of something much larger at work. It's not explicitly told in the space of the episode, but her actions and conversations with certain characters can draw up some theories. In contrast, Pope's return is sudden and strangely filled with logistical holes about where he's really been in relation to the larger group and how long he and Anthony have been on their own. There are, unfortunately, still common errors that drag down the show's quality. It seems that the writers don't want to repair them or just don't see where they exist.
Hal and Maggie continue the back-and-forth nature of their relationship in this episode, concluding with her decision to go to another patrol unit. It seems like she would make good on that threat to get away from Hal until they both come upon a group of dead and de-harnessed kids buried on the road. Among the kids is Karen, also de-harnessed, who remains alive and is brought back to the hospital to recover. She does so quickly, and soon begins to sow dissension in the camp.
Looking back on the whole arc of Karen's story within the episode, that seems to be her entire intent. She knows that the 2nd Massachusetts will likely greet her with suspicion, especially since Tom was the last to see her on the alien mothership months ago. So she feeds on the paranoia. Oddly, the writers choose to de-emphasize Hal and how her return affects him and his growing (or stalled if you look at it another way) relationship with Maggie. To be fair, this is a good thing for the show because Karen has been on the fringes of the show since she was abducted early in the first season and so perhaps Hal has long since buried whatever feelings he had for her.
The larger purpose for Karen's return seems to be the recruitment of Ben into the skitter rebellion that Red Eye espoused last episode. Again, it's not explicitly explained in the episode, but you can infer some things from their actions. Ben and Karen "connect" when their spikes glow. My theory is that Karen is still under some kind of control by the alien overlords, and that they already have knowledge of the skitter rebellion. Given that Red Eye said they'd been fighting the overlords for over a hundred years, perhaps they've known for a long while now and is just waiting for an opportunity to crush it. If that's the overlords' ultimate intent, why recruit Ben to push the rebellion further? Are the overlords looking to wipe out the rebel skitters and the human race in one fell swoop?
The theory that Karen is still under overlord control is backed up by Pope's crazy-eyed assertions of the time he and Anthony faced off with them and Karen was in their presence. But how could Karen have had many days lead on Pope and Anthony when they were in the same place just two days before? It's a tenuous connection at best given the connective tissue presented in this episode, but that only demonstrates why Karen's sudden return was much more interesting than Pope's or even Rick's return.
It's all of these sudden returns of characters who happen to be in the fringes of the narrative before that really frustrate me, though. The show doesn't bother to present us with what happens in the time periods they've given us. It happened in the season premiere when they smoothed over what happened to Tom as he was making his way from Michigan to New England in three months' time. Here, the 2nd Massachusetts has remained in the hospital for two weeks, yet somehow consume all of the fuel needed to keep the emergency power generators going. Yet, these people look remarkably well-groomed for a post-apocalyptic group of ragtags.
The crises seem to multiply right at the perfect time, too. Karen's return coincides with a blood disorder that incapacitates Captain Weaver. Yes, this is follow-up on the harnessing creature's leg bite from a prior episode, but his confinement to a hospital bed brought another issue that seems virtually ignored by everyone in the 2nd Massachusetts these days: The lack of proper leadership beneath Captain Weaver. Normally, there would be some evidence of a military chain of command (the 2nd Massachusetts is a militia unit after all), but Tom assumes command at the order of Captain Weaver. The man's got enough on his plate without now having to deal with the concerns of the entire camp. We know of Captain Weaver's importance. If the characters are thinking the same, they would do well to protect Weaver in some manner.
Tom also has to help with the radical procedure devised by Lourdes to save Captain Weaver's life, and while it's somewhat inventive, there's little suspense in the whole sequence because we all know Weaver will survive. When Dr. Glass said, "I don't believe it" as Weaver woke up, I was incredulous. She had explained just minutes earlier what she expected would happen if the procedure was successful. Then it happened almost exactly as she predicted. Since the 2nd Massachusetts seems to have been beset with such good fortune for the large part since the season premiere, I half expected Captain Weaver to grow another leg. The whole crisis with Captain Weaver was so arbitrary, something to put a little action in the hospital setting before they get back on the road to Charleston.
At this point, I hope they return to the road in the next episode. With Ben now departing from the group, that will keep Tom occupied with chasing him down. That seems like another delay to get from point A to point B. Karen is with him so she may be leading Tom and the rest of the camp into some sort of trap. If the show continues this kind of pacing, I'd expect the arrival of the 2nd Massachusetts to Charleston to occur in the season finale. So in the meantime, the story could go any number of places.
I only hope the writers are allowed to show what happens along the journey to that destination instead of having to smooth over it with superfluous dialogue. Doing it that way doesn't allow for the audience to feel the passage of time pressing on the group, and it makes all of the events within any given episode to feel very jarring. It's as if the writers are forced to come up with a variety of crises to keep things interesting, but ignoring the logic and buildup to those moments. That keeps a lot of the events on "Falling Skies" from feeling earned. I think it's capable of so much more, yet it's hampered by the small things that could make it great.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.