I’d like to preface this recap by saying that Falling Skies is by no means the best show on television right now. What it demonstrated in its first season, however, was that it had a good deal of potential. Like many, I’m a sucker for post-apocalyptic drama, and one of the first season’s greatest strengths was that it jumped right in with the aftermath of the alien invasion, slowly divulging nuggets of information as to how the world arrived at its current state. On the other hand, it had a tendency towards cloying optimism, often over-using the adorable young child as a vehicle for conveying the message that hope is not lost for the survivors of the invasion. But hey, this is a Spielberg production.
At the end of last season, the soldiers of the 2nd Mass launched an attack on one of the alien-built structures in Boston, successfully debilitating it; the civilians were forced to flee the high school they had been using as a sanctuary due to a Mech attack, and Tom Mason left in a spaceship with a couple of mysterious, eerily humanoid-looking new aliens in order to stop them from taking his son Ben. The first episode of the two-part season opener, ‘Worlds Apart’, begins three months later, and if it establishes anything in the first few moments it’s that the situation has gotten worse, not better, since the last time we saw the 2nd Mass. It’s so bad, in fact, that Weaver seems to be trusting Pope with a modicum of command as a group of soldiers try their darndest to defend their territory from yet more Skitters and Mechs. All hope is not lost, however, as the advantage the soldiers have gained since the end of last season is that they’ve worked out how to use the alien’s technology against them, meaning that destroying Mechs is not the gargantuan task it once was.
What we also quickly discover is that Ben, Tom’s middle son, is now a soldier – and a very proficient and angry one at that. He directs his rage towards the Skitters for what they did to him by killing everything in sight, even if that means disobeying the orders of his older brother Hal, who seems to have assumed a great deal more command in his father’s absence. Tom soon returns, however, only unfortunately he’s taken a bullet from none other than Ben, who was shooting at a Skitter Tom also happened to be fighting.
Throughout the episode, we learn through flashbacks of what Tom went through whilst a prisoner of the Skitters, and I was certainly not surprised to learn that he tried to school them with historical knowledge – only to find that they already knew it all. Apparently they are willing to offer Tom – and a number of other captured military leaders – a deal whereby their survivors will be allowed to live in peace in a sort of concentration camp/ ghetto style ‘neutral zone’. Tom rightly compares this to the genocides of Nazi Germany and Cambodia, and the long tall alien (what are we calling these guys? Skinnies? Slenders? Fish Heads?) agrees, saying that they are using a model to which humanity is no stranger. Eventually they release Tom, after establishing what will presumably become a recurring Skitter antagonist, Red Eye, and along with him the other captured military leaders. When the spaceship departs, however, Red Eye is waiting for the freed humans, along with a Mech and, in another parallel to the Holocaust, they proceed to gun down everyone, deliberately leaving only Tom alive. Tom standing in a field amongst all those dead bodies certainly made for a chilling image, and must have given Tom further pause over not accepting their offer.
Meanwhile, back at the camp, the 2nd Mass is more vulnerable than ever. Without the security of the high school, the survivors are living out of trucks and cars and, as if things weren’t bad enough, their hospital is a bus, staffed by a paediatrician and a medical student half way through her degree. This is certainly useful for keeping the resistance mobile, but cannot be comfortable in the slightest. All is not well amongst the brothers Mason, as young Matt implores Ben to teach him how to fight and Ben agrees, much to the discontent of Hal. Hal pulling rank with Ben was a nice little character moment, I thought, suggesting that perhaps the authority he has suddenly found himself with has gone to his head, and I was getting a distinctly Dean Winchester-ish vibe off of him.
Part 2, ‘Shall We Gather at the River’, focuses on the survivors trying to cross the Housatonic River so as not to be penned in by the aliens, who Weaver fears are closing in. It also explores the idea that perhaps Tom is not one hundred per cent himself after returning from his captivity, a fear voiced by Pope at the end of Part 1, and reaffirmed by Tom himself later on. Such fears come to a head when Anne finds a parasite in his eye and, in a scene I had to squint to watch, removes it, with no anaesthetic and Tom still fully conscious. Despite being sealed up in a specimen jar, however, the parasite manages to escape and re-unite with Red Eye, who, we can only assume, is gathering intelligence on Tom and the 2nd Mass.
I was very interested in the scene where Ben tells his father that he overcame his post-harness nightmares and stops the Skitters from being able to control him by using his hatred of them and what they did to him as a weapon. It certainly made a change from the old love-as-a-weapon motif and I was about to applaud the show for this change in direction, when of course Tom whips out the old Falling Skies schmaltz to tell his son that his weapon against the aliens was, in fact, love. Another thing I could have done without was the oh-so-dramatic music played over the scene where Anne and Lourdes try to save Tom from bleeding to death, because the peril was entirely false – we all knew that the show was not going to kill off its main character within thirty minutes of his return, so the moment was just empty. These two episodes seem to go a long way to establish just how much Tom is the hero, too, with both episodes ending on his triumphant return from near-death situations, although I was pleasantly surprised that both events were underscored by darker notions; Pope’s suspicions regarding Tom and the return of the parasite to Red Eye.
The mystery of the aliens’ plan still remains, although there are hints towards their intentions. Are they going for a Hitler-style Final Solution? Do they mean to harness the remaining humans for energy, à la The Matrix? Or do they really intend to let the survivors live in peace? And, perhaps more importantly, can we trust Tom Mason? Despite my few qualms with this season’s opener, I’m excited to see where the show goes this season, now that it seems to have found its feet, and how it plans to go about answering the questions raised in Sunday’s episodes.