“Death March” S2 / E8
- C+ Community Grade
On the surface, a road trip always seems like a great idea. A few close friends in the car, a destination in sight, a cooler full of snacks, and a stack of CDs. You get to tell every story you’ve had kicking around inside your head, point out all the sights on the side of the road, and essentially just cut back and enjoy the freedom of the open road. The trouble with these trips, though, is, after a certain point, you realize that you’ve heard the same CDs more than twice, all the ice in the cooler has melted, and you’ve spent enough time with the people in the car that if you have to spend five minutes more with them, you’re going to snap. And this point usually comes with at least two hours of driving to go.
Falling Skies has been on a similar road trip for much of this season, even though it hasn’t seemed that way at times given all the pit stops the resistance has taken for supplies and tearful reunions. I’ve praised the show for its feeling of optimism in the face of adversity before, but even in a Steven Spielberg-produced show that only lasts for so long. This is a group of people that has been moving for a long time, chasing one idea of safety after another and losing a lot of people in the process. Sooner or later, the constant movement takes its toll.
“Death March” is the first episode in a while where it feels like this is a group of people on the move, with the resistance convoy now less than 200 miles from the supposed promised land of Charleston. As such, most of the action is spent in the confines of the various vehicles, where its characters are forced into conversations that are much more loaded than the involved parties would like. And there are definitely some good moments scattered across those vehicles, even if plenty of them feel like the show’s as tired of being on the road as its characters are.
The first car is the medical bus, which takes on a new passenger when the convoy inadvertently strikes a young girl named Jenny who happens to be sporting a damaged harness, and who’s been harnessed long enough that she’s growing long claws and scaly features. After the Karen experience, everyone’s fairly gun-shy about bringing on another possible skitter pawn, but sentimentality still hasn’t been beaten out of either Tom or Weaver and—after a particularly loaded gaze between the two—they wind up bringing her along. Matt, happy to finally have another kid to play with, forms an instant attachment that isn’t put off by her talk about “guardians” or “siblings”—though that quickly changes when one of those siblings is seen holding onto the windows and yelling inside.
Beyond the obvious exercise of the show’s horror strengths—unnerving prostheses on Jenny, the harnessed boy clawing at the windows in true “something on the wing” style—this plot brings a new issue to the forefront. We’ve only seen an advanced harnessing state briefly in season one’s “Sanctuary,” and to bring one front and center forces Tom and Weaver to ask the serious question of what happens to them should humans win the war. It’s hard enough for people like Ben to co-exist in wartime, what happens when there’s enough deharnessed kids around to need their own entry on a census? As happens in wartime, they’ve spent so much time fighting they haven’t even paused to consider the endgame, and while this isn’t the time to think about it, it needs to be considered.
Which is why it’s so baffling that this idea leaves the episode halfway through, when Jenny simply claims she has to go with her brother and hurls both Matt and Anne aside to do so. And once she leaves, there’s absolutely no discussion in the convoy, opting instead to turn to a moment where Tom sits with Matt and encourages him things are going to be okay—a move we’ve seen so frequently I’m now enforcing a Falling Skies drinking game where we take a shot each time this happens. True, the fact that it’s abandoned in favor of the convoy moving on makes sense, but there’s not even a murmur from Weaver or Anthony that losing a potential alien spy they said “Charleston” in front of about 50 times could be a problem. It’s just brushed aside, in a matter that feels startlingly out of character for this show.
Things are a bit better over in the command vehicle, where Weaver has drafted Tector to be his driver. Tector, the Berserker sniper best known for coining Tom’s nickname “Mason Jar” and blowing off skitter heads with a .50 caliber rifle, has caught Weaver’s eye as having more skill than someone made a solider by the invasion should. Under pressure, Tector admits that not only is he a solider, he’s an ex-gunnery sergeant with tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Weaver’s pleased at the resource of another military man, but Tector was battle-scarred even before the aliens came, and he has no desire to lead another group of people to its death.
This move is more concrete than Jenny’s introduction, and better for the show’s immediate structure. Falling Skies could stand to evolve its secondary cast instead of just killing them off, and Ryan Robbins (formerly of Battlestar Galactica and Stargate Atlantis) has to this point been reliable with the limited material he’s been given. Weaver, no stranger to PTSD himself, knows just the trick to jar him into awareness, blaming Tector for the deaths of Boone and his men to force him into saying it wasn’t his fault. Solid work from both Robbins and Will Patton, a pairing the show will hopefully utilize more of.
And in car number three, we see the journey may have jeopardized Hal and Maggie’s growing romance before it’s even started. The two are driving the scout vehicle and offering quiet reassurances to each other that things will be okay, happy in that early relationship manner that’s primed for the show’s more sentimental tendencies. (This is personified by Maggie’s quote: “Sometimes you just have to trust that fate will throw you a favor every once in a while.”) Unfortunately, Pope happens to be backseat driving in the bed of the truck, tossing back many beers, and when the truck breaks down, he starts goading Maggie into revealing her past before the couple start “popping out Masonettes.” That past? Well, evidently Maggie didn’t adapt well to surviving cancer, with a descent into drugs and robbery that earned her a stay in prison—a stay where she gave birth to a son.
This is a left-field reveal if ever there was one, and your reaction to it likely depends on how you feel about the Hal/Maggie romance. To me, while it certainly explains some of her behaviors—including her reaction to the now almost entirely forgotten baby shower from “Sanctuary”—it still comes across as an unplanned character twist, introduced to complicate a relationship that’s complicated enough as is. Truthfully, I’m more interested in how the hell Pope knew this much about her, given their history is certainly not one where she’d confide such truths in him.
And while there’s plenty of drama going on inside the cars, it pales in comparison to what they find at the end of the road. The spanning bridge to Charleston has been shattered past any of the late Jamil’s engineering know-how, and the city bombed out of existence on the other side. There’s a lot of hope being stepped on, and the Spielbergian shot of the resistance gazing at the ruins hits that point across. It falls to Weaver—with some goading from Tector, at last feeling like a soldier again—to once again try to inspire the 2nd Mass into staying together, which he does in another of those realistic yet inspiring speeches Patton’s rather good at giving.
And then, the newly re-energized 2nd Mass hears a noise in the bushes. The source? None other than Colonel Porter, head of the combined Massachusetts resistance, presumed dead since late in season one. Not only is he alive, he’s marching at the head of a group of soldiers with dry-cleaned uniforms and enough strawberries to win Kaylee Frye’s heart ten times over. It turns out Charleston isn’t destroyed (“Appearances can be deceiving”) and Hal, Maggie and Pope are under the soldiers’ protection, ready to lead them all to their promised land. Not only is it an ending that throws one more emotional twist into an already knotted episode, it’s also one of those forceful happy endings that marred the first season and a trait I’d hoped the show had grown out of this time around.
But with everything the 2nd Mass has been through in recent weeks, I suppose they can’t be begrudged a moment of happiness. And given how damaged this trip has left most of its members—and how Pope, Tector and others are muttering they might not stick around for this supposed Babylon—it’s likely to only stay a moment.
- Also on the medical bus, Lourdes is still inconsolable about Jamil’s death, adopting an OCD attitude toward keeping his tools together and lashing out at Anne after patients die.
- Maxim Knight’s proving to be a surprisingly strong member of the cast this season, his desire to be a soldier last week giving way this week to reveal how much he’d still like to be a regular kid. Like his father, he’s keeping a journal, and the simple language of what he hopes to find in Charleston (“I wouldn’t put it in the journal if it wasn’t true”) is unexpectedly touching.
- For a resistance that’s supposed to compromise about 200 people, the convoy sure seems smaller than that—the full population only ever comes out for big speeches. There must be quite a few RVs they just don’t show us, or everyone’s just packed tightly in those trucks.
- Hal suggests at one point Pope keep dropping his beer cans out the back of the car as indicators for the rest of the resistance to follow. Sort of an alcoholic Hansel and Gretel.
- Pope’s interruptions to Hal and Maggie in the cab just go to prove what a bad move it was for the show to remove Colin Cunningham from the action for three episodes. Even just seeing his head bobbing through the truck’s rear window, his presence is welcome, and his sarcasm a welcome balance to the sentimentality. “Well, well, here we are at last Maggie Mae. How far are you bringing that boy down the primrose path?”
- Please offer your own suggestions for the Falling Skies drinking game below. Other suggestions: Take a drink when Pope says something snippy, take two drinks when they remember to give Moon Bloodgold something non-doctor-related to do, take three drinks when Weaver gives an inspiring speech.