When watching any show with an ongoing narrative, the question of pacing is always important to how the story plays out, and the more I’ve watched of Falling Skies the more I wonder if they have a good idea of how the show should be paced. The chronology tends to speed up and slow down depending on what point the show’s writing staff wants to pick up on, and it leaves the often flawed dialogue to catch up viewers on what’s happened. Last week’s “Love And Other Acts Of Courage,” for example, showed Ben and Rick already in the presence of Skitter Clegane and pleading for Tom and company to help him, with any of the details of how they met up covered after the fact in Ben’s whining about the skitter resistance. I appreciate that the show has points it wants to hit, but there needs to be a sense of build to those moments, rather than the random reunions the show’s proven worryingly fond of this season.
“Homecoming” doesn’t do much to dismiss these worries, with no fewer than three reintroductions to departed characters coming out of nowhere, and two large obstacles to the 2nd Mass that happened solely because we leap ahead two weeks between episodes with little context to what came before. There’s a lot of good events in the episode—including a welcome return to the season’s earlier creepiness—but credulity is strained on several occasions, even past what Falling Skies usually asks.
Certainly the resistance is entitled to want a break, and the amenities of the hospital let everyone growing more comfortable—case in point Tom and Anne, whose are now sharing a bed and balancing their resistance duties with regular trysts (“After dinner?” “Or after lunch?” “That sounds even better.”). The downside is that in two weeks they’ve completely exhausted their fuel reserves to power the hospital and getting to Charleston is looking like a lost cause, a detail that Weaver kept from Tom for all this time. Weaver’s also kept problems of his own a secret—that harness bite he took in “Young Bloods” has been festering for two weeks, and his blood’s now running cold and throwing him into unnerving seizures that place Tom in command of the 2nd Mass. These are both obvious conflicts for the show, but expecting that Weaver would let things go to this degree sabotages what’s supposed to be a character who’s supposedly grown over the course of the series.
That being said, once the problems are introduced it’s at least interesting to watch them solve them, as in saving Weaver’s life the show almost converts to a medical drama for a time. There’s a radical approach to solving the alien poison in Weaver’s system that would impress Dr. House, an appropriately timed catastrophe when the generators die at a crucial moment, and a frantic effort by Tom to keep the procedure going—a move sure to please everyone who can still see Dr. John Carter when they look at Noah Wyle. We also some more meat on the bones of the Tom/Anne relationship to see that love during wartime is a risky proposition, especially when in a heated argument he calls her by his dead wife’s name. (“I’m surprised it hasn’t happened sooner, to be honest, or vice versa” she wearily says.) It’s something different, but oddly refreshing in that way.
While Tom’s trying to deal with these issues, another one rears its head when Hal and Maggie return from patrol after uncovering a pile of deharnessed kids. All of them are dead save one: Karen, Hal’s onetime girlfriend last seen as the alien overlord’s mouthpiece. She professes to have no memories of what transpired between harnessing and deharnessing, but enough red flags are raised by her sudden reappearance—and Ben’s claim that he can “hear her”—for Tom to decide she should be kept under observation in the hospital’s psych ward for a while.
The trouble with bringing Karen back, as opposed to the returns of Tom and Rick from earlier in the season, is that they’ve given us little reason to care about her. Karen was abducted by the skitters back in the third episode “Prisoner Of War,” and there was barely a minute spent on grieving for her before moving right back to the search for Ben. This is no disrespect to Jessy Schram, who did the best with the material she was given, but the most substantial material she had was getting touchy about Lourdes’ crush on Hal, and her disappearance never came across as a real void in Hal’s life or in the show itself.
However, unlike the irritation that was Rick’s return last week, Karen coming back to the 2nd Mass makes things more interesting. In her previous appearances as an alien mouthpiece she’s conveyed a convincing lack of humanity, and here there are still shades of that along with a sense of fascination at being between worlds. Her joy at being able to lift a bed one-handed is a welcome change of pace from the angst Ben associates with his abilities. Speaking of Ben, her return also seems to bode well for his development, as the character’s more annoying tendencies are dialed back by the fact that for once he has someone to talk to who’s not either suspicious of him or an obvious skitter convert. As the two get closer—first by talking, then by their spikes lighting up and pushing them into each others arms—there’s definite chemistry between Schram and Connor Jessup, where I previously wouldn’t have thought either could generate any.
Even more unsettling is the interaction between Karen and Maggie, the woman who ostensibly replaced her—a move I admit I found somewhat hilarious when it happened, a rotation of the tough blonde scout/love interest for Hal position. There’s nothing funny about this “girl talk” though, as Maggie comes in guns cocked and tells her to head back to where she came from. Karen comes out with both verbal and physical assault, telling her she’s not good enough for the 2nd Mass and then throwing her against the wall.
And in a convincing piece of manipulation, Karen quickly makes it look like a more even fight, persuading Ben that this is only part of the problem, and the two take off like Sefton and Dunbar at the end of Stalag 17, presumably off to follow the signal to the Skitter Clegane-led resistance. If he’ll even let them get that close, that is—the last shot of Karen and the accompanying music strongly telegraphs an even more villainous twist.
Even with all this action there’s still one more reunion to come, as one of the scouting parties brings back none other than Pope and Anthony. (Apparently my hopes of the two in a buddy cop/alien spinoff series were all for naught.) This reunion also comes entirely out of left field—some talk about looking for vehicles and being caught off guard is all the introduction we get—and it’s one that loses a lot of import because we haven’t seen either since they left the resistance. I’ll forgive this one though because it finally brings Colin Cunningham back to the fold, and a long list of revelations from his own close encounter. Pope’s many things, but he’s not a liar when it comes to the aliens, and the things he’s learned—the skitter resistance being real, the fact that the overlords are looking for Ben in connection to it, and that Karen was harnessed not two days before her discovery—adds up to a lot of trouble coming our heroes’ way. I only hope we’ll get to see it as it happens, rather than have it shoved down our throats after the fact.
- TNT announced on Wednesday Falling Skies was picked up for a third season. Not a surprise, as while the ratings have been down since last year it remains a valuable international property for the network, and being in business with Steven Spielberg obviously makes them look good.
- Last week Rick was discovered in the ruins of Richmond, VA, and this week Anthony was apparently recovered outside of Raleigh, NC. I have no idea where this hospital is supposed to be, but much like the passage of time, the scouts can evidently cover as much space in a day as the writers need them to.
- Not a single glimpse of a skitter, a mech, an overlord or even an alien corpse this episode. Perhaps the grace period the 2nd Mass got at the hospital can be attributed to the invasion’s budgetary issues.
- Slang terms for deharnessed kids: razorback and coat hanger.
- Hal and Ben’s relationship continues to get uglier by the week: “You’re such a...” “Freak?” “I was gonna say tool, but if you like ‘freak’ let’s go with it.”
- Weaver, pragmatic to the last: “How much fuel did we burn saving my sorry ass?”