While Falling Skies has certainly been a better show over the course of this season, one of its central problems remains in play—the fact that, for the most part, the show’s just not as good when people are speaking. The dialogue on Falling Skies has never been exactly terrible, but it has a marked tendency towards the mawkish and overwrought, where characters will spell out their intentions too directly or give speeches that feel cribbed from some old radio serial. Fortunately, by mixing up the conversation with some gung-ho alien conflicts or by ramping up the tension between characters in the natural progression of events, the writing’s weaker moments manage to get eclipsed by all the things the show does right.
Unfortunately, the things it does wrong are on full display in “Love And Other Acts Of Courage,” easily the weakest installment of Falling Skies’ sophomore season. While the episode contains some potentially interesting directions for the series—albeit ones that push to the side the interesting directions we’re already on—too much of it is bogged down in characters rehashing the same points they’ve made before. I’ve talked about how their journey to Charleston indicates a show that’s moving forward, and this is an episode where they have not only stopped but are digging their heels in.
And the sad thing is, the episode starts out seeming like it’s headed in a much more promising direction. An explosion deep in the ruins of Richmond attracts the interest of the resistance’s scouting parties, who come across a battlefield devoid of human casualties but full of of dead skitters and mechs. Weaver speculates they’re shooting each other now (“That’d be different” Tom says, stating the obvious) but Hal is distracted by the sight of glowing objects similar to Ben’s back trapped under a skitter corpse. Running over in a panic, he pulls the body off to see that it’s not Ben, but happens to be Rick, former harness victim and 2nd Mass turncoat who spent most of the first season desperate to return to the alien embrace.
As such, I started to get worried right away, as I found that character to be one of the weakest parts of the first season. While obviously Rick’s harness removal and subsequent reactions were central in depicting the psychological toll that would later be visited on Ben, I found his presence on the show to be monotone and irritating, so fixated on the skitter lifestyle and prone to droning threats that it made full sense why most of the other resistance members wanted him gone immediately. And by waking up almost instantly with frantic gasps and cryptic messages of Ben being in danger, it certainly didn’t justify his reintroduction if it was just going to be more of the same. It also has the unpleasant effect of dragging Tom back into making a decision based on the safety of his sons, something I believe he’s done about sixty times since the series started.
Those decisions do lead somewhere unexpected once Ben is located, as he’s in the company of none other than a wounded Skitter Clegane. I pegged Skitter Clegane as a recurring antagonist for the season, but it turns out he might be anything but. Using Rick as his transmitter, the scarred alien reveals that the invasion may not be as uniform as the humans have previously thought, and some of the skitters who have resisted the harness effects want to rebel against the overlords who are at the center of the invasion. They’ve apparently been trying to break free of their control for over a century, but now, witnessing the fighting spirit of humanity, they believe that a rebel alliance might be the deciding factor. This is a concept not easily dismissed, as an alien resistance may have more potential Falling Skies than Charleston—divisions amongst the aliens means more variety in the combat situations and further paranoia and confusion from the survivors.
And yet, I couldn’t focus on the potential of it at the time because I was so infuriated at the various conversations that were happening around it. Tom finally chews Ben out for keeping secrets from him, and Ben tries to argue that he needs to listen to what the skitter has to say, but it just comes across as yelling and whining on both their parts. (I defended Connor Jessup in my review of the season premiere, but the more he’s dealing with the consequences of his skitter growth the less capable he seems, and I’m not sure if the writing or the acting is to blame here.) When it comes time to talk to Skitter Clegane in detail, Tom once again makes the stupid decision to be left alone with him, and bizarrely keeps talking to him even after the alien says a death squad is coming, a phrase that usually leads one to call for reinforcements. And certainly Skitter Clegane’s suffering from having Rick be his mouthpiece, but his response to Tom’s accusations of his race’s merciless nature may well have been cribbed from LiveJournal: “I have much regret and only remorse. So you cannot speak to the depths of my sorrow.”
On the other side of the episode, Hal and Maggie are on a hunt for medical supplies, spared of camp drama but busy generating their own. The two have been flirting with each other all season long, and here they find themselves in the backseat of an old car—hiding from a mech patrol, yes, but still generating an uncomfortable closeness and talk of teenage romance. After inadvertently coaxing some memories of his harnessed girlfriend Karen out, Maggie reciprocates by telling more stories of her own past, where she was under surgery no fewer than three times to deal with brain tumors, and by the third time she was ready for the end. As you do in the post-apocalypse, moments of weakness lead to romantic tension, and Hal makes a move, only for Maggie to quickly reject it and say they need to stay partners. I think their tension is certainly more interesting than Lourdes and Jamil, but young love is still not the show’s strong point.
Thankfully, the show does still know when to introduce some action to liven things up, and the alien death squad’s approach does just that. When Maggie’s bike gets taken out by a missile, Hal gets to play white knight and save her, a move that makes him seem a much more active sort and gives Maggie a chance to play the “go on without me” card. The missile fire doesn’t touch the camp but does give a diversion for Skitter Clegane crawl to safety, and Rick—desperate to help his alien patron escape—takes a Berserker shotgun blast straight to the chest. I cheered far more than I should have when that happened, which once again speaks to a problem in the writing: In a post-apocalyptic scenario, if I’m rooting for human characters to die it should be because they’re directly antagonistic to our heroes, not because they annoy me every moment they’re on screen (cough The Walking Dead cough).
At least the aftermath of this does lead to a more satisfying conversation, as the resistance relocates to the abandoned hospital the scouts found and Tom has a serious moment with Weaver, still nursing an ugly leg wound from the harness bite last week. The interaction between these two feels more natural and comfortable, both men acknowledging their initial dislike of and subsequent respect for each other. And for once, Tom’s finally able to face the fact that his son might not just be a surly teenager, but a legitimate threat to the safety of the group he’s sworn to protect. Tom’s blind devotion to his sons is part of Falling Skies’ DNA, but with the direction they’ve taken Ben in recent episodes, it’s getting to the point where he needs to start facing reality.
And that might not be his problem for too long, as with Rick dead and Skitter Clegane back on the prowl, Ben’s feeling more and more pressure to favor the skitter resistance over the human one. He tells Matt in a quiet moment that he has to go away for a while at some point soon, and after the territory he’s sliding into in “Love And Other Acts Of Courage,” it’s moving closer to when that point comes I’ll miss him about as much as I’ll miss Rick. Which, if you can’t guess, is not a lot.
- Speaking of departures from the camp, still no sign of Pope this week. Disappointing, but just as well for the plot given he’d have blown off Skitter Clegane’s head at first glimpse. In the spinoff I’m writing in my head, he’s now acquired a horse and is off robbing patrols of harnessed kids for supplies, with Anthony as his reluctant Sancho Panza.
- Rather unsettling cold open with both Skitter Clegane and Ben throwing up their arms and howling at the rise of the sun.
- Matt guarding the medical bus with an assault rifle is kind of adorable.
- Anne on taking care of Weaver’s increasingly infected leg wound: “Three-year-olds used to throw up on my head. This is nothing.”
- “You know, there’s a lot of rooms around this place.” Tom Mason, smooth operator.