In every war, there’s always going to be a moment when your back is up against the wall and you don’t know what’s going to come next. Many times this will result in a simple surrender, but every so often you have circumstances where the besieged force is too stubborn to submit, when the men and women involved refuse to lay down their arms and fight to the last man, or decide to be more practical and hold out against the odds until help arrives. This is where you get events as the Battle of Thermopylae and the siege of Bastogne, stories that take on a legendary connotation and serve as inspiration to fighting forces years later.
It’s such a circumstance that the 2nd Mass finds itself facing in “Molon Labe,” an episode that not only pushes every member of the resistance to the breaking point but also makes me think Falling Skies may yet have an epic story in the works. After a couple weeks of lackluster episodes, during which I found myself close to writing off the show as anything more than half-hearted summer entertainment, “Molon Labe” was an episode that put the show’s best elements on display. Once again, it demonstrated its talent for creepiness and ability to get solid action out of a cable drama budget, turning what could have been the resistance—and the show’s—last stance into a potentially triumphant resurgence.
Last week’s “Homecoming” ended on a damning revelation, courtesy of the newly returned Pope—the alien armies are on full offensive, determined to smoke out both the 2nd Mass and the growing rebellion of Skitter Clegane. Karen, now totally converted to an alien pawn even without the harness, persuaded Ben to join her in finding the latter, and now delivers him into the hands of her overlord master as a tool to wipe out both obstacles. Luckily for Ben, his father’s still not entirely willing to let his son go, and a resistance ambush leaves the overlord at the end of Tom’s assault rifle, a move that quiets the guns of the mechs for the first time all series. And fully cognizant of that fact, Tom and company drag the overlord back to the hospital in the bed of their truck.
The resistance has taken prisoners before, but never one this high profile, and doing so changes the game for both sides. The 2nd Mass’ approach has always involved commando tactics, and now it’s forced into siege warfare as an entire legion of mechs surrounds the hospital to demand the return of their leader. Once again, Falling Skies follows the maxim that what you don’t see is more meaningful than what you do, with the glimpses of the mechs limited to spotlights shining through the snow and the distinctive whirring of their servos and assault weapons. All the resistance can see is Karen as emissary—a move that’s been paying dividends for the show as Jessy Schram’s growing comfortably into an antagonist role, getting a villainous monologue tonight about how the harness allows her to see the “intricate web of causality, right down to the movement of the smallest subatomic particle.” (Thankfully Hal’s willing to call her on that: “That’s the biggest load of crap I’ve ever heard.”)
As the siege climaxes, it’s a move rooted in the imagery of the great Steven Spielberg war films. Karen reveals a captured Berserker, stating that he has a message for the captain, and sends him running to the front lines. As he runs, the guns whirr to life, and in a series of flashes the bullets tear Boone to pieces as he slumps down not even halfway to the barricades. Hal can only scream a denial at the sight, Tector blindly fires quick bursts at the unseen hordes, and silent tears fall down Weaver’s face as he quietly tells Tector to conserve his ammo. Finally, the show’s capturing the maxim of “show, don’t tell,” and that grieved expression on Will Patton’s face says more about the toll of this war than any argument he’s had yet.
But that’s not the only strategy the aliens are practicing. With Hal and Maggie trying to find an escape route and Anne and Lourdes foraging for last-minute supplies, the hallways under the hospital hatch a new enemy: spider-like creatures who can bore through flesh and bone with gusto and travel in numbers. Their unsettling effect only gets worse when Jamil, found bloodied and terrified from some unseen encounter, winds up vomiting up a whole brood of the things as his eyes roll back, forcing the group into cover. This is imagery along the lines of Dead Space, an injection of survival horror first tasted in the harness factory of “Young Bloods.” Falling Skies can be many things, but it’s always strong when it tries to be scary, and this is probably the best example yet.
Much as the siege above forces the resistance to stop talking and start acting, being caught in the web means everyone’s putting their stupider problems down in favor of survival, and the show benefits as a result. While I go back and forth on Hal and Ben, I’ve grown oddly attached to Matt’s desire to do something meaningful for the resistance, and his nearly fearless approach to going into the vents tapped into the optimistic spirit Falling Skies often loses track of. Pope’s back in action, wielding a shotgun against the spiders and even offering Tom a brief truce. (“I’ll follow your lead, you have my word.” “Let’s see what that’s worth.”) Offering up some long-overdue badassery of her own, Moon Bloodgold finally gets something to do beyond running the medical bus and flirting with Tom, improvising a flamethrower to burn through the spider hordes.
But the most positive move comes from Tom Mason, a Tom who’s been frustrating and almost blind all series in his pursuit of trying to do the right thing by his boys. He demands answers from the overlord, but the alien continues to speak in vague terms of pain and suffering unless he’s released, exercising his will by sending Ben into seizures. And just when you think he’s going to, once again, make a stupid decision that disadvantages the entire resistance and let the overlord go, he whips up his sidearm and puts a round in its neck. It’s a wonderful, almost exultant moment, and you can practically feel the frustration bleeding off Tom as he watches the alien squirm.
And from there, a new plan emerges. Be it mind control or Stockholm syndrome, Karen’s incredibly devoted to the overlord, and seeing him in this state of affairs throws her off her newly confident attitude—first terrified at the sight, then screeching in an inhuman fashion and lunging at Tom. Ben’s quicker though, and now the time has come for the resistance to dictate its own terms to the invasion. Either Karen and the overlord let the resistance pass onto Charleston, or be left in the hospital along with enough C-4 to reduce the entire structure to rubble. They take the former option, and the convoy heads out under the uneasy observation of the mechs, with a glance between Tom and one sentry serving as the most loaded moment in the episode. Alliances and betrayals have come up almost constantly, but the idea that the resistance may force the aliens into detente? Nobody’s even considered that option yet.
So once again, we’re back on the road to Charleston, and this time things seem even bleaker than before. Jamil and Boone’s deaths have rattled the survivors considerably, and Ben’s left again, this time on his own to see if the glimpses he got in the overlord’s mind of a wider reaching resistance are true. There’s new alien weapons, new tensions and 500 miles left to go before they reach a sanctuary that might not even exist. Maybe Falling Skies will fall into the same potholes I’ve complained about repeatedly, but after “Molon Labe,” I’m once again optimistic they might do better.
- The episode’s title “Molon Labe” translates from the ancient Greek to “Come and take them,” historically known as King Leonidas’ response to the Persian armies asking his Spartans to lay down their arms. Thankfully we didn’t have to see the 2nd Mass sporting capes and codpieces in Zack Snyder/Frank Miller fashion.
- Tom obviously played some first-person shooters in between grading papers at Cambridge, as his early attack on an invading mech demonstrates. Propane and oxygen tanks are universally recognized as reliable environmental explosives.
- R.I.P. Jamil. We hardly knew ye. Literally, we hardly knew ye except as the guy who used to be on The Killing and had a few impromptu technical solutions.
- Ben’s either inherited his father’s penchant for historical ancedotes, or realizes that’s the best way to communicate with him: “Fifteen-year-olds fought in the Revolutionary War, why can’t I?!”
- Weaver’s patience for the idea of a skitter resistance is non-existent: “Want to tell me about the cockroaches reading Das Kapital?”
- Lourdes’ loss of faith in the wake of Jamil’s death should be reassuring to everyone who grew sick of the character’s one-note personality early in the series. Anne: “We need to think about what we’re going to do if those things come in!” Lourdes: “That’s easy, die.”
- Another terrific tracking shot to display the scope and thought processes of the convoy, showing us Tector’s guilt over Boone’s death, Anthony’s speculation on what Charleston might offer, and Pope wondering just what the hell he’s doing back here. He speculates it’s the possibility of “strip clubs made out of gingerbread” at the end of the road, while Maggie thinks it’s merely that he’s got nowhere else to go.
- Falling Skies will be off next week, and so will I. I’ll see you all in two weeks for “Death March,” which, given the title, I’m expecting to be a sunny and cheerful affair.