For over half of this season of Falling Skies, the members 2nd Mass have been fighting to get to Charleston. Ostensibly they’re fighting for all the trappings the city promises—protection from the alien hordes, a thriving community, comforts of home—but there’s probably as much truth to the idea that they’re doing it because they don’t know what else to do. Virtually every member of the resistance is walking around with a head full of PTSD, and they’ve all seen at least one battle and attended the funerals immediately after. After a while, pushing on toward a goal is all they have left, because if they were to stop the only thing they have left is remembering what’s come before.
In “The Price Of Greatness,” we see what happens when that goal is taken away, and there’s no sense of inertia left to what the resistance does. Unsurprisingly, people wind up going a little crazy in response, and the results recapture some of the energy lost on last week’s road trip. Despite being the second episode in a row without any mechs, skitters, or special effects to speak of, “The Price Of Greatness” is a tense affair that works because it relies on one of the oldest truths of any post-apocalyptic story. Regardless of the scale of the outside threats (aliens, zombies, robots, etc.) your biggest problem is what it was before the world ended: other humans.
Not that it seems that way to start off, as the population of Charleston—revealed to be an half-constructed underground mall complex, now refurbished as a massive bunker—welcomes the 2nd Mass with open arms and applause. There’s fresh food, running water, a full cabinet of medical supplies, and even plenty of the show’s beloved reunions to go around. Weaver’s daughter Jeannie from “Young Bloods” made it to Charleston and is once again reunited with her father, a reunion that once again comes out of nowhere but is sold by Will Patton’s emotion in the moment. And Tom finds himself reunited with his mentor Arthur Manchester, once chair of Boston College’s history department, now the “majority leader” of the new civilian government.
Played with typical aplomb by Lost’s Terry O’Quinn, Manchester is cut from the same academic cloth as Tom, but he’s also balancing it with a healthy amount of vision. As he excitedly pitches from his surprisingly well-appointed office, the fall of the world’s governments gives them an opportunity to develop “a political system for a post-invasion world,” and that the two of them are in a position to use their historical knowledge to shape things for the better—“Washington and Jefferson,” as he puts it. “The historian in me is intrigued,” Tom replies. However, there’s even more soldier in him due to his experiences, which leads him to bring up Skitter Clegane’s rebellion and broach the possibility that they could join forces. Manchester listens patiently, and says he’ll take it under advisement.
And that’s the first sign that Charleston might not be the utopia it’s cracked up to be. There’s been a lot of speculation in the comments over the past few weeks that the sanctuary would turn out to be an alien trap, but the only thing alien about it is its sense of normalcy. It’s reminiscent of the Alexandria Safe-Zone from The Walking Dead comic series, a post-apocalyptic community that’s almost purposely trying to forget the apocalypse happened, a result that’s maddening to people fresh from its horrors. And Falling Skies executes that sense of disconnect well here, as the resistance chafes at relinquishing its freedom and clashes with the Charleston residents. Anne’s shunted into pediatric duty with barely a glance from the hospital medics, Matt gets into fights over accusations what the resistance went through wasn’t true, Hal’s ordered to fall in line with the soldiers in training, and even Weaver looks uncomfortable in his crisp new fatigues. You gain safety in a larger group, but you also lose some freedom, and it’s clear nobody stopped to consider that.
But it doesn’t take long for Charleston’s image of peace to be shattered, first courtesy of resident agent of chaos Pope. “I have no intentions on making Mayberry my permanent residence,” he tells his Berserkers early on, and after the Charleston army tries to order him around he opts to loot the armory and head for greener pastures. His efforts are quickly thwarted, first by Maggie and then Tector—or rather, Gunnery Sgt. Aloysius Murphy, who’s re-embraced his Marine roots and joined the Charleston armed forces. (As interesting as it is to see Tector in uniform—and amusing as Pope’s confused reaction to the sight is—this about-face would have been far more effective had we not just learned about his military past a week before.) Once again, Pope and his motley crew are sent to jail, with Maggie dragged along in the process, a move that understandably gets under Hal and Tom’s skins.
Once again, Manchester tries to sweep it under the rug, more concerned about his perception at a public forum where Jeannie—amongst others—is urging more engagement with the outside world. He asks Tom for his support, and while Tom’s happy to take the podium he has a different speech in mind, one in which he opines that while the aliens are still on earth they should have one mission alone in kicking them off. As I’ve said before, Noah Wyle’s strength in this role is that he’s always able to sell the weight of Tom’s convictions, and it’s always rewarding to see him argue for something that isn’t the welfare of his sons. And given that the season’s been light on his historical anecdotes, it’s almost refreshing to see him turn Manchester’s words back on him by quoting his mentor’s Revolutionary War history.
But is Manchester swayed? Not by the speech, and certainly not by the arrival of a deharnessed kid who’s brought in by the scouts with a message that Skitter Clegane wants to meet with Tom. And, honestly, he’s right to be. Falling Skies is no stranger to inconsistent motivations, but Manchester’s status quo is getting a fairly dramatic upset, and for someone whose main weapon is “230 years of American history” it makes sense he’d be devoid of pragmatism in his actions. Once he starts gathering evidence—Tom harboring an alien parasite, Weaver poisoned by a harness bite, Ben joining Skitter Clegane’s forces—things add up to the fact that you may not want these people in your paradise. And frankly, Tom and company wear out their welcome fairly quickly by defying orders and decide to head out for the alien rendezvous, breaking Maggie out of jail in the process to assist.
Small wonder then that Manchester orders the army to arrest all members of the 2nd Mass, and detain them pending a trial for treason. Unfortunately, when he stated that the title of president was too presumptuous for this early government, he missed the part that made him commander-in-chief of the armed forces, and the ranking officers only respect the office of “majority leader” to a point. Weighing their options—and factoring in the fact that Weaver, Tector, and Porter were all on Tom’s side—suddenly Manchester’s occupying a cell and the camp’s under martial law. (As he always does, Pope puts it in the most succinct fashion: “Nice work boys, looks like you dropped us all into the middle of a good old-fashioned coup.”)
It’s a chaotic ending to the episode, and one that I support completely given that Falling Skies is always a better show when it embraces the chaos of its circumstances. And with overlords, Skitter Clegane and a trigger-happy army all revolving around Charleston, we’re hopefully headed for a very chaotic finale.
- Moon Bloodgood is criminally underused on this show, so it’s nice to see the writers remember she can be a badass when necessary, as seen in her response to the Charleston doctor’s dismissal of her: “’I’m the combat medic from the 2nd Mass, who’s gonna have you walking bow-legged unless you talk me through each patient’s chart one by one.”
- Pope to the drill sergeant: “I’m gonna wish you into the cornfield.” With references to The Twilight Zone and The Andy Griffith Show this week, I’m guessing Nick At Nite was the only channel available when Pope was in prison. Add him making such references to the Falling Skies drinking game.
- I deeply hope there’s enough left in the special effects budget to allow Pope a chance to use the minigun that Lyle and Crazy Lee spotted in Charleston’s armory. As he put it, we’d be talking “serious alien stir-fry.”
- Not much to say re: the Hal and Maggie courtship, but if I like one thing about this arc, I like the fact that Maggie’s the one person in the show willing to call people on their platitudes. When Hal adopts some of Manchester’s optimism on how this new world is “a chance to start over, to become better people than we were before,” her first response is to ask if he practiced that line.
- Can you have a more professorial name than Arthur Manchester?