It’s a staple of post-apocalyptic fiction that when the world is destroyed, the first thing on everyone’s mind is children. Children represent something everyone is driven to fight for, not only for parents desperate to keep their family together but for survivors as a whole, trying to hang onto the idea that society can rebuild in an uncertain future. And at the same time, the circumstances in which these children are growing up mean they have to grow up fast, firing real guns at an age where they should be playing with plastic ones. This is something that’s always hung over Falling Skies more acutely than, say, Battlestar Galactica or Jericho, because here the young people both fight on the front lines and get harvested as a prime natural resource by the invaders.
The way kids are growing up in this world and the way their parents treat it is the focus of “Young Bloods,” the first episode in the 2nd Mass’ sojourn to the promised land of Charleston. On one of their pit stops, the resistance crosses paths with another refugee group that’s small in every sense of the word: less than a dozen of them, with an average age of 13. The group’s opportunistic leader Diego manages to steal Hal and Ben’s bikes while they’re on a scouting run, but Ben—his skitter-senses ever useful for advancing the plot—manages to track him back to base. Hal and Ben, very much their father’s sons, bring some of the group back to camp for a decent meal, only to get a shock to the status quo: Diego’s girlfriend Jeanie is none other than Weaver’s surviving daughter.
It’d be remarkably easy for something like this to feel like it’s introduced for the sake of emotional manipulation, but this reunited family works because it’s so unexpected. Whereas Tom spent half of last season worrying about putting his family back together and working toward that concrete objective, Weaver’s family situation was explained only once in “What Hides Beneath,” and its possible survival served as less of a goal and more of an abstract concept to keep him fighting. As such, this long-lost daughter coming out of nowhere is more effective for its lack of build, and is in keeping with the show’s core optimism: Even in a world as broken as this, you get a miracle when you’re not looking for it. It could just be that I’m a sucker for these types of scenes—the first reunion between Rick and his family on The Walking Dead is the most that show’s ever moved me—but I was legitimately choked up at Weaver seeing his daughter alive, and the dumbfounded relief on both their faces.
While the relief is palpable, it isn’t enough to patch up the old wounds between father and daughter. Jeanie was already out of Weaver’s life thanks to her parents’ separation at the time of the invasion, and between watching her mother die from a lack of medication and serving as den mother to a group increasingly dead-eyed kids, she’s not the same person. Weaver may not be either, but he’s far slower to adapt—it took a full season for Tom to make him more reasonable—and his “protective father” blinders further complicate things. When part of their group is taken captive, Weaver urges caution and outright orders Diego and Jeanie to listen to him, but Jeanie sees only old habits that give her an excuse to open old wounds, and the hurt on Will Patton’s face is all too painful.
Parental rebellion’s going around the camp, as Tom’s not the only Mason family member hanging around the Berserkers. Matt’s wanted to fight and be as effective as his older brothers for most of the series, and while Hal and Ben won’t give him that chance, Tector, Boone, and company are more than happy to assign Matt to scout duty. In a terrifically atmospheric cold open, Matt rides his scooter through an abandoned playground with two skitters just out of reach, only to find his way into a corner, both of the aliens reaching out for him—and then their heads pop like overripe watermelons courtesy of a .50 caliber rifle. Hard not to agree with a skitter-blood-splattered Matt yelling “THAT WAS AWESOME!” Tom, of course, doesn’t share his son’s enthusiasm for playing decoy, but Matt’s got his own retort for it not being a smart move: “Well, neither was getting on an alien spaceship, Dad.”
Small wonder then that Matt and Jeanie both decide to join Diego’s rescue attempt, a move that very quickly turns them into skitter prisoners. It’s the first glimpse of the process that’s turned Ben, Rick, and Karen into alien automatons, and it does not disappoint. After confirming that the harnesses are living creatures and not just alien constructs, we learn the full process by which they’re attached to a host. Carried by conveyor belt from a large tank to land on restrained human captives, they crawl across their backs like a giant caterpillar, open a tendril-filled lamprey mouth that bites deep into the spinal core, and then—in shades of T-1000—grow liquid metal spikes and plates that rivet themselves into the body. That display, paired with the skitters’ oddly paternal gesture of stroking the hair of bound kids, raises the already impressive bar for creepiness on Falling Skies.
And the action bar remains raised as well, with Weaver and Tom leading a rescue attempt of the rescue attempt and saving their respective kids literally at the last possible moment. We’ve chiefly seen big outdoor battles this season, so it’s encouraging to see the show can maintain its pace even with special effects in shorter supply, here as the harness lampreys are splattered across the room. The rescue further establishes some of the plot points set up last week, as Tom’s tactical acumen and point-blank shotgun action continue to gain the respect of the Berserkers, particularly from its most reasonable member Tector. The interaction with the tank makes Ben’s continued alien connection more apparent to Hal, though the former brushes it off quickly and argues for silence in a reasoned manner: “Who here is going to understand glowing spikes?”
But, as expected, the real impact comes from what happens between Weaver and Jeanie. Unlike Matt, who’s realized he still needs the comfort of his father’s arms, Jeanie’s grown past that, and she recognizes the resistance needs him far more than she does. And since her group would rather hunker down than join the 2nd Mass on the road, and she knows it’s an argument neither one would ever win, she leaves Weaver a goodbye note and hops on the ATV with Diego. A bittersweet moment for all involved, and one that nicely cements the central idea of “Young Bloods”: Apocalypse or not, growing up is a damn hard thing to do.
- Lots of blooming romance in the resistance: Tom and Anne are making out in the medical tent, Hal and Maggie continue a flirtation that’s obvious even to a newcomer like Diego (“That girl just kicked a soccer ball in in your face, and you’re smiling like you just run the lottery”), and Lourdes seeks comfort in Jamil when she hears her home region has been decimated. Not terribly interesting, but thankfully not painful.
- No sign of Pope—or Anthony—in this episode, though his absence isn’t as noticeable as I feared it would be after last week. Still up in the air if he’s following the 2nd Mass to Charleston just out of sight, or heading west for the cowboys vs. aliens spinoff I keep hoping for.
- Thanks to commenter Gabriel Ratchet, who pointed out in last week’s comments section that Tector and other Berserkers are named in homage to Sam Peckinpah’s 1969 Western The Wild Bunch. (Or possibly Buffy The Vampire Slayer’s season-two episode “Bad Eggs,” which now that I think about it bears a lot of similarities to Falling Skies.)
- Between Anne’s raw enthusiasm for a Choco Pie and Zombieland turning Twinkies into the Holy Grail, it’s clear we should all be stockpiling processed snack foods for use as post-apocalyptic currency.
- Prominent Robert E. Lee quote on the wall in the current 2nd Mass camp: “It is well that war is so terrible, otherwise we should grow too fond of it.”
- A terrific use of diegetic music over the closing montage, as a resistance member strums a guitar and everyone tries to figure out where they’re supposed to be.
- Tector’s nickname for Tom: “Mason Jar.” Heh.
- Hal’s joking threat to Maggie: “Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Hal!”
- Brotherly affection: “All I’m trying to do is help.” “I know. But you need to back off.”