Episode Title: "Worlds Apart"
Writer: Mark Verheiden
Director: Greg Beeman
Episode Title: "Shall We Gather at the River"
Writers: Bradley Thompson & David Weddle
Director: Greg Beeman
Previously on "Falling Skies":
Despite a relatively large audience on TNT, "Falling Skies" apparently has some very vocal detractors; at least judging from some of the comments we received during the first season. To be fair, the first season of "Falling Skies" was definitely not perfect despite showing some real promise along with largely solid acting and writing. There were also occasional "Hallmark Hall of Fame" moments of such scripted sentimentality that it served as a reminder that executive producer Steven Spielberg tends to favor the family friendly sci-fi fare.
There's even a little bit of that in the first two episodes of "Falling Skies" season two that tends to hold down the rest of the story (which I will expand upon later). But by and large, these are the two best episodes of "Falling Skies" to date.
"Worlds Apart" kicks off three months after Tom Mason (Noah Wyle) was lured aboard an alien spacecraft by an overlord and Karen (Jessy Schram), a harnessed and mind-controlled young woman who was a member of Tom's resistance unit, the 2ND Mass. In the present, Tom's sons Hal (Drew Roy) and Ben (Connor Jessup) have apparently stepped up to partially fill the void left by their father as two of the best fighters serving under Captain Weaver (Will Patton). Even the renegade John Pope (Colin Cunningham) appears to be more firmly entrenched with the 2ND Mass than he was in the first season.
But while Ben has transformed into a relentless warrior, he also seems to go out of his way to personally kill any alien Skitters. Ben is so wrapped up in his vendetta against them that he ends up shooting his own father, Tom; whose presence shocks both Ben and Hal. At first Tom's return seems overly convenient and contrived, but the bulk of the episode is spent with Tom's flashback to his time on the alien ship. By the end, Tom's appearance still seems a little lucky but not outside of the realm of possibility.
Apparently Tom was a prisoner on the alien ship for days before he finally got an audience with one of the overlords, who communicates solely through Karen. Jessy Schram has some good creepy moments when she embraces Tom and insists that she's still herself despite the mind control. And because the overlord doesn't speak, its sense of menace has to come almost solely through Karen's voice. The bad news for Tom is that the aliens lied and they have no desire for peace or to prevent the ongoing metamorphosis of his son Ben. Instead, the overlord demands that Tom and the human resistance surrender and live out their lives in a safezone… which is just another word for a reservation.
One of the problems with alien invasion stories is coming up with a reason for the aliens to invade in the first place. While "Falling Skies" has yet to reveal the aliens' agenda in this story, it at least lets Tom openly question why an advanced race would need to invade a planet for slaves or scrap metal. There has to be something more to the aliens' motivations that hasn't been revealed yet. But by asking those questions, it suggests that the writers are actually building towards an answer.
Tom also gets a cathartic moment when he attacks the overlord before he is subdued by a red eyed Skitter and forced off of the ship hundreds of miles away from the 2ND Mass. On his long trip back, Tom picks up a young girl named Teresa (Laine MacNeil), who initially assumes that Tom is trying to harm or steal from her… because that's how the world is now. However, Tom is just too decent for anything like that and he remains the series' moral compass. During the first season, Tom's tendency to put the alien invasion in a historical perspective was a little overused and even the characters themselves joke about it in these episodes. But Tom seems to have moved on from most of his platitudes without compromising his core beliefs. He's clearly still the same man, only harder than before. A later scene with Ben about his unrelenting hate for the aliens gives Tom the moral high ground without condemning what his son has become; which was very effective.
After Tom's shaky recovery brings us firmly back in the present, "Shall We Gather at the River" fills in some of the gaps about what happened to the 2ND Mass while Tom was away. Long story short, the Skitters have been boxing in the humans and they lost almost 100 people the last time they were trapped by enemy mechs. "Falling Skies" apparently has a built in way to get rid of former cast members. Uncle Scott (Bruce Gray is said to have died in an attack while evil space Rick (Daniyah Ysrayl) is simply gone with the possibility of a return.
Fortunately, "Falling Skies" hasn't neutered Colin Cunningham's John Pope and he remains the voice of dissent that the series badly needs. Pope has a very reasonable cause to be suspicious about Tom's return… and a very unreasonable way of dealing with it. Pope is free to be the jerk that no one likes simply because he's one of the best fighters available to the resistance. Though it's a little unclear how many of Pope's men are now with him in the 2ND Mass.
The lone misstep with Pope is an exchange with Anthony (Mpho Koahu) in the first episode that is so on-the-nose about Anthony's mixed feelings about Pope that it could have been targeted from an orbiting satellite. It was a lazy bit of writing that really stood out of otherwise very enjoyable script. There is also a big problem with Matt Mason (Maxim Knight), the youngest son of Tom. Something strange happens every time that Matt comes onscreen and there's a cloying insincerity to both Matt's dialog and Knight's performance. All of Matt's scenes are overwrought and badly written. That may not be Knight's fault, but I'll bet that any of the performers playing Ned Stark's youngest kids on "Game of Thrones" could have made that material work despite the script.
The show also has a problem conveying the burgeoning romances between a few of the characters. While Tom has some good chemistry with Dr. Anne Glass (Moon Bloodgood), his son Hal's slow courtship of Margaret (Sarah Sanguin Carter) is burdened by some bad dialog about animal hook-ups in the wild. And I guess that Lourdes (Seychelle Gabriel) has given up on pursuing Hal for herself, as she plants a kiss on Jamil Dexter (Brandon Jay McLaren), the 2ND Mass' new mechanic.
A highlight of the second episode is that Tom's paranoia about his time as the aliens' prisoner turns out to be well founded. In one of the series' most visually unnerving scenes, Anne removes an alien parasite from Tom's eye that we later see escape from its jar and grow wings before crawling into the eye of the Skitter that harassed Tom on the alien ship. As a good man, Tom naturally insists that he be tied up in case the aliens have used some form of mind control on him. Tom even goes so far as to try to force Hal to promise to take him down if he ever becomes a threat to the 2ND Mass; which only freaks out Matt.
Pope very openly advocates killing Tom to prevent him from leading the aliens back to them… and he very nearly succeeds when he blows up a bridge filled with Tom and dozens of aliens. It would have been a ballsy move to write Tom out of the series at that point, but Tom Mason's story isn't over yet.
Aside from a few occasionally week moments, the first two episodes of "Falling Skies" season 2 demonstrate that it may be turning into the show we hoped it would be from the very beginning. There aren't enough good sci-fi shows on TV and "Falling Skies" is easily one of the best in its genre.