Episode Title: "Death March"
Writer: Heather V. Regnier
Director: Seith Mann
Previously on "Falling Skies":
The 2ND Mass drives through the night in a last push to get to Charleston. Tom Mason (Noah Wyle) thinks back to his son, Ben Mason (Connor Jessup); who left to fight alongside the skitter rebellion. Tom is also taken aback when his nine year old son, Matt (Maxim Knight) gives his father a hand written will and he expresses his doubts about seeing his brother again. Far down the road, Tom's oldest son, Hal Mason (Drew Roy) scouts ahead alongside Maggie (Sarah Sanguin Carter) with John Pope (Colin Cunningham) annoying both of them from the back of the truck. Back at the main convoy, Captain Weaver (Will Patton) rides alongside Tector (Ryan Robbins), one of the Berserkers.
Although Tector attempts to come off as a regular guy, Weaver openly deduces that Tector has military experience from the way that he handles weapons. Before Weaver can press him further, Tector accidentally strikes a small harnessed girl with his vehicle. When the convoy stops to examine her, they see that the girl's harness was damaged during the crash and she has worn the harness for so long that she is almost completely mutated. Weaver's initial instincts are to leave her behind, but the girl's cries of pain convince him to let Dr. Anne Glass (Moon Bloodgood) treat her for now. The girl identifies herself as Jenny and says that she lost her brother, Tyler when they were attacked by humans.
Meanwhile, the truck with Maggie, Pope and Hal overheats, so Hal takes off on foot to get some water for the radiator while Pope attempts to fix the broken hose. At the same time, Pope needles Maggie about hiding her past from Hal. On the medical bus, Matt slowly reaches out to Jenny and starts to befriend her. As Lourdes (Seychelle Gabriel) hoovers over a severely dehydrated soldier, Tom notes that she seems overly protective of Jamil's tools. In the back of the bus, Jenny explains to Matt that her Guardian (or skitter, as we call them) treated her like family. Matt tells the girl that the 2ND Mass can be her family now and he invites her to stay with them in Charleston.
In the lead vehicle, Weaver is able to get Tector to grudgingly reveal that he was a Marine who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Weaver in turn reveals that he wants to groom Tector for a leadership role in the 2ND Mass, but Tector says that he plans to leave the group after getting them to Charleston. Back with Hal and Maggie, he notes that she is extremely quiet after they get the truck moving again. Finally, Maggie confesses to Hal that she became a drug addict and a criminal after surviving cancer… and that she gave birth to her son while she was in prison and never saw her child again. Hal seems stunned by her revelations and doesn't have much to say after that.
Back on the med bus, a skitter jumps on the window and Jenny identifies it as her brother, Tyler. The convoy stops and finds no sign of the skitter. Tom also tells Weaver that they've lost track of Pope, Maggie and Hal. Before the convoy can start again, the Tyler skitter jumps on the bus and Jenny's harness reactivates. She pushes over Matt and Anne to make her escape and she runs past Tom and Anthony (Mpho Koahu) on her way. Shortly afterwards, Tom comforts his slightly injured son and tells Matt that Ben left to fight with the skitter rebellion in order to protect his family. As Lourdes checks on her patient, she is upset to find that the man has died. Lourdes also lashes out at Anne when she tries to reassure her.
Elsewhere in the night, Hal and Maggie start to reconnect before they and Pope are confronted by a bright light ahead of them. Pope also seems to think that it is an alien attack. Back on the main convoy, Weaver gets to the heart of Tector's desire to flee and Weaver confesses that he too wanted to run away from command of the 2ND Mass after losing so many people at Fitchburg. But Weaver says that he realized the responsibilities of his position and he couldn't abandon the people who trusted him. Suddenly, Tector slams on the breaks and the entire convoy stops to see that the bridge is out… and Charleston has apparently been destroyed.
Sometime later, Lourdes apologizes to Anne, who goes on to comfort Tom in his moment of despair. Even Weaver can't seem to face his followers in the aftermath of this letdown, but Tector finally addresses him with a hint of military discipline and urges Weaver to at least make something up. Moved by the gesture, Weaver gives the surviving 2ND Mass a rousing speech to keep their spirits up and keep moving forward. Moments later, the 2ND Mass is startled when Colonel Porter (Dale Dye) emerges from the woods with his men as well as Maggie, Pope and Hal. Porter reunites with Weaver and Tom and tells them that the dream of Charleston is real, despite appearances. Now back together with two of his sons, Tom states that he believes that they will all see Ben again.
"Death March" was apparently the "Falling Skies" version of a bottle show and it turned out to be a pretty good change of pace. I suspect that this may have been done for budgetary reasons, as the skitters barely appeared on camera and the only real effects came from the prosthetic makeup on the girl who played Jenny.
By far the highlight of the hour came when the 2ND Mass arrived on the outskirts of Charleston and saw that their dreams had been dashed. It was a great "kick in the gut" that made their struggle to survive seem even more hopeless and yet more compelling at the same time. Noah Wyle owned the scene where Tom fell apart after learning the truth. Wyle is simply a very gifted performer who can make this material work without overacting or camping it up.
Sadly, the same can't be said about Maxim Knight, the young actor who plays Tom's son, Matt. In Knight's defense, the writing of Matt's scenes throughout the entire series has been pretty weak. The "Falling Skies" writers just can't seem to convincingly craft scenes for Matt that don't come off as forced or contrived. The budding friendship between Matt and Jenny was the weakest part of this episode, even though it could have potentially been great if the execution had been better. It was a mistake to give Matt and Jenny so much screen time, especially when that subplot just didn't work. Jenny's presence was poorly explained and only makes sense if she was intentionally sent to injure herself in front of the truck in order to infiltrate the resistance and learn where they were fleeing to. Otherwise, we're led to believe that some other random group of humans killed her skitter master and that her transformed "brother," Tyler ran hundreds of miles after the convoy after Jenny was struck.
Maggie's revelation to Hal also came off poorly. After some slight buildup throughout the season and a few hints from Pope, Maggie's dark secrets about her criminal past and her lost son seemed to lose their significance from the awkward way that they came out. There were some intriguing hints that Pope and Maggie had been intimate in the past and that Pope may have kids in Florida, but those angles weren't expanded upon. However, the dynamic between Pope and the young lovers was fun, especially when he went out of his way to annoy them.
Will Patton and Ryan Robbins also had some good character moments as Weaver and Tector. Patton was especially strong during Weaver's moments of vulnerability. Again, the veteran actors on this show really know what they're doing. When "Falling Skies" manages to achieve those glimpses of real gravitas, it often seems to come more from the performances than the written page. More than any previous episode, "Death March" seemed to position Tector has a more important character going forward. But knowing this show, it may simply be getting the audience ready to care when Tector eventually gets killed off just as Jamil was in the last episode.
The reappearance of Colonel Porter at the end was a genuine surprise, as I figured that we had seen the last of him after his apparent off-camera demise during last season's finale. "Falling Skies" season two has largely been an improvement on its first season. But what the 2ND Mass finds in Charleston may dictate whether the series can maintain that momentum going into season three. Of course, getting Terry O'Quinn as a featured guest star can't hurt. So, the future of the series looks bright for now.