Falling Skies came back with a two-hour season premiere last night, written by a trio of Battlestar Galactica writers. And both the creep factor and the alien menace were amped up from the first season, along with a noticeable reduction in the rate of platitudes per minute. Most of all, though, this show seems to be finding new ways to talk about its central metaphor: the harness.
The thing that distinguishes Falling Skies from so many other alien invasion stories is the notion that the aliens are taking our kids and changing them into... something else. Even as the show dwells on the ways in which ordinary people adapt and survive in the wake of an alien invasion, the question of how we preserve our humanity is amplified and focused through the story of Ben Mason, who was harnessed by the aliens and rescued last season.
What was new in last night's two-parter was the juxtaposition between Ben and another survivor of alien captivity: his father Tom. And even though the cliffhanger in which Tom willingly gets on an alien ship didn't feel entirely resolved this time around, the contrast between the two Masons is interesting enough that you sort of want to go with it.
The actual plot of "Worlds Apart"/"Shall We Gather at the River" is pretty simple — the Second Mass has gotten its collective butt kicked non-stop since the big battle in Boston, most notably in the Battle of Fitchburg, where they lost 100 people. They are being herded by the Skitters and Mechs up to the Housatonic River, and if they can't cross it, they'll be massacred once again. Good news? There's a bridge. Bad news? It's broken, thanks to Pope's hot-headedness. So Jameel (a new character) needs to fix the bridge so they can drive across, and then blow it up.
Meanwhile, we learn how Tom met the alien leader (?) and then was led off the ship to be executed with some other prisoners, but miraculously wasn't shot. Now that Tom has returned to his people, they don't entirely trust him, and he doesn't entirely trust himself — especially after there's a weird Prometheus-style bug in his eye. Eventually, Tom has to step up and save the day when the bridge crossing doesn't quite go according to plan.
So Tom and his son are both dealing with the after-effects of having been in the grasp of the aliens — except that Tom went willingly, because he's a dumbass. And Ben has gotten superpowers, including super-senses and amazing strength, which he uses for the Resistance. The spikes in Ben's spine are continuing to spread a weird sort of dermal layer across his skin, and meanwhile when he comes too close to a crashed alien ship he gets the worst headache ever. And meanwhile, Tom can't convince anyone (including himself) that he's not an alien spy or a walking tracking device, or some kind of sleeper agent.
The best scene in both episodes comes after Tom's been tied up inside the medical bus, at his own request, and Ben comes to see him. They bond over being a couple of freaks, who've been tainted by their contact with the aliens, and unsure as to whether they can trust themselves. And Ben says:
You want to know my secret? To make sure they can't control me? Hate. I hate what they did to me, with all my heart and soul. I hate that they turned me into a freak. You gotta hold on to your hate, Dad. If you can do that — if you can do that — then it doesn't matter what they've done to you. They won't be able to change you inside.
To which Tom responds that hatred is a very powerful emotion, and he does hate the aliens too. But it was love, not hate, that kept him going the past couple months when he was trying to get home to his family. (The aliens dropped him off in Michigan.) And if you give in to your hate, then they've already changed you inside. He doesn't really address Ben's larger point, though — that hating the aliens might be enough to counteract their control.
In any case, the BSG vibe is very strong here, including the notion of people who both part of the dwindling, embattled group of humans and also somehow tied to the attacking force. And the scene, early on, where Hal tries to push his wimpy kid brother Ben around — only to get his ass kicked — is pretty fascinating.
Meanwhile, the episode does a pretty good job of conveying that these people are under siege and on the run — their eight-minute escape window after ambushing an alien scout patrol has turned into a two-minute window. They face huge logistical problems just hanging on to the meager weaponry and supplies they've managed to scrounge, and they're generally under threat every step of the way.
So what did the aliens actually want to talk to Tom Mason about? It's a slight bit of a letdown, sadly. They want to offer the humans a reservation, basically — a place where we can live in peace and safety, while the aliens have the rest of the planet to themselves. They think that since Tom is a history professor, he'll appreciate the old-timey quality of their proposal, but he's not amused. In fact, Tom says the words we've been waiting to hear him say since the show's first episode: "I would be careful about drawing too many lessons from the past." Thanks for clearing that up, Tom!
In any case, Tom manages to tase the alien leader, in a nifty little scene — but then he's herded out of the spaceship, along with a bunch of other people. The aliens are going to execute all their prisoners, and they don't want to get human brains on the upholstery in their spaceship. But for some reason, everybody gets gunned down... except for Tom. And Tom doesn't even have the brains to fall on the ground and play dead, so it's not like the aliens were confused or something. What's going on?
It's all to do with the red-eyed Skitter, who seems to be set up as this season's big bad. He was supervising Tom during his captivity, he's been keeping a single red eye on the Second Mass the whole time, and he's somehow connected to the nasty insect inside Tom's eyeball. Plus there's a dream sequence (or is it?) where he comes to watch Tom sleeping in the middle of the night. Old Red-eye seems to have some pretty serious plans for Tom, and they're apparently not over yet. All of which suggests that maybe Pope is right to want to blow Tom up along with that bridge. As Tom himself says over and over again, he may be a massive liability. And so may Ben — and watching the ways they both deal with their "touched by an alien" stigma is going to be fascinating.
All screencaps via Tumblr.