Falling Skies: "Life Hands You Lemons, You Blow Its Freakin' Head Off."

"Well the names have all changed since you hung around"
"Well the names have all changed since you hung around"

When last we left former professor Tom Mason (Noah Wyle), he was boarding an alien spacecraft because an alien-possessed Karen was telling him it was the only way to save his son Ben from whatever mutation his harness had caused. It was a tad surprising, but possibly no more so than the fact that people were still watching the series by the end of its first season run.

Don't get me wrong, Falling Skies isn't bad by basic cable standards, but the first go-round suffered from constant promise with little payoff, as well as the not-unexpected Spielberg Effect (post-apocalyptic Earth is amazingly family friendly). I was somewhat surprised it was renewed for a 2nd season.

But renewed it was, which means I got to spend yesterday re-reading my coverage from last year just to figure out what the hell was going on before the two-hour season premiere. Happy Father's Day.

Three months have passed since Tom boarded the ship, and there are new faces along with some absences (Uncle Scott suffers an offscreen, barely mentioned death). The 2nd Massachusetts under Captain Weaver (Will Patton) is shown making short work of a Skitter mech squad, with perhaps understandable Animal Mother-ness from Ben Mason (Connor Jessup). Ben's pretty messed up - combine your normal adolescent angst with alien technology messing with your innards and you get the idea - but his macabre insistence on finishing off some dying Skitters actually leads him and Hal (Drew Roy) to discover their Dad returned, albeit accidentally shot in the abdomen by Ben. Oedipus, Schmedipus, I love you pop!

Flashback! Tom gets mega-tasered by a particularly surly Skitter on the ship until Karen tells it to back off. She tries to reassure him, but he rightfully reacts like a stripper with herpes is trying to give him a beej. Karen (Jessy Schramm) tells Tom the aliens will allow the resistance to surrender, and takes him into the presence of an alien Overlord (fans apparently refer to them as "Slenders"). What's he going to do, argue?

The family that shoots together...
The family that shoots together...

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The two takeaways from this scene are: the Overlords can speak through harnessed humans, and they're offering a "sanctuary" where humans can live in peace, which sounds suspiciously Auschwitz-like to Tom. Nevertheless, the Overlord uses his freakish height to best intimidating effect. Even after Tom grabs a alien cattle prod and zaps the Overlord, he's let off ship with a bunch of other humans who were given similar offers. We don't learn much about them, as they're gunned down by a mech almost immediately. All except Tom, who is mysteriously allowed to escape.

Back in the present...well,in the three months following the Tom's capture, youngest brother Matt (Maxim Knight) wants to tag along on an ambush until Ben dissuades him. There's also a bit of tension between him and Hal, which is exacerbated by Ben's newfound ability to kick his older brother's ass. Holy reversed intrafamilial power dynamics, Batman!

Adding to the tension: the aliens have started targeting the heat signature on the 2nd Mass' vehicles, leading to a need to mask that heat. Enter mechanic Jamil Dexter (Brandon Jay McLaren..."Bennett Ahmed" from AMC's The Killing), who is tasked by Weaver to make it so.

All of Tom's scenes are initially told in flashback. So we see him dropped off in Lansing, Michigan, burning a duffel bag full of cash for warmth (after an alien invasion, we're all the 99 percent), rescuing a girl from an attacker, and burying her mother. The worst part for that girl: who's going to take off those braces?

But there are plenty of familiar faces to welcome Tom back. In addition to Weaver, Anne (Moon Bloodgood) is still shouldering medical duties, Dai (Peter Shinkoda) is still the token Asian, and Pope (Colin Cunningham) is still the voice of violent reason. Anne and Tom share a tender moment, while Pope pointedly asks how Tom just strolled off an alien spaceship unscathed. To be fair, it's not a bad question.  

Didn't you kill Rosie Larsen?
Didn't you kill Rosie Larsen?

Jamil figures out a way to mask the vehicles' heat signatures that sounds a bit suspect, but this is a show featuring extraterrestrials and unlimited ammunition, so we'll let it slide.

Weaver brings Tom somewhat up to speed, describing how they were surrounded at Fitchburg and were only able to escape because Ben discovered a weakness in their lines. Something that's apparent early on this season, the days of sitting and waiting are over. Obviously conscious of criticisms of the often slow pace of the last year, the emphasis this time around - for a time, anyway - will be Patton's "hit them on our terms" strategy. How well this increased focus on combat will mesh with burgeoning relationships (Tom/Anne, Jamil/Lourdes, Hal/...Margaret?) and developing the newer characters remains to be seen.

The 2nd Mass needs to cross the Housatonic River to escape an impending attack, except there's a sizable hole in the sole remaining bridge (why it was left so lightly damaged when the aliens could have simply blown it entirely to hell is a mystery). Jamil, slipping comfortably into the "Scotty" role, thinks he can patch it. Meanwhile Ben, now an Olympic level swimmer with higher tolerance for cold, is sent upriver to scout the site of a downed airship. In between headaches, he discovers what looks like a communication tower guarded by mechs.

Tom's worried about bad dreams and missing time aboard the ship, and so tells Hal to keep an eye on him. This is more appropriate than he realizes, as it turns out he has a Prometheus-style eye worm of unknown purpose. Anne puts it in a specimen jar, because no way could an alien device escape mighty glass, and Tom is sufficiently skeeved out to insist that Weaver zip-tie him to the bulkhead.

Pope, unsurprisingly, favors simply killing Tom. The folks at the 2nd Mass remember his fucking with them previously, and then the draw-down happens, Pope's easily outnumbered. He gets a second chance when the convoy makes it across the bridge - sans Tom, who stayed behind to help free the medical bus - by blowing it up to prevent pursuit by mechs. As luck would have it, Tom survives again. As happy as Anne and the boys are, Tom's continued resiliency will no doubt raise eyebrows on other folks besides Pope.

All in all, a decent start to the season. The newly mobile group dynamic will lend itself to more action, certainly, and we'll have to wait to discover the true nature of Tom's parasite (it escaped, go figure), or the red-eyed Skitter than seems to have taken an unhealthy interest in the Masons.

As for me, I'm just happy I get to type the name "Moon Bloodgood" for a couple more months.


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