Film and TV

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

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 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.

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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar