[photos: James Dittinger/TNT]
At the end of last season, our surviving band of humans, the 2nd Massachusetts, escape from their alien “allies”, the Volm, who want to relocate the humans to Brazil for their own safety. The Espheni, while weakened, still control their army of “skitters” and the humans want to stay in the fight.
In the first episode of season 4, “Ghost in the Machine”, the 2nd Mass has been on the road 23 days since last season’s finale, arriving back in Charleston, South Carolina. The Volm have left Earth. Before the survivors can begin to regroup, they are attacked by the Espheni, who drop battle mechs on the members of the 2nd Mass and surround them in laser fence obelisks, dividing the humans into roughly 4 different groups. Some people are shot. Others are caught in explosions. At least one is vaporized by a laser fence. Tom Mason (Noah Wylie) gets caught in an explosion and all fades to black.
Then, relying an ol’ tried and true (and borderline overused) TV trope, we leap ahead 4 months and find ourselves with 4 new plot tangents to follow as we bounce back and forth between them throughout the episode and, I’m assuming, the season. First, we find Tom, Dan Weaver (Will Patton), John Pope (Colin Cunningham) and others are trapped in an Espheni ghetto, fighting for food and supplies and amongst each other. The Espheni air-drop food into the ghetto for the remaining humans, but they also steal humans from the ghetto, taking them up to their large hovering ship in the sky. The “skitters” control the ground, keeping a relative uneasy peace and jailing the uncooperative humans like Tom and Dan. Oddly enough, there are no children in the ghetto. Tom periodically escapes from his cell and adopts a new masked identity to fight vigilante-style against the Espheni and their allies. Tom also meets with Cochise, his Volm friend (played by Doug Jones), who explains the new status quo that’s arisen in the vacuum left by the Volm: they abandoned the planet to fight the Espheni on other fronts, leaving only a skeleton crew of observers behind. The Espheni are back in the driver’s seat and humanity is gathered into concentration camp-like ghettos around the world.
Meanwhile, Ben Mason (Connor Jessup) wakes from a coma to find himself in an idyllic enclave within the Chinatown section of the Charleston, peaceful and untouched by the Espheni. Maggie (Sarah Sanguin Carter) and Lourdes (Seychelle Gabriel) are also there, acting like they’ve drunk from the magic Kool-aid. This faction is overseen by the now young adult-aged Lexi (played by series newcomer Scarlett Byrne), Tom and Anne’s daughter who was last seen somewhere in the neighborhood of 3 years old who displays unexplained powers.
Thirdly, Anne Glass (Moon Bloodgood) leads a third group of survivors, leading hit-and-run attacks against the Espheni and the skitters as she tries to sabotage weapon shipments and locate her daughter, Lexi. And finally, Matt Mason (Maxim Knight), the youngest of Tom’s sons, finds himself alone at an Espheni re-education school, designed to brainwash orphaned children to the Espheni cause like good little fascists. But Matt sees what’s going on and plans to disrupt things in true Mason fashion, along with a group of like-minded orphans.
So as you can see, there is LOTS going on here, most of it fairly entertaining. It is a little jarring to have what was the first five minutes of new status quo blown up and thrown into 43 minutes of even newer status quo, but all of the tangents were interesting enough on their own. The weakest I found was the Chinatown tangent because it had the fewest easy answers to explain the circumstances and relied more on the as-yet unexplained, particularly in regards to Lexi’s powers.
It was nice to see so many familiar faces in this first episode, though at least one recurring cast member is killed quite definitively in the opening sequence. But everyone is given something to do and with a large cast, that’s no easy task. The only complaint I have is the new cast members. Scarlett Byrne, as Lexi, looks like she’s channeling Khaleesi from “Game of Thrones”. And newcomer Desiree Ross, who plays Matt’s schoolmate Mira, is painful to watch in her scenes – her acting is over-the-top and amateurish. She substitutes screaming for real emotion. Still, that’s all nitpicky. There is a lot to like here that is very much in the same vein of what we’ve experienced in prior seasons. The Woodchuck sez, “Check it out.”