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FALLING SKIES – No Longer Child's Play


Episode 203 “Compass”

[photos: James Dittiger/screen cap: TNT]

Tom’s still getting the stinkeye from Pope. Ben has Stinkeye on the brain. And Jimmy… well. Jimmy’s lost without his compass.

There are a lot of things packed into this episode, so let’s take things a little thematically. First, there’s Pope’s mistrust of Tom. Even Tom has the sense that some suspicion is warranted, as he’s not quite sure of himself when it comes to what the aliens may have done to him during his confinement. Even after pulling out the bug, that’s not a guarantee something else isn’t waiting to pop out at any terribly inopportune moment.

So when Pope and his Berserkers snatch Tom and take him to the edge of camp, it’s not for a friendly chat. Although if it were me, and this circumstance were real, and I was anything like John Pope, I’d have put a bullet in Tom’s head, not told him to walk away from camp. Because really, what happens when Tom circles back? Or worse yet, if Tom’s compromised, what’s to keep him from rounding up the Skitters on patrol and bringing them all back to exterminate everyone?

Pope’s got to be drunk. It’s the only explanation for the lack of logic in his move. He’s acting out because Papa Weaver didn’t let him call the shots. So he’s throwing a tantrum.

Naturally, this backfires, as Weaver lets Tom join the Berserkers to keep an eye on Pope, something Anthony was already doing. But with Tom there, it amps up the tension quite a bit. This is going to end in tears. Tears!

Moving over to the other main plot line: Ben and Jimmy, who happened to be in the right place at the right time to keep Pope from going too far in kicking Tom out of camp. Turns out Ben and Jimmy have been straying from their patrol pattern and hunting Skitters. Because Ben hates them (remember – that’s his mantra this season). And Ben is using that hate, plus his keen Skitter-Sense, to lay in wait and ambush the six-legged thugs.

Ben’s on a bit of a tantrum fit, too. He’s wants payback for what the aliens have done to him. And he’s just immature enough to not think things through. Especially since he thinks he’s invincible because of what the Skitters did to him. This, too, shall end in tears.

In the meantime, while the 2nd Mass is holed up in a hangar at the airport, Dr. Glass is keeping track of the days, marking them off one by one. At first, this seems like just a sane person’s way of trying to stay sane under the circumstances, but she’s actually tracking the days to make sure she doesn’t miss her son Sammy’s birthday. She didn’t want anyone to die on his birthday.

Unfortunately, that’s not the way things play out, as Ben’s hunting antics get Jimmy killed.

This early in the season, for a series regular to die (and for it to be one of the kids) ramps up the danger for everyone else. Now, no one is safe. Any expedition could end in the death of a series regular. Showrunner Remi Aubuchon has said the emotional impact would not have been as great if the show had brought in a guest star “red shirt” only to kill him/her off at the end of the episode. Now, no one is safe.

And lo! the 2nd Mass has a visitor! Avery Churchill flies in with her under-the-radar plane made of wood and fiberglass, virtually undetectable by Skitter radar (we hope, right?). She has news of the newly formed Continental Congress that’s been assembled in Charleston, South Carolina. And the 2nd Mass needs to beat feet south to meet up with everyone else Avery’s been able to contact.

Only Weaver wants to move north to the Catskills, where the group can hole up for the winter. It’s not until Jimmy’s death, that Weaver reconsiders. And that, only after Churchill tells him the group would follow him anywhere.

And that raises a complaint they had over at io9, which is that despite that affirmation of loyalty, the 2nd Mass spends a lot of time disobeying orders. Consider Ben hunting Skitters instead of walking a steady patrol, Pope going after Tom, Tom back-talking and countermanding Pope in the field… it’s a mess of unbridled activity.

Or is it? This episode demonstrated just how poorly trained the 2nd Massachusetts has been, but also how far they’ve come in the short time the aliens have been here. These are mostly civilians, and the destruction of most of Earth’s command and control structure had to hurt everyone deeply – both psychologically and physically. They’re all walking wounded, and yet they find it within themselves to continue resisting the invaders.

I think we’ve seen in this episode, just how immature everyone is. They’ve been “playing soldier” for a while. Now that one of the principles is gone, the stakes are higher. This has just become “for-real” in a story sense, and for the audience as well. Everyone now has to grow up just a little more, a little faster.

Especially Pope, but he’s probably a lost cause – unless the writers have a real nasty comeuppance for him. Stealing Jimmy’s compass after the boy was dead, taunting Tom into fisticuffs, leaving the 2nd Mass instead of sticking it out under a chain of command. He’s got something coming.

Kudos to Noah Wyle for really investing in the fight with Pope. To see Tom snap like that really shows just how close to the edge this man is skating, now that he understands the “all or nothing” stakes. The aliens will not compromise. And he’s getting to the point where he won’t, either.

Side note: it seems – to some viewers – the idea of mobilizing everyone down to one central location was the very idea proposed by the aliens in the first place. So now the question: is the Continental Congress legitimate? Is there hope to be found in Charleston? Should Tom be suspicious of this very idea?

And what kind of power does Stinkeye have over Ben?

[Official Show Site at TNT]     [Previous recap: “Worlds Apart”/”Shall We Gather at the River”]   [“Falling Skies” on Twitter]

Jason P. Hunt

Jason P. Hunt (founder/EIC) is the author of the sci-fi novella "The Hero At the End Of His Rope". His short film "Species Felis Dominarus" was a finalist in the Sci Fi Channel's 2007 Exposure competition.

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