Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Falling Skies, Season 2, Episode 1: Worlds Apart

We pick up where we left off at the end of last season – in the aftermath of the failed mission to destroy the structure over Boston and with Tom, for reasons unfathomable, deciding to go play with the aliens.

Captain Weaver, Pope, Hal, Maggie and just about everyone else are all playing shoot the alien (and those Mechs seem to have got rather more dynamic than last episode)  it’s a victory but Ben (Tom’s second son, who was harnessed) – who is now fighting is driven to finish off wounded Skitters even when the retreat has been called; hunting down another Skitter he and Hal find Tom! Back from his alien road trip. Who promptly collapses.

Regroup and back to the camp where Ann is tending the wounded. Turns out Tom collapsed because Ben, in shooting the Skitter, hit Tom who was stood behind it (awfully close). Naturally Tom, wounded and being carried, is quick to assure Ben it’s not his fault with every noble breath. It’s time for everyone to have a tense moment while Tom goes into surgery

And we get a flashback of what it was like for Tom in alien captivity – including cramped and slimy prison quarters and Skitters with tasers. Careful, skitter, that’s the Big Damn Hero you’re shocking. Karen is around, trying to convince him in her alien monotone that she’s still the real Karen despite the Harness. To further reassure you of her Karen-ness she has a lovely speech on the futility of resistance and why the humans should just surrender – yes, the Borg did a better job at being persuasive.

To further prove her “I’m still Karen" one of the tall alien leaders uses her as a puppet to speak to Tom. He has a peace treaty for Tom – surrender and they will relocate humanity into designated areas where they can rule themselves – and if that sounds familiar, yes they have lifted that straight out of history and they overtly say so. The alien uses the blackest points in human history to justify their atrocities against humanity.

Tom demands to know why they didn’t try to negotiate for what they wanted before attacking, why they invaded – the aliens say it was never a negotiation and ask why Tom expects the aliens to be better than humans are? Tom refuses to take the humans to a “neutral zone”  and then has a Big Damn Hero moment, taking the taser from the Skitter and using it on the tall leader alien. They knock him out and later drop him off with several over captives in a field. In an object lesson, they also drop a Mech that slaughters all the captives – except Tom

Tom was dumped in Michigan and slowly works his way back – along the way finding a large stash of cash that he burns for heat – showing how civilisation has fallen that money is no longer useful. He also saves one young girl, Teresa, from a thief. She has clearly been brutalised and had everything she has managed to save been taken from her repeatedly and her mother has been murdered. He offers to take her to Boston with him. They go but when they arrive at the fire-fight, Teresa refuses to go any further. She’s going to the mountains to hide, not where people are fighting the aliens. This is where he catches up with Ben and Hal – after he is easily killing the Skitter they end up shooting with just a piece of metal, because he’s a Big Damn Hero.

At the camp Hal and Weaver are discussing Ben, showing there’s still doubts about his loyalty, Tom’s improved chance of survival and tactics – since the ambushes they’re inflicting on the aliens are supposed to be holding actions waiting for further orders – but none are arriving and they’re getting harder. All the other regiments are silent – they may be the last ones.

Ben and Matt have a brother moment and the kid again assures his brother he can fight – Ben agrees to show him how (which is reasonable. In a dystopian world like this, you can’t be raised unable to fight). Ben has to go out again to stage another ambush to keep the aliens away from the camp. Hal also buttonholes Ben for not following orders and not following chain of command – though Ben makes it more a sibling rivalry thing with a snide “you’re not dad.”  This continues with Ben giving Matt lessons without talking to Hal. Ben says Matt needs to learn how to shoot to defend himself – but Hal wants to let Tom make the decision. They end up sniping at each other, crossing lines – and Ben uses his Harnessed strength to knock Hal down.

They arrive at the ambush point – but one of the alien spaceships catch them – they have to run to cover as it blows up their truck and bikes (the ships detect heat). Losing the bike causes the ever-sensible Pope to lose it and try to bring the ship down with a magnum (really? He loses it over a bike?) Returning to the camp, they discuss what happened with Weaver – and they conclude the vehicle was the target more than the people. With air patrols there’s no way they can keep holding ambushes.

It seems uncle Scott has dropped out and we have his replacement, Jamil, a new character who is tasked with the job of disguising the heat from their vehicles. Ann and Weaver also discuss how a bottle of 30 year old Glenfiddich would have to be left behind if they run – so obviously they must drink it. Weaver blames himself for allowing Tom to get on the ship and second-guessing his decisions to keep fighting without Tom to give him the reassurance and even his historical anecdotes. They are interrupted by Jamil with his fibreglass insulation to mask the vehicles and Ben telling Ann that Tom has started bleeding again.

Arthur and Pope have a moment which seems to be bonding or at least confused fumbling around Pope both killing Click and saving Arthur’s life (his redemption moment) but it’s interrupted by Hal running in with reports of aliens approaching. The convoy has to move, but they can’t move the medical bus until Tom is stabilised – so Hal, Dai, Maggie and Ben volunteer to stay and defend it while Ann and Lourdes operate on Tom by torchlight. They all stay low and silent in a very tense scene as the Mech goes past.

Tense scene averted they return to the main force in the medical bus and all is happy and shiny. We’re also treated to more interaction between Tom and Ann where I still see zero chemistry between them. We get the touching re-union scenes between him and the rest of the camp to show how loved and known and respected he is.

Why is Weaver discussing tactics with Hal? Tom is his second in command – I don’t think second in command should really be a hereditary position, especially since he has an awful lot more older and more experienced soldiers in the camp. At least include them in the council as well – is Hal more informed than Dai or Arthur?

I do like the way the aliens use history. By pointing out humanity’s atrocities, they’re not excusing or brushing over what mankind has done in the past – but emphasising and highlighting it. The question of why we expect aliens to be more compassionate and understanding than we, ourselves, have been to vulnerable people is a very powerful and telling one – and also begs the question, if humanity achieved space exploration and found a vulnerable species, what would we do? It’s a nice twist to see the atrocities in human history included in speculative fiction in a way that doesn’t try to remove blame.

Teresa again brings us back to what it is like to survive in a dystopian. While we’ve seen the loss of the people in the 2nd Massachusetts and their grief, because they’re with the group they’ve managed to preserve some level of civilisation and the limits that brings. Teresa gives us a glimpse, along with Maggie and Pope in the last season, of what happens to those survivors who don’t have that shelter.

I normally am not very impressed by tension created by putting a protagonist in peril. Protagonists are, in general, immortal, we know they’re not going to die so both the cliffhanger from the last season and the bullet wound in this episode fell a little flat with me. I think it does work, to a degree, with the first episode because there’s always a chance of a season reboot with a new protagonist, but it’s still unlikely and lacks the tension.