"He is now defined by those of us who owe him our lives."
Tom Mason, we are reminded again this episode, is a history professor. Over the course of the first season of Falling Skies, he had plenty of opportunity to let us know that, often by using overblown language to teach us all the Important Lessons of the moment. So, it is a great pleasure to note that the best line of Compass was, without a doubt, Tom Mason, History Professor, saying, “God, you’re an asshole, Pope.” BWAHAHA! That’s a laugh out loud line and it typifies the improvements of the second season.
As I said last week, this show will live or die not on the coolness of the skitters (which, by the way, are cool—last week we didn’t see them walking around much and I forgot how cool they are—skittering around on crazy reptilian spider legs) but on how high the stakes are in the post-invasion world. If we are shown a world that’s basically just like our lives, recognizable but in tents and with aliens, then the stakes are ridiculously low. If, on the other hand, it’s really an alien invasion, and humanity is really blown into a state of desperation and deprivation, fighting for survival, then this is a gripping drama in which the moment-by-moment tension of simply surviving alters every relationship, every decision, and every individual. That kind of drama requires consequences.
So, rest in peace, Jimmy.
I’m sad to see the kid go, but we all saw that he was impaled. After Carl’s miraculous recovery on The Walking Dead and Darren’s up-and-about less than a week following a paralyzing injury on The Killing, I think if Jimmy had been back on patrol two weeks after impalement, my television would have had a paralyzing injury of its own, dealt by me, and that can be pricey.
Drama requires consequences, and Jimmy’s death gives many of the other things we’re seeing much more of a sense of foreboding. Red-eye skitter? Foreboding. Glowing spikes? Foreboding! (Watch the crazy action below, glowing spikes, impalement, fireballs, and all.)
Let’s talk about glowing spikes*, shall we? It’s utterly stupid that Pope should find Tom’s presence so threatening while he is comfortable with Ben going on patrol. Tom acts like himself, albeit with occasional mechanical parasites flying out of his eye, but Ben? Ben, like all the harnessed kids, was in absolute thrall to the aliens. Upon having the harness removed, both Ben and the other kid (Ricky) exhibited all kinds of wild physical abilities, including last week's long swim in icy water with no discomfort. Ricky went back to the aliens voluntarily, but Ben, changed so much he borders on superhero, is allowed to patrol with Jimmy while Tom, apparently unchanged, is not allowed to carry a gun. It makes no sense at all. We can assume that Pope’s distrust of Tom is a bullshit gloss on a long-standing enmity, but it still doesn’t explain why anyone trusts Ben.
Whose spikes glow. So far it’s happened twice. The first time, the only witness was Jimmy, who is now conveniently dead, and the second time, there were no witnesses at all. It seems like Red-eye is unique in some way among skitters (he’s also the current host for the creepy mechanical flying eye parasite—holy crap, I can’t believe I just typed that!). No other skitter was able to make anyone’s spikes glow.
*If you’re just catching up, when humans originally tried to remove harnesses from rescued kids, the kids invariably died. Doctors discovered that leaving the spikes from the harness attached to the host’s bodies allowed the kids a good chance of surviving the surgery.
My point is two-fold: One, leaving that kid running around with a gun is inconsistent and a little stupid. Two, glowing spikes are cool and scary, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.
Despite its intermittent cheesiness, Falling Skies has always tried to Mean Something, sometimes by being self-important, and other times by constructing some nice plot motifs and deploying them with a certain elegance. This show isn't Mad Men (duh), but it has moments where the thematic stuff really works, and this week’s episode delivers in that regard.
"Compass" as a title is simple and effective. Jimmy’s compass functions to define and connect several important plot moments; the fight between Tom and Pope, the moment of intimacy between Ben and Weaver, and Ben’s bedside vigil, for which it's a talismanic object. “Compass” also refers to Anne's keeping track of the calendar, refusing to let go of a world where the date matters; it's a compass that guides her. A compass, a way forward, an arrow pointing in the correct direction, is what everyone in the 2nd Massachusetts need (because no one has a sense of direction, and Weaver and Ben's joke about Jimmy had a larger point), A pilot can come along and point their compass to Charleston, but how can they know it’s the right way to go? (As Weaver alluded, they’ve already been fooled.) Tom says holing up for the winter will make the aliens think they've surrendered, and that speaks to a broader sort of compass question: Hide and survive, or continue to fight back, depleted though they are?
Pope has been a problematic character since he was introduced. In Season 1 the writers went through all kinds of senseless plot machinations to justify keeping him around, so I guess now we're stuck with him. Having Tom join the Berserkers was both amusing and stupid, yet it worked. Having it all fall apart within minutes also worked. Having Pope take off with a covert guard really doesn't work, because we know some future last minute rescue will be the order of the day and then he'll be back again.
All right, let's spare a moment for the anemic Tom-Anne romance. One thing The Walking Dead has gotten right is that, when the world ends, people fuck like bunnies. I have no actual evidence of this, having grown up someplace where the world has yet to end, but I'm sure. When terrible things happen we reach for flesh, for pleasure, for some affirmation that we're still alive and can feel and be human. The sad little kisses they've shared, the sense that, if only they weren't both so grief stricken and tired and busy, there might be more, strikes me as utterly wrong-headed. They should be clinging passionately to each other and to the sense of aliveness they can provide for each other in the midst of so much death and fear. Come on, Tom and Anne, go for it. Your passion can only improve Falling Skies.
Deborah Lipp is the co-owner of Basket of Kisses, whose motto is "smart discussion about smart television." She is the author of six books, including "The Ultimate James Bond Fan Book."