Hey everyone, Rick's back!
*Quick update for newbies: The alien "skitters" capture children and put biomechanical harnesses on them. The harnesses enslave the kids, and seem to eventually turn them into skitters. Ew, gross.
I liked Rick. He had a smoldering intensity that was creepy and stood out among some too-soft characters last season. But I honestly never expected to see him again. I was wrong. Watch:
This scene introduces an unforeseen plot element that will become vitally important (aliens attacking aliens!). But not only that, it brings back the glowing spikes that have been haunting us for three episodes now—if you've been reading my column, you know that glowing spikes has become something of a catch phrase for me—and the appearance of the spikes causes us to think Ben is in mortal danger. Then, surprise! It's Rick! Injured, mysterious, utterly untrustworthy, yet still a vulnerable child. That's a lot of wallop in one reveal, so I have to say "well done."
Falling Skies opened strong this season, but this episode, the verbosely-titled Love and Other Acts of Courage, is the weakest so far. One problem: no strong action. The clip above gives us Tom and his crew heroically checking out a battlefield after a battle is over. There's one scene of hiding from mechs (the huge, incredibly deadly mechanical drones that serve the skitters), two scenes of running away, and two scenes showing drawn guns but no battle. By my math, that's no action, although some of the tension was (as usual) very well-played. Maybe I'm just susceptible to tension, but this show always manages to get me.
The episode succeeded in delivering the creepy, although, after last week's hideous reveal of how harnesses are attached to children, nothing is going to measure up any time soon. But if something could measure up, the opening sequence, where the skitter affectionately known as Red Eye seems to pray or call to the skies, and then Ben does the same in an evil-sounding skitter voice? Well, that will do nicely.
It was so disturbing that I honestly assumed it was a dream sequence. Silly me.
And on the list of creepy things, was there blood in a mech head in that battle sequence? It's in the video above, check me on this—is that blood in the hole blown through a mech brain? Are they biomechanical too? Creeeeepy.
Say what you will about this show (and there's plenty of room for criticism), it goes there. It kills characters you thought were safe; it uproots, rearranges, and endangers its characters; and it pulls the rug of the plot out from under you. This is a dangerous war with serious consequences. I never could have guessed that a skitter rebellion would be introduced, or that Red Eye would propose an alliance. Do I think it's real? I have no idea. But I love the insanity of using this as a story element, and that our friends in the Second Massachusetts have no way of knowing who or what to trust, and that all of this is being played for the highest possible stakes.
Hey everyone, Rick's dead!
Just like that, another serious and important death, right on the heels of his restoration to the group. In some ways, this is an easy death for the writers to deliver; Rick wasn't back long enough for us to get attached, yet this was a child, killed by friendly fire, who embodied the distrust that people feel towards Ben, and it reminds us again of what is at stake. Watching Rick get killed reminds us of how very precarious Ben's life is right now.
The clever reader may have noticed I said this was a weak episode and then proceeded to praise it. That's unfair of me.
What Love and Other Acts of Courage lacked in strong action sequences it made up for in long, long talks about serious, serious things. Talks. About things.
In fact, the core of this episode was a long, long talk between our hero, Tom Mason, and Red Eye, using Rick as his voice.* The problem with this scene (series of scenes, actually, intercutting with other scenes) was that Red Eye had nothing much to say. Tom kept asking for evidence, and Red Eye kept talking about non-evidence. He kept delivering back-story, and pleading his case, and being all serious. The whole thing honestly felt very 1950s, very Alien Invasion B Movie, as the serious-minded alien appealed to an intelligence absent in humans. Think Klaatu Barada Niktu, and all that. It was a strange tone to take in the middle of a very battered war zone, and Tom was completely right to distrust it. When Tom demanded proof, Red Eye should just have said, "I have no proof! Only time-filling exposition!" But that didn't happen, and Tom, the former history professor, even managed to revert to lecturing about history, something he'd mercifully done little of earlier this season.
*Skitters seem to communicate entirely by radio waves; they vocalize only a little. They sometimes use harnessed humans to speak for them, since the harness allows the humans to understand the radio waves. Or something. Even though the harness was removed from Ben and from Rick, it continues to affect them.
Other conversational scenes went a bit better. Hal and Maggie's burgeoning romance? Not bad. I'm not a fan of Drew Roy as Tom's oldest son, Hal, but Sarah Carter as Maggie is quite interesting to watch, and I love her gravelly voice.
There was one really good fight between Ben and Tom, with some actual father-son yelling. If you're going to do family drama in a science fiction show, you have to make it believable. I believed that little shouting match.
The episode ends with Ben telling his little brother, Matt, that he's leaving. Ridiculously, he asks Matt to keep this information a secret, but I suppose all he really wants is a few hours lead time.
I'm hoping that next week we'll get a lot more action, and I'm sure we'll get more surprises. We are informed, this episode, that the travelers are in Richmond, about two weeks from their goal of Charleston. A lot can happen in two weeks, so stay tuned.
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."