Episode Title: "Prisoner of War"
Writer: Fred Golan
Director: Greg Beeman
Previously on "Falling Skies"
When the 2ND Mass sent Tom Mason (Noah Wyle) and his team to secure a local armory, they were taken captive by John Pope (Collin Cunningham) and his gang. Much to Tom's surprise, Pope was well aware that Tom and his team were from the larger group of survivors nearby. Pope freed Tom's oldest son, Hal (Drew Roy) and sent him back to the 2ND Mass with a message: Tom and his team would be released in exchange for weapons and food. As they awaited Hal's return, Pope demonstrated his intelligence and his skill in killing the alien fighters (known to most people as skitters).
Although Weaver (Will Patton) refused to negotiate for Tom's release, Hal and Dr. Anne Glass (Moon Bloodgood) slipped away from camp and went to Pope's hideout where Anne used her skills to save Pope's brother from an injury. But after Pope left to forcibly barter with Weaver for guns, a woman named Margaret (Sarah Sanguin Carter) turned on his crew and killed Pope's brother for raping her. Eventually overcome by Tom's newly freed team and a very pissed off Weaver, Pope surrendered to the 2ND Mass and he seemed almost relieved that he was no longer under the pressure of leadership.
On a recon mission to save his youngest son Ben (Connor Jessup), Tom and his team observe the alien skitters using children controlled by harnesses as slave labor at an abandoned hospital. While they weigh their options to snag Ben, Margaret accidentally alerts the aliens to their presence by knocking over a brick. When an alien mech begins firing on their position, Tom's team retreats. Back at the high school serving as their sanctuary, Tom and his team are mobbed by parents asking if any of the captive children were theirs. To relieve the pressure from Tom, Anne sets up a billboard where families can post photos of their missing kids.
Tom is then summoned to a briefing led by the visiting Col. Porter (Dale Dye), who informs the leaders that their resistance movement has made contact with others across the country. And in even better news, one of the Colonel's medical officers may have discovered a way to get the harnesses off of children without killing them. Although Tom wants to save all of the children at the hospital, Porter and Weaver tell him to just save Ben and allow the doctor to try the procedure on him. Anne then introduces Tom to Porter's medical officer, Dr. Harris (Steven Weber), but both men already knew each other.
In private, Harris states that he had been on a food run with Tom's wife, but they became separated in an alien attack in which she was subsequently killed. Tom mostly listens to Harris' story and tells him that they tried to find him after the attack too. Harris is remorseful that he couldn't save Tom's wife, but he says that he wants to give Tom his son back. During the second mission at the hospital, Ben is apparently nowhere to be seen. But Mike (Martin Roach) spots his own son, Rick (Daniyah Ysrayl) and disrupts the mission by acting rashly. In the ensuing chaos, Tom is knocked out by an explosion and loaded into a truck by Dai (Peter Shinkoda).
They escape with Mike and his son, but Hal and Karen (Jessy Schram) are left behind to face an alien mech. When Tom wakes up, he angrily separates from Dai and Mike to go back for his son. But he doesn't get very far before an alien skitter attacks him. Following Pope's advise from the previous episode, Tom shoots off two of the skitter's legs and beats him senseless with the blunt end of his shotgun. Back at the high school, Pope demonstrates his cooking knowledge and gets Weaver to allow him to prepare food for the people there. Dai and Mike soon arrive with Rick in tow. But Tom brings back the biggest surprise of all… a live alien prisoner of war.
Tom goes back out for his son with a fully automatic weapon. Back at the hospital, Hal wakes up just in time to see Ben and another child drag Karen away. He is then forced to watch as the skitters order a mech to slaughter the rest of the kids from Rick's group. At the high school, Weaver successfully removes the harness from Rick, thanks to a large morphine drip to keep Rick from going into immediate shock. On the road, Tom finds Hal dazed and barely able to walk. Hal explains what he saw happen to the kids and Tom realizes that the aliens meant it as a warning against further rescue attempts.
Back at the camp, Pope's first night as the cook goes well, but everyone still hates him. Later, Tom confronts Harris and gets him to admit that he abandoned Tom's wife during the attack that killed her. Tom punches Harris, but he also tells him that they can win the war and that they need to try to be the best of humanity to do so. Elsewhere in the school, the alien prisoner opens his eyes. And at the same time, Rick does as well as his father sleeps nearby.
On my first viewing, I was annoyed that Mike completely destroyed the mission for Tom. But in retrospect, his actions make sense. Mike's just a father who finally found his captive son and he did what almost any father would do to reclaim his child. That doesn't make what he did right, but in his mind it was a justifiable action. The sequence in which Rick's harness was removed was also one of the most effective exposition scenes that I've ever seen. Because the audience is meant to focus on the blowtorch cutting off the harness, the script managed to covey a lot of the backstory in the process. That's really good writing.
It was also cathartic to see Tom beat the crap out of his alien prisoner. The aliens on "Falling Skies" seem to have the right balance of being almost overwhelming at times but not invincible. Tom's also got the right qualities for an everyman hero; which is to say that he's got enough skills to win a fight like that without coming across as a cardboard action hero. Noah Wyle's best moments in this episode actually come earlier, when Tom listened to Dr. Harris tell him about the attack that killed his wife. From Tom's expression alone, it's clear that he doesn't believe Harris even before he calls him out on it later in the episode. But it was that subtle touch that made the scene.
When the show smartly left John Pope alive at the end of the last episode, I was wondering how the writers would incorporate him into the rest of the series. I wouldn't have guessed that he'd be the new cook. Collin Cunningham plays Pope with a lot of conviction during his first scene; and his knowledge about cooking actually seemed believable. I highly doubt that the writers will keep him stuck in the kitchen for the rest of the season. However, that was some brilliant character building that helped Pope come off as more than just a psycho who likes to kill aliens.
Another aspect of this show that I really enjoy is that the characters are actually asking questions that don't normally come up in shows like this. In an earlier episode, someone asked why these six legged aliens have robots with only two legs. And in this episode, someone wanted to know why aliens came all the way to Earth to force their human child slaves to scavenge for scrap metal. We haven't had any definitive answers yet, but the fact that these issues are even being addressed at all suggests that the creative team knows what they're doing. And I think that means we'll get our answers soon enough.
I'm also curious as to when Karen's abduction will be addressed. She's older than the enslaved children normally left alive by the skitters, so her fate is ambiguous. But I wouldn't be surprised if she ends up harnessed or controlled in some other way. She also happens to know almost everything about the 2ND Mass, if the aliens can get that info from her mind…
It's refreshing when a series that receives massive hype for over a year actually lives up to its promise. And so far, "Falling Skies" hasn't taken a significant misstep. If the series can keep up this level of quality, it's going to be the best show on TV this summer.
Crave Online Rating: 8.5 out of 10.