Falling Skies made up for last week's alien count of zero in a big way last night in "Molon Labe," a back-against-the-wall ode to human ingenuity in the face of alien onslaught. But rather than move things forward by huge leaps and bounds and craft tales of war heroics, the episode is best summed up thusly: A bunch of stuff happened.
It was the right moment for an all-or-nothing situation, and this was probably the episode of Falling Skies that gave us the greatest sense of danger, something the show forgets to include from time to time. But the hour lacked the emotional gut punch (though not for a lack of trying) and payoff that would have put the episode over the top, and I found myself just waiting too see how the 2nd Mass would get out of the situation instead of actually being invested in it. But for summer sci-fi to stuff your face to, it wasn't a bad episode.
The key to the episode was the capture of the overlord, Mr. Skinny Jeans Fish Face, by Tom. With Fish Face a trigger-squeeze away from being No Face, the alien forces ceased fire and created a standoff: 2nd Mass in the hospital and Mechs (or at least some mean spotlights) just beyond the fog, or as it's known in the business, the special effects budget-saving cloud.
This created a series of micro-stories that we would rapidly bounce around between, and in one particularly fast set of cuts, we visited all of them in a matter of minutes which was supposed to build tension but ended up just being lots of flashlights, shouting, and arm waving. Was this episode trying to be creepy or was it trying to scare off a bear? I'm not sure. But again, Falling Skies isn't trying to be top-notch television, it's just trying to keep you from changing the channel, and the action was dense enough to do just that.
The episode did do something that Falling Skies has been horrible at so far, and that's get everyone involved. You wouldn't believe this if you hadn't seen it with your own eyes, but even Dr. Anne had something to do! While the aliens had the 2nd Mass pinned down upstairs, Anne, Lourdes, and Matt ventured downstairs to gather some medical supplies and got stuck or knocked out or something when Tom blew up a random Mech that got into the base for some reason. When they woke up, they were alone. Except for a swarm of space spiders that had been conveniently out of the picture until right now.
Season 2 has introduced a pair of new alien species, the eye worm and the space spider, but their introductions were done more for the creep factor than to serve the story. You know how when you play some sort of space marine video game, there's a few kinds of aliens and it's cool and fun? And then the sequel comes out and all of a sudden, hey! The aliens have these new critters that you have you have to deal with even though they didn't appear in the first game of the series and it just feels tacked on because the game developers feel like they have to add more instead of just refocusing on what made the first game good? Yeah, well, Falling Skies is like that with the space spiders.
Not that a few dozen of them crawling out of Jamil's mouth wasn't awesome, but it just felt like something that happened. I'm not even going to ask what took them so long to crawl out or where they came from or why there weren't more down there, because those are reasonable questions that Falling Skies doesn't have reasonable answers for. Falling Skies is all about surface-level titillation. No more, no less.
With Jamil a deflated spider bag, Anne, Matt, and a very negative and newly single Lourdes had to escape their eight-legged foes on their own. If only Jim Shannon from Terra Nova was around to sing "The Spider Song!" But the group had a trick up its collective sleeve in pint-sized Matt, and you know what happens when you have a small kid around? You send him through the vents to get help! (See: every sci-fi everything with a small kid in it.) Meanwhile, Anne fashioned a flamethrower with some Aqua Velva and a match, and whipped up a batch of spider flambé just in time for Tom and Pope to find them and lead them to safety with backwards-walking shooting.
Maggie and Hal were sent downstairs to find some alternate routes out, but it was really just an excuse to pair off the two, alone, for some relationship talk. While people were in serious danger of dying upstairs, Maggie rearranged her priorities and demanded answers from Hal about whether or not he was thinking of "her." Hal said something to the effect of, "Hell nah, she's a two-faced alien-lovin' bitch," and that was good enough for Maggie to stick her tongue down his throat. Meanwhile, people were totally almost dying upstairs. And then, A BUNCH OF SPIDERS!
Upstairs, the standoff was still standing off, and I'll admit Karen makes a pretty good mouthpiece for the aliens. Jessy Schram is doing good work with the material that's been given to her, and I have a feeling she'll be up for a lot of psycho ex-girlfriend roles in the near future. To show they weren't playin', the aliens marched out one of the Berserkers and shot him in the back for all to see in what can only be described as a Spielbergian moment. It's just too bad that we didn't care about the guy at all or even really know who he was. Ditto for Jamil. It's good that Falling Skies is killing characters, but, save for my homey Jimmy, they're people who we have little emotional connection to so we have to feel the effect through the characters of the 2nd Mass, and the acting isn't up to par to successfully convey that.
But Tom was pretty emotionally connected to them, and he turned up the dial to extreme badass by walking up to the Overlord and waving a gun in his face while having a debate about their chances and sentiment. And it's what happened next that Falling Skies has to do a lot more of. Fish Face ticked Ben's spikes into seizure mode, and Tom—God bless him—put a bullet right in his neck. YEAH TOM!
With the standoff at full-on Mexican, both sides decided the best option was for the 2nd Mass to move on and let the aliens have their Overlord, allowing both sides go back to the way things were. Tom rigged a bunch of C4 around the Overlord's cell, and he promised not to detonate it as long as the aliens let the 2nd Mass leave. Problem solved, though not really a whole lot was accomplished in the bigger scope of things. Now we can finally get back to road-trippin' to Charleston, where we probably should have already been two episodes ago.
"Molon Labe" was dangerous without being tense, creepy without being scary, and fun without being great. There's a good show in here somewhere, but it's still not doing the little things to bring that out.
– That whole bit Karen said about being able to see how the universe works down to the sub-atomic level is a ridiculous twist, if it's true. I'm guessing a lot of us had the same reaction as Hal: "Wow that’s the most ridiculous load of crap I've ever heard."
– At the end of the episode, Ben finally left the group. Finally. It will be interesting to see if the show follows his journey, or if he just shows up later riding a Mech when all seems lost for the rest of the 2nd Mass.
– If I ever see my friend barf up a bunch of spiders and die, I'm probably not going to scream, "They used him as a Trojan Horse!" like Anne did. Expect a bunch of garbled profanity instead.
– We all agree that Lourdes is probably better off without Jamil, right? He's way too old for her. Alien apocalypse or not, there are still rules of decency to follow.
– I still do love the long tracking shots this show is so fond of! Those are high-pressure situations for actors. If one person messes up, the whole scene has to be shot again and sometimes they use 10 or more actors in one shot.
Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom