What in Skitter God's name was that? "Homecoming," the official first episode of the second half of Falling Skies' second season, was all over the place tonight, and if there's one rule of television, it's this: Nothing slows down the momentum of a series like a storyline about invisible pathogens that have made someone very, very, very sick!
There was really only one point of "Homecoming," and that was to bring Hal's ex-hottie Karen back to the 2nd Mass to cause some trouble. Along the way, Weaver got sick from the harness bug bite he got two weeks ago (but don't worry, by the end of the episode he got better!), the hospital came dangerously close to running out of gas (but don't worry, by the end of the episode they found a lot more!), and Pope returned to the group (after pointlessly leaving in the first place... though we'll probably learn more next week about where he's been).
Karen being back with the humans is zero surprise, but that's not really the problem with her return. My beef with it is the way she was used. This season, there's been so much to do with the concept of who you can trust. If the survival elements of Falling Skies' first season resembled those of The Walking Dead, Falling Skies Season 2 is borrowing from the paranoia of the excellent early seasons of Battlestar Galactica. Tom's been under the bright light, Pope is obviously one cheap domestic beer from cutting everyone's face off, Ben's glowing spikes are a constant reminder that he's part-human-part-alien-Radio-Shack, and Pink Eye the Skitter Rebel Leader really changed the idea of "aliens = bad, humans = good."
So in comes Karen, and there's a lot the writers can do with how much we trust her (or don't) because she's Hal's ex and a cute blonde, but she's also been the voicebox for an alien leader and watched Tom almost die. However, these ideas were barely addressed and the tension was never built up and everyone's first instincts were right: She's no good. In fact, "Homecoming" didn't even give us a chance to trust her in the first place so we could be fooled later on, taking all of the potential bite out of the story. Whether we could trust her was the big question in this episode, right? So why didn't it give us enough time to ponder it? If we don't doubt ourselves, it doesn't work. Falling Skies needs to learn when to give its audience information and when to withhold it (in related news, please give us more information on Ben because his story is dragging and there's been way too little time spent on him over his season-long arc).
But it's the bizarre treatment of these ex-harnessed kids that's probably the worst. Karen came back from nowhere and was immediately cordoned off in a room so everyone could decide whether or not they can trust her. Rick came back, even after the group last saw him JUMPING OFF THE SIDES OF BUILDINGS AND KILLING AN OLD MAN, and everyone's reaction was to put him on the table and save his life and let him roam around camp like it was nothing. All the while Ben, who suffers from the same condition Karen and Rick do, was walking around freely with a giant frickin' gun and guarding fellow ex-harnessed-and-possibly-alien-controlled Karen, BY HIMSELF. If Falling Skies is going to be this inconsistent, it could at least show us the coin flips that go into these decisions.
The only thing I got out of Weaver's blood infection was learning the term "extracorporeal hypothermia," and I don't even think the show got it right. I'm no blood scientist doctor man, but "extracorporeal" means "out of body," and hypothermia is a case when the body's temperature is too low. Extracorporeal hypothermia would indicate that the blood would be pulled from the body and cooled, and pumped back into the body to induce hypothermia (Lourdes was right, the technique is used in cancer treatment and some surgeries). But Anne and Lourdes were doing the exact opposite; Weaver's blood needed to be warmed to kill the pathogen. It sounds like someone got left and right mixed up. Perhaps the term the show should have used is "extracorporeal microwaving." If you want to toss around fancy medical terms, it might be best to get them right. (P.S. I hope I'm right about this, but I'm not totally sure. Perhaps a doctor can sort it out in the comments section below? You are all doctors, right?) [UPDATE: My claim has been debunked by user Mate, who has better ears than I do. Dr. Anne said "extracorporeal HYPERthermia," not hypothermia. Now it makes sense. I should just erase this paragraph from the Internet but I gotta own up when I'm wrong.]
On top of that, Weaver was cured by the end of the episode, and only a gasoline shortage scare provided any drama. Except it wasn't really drama at all. It was empty drama. Beginning of the episode: Weaver is sick! End of episode: Weaver is okay! Beginning of the episode: We're low on gas and we're all going to die! End of episode: Hey, we just found a shit-ton of gas lying on the side of the road, more than we need! Falling Skies loves to present problems and solve them quickly with little or no hurdles, which are the backbone of good drama. Drama = Present a problem, introduce an obstacle to solving that problem, watch the hero find way around obstacle. It's not, "Present a problem, cut to the problem being solved by guy in a mullet off-screen." Remember the heat issue the 2nd Mass had with their engines in the first episode of Season 2? Put some insulation on them! Problem solved. This kind of thing s about as exciting as watching someone try to figure out what they they want for breakfast and then realizing that they want pancakes because they're kind of in the mood for pancakes so they order pancakes.
And in case you are keeping score at home: There were absolutely zero aliens in this episode.
As we've discussed before, Falling Skies' weakest component is its writing, but that can be forgiven and forgotten with a couple badass alien shoot-em-up scenes. "Homecoming" didn't have those aliens—or any aliens—to bail it out, and it really suffered as a result.
– Captain Weaver is proving to be a horrible leader. He made sure people didn't know about his deadly infection AND he gave the go-ahead to use up all of the gas to keep generators running? Could he not pull himself away from playing Skyrim or something? This is an alien invasion, not a spring break road trip. Resources are everything! Weaver was right about everyone doing too much chillaxin' and not enough worrying about the legions of alien overlords all over the place that want them dead. But let's be honest, that's Alien Invasion Resistance Leader 101 stuff. Using up almost all the gas is inexcusable. Weaver needs to go.
– Hey everyone, please stop bludgeoning us with what you miss from the old days. Thank you, The Management.
– I'm still confused about the Mags-Hal relationship. I guess the obvious thing would be for them to get together, but they're not getting together. Or are they? Can't tell if this is good, unpredictable writing or pointless time-wasting.
– How will Karen's return affect 2nd Mass? And how can Karen's eyes be THAT blue? And did they ever explain that pile of dead harnessed kids a.k.a. the necrophiliac pedophile's dream? Was it just an elaborate plan to get Karen found? Because that was super complicated. If I've got this right, the aliens put a pile of dead kids in the woods and hoped someone from the 2nd Mass would trip over them and find Karen.
– Another loose thought on Karen, and how her quick reveal as an alien plant affects the psychology of the viewer over the course of the season (or at least how it affected me): Karen as an alien spy takes away a lot of doubts we might have built up about the rest of the 2nd Mass with regard to trust issues. We should be looking over our shoulders constantly, questioning the intentions of everyone, but we're not. That leads to an in-group/out-group situation, where everyone who's part of "our group" (the 2nd Mass) is good, and everyone who's not is bad. Karen being an alien plant only reinforces this. Falling Skies is a Steven Spielberg production, so I don't expect any major character double-crosses from the main cast we've spent all these episodes with because Spielberg has very clear ideas about good and evil. But when large portions of the first episodes of the series were designed to make us question who we could trust among our buddies, having Karen put on the weakest "I'm innocent" face for about five minutes only to be exposed as a covert op trying to extract Ben into a trap was hecka weak. You could argue that Ben's intentions make him a questionable ally, but the show has solidly sold him as a supporter of the alien resistance, which makes him "enemy of my enemy is friend" good. What this season needs is a mole.
– Dr. Anne: "I'm not your wife, Tom. And we don't get the luxury of having a lovers' spat in this stupid wasteland of a world. All we get to do is survive." Audience: "Grooooooooan."
– But you know what WAS awesome? That girl fight between Karen and Mags. Plus the episode had lots of Margaret, which means lots of Sarah Carter! And since we're all getting scary obsessed with her (no, I never watched Smallville), here's a video of her music group, because of course she's in a band and can play guitar because she can do anything because she's just the most perfect precious little thing in the entire universe.