Loss is inevitable. In everything in life, there will be loss. Sometimes, that loss sneaks up on you, bringing up emotional responses that may surprise you. It does not shock as much as numb, it does not sadden as much as sober. It does resonate far beyond what you may have thought it would.
Such was the major emphasis of last weeks episode of FALLING SKIES, called simply COMPASS. While the story was very much about the expanding journey for the 2nd Mass, there was one occurrence that trumped every spectacular effect, every bombastic verbal joust, and every discovery of possible new frontiers.
That was the loss of “Jimmy Boland” played by Dylan Authors. Jimmy was orphaned during the initial invasion by the aliens and found a home with the 2nd Mass. Even more importantly, he found a surrogate father in Capt. Weaver (Will Patton). As best friends with Ben (Connor Jessup), he was also able to be a confidante with the most haunted figure in Falling Skies.
Ben and Jimmy were out on a late night hunt for Skitters on their own, without permission. Jimmy fires upon the Skitters and the Redeye Skitter who seems to be in charge responds with a brutal attack on Jimmy. The Skitter tosses Jimmy like a ragdoll into a tree, impaling him on a broken branch. Redeye then stares Ben down and while Ben’s spikes begin to glow, seems to send a mental message to him.
As I watched this scene, my mind went back to the scene in the first episode of Season Two, shown last week. In that scene, Tom Mason (Noah Wyle) is released from captivity in a field, along with a number of other adult captives. As they run from the ship, REDEYE and a Mech proceed to gun them down, a planned massacre. However. REDEYE spares Tom, leaving me with the feeling that Tom was spared to allow him to deliver the story of the massacre, as an effort to intimidate. The rest of the humans were expendable, but Tom Mason was necessary to them at that point and in the future.
The violence against Jimmy seems to fill the same slot. The emotional importance to the viewer of Jimmy’s violent death took a back seat to the feeling that a message had been delivered to Ben, an act of intimidation designed to increase the alien’s control and further break his (and the 2nd Mass’s ) spirit.
The violence and death of Jimmy also serves to remind the fanbase of the true center of the story of FALLING SKIES, that among all the bombast and explosions, the human heart is what drives this story.
As with previous episodes, the quietest scene (the funeral) holds the most memorable impact. These scenes drive home what they have lost and still fear to lose. It drives home why the 2nd Mass fights, for each other to survive and not be alone. In the final scene, the burial of Jimmy’s body has that cold funereal feel of being left alone in the cold ground, but the look on Weaver’s face also conveys the feeling of being left alone by those who have gone forever. It was a tough and deeply affecting turn in the story and drives home the strength of the writing team that works on FALLING SKIES.
The episode itself leans back on the 2nd Mass and the survival of the civilians in its charge. The group now needs to find ways to keep mobile, even when taking time to restage the group at an abandoned airport. The tensions that come from this constant “on the move” status can be felt in how the characters interactions come about. Tom and Weaver are at odds with whether to retreat to the safety of the mountains or continue to press the attack. Ben and Hal (Drew Roy) remain at odds over their increasing alienation towards each other. Matt (Maxim Knight) battles the urge to join the fight along with the fears of being just a kid. And Pope (Colin Cunningham) and The Beserkers simply butts heads with anyone in any kind of authority.
Pope’s actions in kidnapping Tom and threatening him with death if he did not leave the camp resonate and impact far beyond the Beserkers. Anthony (Mpho Kaoho), who has been charged with being both Jiminy Cricket and Beserker Wrangler is causing him to rethink how to balance his own emotions and impact brought about by a once trusted figure in Tom who now is tainted by his captivity and the unknown of what effect that alien encounter might bring to the battle.
As Anne (Moon Bloodgood) struggles with the medical needs of the 2nd Mass, she is then confronted with the personal horror of trying to save Jimmy. Her declaration of death is emotionally and humanly responded to by Ben to save Jimmy, because we know what Ben has already lost and fears losing, but we don’t yet know the other fears that now live in Ben’s mind.
The previous attempt by Pope to deal with Tom has not cooled their hatred of each other. A later argument devolves into a fight. Somewhat surprisingly, Tom comes out on top. This win is somewhat unexpected, but also begs the question of whether Tom has been physically stronger than Pope all along, or like Ben, has Tom’s return from alien captivity also led to an unexplained increase in strength. It is decided that Pope must leave the 2nd Mass.
The episodes actions and the vagueness of what to do next causes Pope to revert to his lone rebel status. Anthony decides that he will go with Pope, out a combination of gratefulness for Pope having saved his life as well as a desire to keep Pope in line, even though it will be without The Beserkers. An interesting side note: so far, The Beserkers have simply served as background comic relief and a show of Pope’s ability to lead with his own brand of power. Their decision to stay behind with the 2nd Mass means that they are now leaderless. Does that make them more manageable or more of a powderkeg?
Towards the end of the episode, a plane lands at the airport. The plane, piloted by Andrea Churchill (Camille Sullivan) is supposedly one of four that has been sent “to the four corners” by a surviving group in Charleston SC to find other survivors. Knowing that she is in a small plane, you begin to wonder if she was lucky to stumble upon the 2nd Mass, or if there is much more at play here. The 2nd Mass then begins its journey toward the south, a March to Charleston. The final gesture of the episode, Tom giving Jimmy’s compass to Ben and Ben’s emotional reaction to it, drives home the point that the journey is far from over.
Ben’s run from the camp when given the compass leads to a coda where Ben goes back one more time to where Jimmy is buried. Is he saying a last goodbye or simply now haunted by even more emotions? At the gravesite, he is once again confronted by REDEYE, who silently delivers another message. Are these instructions or intimidations? The Skitter is only scared off by the sound of Hal arriving on a motorcycle. REDEYE has no need to kill Hal, he needs Ben to go back to the camp.
One of the things that this episode caused me to think about for the first time is: what exactly are the 2Nd Mass searching for? We’ve already seen the total destruction of not only buildings, communications and weapons , but the absolute disruption of society itself. We know that the military and government centers have been destroyed. There is no longer a central government. Co-ordination with other groups is now simply by discovery or happenstance. In essence, there is no more United States of America in theory, if not in fact.
When Andrea Churchill lands, she mentions that Charleston has held a “Constitutional Congress 2”. That implies that some seat of government has settled far south of Washington DC. It also implies an attempt to write a new constitution based on the group in Charleston. Does that mean that, at least for Charleston, the US no longer exists as a country of laws, but is being reinvented? This may be the 2nd birth of our country, but it also begs the question about what it may look like.
FALLING SKIES is steeped in history. So much of the aliens actions seem to be rationalized by comparing it to human war actions. Tom Mason frames the current with the past to help understand the future. But, you now have state regiments again controlling their own destinies and deciding on their own goals and power structures, much like the country before and during the American Revolution. Now, with the journey to Charleston, the North will meet the South again. How they meet and how they come together (or fall apart) may have some basis in Civil War history. It is almost as if we are being given a front row seat to the “rebirth of a nation”. But what will the nation look like?
I’m not sure yet.