Welcome to Charleston. At least, after a long trek South, one that has been called a “Death March”, what is now called “Charleston” looks like a paradise, if paradise if found in a repurposed mall food court.
But while they have found others, have they found civilization? Have they found society? Or have they found that life is about to get much more complicated?
Up until this point, the 2nd Mass has been pretty much been the lone defense against the alien invasion that we got to experience every week. Yes, they would encounter small bands of survivors or fighters, but nothing was organized, nothing was even close to structured. Now, they have hooked back up with Col. Porter in the underground Charleston. It seems that the area residents have not only found a place below ground to hide and attempt to survive, but that they have started to attempt a rebuild of both government and laws, as well as a normalcy approximating a previous everyday life, albeit one devoid of sunlight, fresh air, and quite possibly true freedom.
This “city” seems to have a sustainable food source, an educational system, and one would assume a labor force. There is no sign of a monetary system as of yet, and because this is essentially an underground garage, it is not palatial but functional. The city also has what we have been told is an elected government as well as the start of a constitution. It also has a military force, and that is where there red flags should start to pop up.
This is because this structure is about to clash head on with the 2nd Mass and their freedom fighter techniques. Yes, the 2nd Mass has a chain of command and a military structure, but it is one borne out of working within the situation.
When the 2nd Mass first enters the underground, they are greeted with what seems to be a hero’s welcome. Their reputation is well know and would seem to be welcome. However, there was something a bit tentative to me about this welcome. Yes, the crowd cheers, but any spontaneity is sorely lacking. Not quite on command, but seeming because it is expected of them, they welcome the 2nd Mass.
This welcome will soon turn into an attempt to assimilate the 2nd Mass from their own identity into the “Charleston” community. One problem: Much as the civilians in the 2nd Mass would call Ben and other rescued harnessed kids “razorbacks” and other names, the public in Charleston seems to harbor the same resentment to the 2nd Mass. Is this because of distrust, of fear, of knowledge, or by design. Matt (Maxim Knight) is one of the first to feel this. He encounters a classic bully in the “school” who mocks the 2nd Mass. He of course retaliates as only Matt would. Matt does not sit back and take it, he will respond. Good for Matt.
As the 2nd Mass enters, Tom Mason (Noah Wyle) discovers that the new society is run by an old friend and colleague, Arthur Manchester (Terry O’Quinn). Knowing O’Quinn’s past work as well as his upcoming series 666 PARK AVENUE, it should immediately set off warning bells in every viewer. Manchester, who seems to have been democratically elected President, is running the show. After renewing their past relationship, reality starts to sink in. While the 2nd Mass is in favor of continuing to take the fight to the Skitters, that idea is denied by General Breseler (Matt Frewer) who heads the military force. It is felt that Charleston Underground is safe from the Skitters since they believe that the aliens think Charleston is destroyed. Naïve?
The assimilation of the 2nd Mass continues with Gen. Breseler demanding that the 2nd Mass turn their weapons over to the Charleston army and be given assignments under the Charleston army. In essence, there would be no more 2nd Mass. Thankfully, the best skeptic around (Pope) and some of the Beserkers can smell this charade out. Tector has bought into it and continued his progression from Beserker to lockstep soldier. Tector has joined the Charleston army in a big way and follows every command, including those that affect the 2nd Mass.
The 2nd Mass “dismantling” has also been seen by others. Dr. Anne Glass, who has essentially been the chief medical officer of the 2nd Mass, is brusquely given her “assignments” in the hospital set-up, with no real acknowledgement of her skills. Hal has to be prodded by Weaver to stay focused and dismiss what he has been assigned.
However, Pope is having none of this, and Maggie begins to suspect Pope of plotting something. As Pope, Crazy Lee and Lile as trying to break into a store of guns, Maggie tries to stops them, only to have Tector show up as the new military adherent to arrest them, even shooting Lile as he attempts to resist. What you see happening is that the 2nd Mass, having been mentally relegated to a reduced role, essentially becoming separate heads that desperately need to be rejoined together, essentially “Join Or Die”.
Tom pleads for Maggie and the Berserkers release and the cracks in utopian Charleston begin to show. It seems to be time for Manchester to seek re-election and he needs Tom to help him with this. However, he does not want to allow Tom and the 2nd Mass aggressiveness towards the aliens to take hold. He seems to be happy with the status quo, the peace. Of course, this is also a society limited by both space as well as a future claustrophobia from having to live in artificial light and surroundings.
At a public forum, you start to see the seeds of discontent. Jeanie, Capt. Weavers daughter, has made her way to Charleston after Diego and the rest of her group were captured by the aliens. She gives a speech, questioning the laissez-faire attitude of Charleston, of why they would rather sit back seemingly safe instead of looking for loved ones or trying to reclaim the world. You scan the crowd listening, but there is very little emotion there. They have seemingly become a resigned populace, accepting that nothing matters except for hiding and surviving.
Tom is up next, and Manchester is hoping for an endorsement for him to continue as President. I might have missed something here, but I am not sure who Manchester is actually running against. His need of Tom to support him almost feels like a preemptive strike to make sure the Tom doesn’t become his opponent. Tom preaches the need to resume the fight, the notion that this is not over and never will be until the costs are too high for the aliens to continue.
Now, up to this point, Ben has not been seen in either this episode or the previous one. We last saw him leaving on his own solitary journey to continue his mission. It takes a great deal of balls on behalf of the show runner to remove a central character for so long. As Tom speaks, the General interrupts and informs Tom that a de-harnessed boy has shown up nearby and wants to speak with Tom. Can this be Ben?
It is not, it is another teenage emissary for RedEye, who wants to talk with Tom now. Manchester begins to fear that his hold on a “utopia” will fall away if this happens. He orders the boy to be locked up, and starts to find a way to take any ability for Tom to seize control away. He seems happy with hiding from the Skitters. He tried to wind and dine Pope into helping to bring Tom down. Pope has no love for Tom, but even less for a power mad person like Manchester and refuses.
The unrest among the 2nd Mass begins to manifest itself more dangerously, as Hal and Dai attempt a breakout for Maggie and the boy. Porter has also seen enough and offers weapons and support. The jailbreak is stopped by General Breseler and the 2nd Mass is ordered arrested. However, even the cracks in the general’s armor are showing, as Tector decides to stand down on the orders to arrest the 2nd Mass and instead rejoins the 2nd Mass is a show of solidarity, and is also arrested.
The paranoia level in Manchester begins to run all the way up to eleven. He has essentially declared martial law and is rounding up the 2nd Mass. His role as “president” has morphed in “dictator”. Of course, any dictator risks the threat of being deposed by a military coup. Thanks to Porter standing firm is his faith in the 2nd Mass, he begins to work on the General . The General responds by seeming to begin to align himself with Tom and the 2nd Mass, hence leading to a possible coup.
As you get ready for the next episode, it is obvious that things have changed greatly. The previous assumptions over the last two years of episodes have always revolved around the 2nd Mass seeking others to unite for a common cause. However, Charleston has shown that there is no commonality in this fight. You essentially have three sides forming here, each in possible opposition to the other” the 2nd Mass, Manchester, and the military. The big questions really revolve around Manchester. We really have not seen much of any form of government in Charleston other than his own office and his own governance. There was talk of a people’s constitutional convention, but there is no sign of who those delegates might have been.
Also, since Charleston has been designed for the purpose of hiding undergrounds and staying out of sight, I am a bit curious about how the planes that they sent “to the four corners” went undetected. Since they are in an underground garage, what possible physical growth can be accomplished? They just added the population of the 2nd Mass to a finite space. Are they expecting others? And my questions about the civilians still exist. Are they really that docile and accepting? Is safety so overriding that they are giving up personal freedoms and individuality?
And, who exactly is Arthur Manchester? Is he protecting Charleston from the aliens, or is there more. What do the trappings of power really bring him? Is there a monetary system? Are there items of value that he can command? And finally, what does he REALLY know about the aliens? It may be far-fetched, but is he a protector of the masses or a collaborator with the aliens to buy that safety?
For two episodes now, the show has told a story without showing the aliens nor the central character , Ben. We do not know the fate of Karen and the aliens that seem to be under her command. We also do not know if Tom is truly free of the overlords control. So many questions keep the season finale possibilities endless.
However, I have a strong feeling that the 2nd Mass no longer believes that there is unity in this fight. As a matter of fact, they may soon be the rebels on the run from both the aliens and any newly formed government. Whatever it will be, it will move the story even more like our own past history, as new country pains give way to loss, betrayal, revolution and hopefully resolve to triumph.
A MORE PERFECT UNION is an odd phrase, since you seemingly cannot improve on what is perfect. So, that title being chosen for the conclusion of Season Two makes it obvious that the union or unions presented in the first two seasons are not the answer, and finding that “more perfect union” will take “more perfect resolve”.