Quick note: the subtitle of this blog post actually refers to three “chiefs”. First two are the two Presidents of whatever iteration of the United States still exists and the third is Cochise, who is named after a famous Indian leader. All three could be called “chiefs” at some point in time.
As Falling Skies approaches the middle of its 3rd Season, the story makes a move to reach out beyond Charleston, to flesh out the story and expand the insular community built around the 2nd Mass. It has always been my curiosity about what else is left of the original United States, how many areas survived, and who runs those areas. In addition, are their goals shared by other groups? While a major axiom of war is to “divide and conquer” , the country is already divided. Can the humans defeat the Espheni without a coordinated plan of attack? And a question which extends even further and may never be answered: what of the rest of the world? Is the Espheni simply concentrating on the United States? What remains of the rest of the world?
I’m not sure if much of the FALLING SKIES audience remembers a great film starring Cliff Robertson, called CHARLY. It is based on the book “Flowers For Algernon” and is the story of a mentally handicapped man who undergoes experimental surgery that increases his intelligence. With this increase comes jealously and resentment from others as well as personality changes that stem from the fear and eventual realization that his normal intelligence level will return. Despite working feverously with scientists to try to make it permanent, Charly eventually goes back to his original state.
While he was just Charly, he faced pressure, insults and teasing, but as super intelligent Charly, he faces a different kind of derision and ostracism. His decline is feared but it is inevitable. The question is whether his improved state was truly better or if reverting back to who Charly once was is unavoidable. While not an exact parallel to Ben and Denny’s FALLING SKIES storyline, there are plenty of similarities in the choices they face.
A lot of heavy questions, but the dilemma faced by Ben and Denny is what remains the heart of FALLING SKIES: what happens if and when something returns to normal. Ben and Denny have been deharnessed, but as Lourdes points out, the root system of those harnesses still live inside of them and like a cancer, will eventually consume them and cause them to die in just a few years.
The harnesses have given them amazing strength and powers and a major psychological problem. Once you’ve tasted this power, do you want to go back to normalcy? While there is suspicion of them and their connection to the aliens and some mistrust them, they now can be more than what they perceive as their old meek selves. Ben no longer feels dismissed by Hal, no longer the asthmatic weakling. Denny has strength and ability and no long needs what she sees as nerdy glasses. In the end of the episode, they decide that they will keep the harness remains despite the uncertainty and possibility of a short lifetime. They are seen talking about how it used to be, trying to reassure each other that it is the right choice, even though each is not really convinced. It is a quiet scene, but it is in keeping with the personal human element and confusion that makes FALLING SKIES stand out.
This episode bookends the drama with two big action pieces. The first is an attack by the Espehni and Mechs that is eventually quelled because of the Volms defenses. Even Lt. Fisher, who has tried to escape under cover of the attack, is impressed by how the Volms have defeated such a large force. The second is the air attack launched at the “keystone” airbase that caused both President Hathaway and Tom Mason (along with Pope) to scramble to safety and to set up the next episode. Yes, a mid-season cliffhanger.
The visit to President Hathaway is the main plot element, but I’m saving it for last. Four other concurrent stories are taking place, with two of them intersecting at the end of last weeks episode. I’ve already mentioned the most touching of them above, the choice to not remove the remains of the harness, for fear of going back to what once was. BTW, two major sci-fi thrillers have featured young leads affected by asthma, FALLING SKIES and REVOLUTION, and both figure in the characters story.
You have the Good Hal and the subliminal Evil Hal, with a confrontation happening with Hal’s mirror image, an alter ego that is released in a mirror busting fit of frustration and rage. Hal has wanted to confess that he thinks he is the mole to his father Tom for a while, but always meets an obstacle. Now, the Evil Hal persona seems to be in control and much more aggressive towards Maggie.
This manifests itself in a love scene that seems both tough and a bit odd. That is, until you remember back to Karen’s love scene in the woods with Hal. Are these two somehow related? Some may wonder the purpose of either, what would be accomplished by these two scenes. I’m curious to see if there is more to them than just what we’ve seen so far.
Hal also figures in Anne’s plot line.
After going to Dr. Kadar with swabs of DNA, Anne freaks when he informs her that her baby’s sample shows that there is alien DNA in the mix. She snaps and in a fit of desperation, hits Kadar with a monkey wrench. Things starts to spiral even further out of control as Anne drugs Lourdes and tries to run somewhere, anywhere with Alexis. As she runs, she is confronted by Skitters and by a harnessed girl, who seem to know of Alexis. At this point, Hal shows up and seems to be in league with the Skitter confronting Anne.
Anne’s story has gone on for a while now and this is the first time Alexis’ plot thread has been expanded outside of the trio of Anne, Tom, and Lourdes. This version of Hal seems to be expecting Anne’s arrival and is not surprised by it. The Skitters were prepared for it. Is it because someone saw her running or because it was somehow manipulated into occurring?
Finally, we come to the meeting with President Hathaway. The “keystone” base where Tom, Cochise, Pope, and Bressler fly to is on an extremely heightened level of security. Hathaway reacts angrily to the sight of Cochise and Tom showing up, protesting that this was supposed to be totally secret. At this point, they lead Cochise away from Tom, and Cochise does not reappear until Tom is brought to him in a secure area, one that almost looks like an interrogation room. It is here that Cochise tells his story of a lost brother split by a centuries old war that has ravaged his home planet, making him essentially adrift without a home as they battle the Espehni .
At that point, the base must scramble as alien attack ships are approaching. As Tom, Pope, and Bressler scramble to their plane, President Hathaway takes Cochise with him. While Tom protests, it is obvious that he is not going to win this argument.
As the planes try to fly away, the dogfight begins. Again, this fight grabs the history vibe of Falling Skies and the air battle is very much like a World War II dogfight, one that ends with the downing of Tom and Pope’s plane, setting up next weeks episode.
Now comes my big “what if?”…
The Volm remains a mystery in both motivation and final goal. They talk a good fight but so many questions remain. Not the least of which is why they arrived now, at that point in time, and at Charleston? They seem to have the tactical number and knowledge to defeat at least a battalion of Espehni . Why have they been unable to defeat them before?
In addition, Cochise has been seen on horseback but most of the time, his presence is a measured, intense but calm presence. There is no hint of fear or apprehension. At times, he seems to steer planning and conversation towards what may be a desired decision. To top this off, at the keystone base, he seems to offer no resistance or protestation about being separated from Tom not once, but twice, and the second time during the escape.
Hathaway taking Cochise with him begs the question of “Why?”. What is the purpose of separating Tom and Cochise? Yes, it could simply be a precaution to make sure that both Tom and Cochise are not shot down or captured together, to protect info. Still, the calm with which Cochise co-operates feels like something more is going on, almost as if all of this had been planned out as a tactical move by the Volm. Again, with little knowledge of motivation from the Volm, it is fair to question their motives.
While everyone searches for a mole, and I’ve been quick to discount Cochise in the past as too easy, if you add a few layers of “what ifs”, you can make a case that the Volm and Cochise have been playing puppet master to achieve something more, something not in Charleston but that they need Charleston to achieve.
I’m still not sure who the mole is, or even if there is a singular mole. The identity of the mole is less important than the motivation and support that may be behind the more.
I could be wrong, so surprise me, FALLING SKIES.