Some weeks, I struggle to find a clever way to open these blog posts. Much like a “lede” in reporting, getting this off to a proper start is what sometimes torments me. I don’t like to do pure recaps since there are other sites like THREE IF BY SPACE who do that so well already So, this week, let me “lede” with the link to TIBS’s recap from this episode and you can refer to it now, or preferably, check it out after reading mine.
The past weeks episode Of FALLING SKIES may have been one of the more heart wrenching yet. There have been plenty of emotional moments, horrible scenes of damage and destruction, and periods of hopelessness to overcome. But set against both the spectre of the mole hunt and the fear of what has become of Anne and Alexis, FALLING SKIES seized on one of the toughest psychological concepts to pull off, when son turns against father.
The main thrust of this week was that Hal, or Evil Hal, finally had to show himself in order to stop Tom from heading off to find Anne. His violent actions and subsequent taking of Tom as a hostage did not pull punches. Evil Hal was cold and vicious, in both his actions and his words. Referring to Tom as “Professor” instead of Dad, he spared no punches in his desire to get information out of his hostage.
Drew Roy, who plays Hal, is an excellent actor, but as the eldest Mason brother, Hal was probably the least interesting of the three up until this season. However, the earworm story line changed that and this episode allowed Drew/Hal to own the screen. It is a great conflicted performance, one that required intensity and menace, but had to avoid slipping into the standard clichés for a possessed character. Drew Roy captured the dispassionate coldness needed for Evil Hal and did it so well.
At the same time, the “Hal” inside was obviously still aware and trying to battle these “demons” who were controlling him. The big question for me was who we were really dealing with when “Evil Hal” was in control. If you’ve ever seen a film called THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, there is bit of a parallel. In that film, an assassin was brainwashed to shoot the President of the United States in a plot to force the country into martial law. The assassin is the son of the wife of a right-wing vice-president. The brainwashing is not outwardly apparent until the son goes to execute the plan.
In that film, you dealt with a suggestion that would trigger with certain signals. However, in “Evil Hal”, you seem to have something else. Hal is having more than an inner battle. This is more than a split personality manifestation. To assume that something is making Hal himself react this way is not the right move for me. I’m more inclined to see this as Karen, not as a “puppet-master” but as actually controlling Hal’s moves and actions, essentially being “Evil Hal”.
At least to me, this is more than just Hal fighting Hal. This is Hal fighting the Hal being controlled by Karen, the words that “Evil Hal” speaks to “the Professor” are being spoken by Karen, the threats and the physical violence is Karen making the moves. Hal is aware and struggling internally against this, but to me, this is more than Hal battling the power of bug control, Hal is essentially the host for Karen.
The violence in Hal’s assaults on Tom are cold. Visually, we see son striking, kicking, and threatening dad. There is no holdback here, no attempt to tone down the violence for the kids. This is pure mayhem and that viciousness and intensity has to come from someone elses psyche. To me, that is Karen in that room holding Weaver at bay and demanding info from Tom under threat of death.
As Tom tries to bring the real Hal to the forefront, the writers make what to me is a brilliant decision. In my view, Tom realizes that he cannot appeal to Hal’s family emotions by saying how much they all love him and how he must come back to them. Instead, Tom starts to tell of a family love for him tempered by feelings that Hal would grow up inadequately and unfocused. Tom talks of his feelings that Hal would grow up to be a fighter pilot and his mother’s opinions that Hal could never be focused enough to accomplish something like that.
Instead of triggering sadness, longing, and desire to get back to the family, Tom seems to try to enrage Hal, to make him emotional and shocked, to force anger inside of him. That anger, that sad rage may be that only thing powerful enough to try to grab control of his actions back from Karen, or at least to distract him so that Hal can be subdued. Just appealing to his emotions is not enough. Sadness would not be able to conquer the bug and Karen but rage out of hearing something upsetting like the fighter pilot story could be.
The distraction is strong and confusing enough that it allows the Mason Family and Maggie to forcefully bring Hal down, but not until after a terrifying moment when Hal tries to take his own life because he feels that is the only way to stop what was controlling him, to stop Karen. The determination that Ben and Matt channel to end the siege and bring Hal back , even putting their own lives in danger, makes for a gripping lead up to the final confrontation.
At the same time, you get reminded again of the tense dynamics that make up the 2nd Mass, chief among these is the tension between the Masons and Pope’s Beserkers. Upon learning that Maggie has been keeping the demons tormenting Hal secret, Pope erupts in a tirade about the golden status of the Mason family. Already, you’ve had Ben return with super abilities due to the alien spikes and now Hal as a danger. Even the bond between Pope and Matt seems to have been broken. Essentially, the internal battle lines are being drawn again.
Yet, Pope in his anger also seems to understand the dangers that a rage against the Masons can bring to the 2nd Mass. When ordered off the battlefield, Pope and his crew retreat to his saloon. Pope begins to play oddsmaker, taking bets on whether Hal and/or Tom survive the hostage siege and, once Hal is subdued, the odds on what Hal might be convicted of at trial.
While this feels like typical revelry in a Mason deflating moment, Pope’s words to one beserker are more telling. When one speaks up and questions what the payoff would be if that person took Hal out himself, Pope walks over to him, standing almost toe-to-toe, and cautions that he is only setting up wagering and will not tolerate any actions outside of that. By his bookmaking, Pope seems to be calming the villagers who might otherwise be grabbing pitchforks and torches and going after the Hal/Frankenstein monster. He is defusing a potentially explosive situation, distracting his crew with the wagering.
When Weaver comes to saloon and orders a whiskey, Pope tries to intimidate Weaver by pulling a gun on him at the bar. This action seems to be essentially Pope trying to seize the upper hand on his own turf, but Weaver is able to control the situation by calmly letting Pope know who is in charge and what will happen next.
The attempts to get the earworm out of Hal also prove to be cold and very uncomfortable. Tom has to make the decision to risk his son’s life to save the lives of others. At the same time, he has to not let his emotions blind him to the risk that he has to take and to the responsibility for the rest of the 2nd Mass’ future should the de-bugging procedure not work. In essence, he has to be willing to lose his son to save his son. The debugging process is jarring and disturbing, extremely emotional, but ultimately successful. With the bug removed, Hal has no memory of his actions while under total control of it, and if essentially becoming a host for Karen.
Much of the talk over recent weeks has been about who is the mole. As I mentioned previously, I don’t consider Hal the mole simply because there are certain things that don’t make sense in that theory. With this weeks episode, I think I have one more argument against the Hal-as-mole theory. If Hal was the mole, I just don’t see the need for the “Evil Hal” storyline. Would it not be better for Hal as the mole to remain in the shadows for longer? By “coming out” and not “being silent” , he essentially would bring the mole’s mission to an end, and with the possibility of still not getting what the Espheni want.
No, the mole, or moles, are still out there. I’m also not one to accept Marina as the mole. Power driven, yes, and one whose motivations could be in question, but I don’t believe she is working for the other side. Having said that, I am also not yet ready to excuse her as Arthur Manchester’s assassin. If Marina had designs on power, then Manchester stood in the way of promotion. What other reason could there be for Manchester’s murder? Had he figured out who the mole is? Or was he simply a roadblock to job growth for Marina, who is now the President of the New United States.
Which brings up another question: What of the other President named Hathaway?. Last seen two episodes ago escaping the incoming aliens with Cochise on his plane. Since Tom was willing to acknowledge the legitimacy of Hathaway as president, why the need to swear Marina in when Tom left on his recovery mission for Anne? I’ve always felt, like Marina, that the Volm could not be trusted, and by extension, Cochise could not be trusted. I’m curious to see if the Masons reencounter Cochise and President Hathaway when they eventually find Anne and Alexis. I have a feeling that all sides will meet again in Merchantville GA.
Finally, in a season that has been filled with furtive glances and reactions to each scene in what could be seen as “is that person the mole?”, a new candidate emerged for me this week. As we’ve known, there is tension between the Masons and the Beserkers. That really came to a head this past week, especially when another Mason son took a swing at Pope. I’m waiting for Matt to whale away soon on John Pope.
However, this episode saw Lyle, a supporting character, a little more to the fore. He is seen numerous times observing what is going on, and not as a bystander. He keeps close to Pope and is Pope’s right hand man. His comments and presence in this episode is the most chatty and visible he has been in a long while. After Weaver tells Pope what will come next for Hal, Pope send Lyle along to watch for funny business and to take the comedy out of it if he sees it.
Lyle sits directly outside of a consultation room as Tom, Weaver, Lourdes, Ben, and a rebel skitter discuss the next moves. There are numerous reaction shots, more than would be necessary if Lyle is simply watching as Pope ordered him to. One shot of him sitting outside would have been enough to establish this, but there are numerous views of him listening and following with his eyes. To me, there could be more at work here than just information for the Beserkers.
If my theory is right, Lyle has gained the trust of Pope and is privy to many battle secrets and moves. And Pope’s jealousy and envy of the Mason family status could be blinding him to an enemy inside his own “family”, the Beserkers. Pope has already lost Tector to Weaver and the 2nd Mass and he lost Crazy Lee, which he seems to blame on Tom. Could his emotions be making him miss the mole as he stands beside him?
In the end, a great psychological story, with some amped up questions about how intense this battle between father and whoever is controlling his son could get (very intense). With the Masons off to find Anne and Alexis, we are left with what happens in Charleston with the other players while Tom is away. We still have Kadar’s discovery, Pope having to deal with a new power structure in Marina, and Weaver having to keep the 2nd Mass in fighting shape.
Essentially, we have the setting for a great winding down of the third season of Falling Skies.