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“Compass” was all about danger and hope—danger from within the resistance and hope from the new seat of human power in Charleston, South Carolina. The episode’s emotional peak was, however, undoubtedly dominated by the tragic loss of Jimmy which really owned the end of the hour.
Falling Skies has done danger from within before, but not like it was introduced in the second half of the extended premiere a week ago. In “Compass,” we had the two brands. On the one hand, the older and less successful way with Pope, and on the other hand, the new, more intriguing and enticing way with Ben and Tom Mason. Pope is the resident “bad guy” who needs to be restrained and, although the sequence of events leading Tom to join the “beserkers” was excellent and his initial mission with them was well executed, everything fell apart when Pope pushed it a bit too far. A character like that is useful and even necessary, but his anger and unrestrained ways should trickle out with good measure and not be let free to roam at will. His wry humor was fun (“[I will protect] even the spikey one, unless of course he goes full skitters and all bets are off”), but then he was written into a caricature by being excessively mad for reasons that, frankly, seemed clear only to him. Pope is not written as a crazy person, though he is certainly unpredictable, but from the very beginning, the series has had issues balancing his moods and contribution to the story, making him appear occasionally (like here) as a plot device. No character should try so hard to be bad.
Ben and Tom Mason on the other hand were right in tune with the story. The “spikey one” (as Pope called Ben) started showing some promise with his interaction with the red-eyed skitter. Last season, the show wasted a lot of time with the first character to undergo harness removal (Rick) who seemed to move around with no purpose for too long. Now, after showing us in a few episodes the extent to which Ben has been changed (both physically and mentally) by the harnessing, the story is quickly moving ahead with the red-eyed skitter and his grip on the young Mason. It’s interesting that the same skitter seems to be implicated in what I would call the operation involving Tom Mason. The probe that was removed from Tom ominously went back to the same creature. And the uncertainty Mason still feels about his own ability to be a reliable member of the Second Mass was better explored in this episode. The “danger within” was done right in these two storylines because on the one hand, there is the family drama with Tom’s self-doubts and Ben’s difficulties to connect with others (including his own family), and on the other hand, there is the bigger picture with whatever Red-eye has in store for the two of them. The invaders’ interaction with the family enhances everything, even though it makes one wonder what exactly is so special about the family and the Second Mass, for that matter.
Then there was Avery Churchill, the lady pilot from Charleston, South Carolina. Camille Sullivan’s performance was such that her character really owned every single scene she was in, something made easier by her brilliantly written lines. The envoy of the Continental Congress competently drove her message of hope down everyone’s throat. Hal Mason was swept off his feet from her first words, Tom Mason was eager, and even Captain Weaver, who resisted at first, was forced (probably with the more stubborn among us) to admit defeat before her passion and eloquence. The battered Second Mass was in need of something to cling onto and she dazzlingly offered exactly that. I liked how she chastised Mason for his modesty (“Don’t sell yourself short. These people don’t”), and how she flattered Weaver by telling him how well he was thought-of by his people. I was, however, less impressed by Weaver’s change of heart. Considering his initial and legitimate skepticism, a little more probing and questioning would have been sensible.
Amidst all the excitement, everything that passed between Anne Glass and Tom Mason was pitch-perfect. The two have great chemistry and watching them tease each other and smoothly switch to seriousness is easy. Everything was perfect until Sammy (her deceased son) was brought up. I understand the need for unresolved sexual tension, but using the memory of a dead son was a bit of a low blow..
Which brings me to the most memorable events of the episode, the fight opposing Red-eye (for lack of a better name) and the two teenagers (Ben and Jimmy) and what followed. It was interesting right from the start because of how Red-eye emerged as radically different from other skitters, which were very easily disposed of. In the few seconds the fight lasted, the creature showed not only that she was stronger, but also that she was much smarter than her brethren. Jimmy’s injury came as a surprise, just like his death. Ben’s frustration when explaining the reason why they were hunting skitters was so obvious and the motivation so straightforward that Tom and Weaver couldn’t possibly vent their anger at him, probably because they understood it too well themselves. But, the episode really shined with the way it dealt with the tragedy, dragging us along and making us share characters’ emotions without really veering into the melodramatic. Jimmy’s compass was very well utilized. It allowed Ben to connect to his father and to Weaver, and possibly gave a little insight into the effects of the “abduction” from Tom through his fight with Pope.
“Compass” confirmed that Falling Skies is much more ambitious this season, and was a good reminder that the show hasn’t lost its ability to make us feel for some of its characters.