"Prisoner of War" opens with a scene showing "harnessed" teenagers gathering metallic debris on a roof. We get a good look at their harnesses and at the Mechs and Skitters guards. For those like me who thought the series would be shy about showing Skitters up close and that often, this was a surprise. The opening scene, and in fact the whole episode, made a point of getting us to know the invaders and their technology a bit more, which worked in some cases but not in others. For one thing, showing Skitters in their daily alien activities can only make us spot inconsistencies. We cannot, for example, help wonder why these aliens who have studied us enough to design perfectly operational biped Mechs would go to the trouble of harnessing kids for what seems to be trivial chores. You would think Mechs could do that more effectively...
The opening scene is part of a recon mission by Tom Mason and his now familiar group of young soldiers to assess the conditions under which Ben, his son, is kept. The mission is cut short, but the group soon returns with very specific orders from the military commander to retrieve Ben — and only him — to serve as a test subject in the new "un-harnessing" procedure. Why it had to be Ben and not the first harnessed kid out there is beyond me, and is one of the many wrong calls the writers made throughout the episode. I too often had the distinct feeling I was watching scenes akin to a bad romantic comedy.
John Pope, the Skitter hunter from the last episode, tranisitioned from mere prisoner to the status of prisoner and cook (or should I say chef?) in a contrived and ridiculous sequence of events. It wasn't such a bad idea, but the execution was unforgivably flawed. We all like when the focus is on the very few characters we really care about, but we expect it to be through camera work and that sort of thing, not through the cosmos helping so blatantly. What are the odds of having the doctor with the leading theory on how to remove harnesses be the very person who was with Mason's wife just before her death? Add to it the fact that he appears just in time to experiment on Ben (who must be the one rescued from bondage) and you feel like the writers are trying too hard to build up some drama. Ben Mason's rescue operation did not go down as expected, and some other kid was picked up instead in a scene that left me speechless. Not every stupid behavior can be excused by emotions, especially when it seems so out of character. I felt the writers didn't want Ben to be rescued, either because of what would happen after the harness removal or because they wanted to keep Tom Mason and the viewers on a leash. Either way, it was poorly done.
The episode wasn't a complete disaster though. The harness removal scene, despite being somewhat gruesome, was very well done. I was impressed by the thinking that went into the technology and I particularly liked how the doctor was discussing it while going about the business of removing the horrible device. The series has so far never failed to make us feel for the Mason family, and here, it happened even in a scene filled with overdone clichés. When Tom faced his son Matt after bringing back the "Prisoner of War," I liked what passed between them, even if a part of me felt "Go get'em" was not the right thing for the boy to say. Finally, I liked it very much when the fighters and the good doctor came up with the idea of posting missing children pictures on the board. It forced them as well as Mason to really come to grips with something they thought they knew, the fact that Ben wasn't the only child needing rescuing. Despite those few good moments, to become a successful series, I believe Falling Skies will need to produce episodes much better than "Prisoner of War."