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After the season’s low point last week, it seemed the show had nowhere else to go but up, which it did, but the improvement was barely noticeable. “The Price of Greatness” was far from being as engrossing as its title. The episode oversimplified the making of a “new” nation to allow its main character to shine, painted such a sharp contrast between the rest of the world and the 2nd Massachusetts as to irritate anyone with a shred of skepticism, and was so predictable it undercut its own pizzazz.
The story picked up where we left things off last week, with the 2nd Mass being led into Charleston by Colonel Porter. For a while, a very short while, the newcomers were full of hope in the burgeoning “nation” until things started rushing downhill.
It is often believed that world leaders should be students of history, or at least have a sound understanding of what their people and the rest of the world have been through. The rationale is that it should help avoid some mistakes of the past and hopefully foster enough humility and modesty to make dealing with their peers (and people in general) easier. However, this doesn’t mean they have to be historians. In fact, they very rarely are in practice. In the U.S., presidents are more likely to have studied the law (under one form or another) or business.
Although the showrunners might like to think Arthur Manchester’s past profession and academic achievements explain how he easily took control of power in Charleston, it was obvious those two things were simply devices used to connect the former history professor to our Tom Mason. This, even more than the fact that the survivors chose such an authoritarian “regime,” was annoying.
It fed into the general narrative of the episode which, soon after the 2nd Mass’s arrival in Charleston, started to depict a pretty grim picture of the place. I have no issue with the heroes of the series being heroic, but for that, there is no need for the rest of the world to be made of opportunists, weak, or notoriously unlikable people. The 2nd Mass doesn’t have to be the refuge for all that is good in the world. Every single main character (down to Matt Mason!) had reasons to be miffed at Charleston less than a day after their arrival.
The episode also brought the star-of-the-show concept to new highs (or lows). We know Noah Wyle is the “star” of the show and that things pretty much revolve around his character Tom Mason and his family. My issue here is that the cosmos (or the universe) seems to think that too. Everyone or more exactly every living being is either out to get him or out to seek his help in a way that makes the viewer feel like the faith of mankind rests on his shoulders. He has a special relationship with the aliens overlords, skitters rebels would trust only him, etc.
Finally on the chapter of things that went wrong, there is the predictability of the whole episode. Arthur Manchester’s didn’t help as his whole character seemed to follow a well known trajectory. Even his sentences were so familiar they were almost insulting to the viewer (“Charleston could use a man like you,” or “You’ve got to see this from my perspective”). His platitudes were even worse, particularly the one on the founding fathers (“The founding fathers had remarkable foresight, but even them couldn’t imagine an alien attack.”) I am pretty certain he was referring to the resilience of the political system, but that sentence was not well put together. No historian would say something so ridiculous.
Hal and Maggie had a pretty good conversation towards the end, but even if understandable, Maggie’s initial anger was misplaced. It should have happened under different circumstances (with her not in prison) or it should have been a bit more muted initially. Refusing Hal’s help wasn’t the wisest thing and out of character, I felt.
The good doctor Anne Glass was, as often in such episodes, above the fray; Tom Mason’s speech to the “assembly” was neat, so was the plea from Weaver’s daughter, but such things cannot wipe away the fact that the episode was mired into a narrative that was anything but refreshing.