Episode Title: "Compass"
Writer: Bryan Oh
Director: Michael Katleman
Previously on "Falling Skies":
Late at night, Ben Mason (Connor Jessup) takes Jimmy Boland (Dylan Authors) on a Skitter hunt far beyond their assigned perimeter route. Jimmy shows off his skills as a sniper by taking out a Skitter with a head shot and Ben finishes off the creature with a knife. Back at camp, Tom Mason (Noah Wyle) checks in on his other sons, Hal (Drew Roy) and Matt (Maxim Knight) before speaking with Captain Weaver (Will Patton) about the 2ND Mass' next course of action. Weaver wants to lead the survivors to the Catskills for the winter and Tom wants to keep fighting. As Tom leaves, he finds John Pope (Colin Cunningham) at the fringe of the camp and he gets ambushed by Pope's Berserkers.
Pope has the Berserkers drag Tom into the woods where he gives him an ultimatum: leave the camp or Pope will kill him because he thinks Tom was brainwashed by the aliens. Out of nowhere, Ben appears behind Pope and he holds a knife to his throat before Jimmy lays down some shots to convince the other Berserkers to stand down. Back at camp, Pope and his Berserkers are imprisoned while Anthony (Mpho Koahu) professes to have no knowledge of what they had planned for Tom. Weaver suggests leaving all of Pope's people behind, but Tom says that they need the Berserkers and he asks to be reassigned to them so he can keep an eye on Pope.
Naturally, Pope doesn't take the news well, but he accepts it instead of captivity. That night, Jimmy and Ben are on another alien hunt when they spot the Red Eyed Skitter with two other Skitters. Using some of Pope's special incendiary ammo, Jimmy takes out the other two Skitters. But Red Eye proves to be too fast and he throws Jimmy against a tree. And before Ben can react, Red Eye reactivates the remnants of Ben's harness and immobilizes him. After Red Eye leaves, Ben is free to move and he finds Jimmy impaled on a tree branch. Somehow, Ben gets Jimmy back to camp where Weaver and Tom are livid over his actions.
Ben doesn't mount much of a defense beyond stating his hatred of the Skitters before he goes storming off. Privately, Tom and Weaver both vent their frustrations and remind each other that they can't protect everyone. Tom, Pope and the rest of the Berserkers soon go to the area where the attack occurred and they observe Skitters reclaiming the bodies of their fallen… accompanied by a Mech. Before they leave, Tom picks up Jimmy's gun and his compass; which once belonged to Weaver. Back at camp, Anne tells Tom and his sons that she's done all she can for Jimmy. Soon after, the 2ND Mass is startled by a byplane flying overhead.
When the plane lands, the pilot identifies herself as Avery Churchill (Camille Sullivan) and she claims that she and four other pilots have been sent out to find survivors by the new Continental Congress out of Charleston, SC. More than that, Avery promises the 2ND Mass that the people living in Charleston have been rebuilding their way of life and she urges them to go there as well. Tom seems amenable to the idea, but Weaver is suspicious and he forbids Avery from leaving before the 2ND Mass pulls out. Privately, Avery tells Tom that they need people like him in Charleston.
After watching over Jimmy's bedside, Ben runs for Anne when Jimmy stops breathing. Anne tries to resuscitate Jimmy, but it's no use. Jimmy is dead. Later, Weaver personally digs Jimmy's grave before Avery approaches him once more and tells him that he should lead his people to safety in Charleston. Meanwhile, Tom and Ben prepare Jimmy's body for burial and Ben becomes upset when Jimmy's compass is missing. Sometime later, Tom finds Pope and the rest of the Berserkers lounging, drinking beer and blowing off Jimmy's funeral. Tom sees that Pope is wearing Jimmy's compass and he refuses to return it.
Finally pissed off, Tom charges Pope and they engage in a brutal fight. Tom gets the upper hand and he continuously punches Pope until one of the other Berserkers holds him back. But Tom walks away with the compass. When they wind up in front of Weaver, he sides with Tom. And when Pope threatens to leave with his Berserkers, Weaver invites him to do so. Unfortunately for Pope, none of the Berserkers want to go with him. Only Anthony volunteers out of obligation to Pope and a desire to keep an eye on him. Privately, Tom and Anne share a moment of sorrow when she tells him that it is the birthday of her late son… and she badly wanted a day in which no one died to mark the occasion.
At Jimmy's funeral, Weaver gives a moving eulogy for his surrogate son and he later comforts Ben as he cries about his role in Jimmy's death. Ben also returns the compass to Weaver. Sometime after that, Weaver tells Tom that they are moving out to Charleston to give his people the best chance they have for survival without surrender. At Jimmy's grave, Ben is confronted by the Red Eyed Skitter; who once again uses his control of Ben's harness to immobilize him. Only the approach of Hal on his bike gets Red Eye to back off and release Ben. But Ben still doesn't tell his brother what just happened.
The early part of "Falling Skies" season 2 seems like a big leap over the first season in terms of quality and dramatic tension. We're so conditioned from years of television that we expect characters like Jimmy to survive no matter how bad their injuries initially appear. Because that's how it always happens. Except not this time…
As a character, Jimmy was a little underdeveloped, but he did have a strong connection to Weaver and he seemed to view him as a surrogate father, with Weaver reciprocating the sentiment. If Weaver hadn't felt that way towards Jimmy, he wouldn't have given him his family compass or personally dug his grave. I don't know if there were any other creative factors in Jimmy's demise, like the way that Dylan Authors seemed to be quickly growing up, but the long term effects of his demise are going to be felt by Weaver and Ben. And for Weaver, Jimmy may have been the last person that he truly cared about on a deeper level.
It did feel like Tom and Weaver let Ben off the emotional hook a little too easily. Make no mistake about it, Jimmy would probably have lived if Ben hadn't been bringing him out on his Skitter hunts. So, now Ben has no friends among the 2ND Mass and Pope probably isn't the only one suspicious of his ongoing connection to the aliens. Although it was pretty funny when Pope told Tom that he'd take care of Ben like a son unless he went full Skitter. Apparently, the harnessed kids are never completely free of the aliens' control. But some of Red Eye's interactions with Ben did play a little bit on the cheesy side. Red Eye clearly knows where the 2ND Mass is and yet the aliens haven't wiped them out. There must be something in the aliens' larger agenda that requires the survival of the 2ND Mass. Perhaps they're not trying to kill the humans so much as corral them like cattle into their "Safe Zones."
Having already heard the promise of sanctuary during the first season, the 2ND Mass and the audience are both skeptical about Charleston and what it represents. The early speculation is that Charleston is part of the alien Safe Zone that the aliens told Tom about. But it would be a pretty lazy piece of writing if the producers of this show simply repeated the same plotline from the first season. Still, there has to be a reason that the aliens haven't destroyed Charleston if it really is the last area of major human resistance. .
Part of what I like most about "Falling Skies" is the ongoing bleakness of the story. This is still a war that humanity has little hope of ever winning without a major gamechanger or a convenient Deus Ex Machina. This is a Steven Spielberg produced show, so I don't expect the feelings of hopelessness to last forever. If Charleston is everything that Avery said that it was, then maybe that will be the thing that the survivors rally behind.
If anyone is worried that John Pope was written out of the series in this episode, don't be. Pope is the only real human antagonist that "Falling Skies" has and it badly needs him to continue in that role. Last season, Pope seemingly escaped from the 2ND Mass only to be back in the proverbial fold a few episodes later. I fully expect the same thing to happen again if Pope and Anthony don't get their own multiple episode arc away from the 2ND Mass.
There were also a lot of strong performances in this episode from Noah Wyle and the rest of the cast. A few of the moments may have had some groan worthy dialog, but for the most part it was effective. "Falling Skies" still feels like it is evolving into something greater than it was. I wish I could say that about every show on TV.