One of the more interesting differences between Falling Skies and The Walking Dead is the former’s sense of optimism, camaraderie and trust that is generally accepted amongst the survivors of an alien invasion that obliterated much of mankind. While there have been exceptions (like, John Pope and his band of outlaws from season 1, or John Pope and his anti-Tom Mason crusade in season 2) the 2nd Mass is, by and large, a group that has its stuff together and rarely questions those in need. A good example would be the willingness to take a biplane pilot at her word that Charleston is the key to the resistance.
By contrast, the survivors in The Walking Dead seem to be actively competing with the undead to see who can kill off the living first. Which of the two feels more likely probably has to do with your stance on the nature of humanity. Between the two programs, however, it could be argued the deciding factor comes down to a survivor’s response to leadership.
This theory is readily apparent in ‘Young Bloods’ – which really should have been titled: ‘How To Be a Good Soldier: 101.’ From the onset, the episode depicts the rebellious nature of young men and women against the pressing and unstoppable force of responsibility and duty. In fact, it’s practically spelled out as two unknown survivors abscond with Hal (Drew Roy) and Ben’s (Connor Jessup) motorbikes while an Army recruitment billboard stands perfectly framed in the background. This sets up a brief, but tense face-off between the Mason boys and what at first appears to be a Dickensian group of orphans with dirty faces proclaiming adults only get them into dangerous situations.
It’s an interesting dynamic: children living on their own, functioning as adults while rejecting the notion of adulthood, and it’s played against the desire of the youngest Mason child, Matt (Maxim Knight), to join his brothers as a fighter in the resistance. For Falling Skies, the attention to youth isn’t an attempt to ratchet up the drama simply by placing children in peril (despite the death of Jimmy in ‘Compass‘); it is actually a necessary part of the overall story structure considering the skitters rely on human children to replenish their ranks and act as cheap labor. Basically, the aliens are hellish versions of everyone’s parents.
As is the Mason way, Hal and Ben quickly make a tenuous friendship with Diego (Hector Bucio), the leader of the small group, and his girlfriend Jeanne (Laci J. Malley), with an offer of some spare supplies and a hot meal. Arriving at the 2nd Mass’ mobile headquarters reveals more of a surprise than either side was anticipating, though, as Jeanne turns out to be the daughter of Captain Weaver (Will Patton). The reunion, while powerful, also serves to fill in some gaps there may have been with Weaver since last season touched on his troubled family history. Weaver learns that his wife died of a stroke. This event also hints at the level of responsibility Jeanne had to take on in his absence, and suggests she still holds her father somewhat culpable for the situation the family was in after he left. Before they can get too deep into discussing the painful moments of the past, or get anywhere near reconciling, Jeanne, Diego, Hal and Margaret are off to deliver the supplies to Diego’s crew.
Meanwhile, Tom (Noah Wyle) catches wind that while out on what should have been a routine scouting mission, Matt has been acting as bait to lure skitters in for a couple of hot-shot snipers, Tector (Ryan Robbins) and Boone (Billy Wickman), to take out. For their insubordination, Boone and Tector are placed on sanitation duty, and Matt’s recon privileges are stripped – which creates another reason for Matt to dislike, distrust or fear his father, as he seems to do on a weekly basis.
The insubordination continues after the supply group returns to the 2nd Mass with news that the children have been attacked by skitters and taken to a harnessing facility nearby. The rift between Weaver and Diego – which started silently over Jeanne – widens when Diego’s plan to assault a dangerous location with little to no preparation is tossed aside by Weaver on behalf of its half-assed nature. Diego responds by attacking Weaver with a personal insult about protecting his family, then going off to storm the facility anyway and taking Matt along with him. By the time Tom and Weaver get a party together, they realize Diego, Jeanne and Matt are long gone, forcing them to mount a dangerous rescue mission on top of an already dangerous rescue mission – all because some punk kid couldn’t handle a little authority. Post-apocalyptic kids are the worst.
By the time the real rescue team arrives, Diego has managed to get his entire group (and Matt) captured and either thrown in a giant shoe closet or strapped to what looks like a very uncomfortable massage table. As Weaver and the others prepare to storm the facility, Matt and Jeanne are forced to watch as Jonny (Evan Bird, The Killing) succumbs to his harness. Before Matt can be similarly afflicted, however, Weaver’s team takes out the lone skitter overseeing the process, while Ben briefly communes with a swimming harness before destroying a tank full of them.
Back at camp, Hal confronts Ben about the glow-y parts of his harness, and is met with Ben’s patented afraid-of-being-an-outcast-so-act-more-like-an-outcast routine, while Tom, pleased with the deference Tector showed, reinstates him and Boone to sniper duty. However, Weaver is dealt another blow while recovering from some injuries he sustained after a harness attacked his leg. While he promises to make amends for his poor parenting, he believes Jeanne to have said goodbye to Diego, and that she intends to stay with him and the 2nd Mass. Jeanne waits until the medication given to her father takes effect and then slips out while he’s sleeping – leaving him a note to clutch and cry into upon waking. Post-apocalyptic kids have no manners.
On a bright note, Matt seems to have learned from his near-harnessed experience that he’s not quite ready to be an adult, and he’s lucky to have a father like Tom to comfort him when he realizes the world he lives in can be a pretty scary place. If only the episode could have ended with Billy Joel singing ‘Big Shot’ over the credits, the point would have been perfectly made.
Falling Skies returns next Sunday with ‘Love and Other Acts of Courage’ @9pm on TNT. Take a look at a preview below.