Although it has struggled to deliver much of a compelling storyline involving the Volm, choosing instead to keep the alien race mostly on the sidelines (or in the basement constructing a superweapon) Falling Skies has managed to fiddle with the usual episode format more than once in season 3, and while neither one has truly had much of an impact on the overall storyline, both have managed to highlight the series’ humanist approach to the series’ narrative with some positive results.

In that regard, season 3 has tried to introduce other new elements, as a way to liven things up, but that’s only produced strange subplots about half-alien babies and Mason children under the influence of the Espheni. Frankly, neither have managed to offer anything beyond an episode that burned too quickly through Hal’s “bugging” and offering an excuse for the Masons to gather as a family and head off alone in pursuit of Anne and Alexis. But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as ‘Search and Recover‘ demonstrated not long ago, the series can greatly benefit from the opportunity to tell a smaller story within the larger context of what’s been going on in season 3 – which really hasn’t been much more than waiting to find out the secret behind the Volm superweapon and the identity of the mole.

So, good news; both of those questions are answered here in ‘The Pickett Line’ and Falling Skies finally feels like it’s cleared enough out of the way the only place for it to go now is forward.

In addition to having many of the more successful elements of ‘Search and Recover’ – which gave Tom Mason some time away from being a not-so-great president and offered an opportunity for Noah Wyle and Colin Cunningham to interact on an interesting level not asking for a handful of other voices to be heard – the episode here brings the Mason clan (minus Anne and Alexis, of course) together for the first time in a long while. Seeing the Masons all together, it becomes clearer why Falling Skies tries so hard to integrate the themes it does. These characters, and the actors portraying them, all work together quite well, and although they’re just riding on horseback, or bivouacking in the forest, the familial sentiment is strong, and, for a brief moment, the discussion of whether or not Tom plans on returning with his family to Charleston sounds like the opening of an interesting story opportunity.

Of course, all of this is interrupted when a group of thieves takes the Masons’ horses and their guns, prompting Tom and his kids to take action. Unfortunately, after an entertaining sneak attack that sees the Masons gain the upper hand on their assailants, the rest of the sequence at the farmhouse devolves into a series of familiar arguments about working together vs. just laying low – and this is after Matt shoots a man in the back.

To make matters worse, the audience is robbed of a true conclusion, as the Masons are seen leaving the farmhouse after a series of turnarounds show each family briefly gaining the advantage over the other, encouraging a clumsy discussion of morality in a world seemingly devoid of such a thing (at least from the thieves’ perspective) that seems to be a waste of the dramatic potential inherent in such a situation, and in the casting of the frequently-fantastic Christopher Heyerdahl (Hell on Wheels) as the Pickett family patriarch.

‘The Pickett Line’ spends most of its time setting up the events that lead to Tom being captured by a group of skitters, after he exasperatingly heads back to the Pickett farm to warn them of the hostile force headed their way. But the episode isn’t just another display of the writers using Tom Masons’ poor decision-making skills to create conflict; it also reveals Lourdes to be the mole by having her assassinate President Hathaway, while he’s recovering from his journey to Charleston in Cochise’s company.

All of this plays out to create some interesting drama that gives Weaver and Pope something to do (as they both begin to suspect Maria Peralta to be the mole), and brings the focus of the storyline back to the Volm superweapon and the incredible risk that comes from using it. With just three episodes left this season, it would have been nice to see more time spent developing the stakes behind using the Volm technology, so that it felt less like a MacGuffin or basic plot fix. And although things are heating up now, the question is whether or not the consequences of whatever endgame the writers are cooking up will feel fresh, or if it’ll simply be a retread of finales past.

Falling Skies continues next Sunday with ‘Strange Brew’ @10pm on TNT. Check out a preview below:

Photos: James Dittiger/TNT