Falling Skies: Hatchlings

This week’s episode of Falling Skies, “Hatchlings,” was perhaps mislabeled, because there was much more going on than just stuff being hatched, and through all that stuff, emerged what was probably the greatest episode of this series that I have ever seen. I’d need to watch “Hatchlings” beside season 2’s “Molon Labe” to be perfectly sure, but I am 90% convinced that “Hatchlings” beats it by a not insignificant margin. This episode alone almost makes up for the relatively lackluster seasons 3 and 4, and signaled that Falling Skies was ready to break back into its old, intense style.

The episode began with a relative whimper rather than the bang we were expecting from the end of last week’s episode. While the siege was stopped, Tom and Anne discovered that there was a horde of Skitters and “Hornets” (which are simply flying Skitters to me) that was forming. Luckily, little Matt Mason and his new friend Dingaan crop dusted the Valley of the Skitters with white phosphorus. Asspull? What I find most provocative about the scene was that white phosphorus is an extraordinarily nasty weapon, as Colonel Weaver mentioned, but on Falling Skies the effects of the substance were definitely dehumanized – as it was first and foremost used on non-human actors, and only showcased for a few fleeting seconds. It is a subtle hint that this season is getting very, very brutal, and the viewer is not supposed to overtly feel anything but the inevitability of horrendous casualties. In a way, it is almost Homeric.

At any rate, the Valley of the Skitters didn’t stay fried for long. It was obvious that someone or something was massing them for an offensive, and that something was, of course, an Espheni Overlord. We’ll get to him shortly.

Two conflicting threads needed to be solved before they merged into the overall plot of “Hatchlings.” The first was Short-Haired-Girl and Mutated Brother. As we saw last week, the two of them were taken to the 2nd Mass in a ploy to get much-needed food, but Short-Haired-Girl quickly and anticlimactically found out that there was nothing that could be done for her brother. Well, Brother eventually escaped, dragging his sister with him. Hal and Maggie are sent after them, while at the same time, Pope and Sara are sent out to find the source of the Skitters.

Maggie and Hal, after conversing about what it feels like to communicate telepathically, and for her to experience the alien feelings of familial bonds after growing up without them, find the brother-sister duo along with an Espheni, who found and recalled Mutated Brother. As Maggie connects and acts as the Espheni’s translator, Hal sneaks up on fishhead and stabs him several times, sending the behemoth careening to the ground. Brother then winds up taking a gun and shooting Sister, then himself.

Thus ends the storyline of Mutant Brother and Short-Haired Sister, leaving a wounded Espheni behind, which was quickly dragged back to camp.

Meanwhile, Sara and Pope are waxing poetic about kids as they traverse through the woods just off the side of the road…as the Skitter horde moves past them and seemingly doesn’t notice them or doesn’t care. This would ordinarily seem ridiculous, but it makes sense in the context of this season, where precise Espheni control over the Skitters is limited, and with the straits they are in, they probably don’t care about two people on the side of the road anyway.

After telling Sara that they should have kids once the war ends (aren’t you getting in over your head a little too quickly, Pope?), she proceeds to get stuck in some mysteriously plotkai-placed Espheni fog that acts as a glue. Apparently it wasn’t scorched. Pope, instantly transformed into a fragile state that is unbecoming of his typical character, scrambles back toward camp to get a flamethrower in order to burn up the fog.

The most intriguing part of the episode is where Tom calls on Ben and Cochise to help him understand the visions he’s having. Ben, whose spikes have also seemed to confer upon him a gift for drawing aliens, draws a perfect replica of what Tom says he saw. Upon asking Cochise, he is told that what he is looking at is a member of a species called the Dornia – but there’s a catch. It would be impossible, Cochise says, for Tom to have seen a Dornia that looked like that, as the Dornia were the precise species that the Espheni enslaved and turned into Skitters. They have therefore been extinct in their original form for “hundreds of years.”

Curiouser and curiouser.

Dornia Falling Skies Hatchlings
Sketch artist’s rendering of the Dornia.

As a matter of fact, I was somewhat suspecting this. Last year, I noted the similarity between the mysterious alien form and the Skitters in my mind. Now this is confirmed. But I suppose this also means that the Dornia are not the “Great Enemy” that is supposedly approaching…or maybe they are. We’ll just have to see.

Now we get to that good old torture scene I mentioned last week. This week’s twist is that it’s combined with telepathy. As Ben and Maggie get together to invade the Espheni captive’s mind, Tom beats his ass with a lead pipe like he’s in the old hardcore WWF. Perhaps this Espheni was under 24/7 title defense rules. Through a beating and some telepathic battles, Ben and Maggie (who are taking the pain on their own ends) eventually find the location where the Valley of the Skitters is originating and the 2nd Mass immediately sets out with a strike team. The matter is urgent – the Skitters are so overwhelming in number that the Espheni are planning an attack on the camp within the hour.

Falling Skies Hatchlings
Hardcore Championship match.

And here comes the dilemma of the episode. At the very same instant, Pope comes back and tells Tom of the situation with Sara. He pleads with Tom for the 2nd Mass’ truck so he can go and get her. What to do? For Tom, the answer is very clear, as is the military answer. He denies Pope, and we see the normally arrogantly amused rebel of the 2nd Mass begin to break down.

Pope, looking like he could burst into tears, pleas with Tom that “this time, my family comes first!”

This strikes the viewer immediately, because Tom is infamous for having often set aside the priority of the 2nd Mass for his sons’ sake, or maneuvering so that his sons will be in favorable positions that others might not be in. Tom is now denying to others what he strived for so much in the past – and that past Tom might well have gone for Sara first, but season 5 Tom is far more brutal, cold, and calculating than season 1 Tom. He has been forged by war. Pope is left in the lurch, and for the first time, we see him losing his childish invincibility. He has become vulnerable as he scrambles back for Sara. In fact, this scene was so striking that I am able to look the other way to the plotkai fact that Sara and Pope wound up going in the opposite direction to where the Skitters were originating, even though they were supposed to find where the Skitters were coming from by tracking their column.

The raid at the Skitter factory goes off without a hitch. Perhaps it just wasn’t challenging enough. Did I mention that the Skitters really don’t seem to be in attack mode unless specifically directed by an Espheni? However, the raid on the factory itself is interesting from an OBD standpoint because “factory” is the operative word here. We get a glimpse of what the Espheni’s true industrial capacity is. It turns out that they can just make big globs of Skitters and fill valleys on a dime. From a numbers standpoint, and given the territories that the Espheni are known to hold, it is not unreasonable to think that they can potentially manufacture many, many billions of Skitters to do their bidding in any war. As a matter of fact, the very first episode of Falling Skies had kids describing that there were “trillions” of Skitters. That may still be hyperbole (especially given its source), but it looks more plausible now (if it didn’t enough already).

Another case in vulnerability is seen in the character of Anthony. He was clearly affected very greatly by the death of Denny in Find Your Warrior. She didn’t die a good death either – she was literally ripped in half, and right before his eyes. He’s been displaying PTSD behavior since then, and this comes to a head upon the return to camp, where he kills the Espheni prisoner as he’s communicating telepathically via the red-hot dirt trick that we saw in season 4. Anthony was taken off duty, and judging by the preview for the next episode, doesn’t like that very much.

However, Pope was the real star of “Hatchlings,” and even more so after the raid on the Skitter factory. Truckless, he was forced to go to Sara, flamethrower in tow, on foot. Sara, however, had been accosted by what looked to be alien insects – alien flesh-eating insects. Sara’s legs have been eaten to the bone.

In what was the most powerful scene Pope was ever in, he went from denial to acceptance that Sara was about to die (she wasn’t dead at the start of the scene – that would make for some terrible drama). He whimpered pathetically, telling Tom when he and the cavalry arrived that they were too late.

Falling Skies Hatchlings
Colin Cunningham really hit it out of the park with this scene.

The last scene of the episode had Pope staring angrily at Tom Mason across a flickering fire in camp. It was an excellent metaphor. He looked like he was about to snap, and judging by the preview for next week’s episode, a confrontation is about to happen, though the two have had many throughout the course of the show, and Tom certainly isn’t going to be shot. Whatever the outcome, Pope will lose it.

The season has started off very strongly thus far, and something big is going down in DC. As the 2nd Mass heads toward Fayetteville (a place all too familiar to me as I have traversed those roads on the eastern seaboard many times in either direction), they must prepare for the battle to come – and stick together through this tension.

Hatchlings Falling Skies

“Hatchlings” wasn’t perfect (there was a totally unnecessary filler scene between little Matt Mason and his little friend as part of a useless storyline), but I still must rate it a…

10/10 – Masterpiece

The combination of the revelation of the Dornia, the action, and Colin Cunningham’s excellent acting put this one over the top.