Look to the Skies: ‘Badlands’

luke kalamar prepares for an invasion …

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Plot: After being told of an upcoming Espheni offensive by Cochise (Doug Jones), Tom Mason (Noah Wyle) sends some soldiers outside to keep an eye on their surroundings. Things quickly go wrong however when an unknown group of humans start to attack the front lines and a member of Pope’s (Colin Cunningham) group receives a critical injury. Meanwhile, Hal Mason (Drew Roy) believes he might be the mole while Anne Glass (Moon Bloodgood) is convinced something is horribly wrong with her daughter Alexis.

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Season 3 of Falling Skies started off very strong last week. Both “On Thin Ice” and “Collateral Damage” did a great job bringing us into the new season a full 7 months after the Volm came to Earth. Both episodes succeeded in introducing some very interesting concepts that I looked forward to learning more about in the coming episodes. Hal’s mind control, the spy, Tom as President, the Volm, and many others are perfect jumping off points to create some very engaging television this new season. At its core, “Badlands” does its absolute best to take these cues and expand on them further, while also returning back to a premise that was brought up back in Season 2. However, despite having a lot to go on, “Badlands” instead takes a very different focus for its main story, which really holds the episode back from what it could have been.

The strongest part of this entire episode is easily its reintroduction of the classic Season 2 premise of, “What about the OTHER people fighting aliens?” Clearly Tom and the 2nd Mass were never the only group of rebels across the United States, and Season 2 first confirmed this when Tom learned about a group in Charleston. Their travel down there became the real focus of Season 2 and it lead to some pretty spectacular moments for the show. “Badlands” brings us back to this in a big way by not only showing that the group attacking Tom is comprised of human soldiers, but also revealing that there is another President out there with his own army. Little is revealed this episode about who Benjamin Hathaway really is, other than the supposed real President of the United States, but I’m already extremely interested. There are countless ways the show can expand on the concept of two Presidents both representing the same ideals but with different methods and I can’t wait to see how it unfolds. Will they become allies? Foes? How will President Hathaway and his army react to the Volm and rebel Skitters? Will Tom remain President? These are all pressing questions that will hopefully lead to some awesome moments.

We also got some more focus into both Anne’s problems with Alexis and Hal coming to terms with the fact that he has been brainwashed. In regards to the Alexis story, I’m still sufficiently creeped out by that child. The baby didn’t really do much this episode, but still had its moment of freaking the shit out of Anne and the viewers. The concept that Anne might be imagining everything is very interesting as well and it’s disappointing that we already know that’s not the case. We see them talking about how the baby has mixed human and alien DNA in the next episode preview! Is it a spoiler alert if the show gives it to you directly? I would’ve liked the possibility that Anne is imagining everything to be expanded on, but having a creepy alien hybrid baby is a good substitute. As for Hal, his story is unfolding as one would expect after getting to know his character. Hal has always had that strong sense of justice and protection, so seeing him lay his life on the line on the mere thought that he is the spy is perfect. It fits excellently to how his character is. Hal is also the obvious pick for the question of “Who’s the spy?” considering his brainwashing, but I can’t help but think the writers set that up for a reason. I’m not 100% convinced Hal is the chink in the New United States’ armor, but we’ll have to wait and see.

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Where this episode really falters is its sudden attention on the minor supporting character of Crazy Lee (Luciana Carro). Crazy Lee has been a mainstay of Pope’s group for a while now, but “Badlands” put her in the limelight tonight for one reason and one reason only: she’s dying. Crazy Lee is the one who sustains a life-threatening injury (a metal rod through the head!) during the sniper assault and the remainder of the episode is spent on her last moments. It’s clear that this is supposed to be a supremely tragic moment for the show, but if the writers were really looking for an emotional connection with the viewer, they wouldn’t be relying on a character like Crazy Lee. Crazy Lee hasn’t done much other than being known as that woman in Pope’s group, so I honestly wasn’t too engaged in the fact that she was dying. It’s not like it was a major character like Pope himself or Hal or Ben (Connor Jessup). It was very strange to watch a character get so much attention after being in the background for such an incredibly long amount of time. I honestly would’ve preferred if more of the episode was spent on the fact that there is another President somewhere out there.

What Crazy Lee’s death did however is humanize Pope and his group of berserkers which is a very welcome concept. Pope and his berserkers have had such a rebellious attitude throughout the entire series that watching them in this very somber state was humbling. This also allowed us to see a side of Pope that has never been seen before and to actually care about the berserkers as a whole. Pope yelling at Tom for relying on the berserkers so much for his dirty work was great and it allowed Tom to finally connect with this major part of his army for the first time since they first came together. Also, the idea that Matt (Maxim Knight) could become a berserker in the future is pretty great, and I really want that explored in more detail. So while I didn’t particularly care about the fact that Crazy Lee was going away, her death had a welcomed impact on the group as a whole.

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Lastly, the absence of the Volm in this entire episode was pretty disappointing. I’m a bit let down by how much of a background character Cochise has been so far, especially considering how big of a deal it was that the Volm came to Earth to help out. Pope was absolutely right as well. Where were the Volm when the humans were preparing for the Espheni offensive? The Volm are supposed to be allies and Cochise took time out to warn Tom of the upcoming attack, but they’re not there on the front lines with their human friends? I’m not sure if this was intentional or an oversight, but it was pretty obvious nonetheless.

“Badlands” did a great job expanding on some previously introduced concepts, but its decision to focus on the death of a character no one really cares about really held the episode back significantly. However, the effects her death had on the group was very welcomed, and the revelation that there is another United States Army out there now at odds with Tom’s army is incredible. Let’s hope the Volm get some more screen time next week though. I really want to care about this new addition, but so far it feels like they’re not even there other then in name.

Rating: 7.5/10

All photos credit to James Dittiger/TNT

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