Tom tries to rescue his harnessed son, and Pope impresses everyone...with his cooking?
Credit: Ken Woroner

Last week, Falling Skies had the most-watched cable premiere of the year. To judge by the comment boards on our recap, though, the big take-away from the two-hour was: “Holy good lord, how many commercials can you cram into one hour of television?” Well, TNT isn’t letting up on the advertisements — by my count, last night’s episode only had a 40-minute non-commercial running time — but if you had patience/a DVR, the second episode of Falling Skies promisingly dove straight into one of the show’s central mysteries: The child-enslaving harnesses, which attach to the spinal column like renegade parasites from H.R. Giger’s sketchbook.

Tom and his crew were scouting out the group of harnessed kids that included his captured son Ben. The skitters had the captured kids gathering scrap metal — old toasters, copper wire — for reasons unknown. The squad retreated to plot a nighttime rescue mission. Back at the school/human HQ, Tom went to a briefing that served to fill us in on the war raging across the American continent: Dale Dye (who, among other awesome roles, was the narrator in the original Medal of Honor) informed him that there were Resistance fighters in Illinois, Texas, Oklahoma, and California. The plan was evolving: Instead of just “staying alive,” the name of the game was “Search and Acquisition.” The human Resistance wants to learn more about their alien opposition. First and foremost that meant solving the riddle of the Harnesses.

Fortunately, a brilliant Doctor was on hand with a possible solution to the riddle. Unfortunately, that doctor was played by Steven Weber, Television’s favorite guest-star douchebag. Sure enough, Weber’s Dr. Michael Harris has a bad history with Tom: He went out scrounging with Tom’s wife on the day she died. Dr. Harris tried to side-step any blame by promising that he could cure Tom’s captured son. Tom looked skeptical, but kept his thoughts to himself.

The rescue mission went instantly awry when fellow soldier Mike saw his harnessed son and broke cover to rescue him. (If there’s one thing about Falling Skies that doesn’t entirely ring true, it’s the weirdly casual way that the humans constantly run out into the open when there’s a towering alien robot walking around. Yes, they die just like us, but they are also towering alien robots. Some ninja-stealth may be required, yes?) Tom set off an explosion and got knocked backwards; in the confusion, Hal and Karen were captured. Awesomely, this led Tom to circle back around with a sawn-off shotgun. In the process, he had to face-down a Skitter one-on-one. Taking a page from the John Pope Guide to Killing Freaky Alien Insect Things, he shot off a couple legs and beat the thing into unconsciousness. And that’s how you take prisoners!

Speaking of John Pope, the coolest character on the show spent the episode trapped in a subplot that seemed incredibly tonally off-key compared to the main plot. But it was also pretty funny. Pope — who, you’ll remember, is the vaguely racist criminal-philosophy who likes talking about Sumerians and hanging out on stage thrones — didn’t think very much of the Resistance’s prison food. “Nobody puts Paprika on chicken!” he exclaimed. “What are you, Hungarian?” (See what I said about “vaguely racist”?) Turns out that Pope is a “certified culinary artist.” This piqued Weaver’s interest. He asked Pope’s former ally/captive Maggie if the wannabe-chef could walk the walk. “When I could stomach eating with a bunch of degenerate psychos, the food wasn’t bad,” said Maggie. (Considering that she vengefully killed two of those degenerate psychos because of what they did to her, this line was either ridiculously offensive or hilariously bleak.)

NEXT: Oh right, and all the dead kids, too!

So Weaver called Pope into his office, possibly because Weaver requires at least one badass stare-down per day, just to keep in practice. Pope got all Batali on him, asking for lavish ingredients. Weaver got all Gordon Ramsay on him. All we’ve got his lima beans and rice, he said. “Maybe you can’t hack it, Pope.” Oh, Pope can hack it, Weaver. (By the way, Pope Can Hack It is the name of my upcoming biography of Pope John Paul II.)

Tom returned with his captured Skitter. They threw him in the broom closet. Meanwhile, Dr. Harris was doing some deliciously gross surgery on Mike’s harnessed son. He burned the harness off with equipment that is usually reserved for elaborate bank robberies in Michael Mann movies. “A harness synthesizes an opiate,” he explained. “You cut the needles, you cut off the drug. Kid goes into shock. End of story.” (So basically, the harnessed kids are doped up. This does not seem to be the most effective method for creating slave labor.) He planned to wean Mike’s kid off the harness-drug using morphine. In the process, we learned that the harnesses grow roots within the kids’ spines, essentially becoming part of their nervous system.

Hal awoke just in time to witness the harnessees carrying Karen away. (She seems a little old for a harness — could there be more advanced experimentation happening on teenagers? Is it too early to wonder if there’s some sort pregnancy involved? Hey, every other sci-fi show of this past decade has some sort of pregnancy plot…) He also witnessed a Mech killing a row of harnessed kids, thus sending a message to the Resistance/us viewers that they mean business.

Tom rescued Hal and brought him back to HQ, swearing that they’d return to rescue all the harnessed kids, and Karen, too. Back at HQ, Tom checked in on the captured Skitter. Dr. Harris chose that exact moment to show up with a bottle of scotch and soliloquize about the end of the human race. He called the Skitters “our conquerors” and noted that it probably would have been better for everyone if the whole human race had died in the invasion. Tom revealed that he knew the truth: That Dr. Lamezoid had left his dead wife Karen high and dry while they were scrounging, essentially killing her. Dr. Lamezoid accepted his blame and an accompanying sucker punch, but he also noted that Tom was just as much at fault: It had been his day to scrounge, but Karen insisted on going without him, because Tom was so tired from talking about how the alien invasion reminded him of the Roman invasion of Caledonia, or some-such.

Anyhow, this was all just set-up for the closing shot. The captured Skitter moved his head around, suddenly opening his eyes…and in the infirmary, the unharnessed child opened his eyes at the same time in a way that seemed very evil, kind of. The implication seems to be that the Skitter is somehow controlling him. Which would mean that the Skitters have some sort of telepathic link to the harnesses, which can last even if the harnesses are removed. Or maybe it’s just a coincidence? Will Falling Skies kill more kids next week?

Also, Pope cooked a great meal. Everyone liked it. Even Maggie, his former prisoner! What a charmer that Pope is. I really, really hope they let him do something cooler than cook next week, though. Viewers, what did you think of the second episode of Falling Skies? Is this show hitting the sci-fi sweet spot for you?

Follow Darren on Twitter: @EWDarrenFranich

Episode Recaps

Falling Skies
In the aftermath of an alien invasion, Noah Wyle and a band of surviving humans desperately fight to survive
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