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'Falling Skies' 'A Thing With Feathers' review: The importance of hope

'Falling Skies' season 4 episode 8 "A Thing With Feathers"
'Falling Skies' season 4 episode 8 "A Thing With Feathers"
James Dittiger, used with permission

The Sunday, Aug. 10 episode of 'Falling Skies," 408, "A Thing With Feathers," sees Tom and Dingaan trying to unbury themselves from the rubble following the latest battle from below while Weaver and Matt work from above. Meanwhile, Maggie's injuries lead to Hal making a decision for her that changes everything.

"Damn right, I’m lying to myself. I lie to myself every day, sometimes every hour of every day, and sometimes that’s not even enough and I do it anyway. Because if people think there’s no hope, they damn well better believe that I think there is."

The episode after one featuring one death is always a tricky one. "Falling Skies" has to come back after killing off three characters (and 70 percent of the survivors) and leaving one major character's status up in the air last week and once again separating members of the group, and it manages to do so. Granted, Maggie's storyline can be seen from a mile away, thanks to the foreshadowing of Denny healing and Anthony's comment that she "bounces back quick," not to mention the very revealing previews, but still, it's something that can't be a quick fix, especially with Maggie's feelings on the subject, and so it's not.

Meanwhile, the hot topic of "A Thing With Feathers" is the one thing that these characters so desperately need at a time like this: hope, or rather, the lack of it. Hope has become a foreign concept to the 2nd Mass, even to Tom, as he admits to Dingaan while they're trying to find their way out, but it's exactly what Hal needs at a time like this and it's what he holds onto, even as he makes a decision that goes against what Maggie wants.

What isn't lacking for the survivors is the list of dead to remember, and they do gather as the episode comes to an end to honor those they've lost – and those they're hoping to lose, as Sara proclaims she's saying goodbye to her old self, which includes pouring out a bottle of pills. (That move, however, might as well be a flashing red sign shouting "backstory!" and "we'll be coming back to this.") The Liberty Tree may be long gone, but this way of toasting to the dead seems like a better fit for the show. The Tree was, in a way, them trying to hold onto something that's just not possible in the middle of an alien invasion, like the "peaceful" Chinatown and those living in denial in Charleston.

After the events of "Saturday Night Massacre," Tom and Dingaan are buried, and it's up to them to find their own way up and out, which means, at one point, going into a beamer, a move that ends up with Tom putting his arm inside it and then touching something onboard and Dingaan having to cut an alien worm thing out of his arm, all before they have to hightail it out of there before one of the explosives on board activates. However, it's not how they get out that is important – or really even matters or is what we care about – but the conversations they have throughout the episode. Despite escaping from three ghettos before meeting the 2nd Mass, Dingaan has showed that he has been through nothing like what the others have been through, and at times, while it is understandable to panic in their situation, especially once he tells Tom about his past, he does get annoying enough that we can't help but wish someone else had been buried with Tom instead. It just gets to be a bit too much, especially when compared to how Sara handles her position in an unfamiliar situation.

That said, Dingaan's reaction does serve to bring out the honesty in Tom, as he admits that he's lying to himself just to make others believe he believes there's still hope. Say what you will about the show, but these recent episodes have offered a look at Tom as more than just a fighter and leader of the 2nd Mass. He's been a father, making the wrong choice from a military standpoint and knowing that but unable to not be the protective father, even when he has failed in that regard in the past when it comes to his other children. He has let his defenses down more than he has before, even as he has to keep Dingaan together while trapped.

"A Thing With Feathers" does offer an explanation for Dingaan's behavior, as he believes he's trapped because of karma. His family didn't die in the invasion. He had a swimming pool built, and after he took his eye off his child for a moment to answer his phone, his son ended up buried alive in the pit. His wife never got over it and drank herself to death, and the beeping in the ambulance matched the beeping from the bomb in the beamer. He thinks his fate is to be buried alive like his son, and it's up to Tom, who has admitted that he doesn't really think there's hope, to convince him that he shouldn't give up.

The other best part about Tom being trapped is seeing Matt taking charge and refusing to believe there's no hope that he'll see his father again, no matter what anyone else says. So when Pope mouths off like Pope does, Matt attacks him. Yes, all the Mason men have punched Pope, who yet again shows he has a heart when he admits he didn't know Matt was there. Matt refuses to give up, and Weaver stays with him as they dig well into the night. If this season has done nothing else, it has shown just how much Matt Mason has grown since we first met him, and here's just another instance of that.

Meanwhile, there's finally progress made in the Espheni's plans/human skitterization arc, with Lexi showing Ben the "peaceful solution," the "future," the "evolution of the species" – and they have perfected it. She wants Ben to come with her so they can be a family, but he refuses. This does lead to the question: Is there something in Lexi that is still Lexi? She could have killed Ben, but she lets him leave and she wants him by her side. The Espheni may be brainwashing her, but the scenes with Ben and Lexi in this episode do seem to suggest that she can be saved. The only problem: Ben doesn't seem to think so. "The Lexi we know is gone," he tells Anne upon his return to Chinatown in one of the best conversations of the episode. These are the two people who care about Lexi the most, and here they are, having a conversation about letting go of her. Even Tom has resolved himself to being a fighter first, telling Anne that they can't go after their daughter.

As soon as the 2nd Mass steps out of the fallout shelter, Hal begins calling out and looking for Maggie, and when he finds her, she can't move her legs and Anne explains she has a serious spinal cord injury. She's paralyzed, and there's no response from her neck down. It's Hal who suggests using the spikes because of how Denny has healed, and Cochise tells them about the serum in them that is the source of the healing. Basically, it comes down to extracting that fluid like a stem cell procedure, but it's dangerous for both Denny and Maggie. Hal's immediately on board, but Anne is the one to point out it's not his decision; it's Maggie's.

Given what we know about Maggie, her reaction is exactly what we expected. "I kill aliens. I can't become one," she tells Hal. "You said you'd protect me. You have to let me go." The only problem is Hal can't do that. Last episode, he may have been going on about how love is dangerous and the Espheni can use it, but he lets his heart dictate his actions when it comes to saving Maggie, even though it goes against her wishes. All the serum does is keep her alive, and Hal admits to Anne that he couldn't let her go in a scene that proves this is Drew Roy's episode. Anne understands – and she understands when Ben, upon returning, tells her to give Maggie his spikes. Like she couldn't save Sammy and wanted to save Lexi, he can't save Lexi and wants to save Maggie. He's willing to risk everything on just a possibility, which says a lot.

Three spikes later, and Anne has done all she can without risking Ben's life further. After that, it's just a matter of waiting, and Ben even admits to Hal that he didn't do it for him when his brother thanks him. This does make it easier to see why there's all this talk about that love triangle, and while Maggie punches then kisses Hal for what he did, he tells her Ben saved her and walks away from them. That nearly leads to a touching father/son talk, but the human drama has to be pushed aside for the sci-fi. (More about that to come.)

Is Hal right to make that choice for Maggie? Let's face it, the 2nd Mass has seen enough death for now, and in a way, this is a sign that there's still some hope out there. There's hope for Maggie when Hal takes this decision away from her and there's hope for humanity because, honestly, Maggie is one of the strongest fighters. That said, it's still something that should be Maggie's choice and in that regard, no, Hal shouldn't have taken it out of her hands. It's easy to understand why he did what he did, and in the end, Maggie seems to know that (given her reaction, the punch and the kiss, upon seeing him when she wakes up), but it is tricky and a gray area.

Another part of the season we have loved is seeing Pope and Sara's relationship evolve because it has shown another side of the man who sometimes seems to just serve as an antagonist to the Masons and Weaver. It's giving him something else to do, and after complaining about him taking on the same role all the time in the season premiere review, it's very much a welcome addition to the series. Even though Sara stops Pope from killing a skitter and does it herself instead, she's still skittish as they scout the perimeter. After they find the burned body of the man who had been with Anthony when Scorch found them and used the fighter to make an example, they make him the best grave they can, and Sara admits that she's not used to caring, something Pope can relate to. She thought they were going to die in the battle, and Pope tells her she was wrong before kissing her. Yep, they're moving along nicely.

Finally, the end of the episode brings back the moon. No, the moon wasn't just a nice moment for the Masons from back before the invasion. Instead, Hal wasn't imagining that green dot on the moon, and as he and Tom see it again, the beamer still buried lights up. "It's about the moonlight," Tom realizes.

"Falling Skies" season 4 airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on TNT. What did you think of episode 8 "A Thing With Feathers"?

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