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'Falling Skies' 'Ghost in the Machine' review: The world has changed

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'Falling Skies' season 4 premiere "Ghost in the Machine"

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"Falling Skies" kicks off its fourth season with a very strong premiere in "Ghost in the Machine," which introduces a changed world and divides the 2nd Mass in a dramatic way, on Sunday, June 22. At the same time, it keeps what has made this show so good for the past three summers and continues to show why TNT's sci-fi hit remains a must-watch series.

Just like things have changed behind the scenes (David Eick is now the showrunner), the world of "Falling Skies" changes dramatically in the first five minutes of the season premiere. When season 3 ended, the 2nd Mass was back on the road, headed for Charleston, and within moments of getting in sight of their latest "home," everything is blown to hell (and not just Maggie and Hal's relationship, which has become downright chilly after Karen), and it all begins with Lexi's "We don't all have to die here," which pretty much helps to serve as a reminder that hey, this little girl is no ordinary little girl. (And oh yeah, she should be just a baby right now too.) Obelisks are dropped in the ground, killer laser walls go up and separate and kill the survivors and Mechs arrive on scene to attack amidst the chaos. The 2nd Mass is left with no choice but to separate and run, at least those who can, and after that, it's a jump to four months later.

With the time jump, the different groups are pretty much established (or well on their way to being established, with a few new characters being introduced) when we see everyone after the initial attack. What that means is more danger for everyone in different ways, with the stakes raised with the survivors split up and the search for loved ones is ongoing. Splitting up the group steps up the game, giving the show time to not only explore individual characters in a way it hasn't before, putting them in new situations, but also to explore new relationships, to see how certain characters who haven't previously spent much or any time together react to their given situations. Even with these changes, something remains the same: it's visually stunning, and the effects are unlike what you're used to seeing on TV every day.

Going into a fourth season on a series, especially a sci-fi series and especially on TV now, it's important to do something to up the ante, and considering the words "human race" and "extinction" are used in the same sentence, "Falling Skies" seems to be doing just that. Sure, it's not like they were exactly in a hopeful position before, facing off against the Espheni to take back Earth, but things have seriously changed with the aliens this season. They're no longer harnessing kids. They're not using eyeworms. The Espheni are constructing a new power source. The Volm are no longer a real option as an ally, with most of them off fighting elsewhere.

However, despite what has changed, despite the group being separated, family is still the central theme. Even separated, what the 2nd Mass wants is to be reunited again. Ben wants to find the rest of their family, even moments after waking up from a coma. Tom tasks Cochise with finding the rest of his family, with only Hal inside the camp with him. Anne is so determined to find Lexi that she's running her soldiers ragged, not even wanting to stop to sleep. Weaver is so determined to get his daughter back, Tom has to talk him out of doing something that will get him killed.

This may be a sci-fi drama, about survivors of an alien invasion fighting to take back their planet, but at the heart of it is a very human story. As much as they're fighting the aliens, they're also fighting each other and themselves, and that is a struggle that has been front-and-center since the beginning and, like the theme of family, will probably be just as important at the end, whenever that may be.

That said, not everything is perfect about the premiere. It's always hard to figure out just how to handle discussing passage of time without the use of the "X days/weeks/months later" model, and some of that is done decently in the premiere, but Tom and Anne's initial "How long have we been on the road? 20 days?" "22 days" conversation is not one such instance.

Meanwhile, remember how the Volm wanted humans to just sit back and relax on a beach in Brazil? (Well, maybe not the beach part.) Well, the Volm have just packed up and left, only leaving a handful of units behind, so if for some reason, Tom and the 2nd Mass had gone along with that plan, they'd be stuck in Brazil. Yes, it's kind of mentioned in an off-hand way, with Cochise admitting that his father did just abandon them, but that could have been handled in a better way.

Another point is that people seem to think that Pope is going to change and not just be looking out for himself. Hal and Tector really do seem to believe they can successfully get a generator away from him, but Pope reminds them whose side he's on: "Same side as always. Mine."

Ready to get into what happened in "Ghost in the Machine"? Read on for a recap.

Ghetto camp and solitary shenanigans Weaver is thrown into a cell next to Tom's, and he doesn't go quietly. "I'll have your skitter balls on a skewer! All six of them!" He promises, and his ranting and raving doesn't stop until Tom gets his attention. (Weaver also makes sure to point out that he knew the Volm would betray them.) In a way, they're better off where they are in solitary than down in the ghetto, because down there, black hornets are flying around and whisking people up to the Eye in the Sky.

"You keep thinking. Let me know when you think up an AK-47," Weaver tells him, but he's busy working on his own plan, and he unscrews a leg from his bed, ready to fight his way out and go find Jeanne. Tom talks him out of it, but he doesn't exactly get good news when he meets up with Cochise. The Volm have left, with only a few recon teams left. The Espheni are constructing a new power source that would neutralize any further attempt to liberate humanity. The ghetto camps are worldwide. Cochise's unit is annoyed he stopped to see Tom. Humanity is facing extinction.

Meanwhile, Hal and Tector try to take down the wall, but they need more power, and that means turning to Pope, who's relaxing in his robe, watching "Gilligan's Island." "There is no more us," Pope declares. He's on his own side, as always, and when they try to take his generator, he chases after them. Hal fights back, but he loses, and Pope returns to his lair with his generator. The fight does lead to Dingaan finding Hal and Tector later on and telling them he's escaped from ghettos before, only to be picked up again. He knows how to get out.

However, Tom's not staying in his cell. Instead, he's riding around like a vigilante, threatening Pope with a flamethrower to get him to stop hoarding the food, and keeping track of where the skitters are coming from and patrolling on a map drawn on the wall and hidden behind a mirror. He's working on a way out. His vigilantism has caught the aliens' notice, and they want the "Ghost," as he's being called, found – or it's extermination for everyone.

Road warriors Anne has become quite the soldier in the past four months, and she only cares about finding her daughter. She only agrees to rest for the night when she finds out a transport with supplies is coming through the next morning. However, when they do manage to take it out (but not without a snag, when the detonator doesn't work), it's not full of supplies. There are children in the back, and Anne's plan then becomes to follow the same road in hopes that Lexi is where they were taking the children. That night, she startles awake from a nightmare, a memory, of Karen touching her inside on the ship.

Peace in Chinatown Ben wakes up from a frontal lobe coma to learn' that while Maggie, Lourdes and Lexi are in Chinatown as well, the others are not – and no one in Chinatown is carrying a gun or guarding the perimeter. The war hasn't come there, and it's a place committed to peace, as Lourdes, who has definitely been drinking the crazy Kool-Aid, informs him. He's also been out long enough for Lexi to look like she's 21. Like Lourdes (but not like Maggie), Lexi wars a necklace of interlocking circles. "It means unity," she explains when Ben asks her. "For all three of us." He protected her, she tells him, and now she's protecting him. They're there to leave peacefully, without war.

Ben can't believe Maggie is on board with this, but she's checked the perimeter, and nothing. She explains that Lexi said if they pick up their guns, the Espheni pick up theirs. Plus, when a mech did find them, Lexi told them to wait and it was struck by a bolt of lightning. It's now this creepy memorial/altar/worshipping place in the middle of the street. Maggie suggests that maybe Lexi has the answer to ending the war.

That same unity symbol from the necklace is on the wall of Lexi's room. When she reaches out to touch the moonlight, it's like she's playing musical notes and it reflects off her hand like a mirror.

Reeducating the children Matt ends up in a youth camp promoting harmonious coexistence with the Espheni, and the kids are being brainwashed into turning in rebels. In order to eat, they have to answer questions correctly, and it's all about accepting the aliens. In fact, when Mira yells out, "My parents are dead! The skitters killed them! These are all lies!" and tries to leave, other kids surround her and blow their whistles, a pretty good indication of just how deep this brainwashing goes.

However, that's not true for all of them, as Matt reveals to Mira in a secret meeting in his room with a few other kids. They're only pretending to go along with it for now, and then they're going to strike.

"Falling Skies" season 4 airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on TNT. What did you think of the premiere "Ghost in the Machine"?

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