This review contain spoilers.
5.4 Pope Breaks Bad
It seems that the characters on Falling Skies have had a hard time adjusting to the world of war. They’ve been fighting for three years, and admirably, they haven’t stopped fighting. That’s one of the reasons Cochise and the other Volm are impressed by the inferior but troublesome race of man-animals using primitive gunpowder weapons to bring down Espheni. Of course, not all humans have the power of positive thinking best demonstrated by the Mason family. Some humans find themselves damaged by the war, haunted by those that have been lost (or those yet to be lost), becoming tired and hungry and traumatized. Some humans are ready to turn on their own kind.
The weak link in the Second Mass is, as always, John Pope. He came to the group as a prisoner, was happiest as a guy running his own little town of misfits or his own troop of berserkers, and when he’s given an order, he’ll do it, but he’ll do it his way (or for a fitting bribe). Not so much anymore. Pope, along with the disgruntled Anthony, are spreading the seeds of dissent among the group, and Pope appears to be gathering a good amount of bearded support goons while Tom is off gathering much-needed vehicles and supplies to use in the war effort.
It’s a bold choice for Falling Skies to take. Thus far, they’ve worked very hard to rehabilitate Pope, who has become something of a popular figure for the show’s fans, and while he’ll never see eye-to-eye with Mason, he’s a leader in his own right who is also a respected fighter. Sara’s death pushed him over the edge, and the Pope that won hearts has now debuted a radically different hairstyle (hence the Breaking Bad reference in the episode title). He also seems to be up to his old tricks of having henchmen, keeping a lair, and intimidating women to get what he wants.
It’s more than fair at this point for Pope to lash out, and to find others like him willing to get into conflict with the Mason leadership. After all, they’re called Mason militias, and Tom’s missions do have a nasty habit of killing people who aren’t his family or closely tied to his family. Pope goes down a laundry list of people whose names you might have forgotten, going all the way back to child soldier Jimmy. It’s a smart moment from writer Jack Kenny, because Pope has a good point once he provides the evidence to back up said point. Everyone around Tom dies, and Tom tends to bend over backward to save his own flesh and blood while not really going out of his way for others—including the red shirt that dies on Tom’s run to the police supply depot.
He further proves this point by leaving Weaver and the gang to prepare for a very dangerous assault on Washington while he goes off to settle his personal score with none other than Pope, who ends up kidnapping Hal after threatening to kill Anne (Pope’s plan is directly inspired by Anne’s speech about the only thing Tom cares about being his children and his legacy, so thanks Dr. Glass). In that sense, Tom is a sort of doomed father of Cochise, a general who takes himself out of battle to help his offspring survive a moment or two of gross alien surgery, even at the cost of his own life.
Again, it’s another okay episode from Falling Skies, competently directed by Peter Leto with a good performance from Doug Jones behind his alien makeup and a nice turn to crazy for Colin Cunningham, but it just feels like the show is spinning its wheels. They seem to be creating artificial drama when there’s actual tension to be mined between Pope and Weaver (or Pope and Maggie for that matter). There’s no need to kill off another red shirt to prove Tom’s a bad leader; we already kind of know that he’s better at rousing speeches than he is at getting people out of missions alive. The way Tom solves the problem seems entirely too neat and clean, as well.
Falling Skies seems to lack a clear idea of how to wrap things up in its final season, and it seems like they’re recycling plot ideas from previous seasons, just burning through them faster to make up for the delaying. It promises dark but can’t seem to make it, and having Pope eschew his charisma for menace isn’t helping the show’s entertainment value. I want more Pope, not less, and more meaningful deaths rather than anonymous people we’ve never met before and will never meet again.
Read Ron’s review of the previous episode, Hatchlings, here.
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