Last night's Falling Skies showed just how much potential Steven Spielberg's post-alien-apocalypse show has. And yet, the major flaw that drags the show down was still much in evidence.

Just watch this clip, in which you can see the awesome exploration of alien-fighting, including some intense squickiness and an attempt to make the aliens seem genuinely alien. And then you can see it followed by the sentimentality and lead-pipe-to-the head characterization that have plagued this show. Spoilers ahead...

I really like Falling Skies, and I feel as though it's slowly starting to gel — and the sentimental, somewhat schlocky moments in last night's episode were very much a minority of its running time. Most of the episode was concerned with solving the problem of getting back Ben, the Mason kid who's been part of the alien chain gang since the show began. And that storyline brought us so many wonderfully creeptastic moments. Including:

  • Rick, the former alien prisoner, acting sullen and weird when Hal tried to score some info about life in the alien crew. Rick says the aliens will "kill you all," in a way that clearly conveys he hopes the aliens do. Just how far did Rick go over to the aliens' side?
  • The alien slaughtering Dr. Harris, who was really asking for it.
  • The scene featured above, in which Dr. Glass proves that the "silent kill" technique (from which the episode derives its title) is actually feasible — Hal can sneak into the alien chain gang and kill the Skitter without alerting the Mech. I love that Dr. Glass, who has been the ultra-pacifist healer character up until now, is the one who plunges the scalpel into the Skitter's mouth and slices its nerve cluster out.
  • Hal pretending to be one of the aliens' pets, and the alien stroking Hal's hair like he's a border collie. Seriously, eww.

By and large, it was a really suspenseful, well-constructed episode, in which there was a really nice element of problem-solving and a dose of realism. (Even allowing for the television convenience factor — such as Tom blundering into rescue Hal and just happening to show up when Hal needed help, instead of storming in when Hal was still pretending to be asleep and getting Hal killed as a result.)

As I've said before, the show's greatest strength is the weird relationship between the aliens and their captive children, and this episode added several new layers of WTF. Are our kids their pets? Or their symbiotes? Or some other alien concept that we can't begin to grasp? And why is Ben apparently still normal when Rick seems to be much more permanently adjusted to alien control? Is it because of Rick's cystic fibrosis being cured by the harness, or some other reason?

And yet, the rivers of sentimental goop bothered me much more on a second viewing than they did the first time around. Dr. Glass is resisting putting up anything on the bulletin board, representing her dead family — not even a drawing of the fish her son caught, or whatever. And various people stand over her and say that she can't go on like this forever — which, actually, she can. Lots of people do, especially in wartime. It's called a coping mechanism, and you should all leave her the fuck alone.

Meanwhile, the mom who doesn't understand the notion of "keeping a prisoner for strategic purposes" has a baby shower in which people tell her that all their wishes will be beads on a magic necklace. Captain Weaver has a whole emotional thing about classic oldies on vinyl — first he won't let anybody listen to them, and then he forces us all to listen to them.

Oh, and Maggie turns out to have had cancer because the plot requires it, and I'm 99 percent sure it'll never be mentioned again — but since it's a handy plot device for this episode, let's have a whole emotional moment around it.

The one moment in the episode that felt emotionally true was when Tom talks to Hal about how a father feels when his son becomes a man. I'm not sure if that's because this show just has more sympathy for its male characters (except Weaver) or because Tom's the main character. (And at least Tom is no longer lecturing us about the American Revolution every five minutes.)

In any case, there was some lovely development of the aliens in this episode, and a few smidgens of good human character development — like Anne stepping up and doing what has to be done. And Hal stepping up and taking responsibility, first by pointing out the flaws in his dad's plan and then by becoming the lone infiltrator. All in all, Falling Skies is still on its way to becoming a great show — it just needs to focus on real character development instead of Hallmark Channel moments.