We pretty much knew that Falling Skies was going to end with some kind of game-changing cliffhanger — it's in the nature of this kind of show, plus the final episodes were clearly leading up to it.
But we definitely did not expect that. And we're really not sure what to make of it. Spoilers ahead...
So they went for the full Close Encounters of the Third Kind ending, huh? It's sort of a bold choice, but it feels a little too much as though it came out of nowhere. Both the idea that the aliens are so impressed by Tom dealing them a crucial blow that they want to invite him aboard their mothership to go hang out, and the notion that Tom would go for it.
The aliens' offer comes on the heels of a somewhat implausible — but undoubtedly satisfying — episode in which we get some payback. First Tom and his pals see off a entire squadron of Mechs using their fancy bullets and their jamming device, and then Tom manages to take out an alien ship and damage their megastructure, using a single rocket-launcher. You had to swallow a bit of disbelief that the aliens had never encountered radio interference before, and that they would be so flummoxed by having one of their platoons set back that they would start pulling back all their forces. But we've accepted more ludicrous ideas than that before.
The first of the two hours which aired last night sort of brought to a close the conflict between Tom and Captain Weaver, in which they agreed to just have a snuggly bromance forever instead. We see Captain Weaver start going off the deep end, with the pills and the determination to carry out the Big Mission in spite of Col. Porter's orders, but then Tom helps pull him back. All of those themes about civilians versus military that the show tried to introduce in its first few episodes were brought back one more time, as Weaver finally acknowledges that the soldiers have to keep the civilians safe, because the civvies are the future.
But the main strand of the show — the relationship between the humans and the aliens, and the way in which the aliens are transforming us into something new — didn't get culminated until this WTF ending came along. We did get some kind of resolution of the stories of Rick and Ben, the two razorback kids. It turns out that that one loudmouth guy was right not to trust these kids, since Rick sells us out — but he was also wrong, because Ben's electroclash radio migraine provides Scott with the frequency to jam the aliens' communication and fuck up their walkers.
So what did we learn about the harnessed kids, and the aliens' plans for us? First of all, that creepy girl who goes to see Rick has been transformed into something a bit more Skitter-like, with the weird green scaly skin all around her face. And the aliens can still talk to Rick and Ben through their harnesses, but they don't actually want Rick back now that he's been cut off from the main harness — in fact, they yank Rick's chain and then send him away. And it turns out that Rick isn't quite as much of a part of the alien hive mind as he was pretending — once he realizes the aliens don't really love him, then he can suddenly grieve for his father.
So now that Tom and friends have proved that they are capable of mounting real resistance to the aliens, all of a sudden the aliens are "curious" about Tom and want to geek out about history with him. Or study him. Or maybe all of Falling Skies season two will be Tom wandering around the alien spaceship in a bathrobe, like Gaius Baltar in BSG season three. For some reason, this development felt totally unbelievable to me. The aliens have only taken over the brains of millions of children — what can they learn from Tom that they can't learn from one of their mutant babies? Why, after picking the brains of all their harnessed kids, are they still unclear on the concept that humans are, like, fighters and stuff?
And the idea that the aliens can get Tom to do whatever they want by playing the "Ben" card is also kind of ludicrous. This whole season has been about the uncertainty of whether Ben was still "on our side" now that he's been harnessed, and we've seen pretty conclusively that he is. And we've also seen that the Skitters didn't even want Rick back, now that he's been de-harnessed. And if Tom's main goal is to keep the aliens from taking Ben, the best way to do that is to stay by Ben's side and kill anyone who comes near him. How does Tom know the aliens won't grab Ben anyway, five minutes after he walks onto their mothership? And finally, is Ben worth more to Tom than his other two kids — and the whole freaking human race, for that matter?
It felt like one of those season-ending twists that literally comes out of nowhere, because the writers want to set up a crazy new status quo for the next season. And maybe it'll be cool — maybe we'll get to spend some time inside the alien ship and learn more about the aliens first hand instead of just seeing them from a distance. Maybe Tom can have some long talks with the alien leaders about the ethics of colonialism. (But who wants to bet that the next time we see Tom, he's dropped on the side of another road by the aliens, and he only has the dimmest recollection of what happened?)
For a show whose whole first season was based around the implacable aliens who only wanted our children, and wanted nothing to do with the rest of us, it's kind of a weird turnabout. I guess we'll have to wait until next summer to see if Falling Skies can actually make it pay off.