If one of the major themes of this season is Tom's integration back into the increasingly frayed group of survivors in the Second Mass, then its counterpoint is his son Ben's further alienation. While Tom has become more of a leader to the group, Ben's behavior has become more erratic, more focused on the strange messages and aims of the red-eyed Skitter. His family, the rest of the Second Mass don't know what to make of him, and "Homecoming" pushes that distrust forward a little more as another harnessed member of the Second Mass makes an unexpected return.
This week's episode crisscrosses several threats (with a healthy dose of coincidence) to drive a point home: harness kids are a problem.
****Some minor spoilers about this week's episode after the jump.****
"Homecoming" is a mix of some real intrigue re: Ben's loyalty, amped-up angst involving Hal/Maggie, and what feels like a feint with Captain Weaver suffering from blood poisoning. This last bit is something of a constantly spinning plate, extra peril keeping the entire Second Mass in crisis mode as Tom and Anne race for a solution to save their leader, but it presents a weird trio of parallels where Weaver is confined to a bed and (possibly) dying, a returned Karen (Jesse Schram) is confined to a bed, pouring poison in Ben's ear, and Pope makes what feels like an out of left field return, injured and also bed-ridden.
If it feels a little clunky (especially Pope's very important piece of exposition he delivers on waking), it's because it is kind of clunky, plus there are some nonsensical notes: Ben instinctively, violently distrusting Hal's ex until he suddenly doesn't (and anyone thinking it was a good idea to leave the two of them alone wasn't so smart, either), Hal's almost ridiculous jealousy and hostility towards his brother, and again, the really random return of Pope who only a couple of weeks ago tried to kill Tom.
Where the episode excels is in making Karen a viable threat. She's a counterpoint to Ricky, who returned only to die a couple of weeks back; a harnessed kid who's fully been turned by the experience and now she's completely and totally in thrall to her Overlord, the alien responsible for torturing Tom. And to the episode's credit, Tom is suspicious of the serendipitous discovery of Karen out in the woods near their hospital base, almost as if she were left there for them to discover (although how long the aliens planned to let her stay out in the woods to possibly suffer exposure is unclear).
Karen and Ben are pawns in the conflict between the Skitters and the tall alien now, and curiously, the Second Mass are almost an afterthought in this growing civil war. While the events here still don't quite make Tom trust the red-eyed alien that's been sending messages to his son, developments here make a convincing case that there is a schism.
In spite of my concerns about the frankly ridiculous level of coincidence that had to go into making this episode work, it's pushing some of the intrigues at the heart of this season forward while also fleshing out Ben beyond his post-harness angst. He could really be a very compelling character if he were allowed to be motivated outside of anger or caginess.
Falling Skies airs Sundays at 9 on TNT.