The Sunday, July 26 episode of “Falling Skies,” season 5 episode 5, “Non-Essential Personnel,” sees Tom go after Pope in hopes of finding his son before it’s too late. Meanwhile, the 2nd Mass sets out for D.C. but runs into trouble along the way, and Hal meets someone new who may be what he needs to escape his dire position.
It is, once again, as has come to be the case, another “Falling Skies” episode of ups and downs. There are several brilliant performances – from Colin Cunningham, Drew Roy, Will Patton and Todd Weeks – and the aliens become an afterthought as humans and their conflicts take center stage, a move that has and has not worked in the past and does and does not work in this case. It works, for Tom and Pope. It does not work when it comes to the problem the 2nd Mass runs into, other than for how that ends. That may be one of this series’ problems: it’s full of hits and misses and not much in between.
While Tom’s off chasing down Pope and Hal, the 2nd Mass begins making its way to D.C., only to find themselves under attack. Weaver decides that he’s going to talk their way out of it, rather than hand over the truck and supplies demanded of them, and it’s not until the speech Weaver gives to get through to Marty that this plot becomes more than just something that’s dragging down the episode and slowing down the pace of the action. Weaver recognizes in the man what he has seen in himself following the loss of his own family, and so he just wants to do for him what others have done for him and help him. It’s Weaver’s speech and Marty’s subsequent breakdown as he reveals the body bags of his family members in a back room, as well as Maggie’s continued struggle with not being in complete control because of her spikes, that saves this from being a complete letdown, though not by much.
It also serves as yet another example of the changes seen in Tom and Weaver from the beginning of the series, as Weaver is now the one who cares about the people in this fight for Earth. He’s the one who knows that it’s the people who are left standing who are going to be most important, as they’re the ones, as he tells Marty, who they’ll be leaning on, and for that, they don’t have to be blood – but they can be family. What does it say about them, he wonders to Anne when the conflict is over, if they just leave him to wither away.
Meanwhile, exiled from the 2nd Mass, Pope, along with Anthony, runs into a new group of survivors trying to escape skitters. After saving them, Pope has Anthony conduct stealth interviews to weed out the “non-essential personnel” and has no problem sending them on their way. One of the new group, Isabella, wins his favor by declaring herself a nurse and tries to stand up for the others, but after Pope refuses, later tells him that she was just trying to gain favor. People only help one another in order to get something in return, she tells him, and in return, he tells her about how he has Hal locked up in back because his father killed someone important to him. As Pope later demonstrates, staying in his favor and being able to fight are key in staying alive, when he kills a man who is injured during a hornet’s attack.
This new group of Pope’s, along with Anthony’s involvement in this, are one of the “downs” of the episode, unfortunately. Not only is it impossible to actually care about any of these people – none of them even get names, other than Isabella, and even if they did, at this point, there’s no use in learning any of them – meaning that when Pope kills the guy, all it does is show the kind of man he is and doesn’t matter at all, but every moment it seems that Anthony could say something, anything, he doesn’t. Yes, he has his issues with Tom, with Anne, with the 2nd Mass, but that hasn’t been shown as well and is less obvious than Pope’s grief over losing Sara, grief he clearly still feels given his reaction to Tom even just saying her name.
On the other hand, Pope going bad and crazy and all that fun? That is definitely one of the ups of the episode (as it was last week), as he leads Tom on a twisted version of a scavenger hunt, with his son the prize he hopes to find at the end, making him think his body could be in a dumpster, his body could be at a playground, with the proof of Hal’s survival coming in the form of Pope telling him he’ll cut his heart out and then making him listen to his son in pain when he slices his arm. After that, Tom’s offer to go their separate ways turns into Tom’s promise that he’s going to kill him.
The best scene of “Non-Essential Personnel” is easily, hands down, the back-and-forth between Hal and Pope leading up to Pope putting a gun to Hal’s forehead. From top to bottom, from Pope drinking the bottle of water in front of him to Pope standing over Hal, there is nothing about this scene that isn’t exactly what it needs to be. Pope claims that he just wants Hal to see that his father wants to be the leader of the new world after the war, that he’s lining up the gig with the Volm broadcasts, and when Hal refuses to admit that he’s right for some water, Pope ups the game and grabs his injured arm. More people will die, Pope insists, if people continue to trust Tom. He’s gotten so many people killed, he repeats from last week, and keeps hitting Hal when he refuses to admit that he’s right and say the words. But Hal just comes back with the fact that they’d all be dead if it wasn’t for Tom, and that is when Pope pulls out his gun. This scene, along with “Pope Breaks Bad,” proves that there needs to be more Pope/Hal and Pope/Tom scenes because they can easily make a lacking episode a good one.
Once again, “Rebecca” appears to Tom with a message, this one that he has to stop in his pursuit to save his son, but Tom refuses to do what Pope accused him of being unable to do: sacrifice one of his sons for the greater good, which does, in a way, prove the other man right. “Rebecca” says they can’t let him risk his life because “if you die, the entire war will be lost.” The Espheni will rebuild, she claims, but they’re creating a new weapon that Tom and Tom can alone can deliver to wipe them out forever. She even tries to pull him back by telling him she loves him, but she’s not Rebecca, as he makes clear, before he begins his stealth approach to reach his son.
While Tom’s on his way, Isabella reveals to Hal that she never planned on staying with Pope and instead just stayed close enough to get a gun and the keys to the rest of the weapons. Hal tells her of the 2nd Mass, insists they’re good people and explains that they’re there for each other, just like they were when this started and just like they will be when it ends. Those are the magic words, it turns out, as she later tells him when they’re on the road that her father said something similar.
As for what happens when Tom and Pope come face-to-face for the first time in this episode, it doesn’t disappoint as Tom just shoots him. Pope returns fire, and the only thing that puts an end to those two shooting at each other is a hornet picking up Tom and flying away with him. And despite his injuries, all Pope wants to know at the end is where he is, which bodes well because that couldn’t be the last time those two come face-to-face and the scenes with those two are among the best of the series.
“Falling Skies” season 5 airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on TNT. What did you think of episode 5 “Non-Essential Personnel”?