These next few episodes of Falling Skies are a microcosm of what works and doesn’t about the series, though there is a very different feel to the show this time around. Going into season 4, the producers were aware that the next season would be its last. With this knowledge the writers are swiftly shifting to the idea of closure and pushing to the end.

“A Thing With Feathers” is a fast paced follow-up to last season’s fairly uncomplicated cliffhanger. Much of the story is driven on tying up the loose ends, and can be surprisingly slow, considering we know that if Tom (Noah Wyle) is going to die, it won’t be in the early episodes of the penultimate season.

The standout scene in the episode finds Pope (Colin Cunningham), the exhaustingly clichéd anti-hero character, finding a wounded Espheni and planning on killing it in cold blood. He’s stopped from doing it — I won’t say by who — because that person is the one that wants to do it his/herself. It’s a bleak and dark little scene that Falling Skies has often shied away from. Not only does it show the darker side of humanity, it also depicts the harsh effects of war, something I wish they would do more often. Also, it provides Cunningham a moment to act and not spout typical dialogue.

Pope does finally come into his own a bit as the episodes progress. Particularly in “Drawing Straws” we see the long-term effects the war has had on him; it’s killing him on the inside, and it greatly develops Pope in a way we don’t often get to see. On the other side of that coin is Weaver (Will Patton) who has often been the character who is the face of the war’s debilitating effects. Over the course of the series we’ve seen him go from virtual antagonist — a vengeful autocrat and drug addict — to an avuncular leader, trying to do what he can with what little he has left. He’s still a Grumpy Gus, don’t get me wrong, but he’s a much better developed, and that’s driven home in these three episodes — specifically in “Drawing Straws.”

As the episodes progress, we get a greater look at the developing love triangle involving the two Mason brothers — Hal (Drew Roy) and Ben (Connor Jessup) and Hal’s girlfriend Maggie (Sarah Carter). This is an uncomfortable and creepy story as it is, though it is tinged with the sci-fi angle of the spikes affecting Ben and Maggie. While it is an interesting development, it is still no less unpleasant to watch and threatens to make Ben and Maggie unlikeable as much as it can make them more sympathetic. What we’ve gotten so far is really ugly and is punctuated by the very dumb line of “Worst goodbye ever.” The wrap-up of it — the scene with Hal and Ben discussing the matter — ends up ringing false, and I don’t know if it’s because Hal was pretending so their conflict can evolve later, or if this story was just a way to force extra tension among the family.

The theme of family is the primary one at work in Falling Skies — specifically the Mason family. They’re at the center of the show so the drama that surrounds them comes from both the war and from interpersonal conflict. At times, the writers have overplayed the card, and some of their conflicts have been obvious attempts to continue playing at the same theme. This, combined with the obsessive and controlling aspects of Tom, can make him come off prickly and unnecessarily difficult, but it’s played with enough sad energy and earnestness from Wyle that keeps Tom from being a complete jerk. It’s unfortunate, however, that Anne (Moon Bloodgood) — an undoubtedly strong and smart character — no longer stands up to him, and in “Drawing Straws” only ends up getting him a gift rather than confront him for his selfishness. It’s somewhat bizarre and undermines Anne’s character.

However, I do want to emphasize that the scenes involving the Mason family and Weaver and Maggie by extension are always well acted, specifically by Wyle, who infuses Tom with a level of desperate love even in unilateral decisions that drive home the fact that he just wants his family to be okay. This even comes out in the love triangle story, as he seems to just want this dealt with, he didn’t care how, so long as he and his sons were all okay.

One last thing to note is that Lexi’s (Scarlett Byrne) role is expanded this season. She and her powers subplot have been divisive among fans, but over the course of season 4, her status quo, and, by extension, the status quo of the series, changes drastically. Whether this is a good or a bad change is still unclear, but the change from what we have seen, is certainly an interesting one.