“Strange Brew” might be my new favorite episode of the season. It’s an exploration of the paralyzing effect grief has on us, and what must happen to push us forward: the harsh realization that life goes on. We do what we must to survive.
The first half of the episode follows Tom through the twisting labyrinth of his mind as someone attempts to pry information out of him. He wakes up in Boston with his wife Rebbecca, sends his boys off to school and drives to the university where he teaches. It’s almost Christmastime, and Boston is under fallen snow. The house is alight with twinkling strands wrapped around a tree full of red and gold baubles. It’s beautiful, and it’s about to be destroyed.
Tom’s memories are now peppered with people from 2nd Mass and Charleston: Col. Weaver is a homeless man holding a sign that reads “The End is Near”, Pope is a fellow professor at Tom’s university, and Jeannie is Tom’s secretary. As Tom goes about his day, a suspicion that something is off becomes lodged in his brain, especially after seeing a future version of himself, and his mind goes to work on the problem. People start asking him about four cities, over and over: New York, Boston, Chicago and Jacksonville.
“Strange Brew” then flips and shows us the reality of what’s going on: Tom is being tortured by Karen, who wants to know which city the Volm are attacking. Tom will tell her nothing, even when she attempts to trip him up by layering the situations inside his head. He goes from being rescued by his boys to a hospital to the war room where Col. Weaver asks him to lay out a map for the attack. Tom almost complies until he sees that the maps are the four cities everyone has been asking about; he declines and wakes up once more.
It’s interesting that his mind would take him back to Boston, to his home. Interesting, but not surprising. He has yearned to return to that life, when he had a whole family, a job he loved, in a city where he was happy. At the same time, there were things he needed to resolve, like his inability to recognize Hal’s need for him to be present at games.
Tom also struggles with his feelings for Anne. In his mind, it feels like having an affair, although his wife is dead. He still loves Rebbecca. He still wants to be with her. In his head, he doesn’t know Anne, she’s someone who pursues him, and he is repelled by her. He wants nothing to do with her, he only wants Rebbecca. He would never hurt her. Unfortunately, when he wakes up, she isn’t the only one gone.
Karen shows Tom that Anne and Lexi are encased in frosted boxes, presumably dead. Tom threatens to kill Karen, who merely orders a skitter to bring him outside so that he can see the grid go up. He watches as lights criss-cross each other, but before Karen has time to gloat, Tom grabs a skitter and uses it to break his fall. He stumbles away, and ends up at his old house.
This is the most beautiful part of “Strange Brew”. Tom wanders the house, pocketing his wife’s Christmas list from the fridge, and lays down on their bed. He turns and there’s Rebbecca. He folds into her, and she tells him, “You are the love of my life, Tom Mason. The father of my beautiful boys, my faithful and adoring husband. I love everything about you. About our life together. I cherish every memory…every heated word…every murmur of affection between us. I want you to do something for me. Get up. Leave. Don’t come back here. Don’t look back. There’s nothing for you here anymore. Nothing.”
The grief plays across his face as he whispers, “You’re here.”
A sound startles him and he points his gun at an intruding cat, but when he turns back to Rebbecca, she is gone.
There truly is nothing left in Boston, in their home, for Tom. He is alone.
Instead of crumpling under the grief and allowing it to consume him, we get a last shot of Tom walking down the street, away from the life he once loved. He must go on. He must survive.
“Strange Brew” shows us the stuff Tom Mason is made of: he can be broken by no one. He has a bright mind, a will to survive, and the courage to do what he must. A true hero.
The hero Charleston needs.
Now if only he can get back to Charleston in time, we’ll have one hell of a season finale.