Aliens invaded, and we, the humans, lost the war. That’s the basic premise of TNT’s apocalyptic sci-fi series, Falling Skies, which debuted its second season on June 17.
When the series premiered in June 2011, it provided a different perspective than most shows/movies about alien invasions — after the glorious battles, after the defeat of humans and the devastation of the Earth. Six months after the global invasion, over 90% of the population has been destroyed. Pockets of survivors struggle to cope with the new reality of living on Earth and what it now means to be a member of the human race. Survivors have gathered into scattered resistance groups determined to regain freedom and rebuild the human race. One of the most successful resistance groups is known as the Second Massachusetts (for short, the 2nd Mass) because it was originally based in the remains of Boston. Falling Skies chronicles the lives of the people in the 2nd Mass as they fight not just against the aliens, but also to face a world where every day is now a matter of survival. The story centers on Tom Mason, a former Boston University history professor, who is determined to keep his family of three boys together and safe in this now unfamiliar world and whose knowledge is vital to the strategic planning of the resistance group.
During Season 1, as viewers journeyed and fought with the 2nd Mass, three kinds of aliens were revealed: Skitters, reptilian multi-legged creatures that are the foot soldiers of the enemy, and there seems to be no end to their numbers; Mechs, mechanical attack droids controlled by the Skitters; and Overlords, tall, grayish aliens who appear to be the real ones in charge of the invasion. The aliens kill all adult humans they find, but capture the children. They enslave and control the children by means of a “harness” attached to the spine. Tom’s middle son, Ben, was captured and harnessed. He was freed by members of the 2nd Mass, and hates the aliens with a passion for what they did to him. At the end of Season 1, Dr. Glass discovers that the Skitters are also harnessed, and probably an enslaved race to the Overlords. Season 1 ended with Tom Mason walking on board an alien spaceship of his own free will at the behest of an Overlord. The alien had threatened to have the ability to still control Ben. Tom thought he was giving himself up to save his son, but it turned out to be a lie.
The series was created by Robert Rodat and is executive produced by Steven Spielberg. Spielberg co-conceived the concept with Rodat and is the one who came up with the title. He gave his anointment to the project and was very hands-on during the production of the series pilot. Falling Skies boasts a talented cast headlined by Noah Wyle (Tom Mason) and Moon Bloodgood (Dr. Anne Glass). Other notable members of the cast include Will Patton (Captain Weaver), Stargate alum Colin Cunningham (John Pope) and Drew Roy (Hal Mason). However, the writing can be trite and clichéd and doesn’t always match the ability level of the cast and the acting often comes across as stiff and wooden. Now that there’s a season of working together and getting to know each other under their belts, some of the rough spots should be smoothed out during Season 2.
Like many recent shows of its type, Falling Skies hopes to be a successful part of the trend to appeal to the much-coveted teen demographic of the viewing audience. Its younger characters have front burner stories, especially Tom Mason’s three sons — Hal, Ben and Matt. The writers have done an excellent job with character development for the younger characters, giving them depth and purpose, and they’re not the stereotypical whining, rebellious teens portrayed in many shows. Hal struggles to bridge the gap from child to adult and gain respect of his fighters as a leader in the 2nd Mass while still trying to watch out for his brothers. Ben’s hatred for the Skitters and how the aliens experimented on him, turning him into a freak, consumes him, even as he is proud of his enhanced abilities. Young Matt must cope with a very different childhood than he ever imagined, where the childish nightmares of monsters are a reality that must be faced every day. All the characters are likeable and easy to connect with, even down to renegade Pope and his brash actions.
The plots are predictable, but the action and tension are well-crafted. Almost every episode features at least one battle with the aliens, with great visual effects and many explosions. The creators have attempted to merge the “family drama” model with the current popularity of gritty, post-apocalyptic drama. The relationships and the power of the human spirit to deal with adversity and hardship holds the people of the 2nd Mass together instead of driving them apart. This “human spirit” heart of the story and the themes of family, brotherhood, and love are what make Falling Skies work. It’s a summer series, and what would we rather watch in the heat of the summer, high drama or a show that entertains us? Because the one thing Falling Skies does best of all is entertain.
“Falling Skies” is produced by Dreamworks Television and airs Sundays at 9/8 c. Season 1 is available on DVD and Blu-Ray.