In an age of television where zombies (The Walking Dead) and vampire slayers (Buffy, the Vampire Slayer) have been the top rated shows, there is Falling Skies. This TNT original series is about an alien-invasion of Earth. But its direction is different from what you might first think. While aliens have invaded, the show does not start with the invasion. In fact, with the first episode of season one, the invasion is old news. We find the characters a few months after the invasion, beginning to learn to cope with a new world.
And that may be what Falling Skies is really about – coping and surviving a new world searching for hope. The main character is Tom Mason, played by the favored ER doctor Noah Wyle. Tom is a tenured American history professor at BU who has lost his wife in the invasion as well as his middle son, Ben. Ben, like so many other children, were kidnapped and harnessed by the aliens. It is unclear why they want the children, which is just one of the aspects of this show that make it watchable. You don’t know any more than the main characters do. You theorize with them about what is going one. You learn with them about the aliens.
Tom is one of the leaders of a group of hundreds of fighters and civilians in a suburb of Boston. The survivors are learning to organize themselves into communities, as well as organize themselves in a revolution against the aliens. The main group the show follows is the 2nd Massachusetts, an obvious reference to the Revolutionary War. Tom, as a history professor, is constantly making references to miliarty history, including the Revolutionary War.
There are multiple references to the Revolutionary War, which makes sense because the setting is in Boston. During the second half of the season, the group is stationed in the former John F. Kennedy High School. In the courtyard there is mural with the faces of many patriotic figures such as George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King, Jr. These references and images seem to be communicating a need for and journey towards freedom. Though their bondage is different than the colonies, there is a clear need for freedom.
The commander of the 2nd Mass is Weaver, who is amazingly portrayed by Will Patton. Weaver is a pony-tailed, hard-nosed, Army vet who barks his orders through a clinched jaw. Weaver reluctantly accepts Tom as his second in command. Together, these two men do their best, in the midst of their own brokenness, in leading the fighters and the civilians. We learn that Weaver’s loss in the invasion was just as dramatic and heart-breaking as Tom’s. Weaver loss his wife and his daughter. While in his old neighborhood, Weaver is about to give up on it all, when he finds his wife’s eyeglasses. He swears they were not there before, and the glasses, which he puts in his front pocket, give him hope.
In the midst of tragedy, the survivors are constantly finding hope. Lourdes, for example, has been described as a teenage priestess. Lourdes (Seychelle Gabriel) is the only character who prays on a regular basis. During meals and other occasions, Lourdes offers a prayer, despite the stares and comments from others. Lourdes is the first character to show evidence of hope.
And speaking of Seychelle Gabriel, she is joined by other great women actors in this show. Moon Bloodgood is the saintly pediatrician Anne Glass. Anne is the moral compass to Tom’s ethical ponderings. Anne secretly does an autopsy on one of the dead alien creatures. She finds a truth about the harnesses that may change everything. And then there is Sarah Carter’s Margaret, the blond, post-traumatic, heroine of the post-apocalyptic alien world. Margaret’s tragedy in her life continued after the invasion. As Margaret is welcomed into the 2nd Mass, she too begins to find hope.
Hope is what drives the characters to survive. In the season finale (“Eight Hours”), Tom and Weaver are greeted by a harnessed teen. She communicates to them for the aliens. “They didn’t expect resistance and they find it interesting. They want to talk.” The final episode ends with Tom walking into the space ship, instead of Ben.
Falling Skies is by far better than you would expect. It is a solid action and adventure show. And perhaps that is because of the duo producing team of Robert Rodat (Saving Private Ryan and The Patriot) and Steven Spielberg. It does not take long to see the effects of Spielberg’s influence of wonder and consistency. Each episode gets better than the one before it.