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By Pam Glazier · June 22, 2011
Falling Skies is a new one-hour drama series on TNT that features a post-apocalypse setting brought about by angry marauding aliens. Seven months after the initial attack, 90% of mankind has been wiped out. Those who remain are systematically hunted or subjugated (via bio-mind-control devices). Tom Mason (Noah Wyle) serves as an officer in the Second Massachusetts—a rag-tag militia whose main tasks seem to be procuring ammunition, scavenging for food, and protecting the civilians who choose to find whatever safety the Second Massachusetts can offer.
Tom, who used to teach American History, is obviously leader material despite being lower in command. He is just trying to keep himself and his sons alive. He uses his knowledge of the past to finesse his team’s delicate “military operations.” His driving motivation is definitely his kids, but this is tempered with the constant reality-check of needs vs. wants and military duty vs. family.
So that’s the synopsis, but is it any good? Well, that depends on you. Tom Mason is instantly likeable. He’s got just the right mix of competence and vulnerability, and the story line of this series (so far, at least) isn’t complex. We aren’t going to watch for the plot. Instead, we’re going to watch in order to see what Tom chooses to do.
Are there million-year-old clichés in this show? Sure. But do we really care? Well, some of us will, but the show isn’t about being fresh. This show is about capturing a magnified version of stuff we’re all dealing with—hot headed teenagers, kids who are emotionally damaged from trauma, figuring out how to provide in a hostile environment (hello financial meltdown). This is an escape that gives us problems that are bigger than our own while also being something we’ve all had to deal with before.
But, with that said, there are many examples of things that could’ve been done differently, perhaps less distractingly, that would make for more original TV. I will include a couple specific examples so that you get an idea of some of the things that may pull you out of the show.
There is a moment when Tom and his team kill an alien and watch it die. Up to this point, the aliens have been faceless enemies, but this bit makes it personal. The puppet/CGI people did a really good job here because I really felt for this alien during its death scene. The emotion came through, and I actually empathized. “I wonder what it’s thinking,” says one of the team. “Nothing now,” says Tom. This steamrolls the moment. Simply not saying anything in response to the initial thought would have added much more gravity as the creature took its last breath. Additionally, it is completely ignored that in the beginning of the episode Tom’s youngest son Matt (Maxim Knight) narrates a voice over that explains that the aliens initially told the humans that they came in peace; if the aliens were able to communicate then, why not now? This is a small discrepancy, but distracting nonetheless.
Also there’s a scene where Tom knows that the order he’s been given is no good because he can tell that a trap has been set for him and his team. He follows the order anyway, and they get caught and danger ensues. This is predictable, and it again completely steamrolls over any sort of interesting tension that could’ve taken place between Tom and his superior officer. Maintaining discipline for its own sake is boring, and an American History professor would know better.
And let’s not even get into the 13-year-old boy who ruins a stealth mission for food because he’s worried about his dog. It’s an over-done trope, and nothing really comes of this story choice anyway except to stall the mission. There are lots of other ways that time and tension could’ve been added without making it feel hollow.
****END OF SPOILERS****
So, to sum things up, don’t expect Escher-like detail in the plot and nuance. You will feel much more gratified in watching this show if you go into it simply wanting to root for the good guy. I hope the writers were just warming up though, or else this series won’t have much going for it in terms of staying power. Perhaps more “what-if questions” should be thrown around the writers room with fantabulous tangents of imagination attached… but then again, maybe they already did that and the only reason the pilot was like this was in order to set up the amazingness that is to come.
Let’s watch and find out, shall we? Finger’s crossed!