Summer is when TV lets us escape. Networks check their brains at the door anymore and schedule umpteen variations on the same three or four reality show formulas. That leaves cable the room to introduce scripted series designed to run three months or so for a season.
FALLING SKIES on TNT is once such ambitious entry. As I’ve made the distinction in my previous blogpost about the first two episodes, FALLING SKIES is science fiction as opposed to sci-fi. To me, science fiction is more classic, with a strong emphasis on the human elements as much as seeing the creatures/invaders/marauders/thingees from some distant planet. Science fiction is about the journey, sci-fi is about the payoff.
In last weeks Episode 3:PRISONERS OF WAR, Falling Skies is really taking on a dual personality. Yes, this is about aliens who have come and disrupted our lives, destroyed our cities, ripped apart our families, enslaved our kin, and cause the citizens to become refugees. In addition, it has also caused the need for a resistance to form to battle the oppressors.
If you read those last couple of sentences, you can easily apply every attribute to a war film as well. For as much as the enemy are strange beings with unknown motives, they are purely an invading army, come here to conqueror us. STARSHIP TROOPERS had much the same feel, albeit with more flashy tech. It was a WWII “Gung Ho!” film in disguise.
Think of all the good war films you have seen and you can draw learned parallels to the story unfolding on the TV screen. Even the episode title “Prisoners Of War” is absent of any space illusions whatsoever. This story has many humans captured in a prisoner camp. They are held in check by “harnesses” which attach and grow into the spinal column and nervous system, making the wearer subservient to the wishes and commands of the captors. This can parallel any number of war films where the captors are rumored or shown doing mind control experiments.
In fact, these are even similar to the mind-control efforts in films like the MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE. We’ve already seen a row of the captive children gunned down by a Mech in order to show the humans that they captors will resort to this kind of vicious psychological warfare to keeps us terrified. The children blankly line up and stand there as commanded, either oblivious or numb to what is being asked of them.
The big questions comes in the “A-Ha” moment at the end of the episode, when a captured Skitters begins to stir. As he opens his eyes, a child who has been freed of most of the harness but is still in a drug like state also opens his eyes, not with a natural look, but with a look of being called or commanded to.
This little action at the end of the episode made me start to look back. We’ve seen the scenes of the children being forced marched and scavenging for metal parts. We’ve seen them come and remove a new captive. And we’ve seen them obediently come out and line up to be executed.
What we not yet seen is exactly how the captors communicate these commands to the captives. We’ve yet to learn about their ability to communicate with themselves as well as with us. To control can be done by intimidation. To command needs communication.
We’ve also seen how this show is as much about human emotion as it is about conflict. For the second time, a rescue or mission has fallen apart because of one character breaking rank to rescue a loved one or animal. These may be resistance fighters, but the invasion is only 6 months old, and 6 months ago, these were family, friends and neighbors. They have a lot to learn about military maneuvers, and a way to go to take the emotion out of the equation. In war, the battle is fought “over there”, this is fought right here.
The American spirit is all over the show. From backdrops that include historical tableaus to Tom Mason drawing connections to American history, this is about us and about the US. Even the way each resistance unit is composed shows a great compassion and need for each other, with 100 fighters supported by 200 civilians. This is brought home even stronger when Tom returns from a surveillance mission and is surrounded by civilians with pictures of their missing children.
The arrival of Steven Weber as Dr. Harris, whose involvement with a food run that resulted in the death of Tom’s wife will be a major point of contention and conflict in the series. Weber plays “smug” like nobody else, and this smugness and coldness will help make the scenes with Tom that much edgier. However, Dr. Harris has learned a lot in six months, and is able to remove the harness without killing a child. The need and ability to know “what makes them tick” is important. Otherwise, the resistance will fail.
The news that there are other pockets of resistance spread around the country both gives us comfort that “we are not alone” and apprehension about the scope and damage of the alien invasion. That means that the danger spreads outside of the 2ndmass area and adds the possible need to connect at some point to finally overcome the invasion.
Again, the human element, not the fact that the invaders are from outer space, is what will drive this story. One of the basic human needs, communication, is something that we still have to discover in the aliens. It seems that the Skitters are in charge of the Mechs, yet these are probably not the only aliens we will meet. We’ve yet to see communication with the towering structure that sits over Boston. We still do not know exactly how they communicate commands to the harnessed children, and judging by the final scene, we do not know what beyond the harnesses might create a connection between captor and captive.
The show offers a very deep and harrowing human question twice during the show, although phrasing it differently. When Tom returns to the school command headquarters in the beginning of the episode, he is questioned about how the first surveillance mission went awry. It is put to Tom if it is worth the death of civilians to save one life.
Later in the show, Dr. Harris asks a similar question of Tom. That opens the door for the realization that they will not save everybody. The decisions will focus on the good of the whole vs. the good of the individual.
Going forward, I am very intrigued by how the show builds its future on what we all have experienced and learned throughout history. This is about us, not the aliens, and that is why I am getting hooked.