I quite like TNT’s Falling Skies. In an era of extremely mediocre science fiction TV it continues to entertain and does not make me want to boil my own head in a vat of cooking oil. Unlike some of Syfy’s more vanilla offerings, Falling Skies manages to be a bit gritty and creates a set of characters that aren’t entirely loathsome.
The premise is fairly hackneyed, but well done: A race of hostile aliens known as the Espheni have invaded the earth (represented here solely by the USA) and humanity must fight for survival in a grim and dystopian post-apocalyptic world. The aliens possess ‘harnessing’ technology that allows them to control and eventually assimilate human children, and they also have cool stompy mechs that like to blow stuff up, as well as lots of other overwhelming tactical advantages. Nonetheless, the human spirit continues to prevail and, led by history professor Tom Mason (Noah Wyle of E.R. fame) and Col. Dan Weaver (Will Patton), a rag-tag band of survivors mount a substantial resistance.
[*Season Three Spoilers to follow*]
The third season has just finished airing and it’s on par with the what’s gone before – it isn’t the most amazing SF series ever made, but it continues to break even and keeps me interested.
In this season we are introduced to a new alien ally, the Volm, which of course raises all sorts of ethical debates between characters about why one alien is more trustworthy than another, and whether or not this should be a solely ‘human fight’ against all things otherwordly. The various xenophobic views aired by a number of protagonists are fairly predictable, and there is a lot of emphasis placed on notions of American patriotism and independence.
In the season finale, Tom Mason’s clan, with a lot of help from the Volm, manages to secure a significant victory against their antogonists. Afterwards, they are greeted with the news that they will now be packed off to Brazil while the Volm win the war on their behalf. Tom, et al, are up in arms at this revelation, which they consider to be a massive betrayal of trust.
This is just one of many utterly incomprehensible reactions on the part of the protagonists, who all seem to be blessed with the inability to make sensible decisions. The Volm appear to have the humans’ best interests at heart, encouraging them to seek safety in the sanctuary of Brazil (quite why Brazil is so safe is not explained) while they do all the hard work.
But the human band of fighters aren’t willing to take a back seat, instead literally jumping at the chance to throw their lives away in the face of a hugely advanced enemy and overwhelming odds. The really baffling thing about this scenario is not so much their desire to stay on the front lines, which can be chalked up to national pride, but rather the fact that they get really angry at the Volm for wanting to protect them.
It all comes out in the wash anyway, as the Volm decide to let them get on with it and get themselves killed if they want to. There is a bit of tension between the two races now, which, judging by the volatility of the human characters, may well lead to pow-wows in the future.
One must question the tactics of the humans, which do not seem to be informed by any knowledge of military protocol or even by common sense, and which frequently result in them getting into hot water. If you know you are being approached by a hostile force in unspeakably advanced flying ships equipped with tracking technology and ultra-deadly weapons, is the best choice really to take to the air in a couple of rickety old crop-dusting planes and try to outpace them? The human pilots don’t even take the two planes in separate directions to split their attackers up; they just fly one after the other in a nice little line, giving the Espheni some really easy target practice. Unsurprisingly, both planes are shot down in about two minutes.
This kind of decision-making happens all the time. When Tom’s love interest Anne Glass (Moon Bloodgood) discovers that their new baby is some kind of creepy alien hybrid, she decides that her best option is to pick the kid up and just wander off aimlessly into the alien-infested wilderness. Unsurprisingly, again, she is captured within about two minutes.
Although all of these frustrating events make me wish they’d retitle the show Humans Making Rubbish Decisions (Oh and There Are Some Aliens Too), the show manages to redeem itself somehow. Fierce, battle-hungry Maggie (Sarah Carter) is not as inept as the others and manages to hold it together in most tricky situations, and John Pope (Colin Cunningham) makes a great dark comedy foil, taking bets on which member of Tom Mason’s family is likely to kick it next.
The two alien races are nicely done, with good use of CGI and animatronics, and the whole aesthetics of the show are just dirty and rugged enough to provide relief from the unbearable gloss of your average SF show.
Folleree’s rating: 3.5 / 5