FALLING SKIES – Sunday 9PM on TNT
WHERE WE WERE: On our way into a spaceship. The aliens have arrived, and contrary to what Executive Producer Steven Spielberg used to tell us, they’re not nice at all. The ones in FALLING SKIES murdered most of the human race, and the only reason some humans are left alive is so the visitors can use us for slave labor. The aliens come in several varieties: “mechs,” which are metal attack drones; “skitters,” the insect-like everyday soldiers; and the ruling class, who don’t yet have a nickname, but look like mean cousins of the creatures at the end of Close Encounters. Some of the living humans launch a resistance movement, and our group is the Massachusetts 2d, led by Captain Dan Weaver (Will Patton). Weaver was a soldier pre-invasion, but most of the corps were private citizens, including the show’s hero, former American History professor Tom Mason (Noah Wyle). Tom is a whiz at classic military tactics, and also the guy who tells Weaver when he’s being too much of a career soldier. Tom’s wife was killed in the invasion–beautiful doctor Anne (Moon Bloodgood) waited all through Season 1 to be his new romantic interest– but his 3 sons are with him: 17-year old Hal (Drew Roy), Ben (Connor Jessup) and Matt (Maxim Knight). Ben spent part of Season 1 abducted by the aliens, and when he was rescued, he, like the other captives, was in a harness implanted onto his spine that not only controlled his actions but affected his mind. The harness was cut off him, but it’s not clear that he’s entirely out of the mental control of the aliens. At the end of last season, the things from another world threatened to take Ben back, unless Tom himself got on their spaceship–which he did.
WHERE WE ARE: 3 months have passed since Tom stepped onto that ship, when suddenly he reappears. Unfortunately, he’s standing directly behind a mech, and when Ben shoots at the creature, he plugs Dad (Happy Father’s Day!). Tom’s ensuing unconsciousness allows for Hour 1 of the 2-part season premiere, written by Consulting Producer Mark Verheiden and directed by Greg Beeman, to provide generous flashbacks of Tom’s absence. Basically, the (for now, anyway) head alien offered Tom a choice on behalf of the rest of humanity: agree to live in the alien equivalent of a concentration camp, or be slaughtered. Tom, of course, chose rebellion, and the next thing he remembers, he was being let loose with a group of other hostages–the aliens, in a show of force, massacred everyone except him. He was allowed to go, and has been making his way up the eastern seaboard, until he found the 2d Mass just in time to get shot by his son. The scary thing, for Tom and everyone else, is that there’s a big blank chunk of time between his rejection of the alien ultimatum and the massacre–and he has no idea what they may have done to him during that time, or why they let him leave.
This becomes a major storyline of Hour 2, written by Co-Executive Producers David Weddle and Bradley Thompson, and directed again by Beeman. Tom is concerned that, as with the harnesses, he may be carrying some sort of lingering alien bug. As it turns out, he’s literally right: a particularly nasty parasite has taken up residence on his eyeball, and has to be removed in a scene that would please David Cronenberg. The tiny creature is imprisoned in a jar but carries its own glass-cutter, and manages to escape back to the alien stronghold. Tom worries that this thing might not be all that’s been planted in him, and so does John Pope (Colin Cunningham), the most disreputable of the show’s regular characters. Pope has a bad attitude and an ugly background. When we first met him, he was running with a renegade motorcycle gang that repeatedly raped Margaret (Sarah Carter), who’s now a valued member of the 2d Mass–although Pope himself wasn’t part of the attacks on her. Pope has the heart of a mercenary, but he’s useful, and he’s all for leaving Tom behind when the group has to cross a bridge to stay ahead of the aliens. Tom, though, proves himself–at least for now–by voluntarily having himself put in restraints, and then singlehandedly stopping the pursuers.
If Syfy network still had an identity, it would be showing something like Falling Skies, which is classically in the tradition of what most people think of as “science-fiction,” instead of trying to become the super-power and supernatural channel. The first season got off to a ponderous start, with much debate between Tom and Weaver about civil rights and how aliens and humans should be treated, and too much time devoted to Tom and his loving family, but it realized somewhere along the way that aliens-bad; humans-good, with a little bit of soap mixed in, was all Falling Skies needed to roll along. The show makes much better use of its limited budget than Terra Nova, V and The Event have in the recent past, making sure there’s at least one impressive alien appearance and/or firefight in each episode. The characters aren’t much thicker than cardboard, but they’re well-played, especially by stalwart Wyle and his semi-adversaries Patton and Cunningham. The teens and kids won’t make anyone forget The Hunger Games; on the other hand, they’re far more bearable than their cousins in Terra Nova were.
Falling Skies should be around for a long time to come, unless there’s an unexplained collapse in the ratings. Last season, the show was scoring in the mid-1s in 18-49s (higher than that for the premiere and season finale), making it TNT’s highest rated show in the demo. It continues to be solid dumb summer entertainment, considerably more enjoyable than some of mega-budgeted summer movies that fly along the same genre path.