“We’re not just fighting for our lives. We’re fighting for our existence.”
If you’re looking for epic alien battles and state-of-the-art special effects, look elsewhere. This is the story of family, and how tragedy and disaster can unite people or bring out humanity’s worst.
We join Falling Skies roughly six months after an alien force has descended and decimated most of the earth and its population. Small groups of military and civilians band together for survival. Our focus is on the Second Massachusetts, led by Captain Weaver (Will Patton, 24) and his civilian second-in-command Tom Mason (Noah Wyle, E.R..) They determine how to provide for those in their care through two conflicting approaches which often provides lots of drama.
Tom is a history professor. Following the death of his wife, his main concern is the welfare of their children — Hal, (Drew Roy, Hannah Montana), Matt (Maxim Knight, Special Agent Oso), and Ben (Connor Jessup, The Saddle Club)…an alien captive. Contrast that with Captain Walker who’s lost his wife AND daughter, shutting himself off from everything but his duty as a soldier, and you can see how the drama writes itself.
Our heroes’ foes are two alien groups: the insect-like Skitters, a biological force who control the Mechs, mechanized robots who provide the invasion’s firepower.
Falling Skies could be a very decisive show, painting this post-apocalyptic world in black and white. But it’s a testament to the writing team that this new world is cloaked in shades of gray with no character devoid of depth. Watching the series you can chart the changes; no one is left static, which makes for compelling viewing.
Wyle and Patton are perfection in their roles, clearly driving the plot and raising the performances of those around them. There is no one to single out as giving less than their all, but special mention goes to Colin Cunningham (Living in Your Car), whose John Pope steals every scene with a unique blend of All-American sociopath. Not only is he often the center of the drama, he’s also the comic relief. This is not an easy line to walk and he’s crazy good at it.
Falling Skies does a good job of establishing all the key areas we need for a new show. It gives us characters with definite journeys, portrays a world we’re not familiar yet can still relate to, and lays the groundwork for future seasons without showing all its cards. But the one thing it doesn’t do is feed the need for alien battles. While there are definite conflicts shown, this is no disaster series. Steven Spielberg executive-produced the first season and those hoping for something akin to War of the Worlds will be disappointed. However, the season finale does bring to mind Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
Watch Falling Skies for the characters and their journeys, not to see people blowing aliens up.
Presented in standard definition 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, it must be said that shaky cam work annoys me. Here, it’s a very deliberate choice meant to provide a documentary-like feeling. But it didn’t work. Every time the camera moved it drew attention to itself, rather than highlighting the scene. Instead of getting lost in this world, I just kept being reminded this was all fake. I know the production team did the best they could with the money they had, but the special effects continually fell short, working best when there was a combination of live-action and CGI but missing the mark when it was clearly one or the other. As far as the audio goes, I was intrigued by the inclusion of a Portuguese language track but the action sequences are far better served by the English Dolby 5.1 mix. It may not always look like flesh-and-blood aliens but it certainly sounds otherworldly.
The special features aren’t spectacular, although I did appreciate the digital copies. You can avoid the commentaries altogether. They recorded them after wrapping Season Two and thus they give away far too many spoilers for upcoming plot developments. Probably the most note-worthy inclusion is the 2011 Comic-Con panel where the creative team was caught off guard more than once by the insights and questions of the fans. It makes for entertaining viewing.
One of my biggest pet peeves is when a show violates its own mythology without a reasonable explanation. Kids in this new world are “harnessed” by Skitters with a giant millipede-esque object that attaches to their spine. It secretes an opiate which the Skitters use to control the child, to the point where the kids talk for them a la Independence Day. We learn countless parents have yanked the harnesses out only to kill their children in the process. So we have little hope for Tom’s harnessed son Ben, whom he has been planning to rescue since the pilot. But hope comes in the form of Dr. Harris (Steven Weber, Wilfred) who has a technique to permanently remove the harnesses.
The problem with Harris’ technique is the lack of a test subject. The idea is it will be Ben, but it’s not. The scene where Tom realizes he will have to leave his son behind after comrade Mike (Martin Roach, Rescue Heroes) breaks rank and takes back his own child, Ricky (Daniyah Ysrayl, Rookie Blue), is one of the best of the season. Tom brings a badly wounded Skitter back as a POW during the aftermath of the rescue and we start to understand more of the aliens’ powers. Even after the harness removal, Ricky appears to be connected to the Skitter POW. At one point Ricky reattaches the harness, breathing a very audible sigh of relief. But when Ricky goes to free the Skitter POW, his father goes berserk, forcibly yanking the harness out of his son’s back. I was actually brought to tears at the thought of this father being so unable to handle seeing his son in such a state of addiction, he thought the only way to stop the Skitters’ influence was to kill him.
But in the next episode, Ricky’s alive! This completely negates the entire subplot we’ve invested so much time and energy on, not to mention the reason behind Dr. Harris’ appearance. As the season continues, we learn the longer a kid is harnessed, the more Skitter-like they become. Since he was taken earlier than the other kids, Ricky should have died for sure, and I was truly disappointed by the show’s lack of explanation for the change
This is not an action-filled series where characters barely stop to breathe before they face assault after assault. Falling Skies: The Complete First Season is mostly quiet, focused on character development rather than aliens getting their comeuppance. Those looking for an epic battle between earth and aliens, look elsewhere.