Falling Skies: Live and Learn

"They die just like us. You just have to get close."

This show deals with the somewhat realistic idea that normal people would be the only ones left to fight in this kind of an invasion. Whether it is a nation with superior forces, or an alien menace falling from the skies, the first targets would inevitably be the military. If that military was overwhelmed, the only line of defense left would be the rest of the civilian population. Intelligent people like Professor Tom Mason (Noah Wyle) would end up in a leadership role because he understands some of the basics of warfare. This common sense approach to an alien invasion show does make Falling Skies stand out.

When I watched this first episode, I kept thinking that it would fall into heartwarming family drama, and we did start with a narration of the fall of society told by gradeschoolers, and an affecting, slightly sappy ending with the kid's birthday cupcake and the skateboarding. But the rest of the episode was fairly dark. There was a lot of atmosphere created with the set design, complete with a bombed out shelter that looked like it was lifted directly from a Terminator-inspired future. It really sold the idea that a single can of tuna was something worth fighting for.

Starting off, we were warned that death was going to be a frequent occurrence, with the killing of an innocent in the first few minutes. This violent death was perpetrated by an unseen attacker that used a quadruple laser targeting system that, when locked on that target, killed instantly. This simple visual cue, reminiscent of Predator, ratcheted up the terror of our heroes flight from their situation. If the lasers got a bead on you, you died. This was an effective way of telling us our heroes were outmatched. Also that the casual act of scavenging for food took its toll in death.

The characters were introduced very quickly, and names were thrown out without much time to catch up. Our main protagonist is Tom Mason, a history professor, who tries to use his knowledge of past warfare to make his impossible present survivable for his family and the people that depend on him. In Tom's harrowing introduction chase scene, we also met his eldest son Hal (Drew Roy). Hal appears to be the typical rebellious teenager, but thankfully he also seems to have come to the conclusion that being stupid can get you killed. Tom's youngest boy Matt (Maxim Knight) is sweet, but traumatized, especially when he talks about his mother's death, his missing brother Ben, and how much he hates it when his father and older brother go off to fight.

It is established pretty early on that Hal functions as a forward scout with a young woman named Karen (Jessy Schram). It isn't explicitly stated, but it's pretty obvious that Karen is Hal's girlfriend, or at least they're romantically interested in each other. Tom also has a bit of a romantic spark with the camp Doctor, a pediatrician named Anne Glass (Moon Bloodgood). They are all a part of a group of left over military and civilians based in Massachusetts. They're led by Captain Weaver (Will Patton), who obviously doesn't respect Tom, who is his second in command of the group (called the 2nd Mass). They clash over the drag the civilians cause on military actions, and pretty much everything else.

Ben (Tom's missing son) has been harnessed by the aliens (who are referred to as Skitters). Harnessed children seem to be mind-controlled, devoid of emotion and independent thought. Or at least that's the impression we were given. We were told that every attempt so far to remove the harness from a kid has resulted in death. This selective targeting of children is an interesting, albeit creepy twist. What is the reason for these abductions? What are they using the kids for?

Which brings me to the aliens themselves. They felt like a nice combo of a bunch of science fiction aliens. Their faces are somewhat emotive with no real lower jaw and creepy black eyes. They also feel powerful, which is reinforced by their reptilian appearance and multiple limbs. The only thing that doesn't quite work for me is how squat their bodies are. They seem shorter than human, which is a different take on the monster alien, but it does detract from their overall fear factor.

Bits:

Tom (to Anne): "Retreat, regroup, return, revenge."

Tom (to Matt): "I'm your father. Rule 619 says you can tell me anything."

There was a really nice character scene with Tom. Just as he was about to hit the road, he walked by a pile of discarded books. He initially picked up a magazine but tossed it aside, and then he literally weighed the difference between two classics (A Tale of Two Cities and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea), choosing the lighter of the two and tossing the other aside.

Tom also gave a really good speech about inferior forces winning by being a nuisance, causing the invading force too much grief, and eventually forcing them to retreat. It was balanced by an earlier comparison he made about how the spot they were walking through 400 years before was a battlefield, and postulating what that spot might be like 400 years from now and whether humans would be still be around.

There was a giant alien tower in the center of Boston, and they talked briefly about how they would blow it up. Can you say foreshadowing?

The alien mechs reminded me of Ed 209 from Robocop.

I kept thinking throughout the episode that this is what the remake of V should've been.

There was a fun exchange between Tom and Hal where they corrected each others' vocabulary. It was a good character moment and established a bit of their relationship.

There was a kid soldier named Jimmy (Dylan Authors) who couldn't have been more than 14, a subtle but effective touch. It said to me that in this show, not even our young are innocent anymore.

It's kind of hard to judge this episode, since so much of it was set-up. But I was engaged throughout, and I was left wanting to see more. The characters were mostly all interesting, but it was really Noah Wyle's likability that pulled me through the episode. As far as pilots go, it was solid, but not necessarily great.

3 out of 4 Classic books left behind.

J.D. Balthazar is a confirmed nerd who loves most things sci-fi or fantasy-related.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great review! I love "Falling Skies" and I am so excited for season 2.

Billie Doux said...

I thought the first season had some weak episodes in the middle, but the ending was fascinating. I'm definitely on board and will be watching season two, and I'm so pleased you'll be reviewing it, J.D. Great review!

Jess Lynde said...

I'm glad you're reviewing this one, too, J.D. Especially since the reviews should serve as a mental "road so far" for me as we approach Season 2.

I thought the series started off somewhat intriguing, then got a good bit more intriguing before completely going off the rails in the middle. We almost stopped watching in my house, but managed to push through to the end (since it was only 10 episodes). I was intrigued enough by how they ended the first season, that I'm planning to watch Season 2 for a bit. But I'm somewhat wary, and can't guarantee I'll be sticking with it.

I think what really kept me going until the end, is the same thing that pulled you through the pilot: Noah Wyle's likability as Tom. He always felt like a fully realized and lived in character to me, and even when some of the other folks got a bit cardboard and one-note, I enjoyed Tom enough to want to see what happened to him. It's a good role for Noah Wyle.

I also appreciated that Hal was also quite likable, and didn't become Tyler from V. Of course, he had some moments, but on the whole, I never found myself deeply annoyed or irritated by Hal. To be honest, he was probably my third or fourth favorite character, after Tom and two characters we haven't met yet at this point.

(Hopefully none of that is too spoilery.)

zob said...
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