Although I was fairly hard on Falling Skies in my initial look at the series, I have been enjoying watching it this summer. The story arc about Ben and his post-harness changes has been an interesting one, and the evolution of Pope from a bad guy to a bad guy with (maybe) a heart of gold has been intriguing as well. The two-episode arc where the children are taken to a safe place that ends up being, well, not at all safe ("Sanctuary," parts 1 and 2) was particularly provocative, as it introduced another shade of gray into the "humans good, aliens bad" dichotomy. I have also been pleasantly surprised that a number of episodes have passed the Bechdel test--my favorite one being "Sanctuary (part 1)" in which Maggie teaches Anne how to shoot a gun. And perhaps most importantly, the characters have made strategy choices in their fight against the aliens that make me think that they are perhaps not completely without common sense after all.
So, coming into the two-hour season finale, I had a number of expectations [spoilers after the jump]:
Mostly, I expected that the 2nd Massachusetts would be successful in taking down the alien ship over Boston, but that one of the major characters in the show would die. Taking down this one ship would then lay the foundation for a larger campaign against the aliens during the next season. And I was thinking that so much has been made of Tom's relationship with his three sons that one of them would have to die--my money was on Hal, since he functions as both a son and a confidant for Tom, thus making his death doubly awful for Tom.
Well, I was wrong. The alien ship still stands, although Tom did manage to cause quite a significant explosion in the ship, and nobody died, much to my disappointment. Pope and one of the other fighters were both severely injured, but it seemed that they would make it back to the rest of the group without further incident. Rather than losing one of his sons during the finale, Tom himself voluntarily enters the alien ship after being told that they know of a way to stop Ben's gradual change into a skitter.
Instead of death and destruction, then, the theme of the two-part finale was resistance and communication. Instead of destroying the aliens, the human resistance opens up the channels of communication between the two species--channels that the aliens didn't even seem to think about before the humans fought back. I also think it's significant that the method of the resistance is itself connected to communication--the humans finally got the aliens to withdraw, and then communicate, when they jammed the radio frequency the aliens used to communicate with each other. It was this non-violent form of resistance, rather than their special alien-metal bullets, that finally gets the aliens' attention.
And this is why I'm so excited by what I saw in this season finale. It would have been predictable, easy, and sure, fun, to end the season on an unequivocal victory, where the humans take out the big ship, and set themselves up to move on to the next stage of fighting the aliens. But this ending is much more morally ambiguous. There is a sense that the aliens don't realize that they're behaving badly, making it more difficult to hate them. What's more, this ending sets up next season to be quite different from this one--rather than have another 8 weeks of hiding, running, and fighting, we now have the potential to explore complicated relationships with the aliens.
That seems to me to be something really new. We're used to movies or shows where the aliens come and people leave with them, never to be heard from again (ahem, Close Encounters of the Third Kind), or where aliens come, fight us, and then get killed and/or chased away (I'm looking at you, Independence Day). But a show where the aliens come, people meet them and talk with them, and they come to some sort of compromise position--well, there might be fewer explosions, but it seems like there's a lot of potential there for thinking about alien encounters in new ways.
So while I would have been watching next summer, regardless of what happened during this season's finale, I am much more excited and interested now in what will develop. And maybe, just maybe, next summer I'll mutter just a little less under my breath.