Friday, June 22, 2012

The Sky is Falling, The Sky is Falling! (Yet Again...)

Last summer, one of the TV shows I really enjoyed was Falling Skies, the show on TNT starring Noah Wyle that tells the story of a group of humans from Massachusetts who are fighting against an alien invasion.  While I was initially frustrated with the show, I saw a lot of promise in the season finale and was eagerly looking forward to this summer's season.  Here is what I said last August, in the post that included my hopes for the next season: 
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.
The second season of Falling Skies premiered this past Sunday, and so now the question arises: did it fulfill the promise I saw at the end of last season?
In a word, no.  In three words, not at all.

The season premiere was 2 hours long; in the first hour, we see Tom Mason (played by Noah Wyle) reunited with his sons, only to be shot by friendly fire, and as he recovers, he flashes back to his time on the alien ship.  All of my hope for a relationship between humans and aliens that is more complicated than a simple good/evil binary was shattered in these flashbacks.  The aliens, rather than being unaware of the consequences of their actions, just don't seem to care that they are destroying humanity's way of life.  They are the invaders, and they will kill anyone who gets in their way.  Any potential for subtlety in their characterization was shot to hell.

And as a result, the structure of the show--hiding, running, and fighting--seems like it's going to stay mostly the same.  The big challenge during the second hour of the premiere was getting the regiment across a river so that they could avoid being boxed in and hide from the mech patrols.  Running?  Check.  Hiding?  Check.  Something needs to change, otherwise this is going to get really old, really fast.

The big drama of seasons seems like it's going to come from Ben.  Already in these first two hours, we see that Ben is hiding things--he hears alien radio signals that he doesn't tell anyone about, for instance.  He seems to be slowly turning into a skitter, and so perhaps the larger question of what makes someone human, or the line between human and alien, will be a defining theme of the season.  In the immediate future, the tension will come from the question of who is giving away the movements of the regiment to the aliens.  Is it Ben, who was once harnessed?  Is it Tom, who might be a sleeper agent?  Or is it someone else?  Dun dun dahhhh!  Tune in next time to find out.

Of course, there is the required hammering home that Tom is a history professor--even during Tom's alien encounter, the alien leader notes that they were intrigued to learn that Tom was a history professor, and then proceeds to cite examples of labor camps/reservations/etc. that are the models for the aliens' proposed plans for the humans.  Did you happen to forget, during the past 9 months, that Tom teaches history?  Because if you did, never fear--you'll certainly remember after this premiere.

So although I enjoyed the first episodes of this season of Falling Skies, what I'm feeling now about the show is mostly disappointment--disappointment that the show didn't live up to the promise of last season's finale.  While I really like what Kat said this week about reviewing the book that exists, not the book that you want it to be, I do think that it's fair for me to judge this show for not becoming what it seemed like it could have been because it laid out that development at the end of last season.  It seems like this show could have done so much more to treat the human/alien encounter in unexpected ways--it was even moving in that direction!--and then it fell back on safe ground.  Maybe that's a good way to plan it safe, but it's not a good way to be remembered.

Finally, and this is sort of tangential, I was quite frustrated with how we were just expected to jump back into the show after 9+ months of not seeing it at all.  A one-minute montage at the beginning, a "this is what happened last season," would have gone a long ways in catching me up to speed and reminding me who was up to what.

By Jen Miller