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TV Review: Falling Skies – “Two-Hour Series Premiere”

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TNT’s newest drama is Falling Skies. Produced by Steven Spielberg, it is the story about a group of humans trying to survive six months after the Earth has been taken over by aliens, All the major cities and military bases have been destroyed, most of the population is dead. Survivors band together, but are forced to split up, as large gatherings attract unwanted attention from the new rulers of the planet. The fight seems hopeless, as the 2nd Massachusetts, which comprises almost all of the main characters of the show, packs up to leave Boston.

By the time the first episode is over, a lot has gone down. Weaver (Will Patton, 24, The Agency), the leader of the 2nd, sets up camp at an abandoned high school. How long this will work for them is uncertain, but at least the military and civilians are operating on more equal footing. See, Weaver is a military guy, and he’s not all that sympathetic to the non-soldiers of the group, often seeing them as a liability, even though he swears to protect them. When camping in a neighborhood, he lets the soliders sleep in the houses, but makes the civilians stay outside in tents. It’s a duality that makes his character a bit unpredictable. What is clear, though, is Weaver will do his best to make sure mankind survives.

But setting up a camp of nearly three hundred may not be the wisest idea. After all, there are between three and four thousand humans gathered in one settlement when Falling Skies begins. The leader of them all, Porter (Dale Dye, Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers), splits them up into smaller units because he fears the alien invaders will soon be able find their large camp. Three hundred is still a lot, and as the malicious creatures run out of humans to find in the cities, it shouldn’t take long to locate that many people moving together along a road.

What is unknown is the aliens’ motivation for the take over. They destroy major cities and set traps to lure and kill humans in grocery stores, and yet, they are not hunting down or keeping a look out for packs moving along roadways. They also enslave teenagers, including Ben (Connor Jessup, The Saddle Club), the son of Weaver’s second in command, Tom Mason (Noah Wyle, ER, The Librarian movies), with some kind of mechanical harness. So extermination is not their primary goal, but they show no remorse about killing any people they come in contact with.

It makes sense for the aliens in Falling Skies to keep an eye on armories and stores, as small groups of humans don’t post as much of a threat, and can get their food from houses. The types of bands that will be raiding larger storage spaces are those that might want to fight back. As such, some of what the aliens do makes sense. But the slavery does not, at least, not yet.

Also strange is the fact that the aliens have six legs, but the mechanical robots they build are bipedal, like humans. Some students at the makeshift school in the 2nd ponder this, as humans build robots in their own image. Are these six legged creatures not in charge? Are there two legged aliens as well? It’s a little confusing, and leaves plenty to think about.

Tom Mason is really the main character of Falling Skies. He is a widower and former history professor with three sons, one of which, as mentioned above, has been taken by the aliens. Tom looks out much more for the civilians than Weaver does, but he also has studied military strategy, and so realizes that tough decisions sometimes have to be made. This is likely the reason why he allows his eldest son, Hal (Drew Roy, Hannah Montana, Greek), to come along on dangerous missions. The military needs every soldier it can get, and Hal is plenty old enough to hold a gun.

In fact, Hal isn’t even the youngest fighter working under Tom. Jimmy (Dylan Authors, Connor Undercover) is a mere thirteen years old. Tom doesn’t seem all that comfortable allowing Jimmy in the field, but accepts Weaver’s decision, knowing that every single member of their group is better off learning to defend themselves, and practical application is the only real way to learn.

Also working for the 2nd are Dai (Peter Shinkoda, I, Robot) and Anthony (Mpho Koahu). Not much is known about these two yet, except that neither seem to have family in the group, which certainly makes them better fighters. Tom does what needs to be done, but should Hal be threatened, Tom will be distracted for his son’s well being. Mike (Martin Roach, Aaron Stone) is like Tom, in that he has a son enslaved. This likely means things will not work out happily for him, as if only one of them get their kid back, Tom is a main character, so he has the better shot.

Does this ragtag army have any chance against the technologically superior conquerors? Tom seems to think so, and as someone who has studied combat history, he may be onto something. But spreading out into smaller groups is more for survival than to fight back, and with the army on the retreat, they aren’t even attempting to defeat the occupiers. Which is fine, for now. After all, it’s hard to win a war when you’re worried about finding something to eat, and taking care of a bunch of civilians. Settlement first, then regroup and attack.

Of course, there have to be some love stories going on to make a series more interesting and give an element for people to care about in the long-term. Tom’s potential mate is named Anne Glass (Moon Bloodgood, Terminator Salvation, Day Break), a pediatrician who lost pretty much her entire family, and is now serving as doctor to the entire group. She has a bit of help from med student Lourdes (Seychelle Gabriel, Weeds), but that is it, and there are three hundred people to care for. It’s hard to see when Tom and Anne will even have the time to hook up, though they have great chemistry, and both of their spouses are dead, so they are available.

Lourdes is a bit more aggressive than Anne, already letting the boy she likes know her intentions in a number of not-so-subtle ways. The boy is Hal, who doesn’t notice, no matter how strong the signals being sent. He is entirely into his girlfriend, Karen (Jessy Schram, Life, Unstoppable). Karen and Hal have more in common, both being army scouts, rather than civilians, but the line is fuzzy here, and under the right circumstances, this triangle could erupt in a nasty way. It doesn’t really bode well for Karen that she is recurring and Lourdes is a main character, even though Karen seems like a better fit.

Do shows like Falling Skies need love interests to shake things up? After all, the focus is survival and aliens, right? Well, yes, but people are looking for physical comfort all the time, and none more so than when their lives are on the line. The danger keeps adrenaline up, and everyone needs someone at the end of the day. The little love bits make things real, and allow viewers to invest in the characters more, so it’s tolerable, even enjoyable sometimes.

Among the other civilians are Anne’s two surviving relatives: her aunt Kate (Lynne Deragon) and uncle Scott (Bruce Gray, Medium, Traders), the latter of whom starts a school to educate the children, including Tom’s youngest, Matt (Maxim Knight). This is the real human element, as Tom, Hal, and the others are very focused on combat. Scott and Matt are striving for something in their lives besides death and destruction. While that may be hard to understand for many, the very young and the very old have different viewpoints on life, and it’s refreshing that those are represented in Falling Skies.

The aliens are not the only threat the survivors face. Not everyone thinks it’s a good idea to band together and help each other. In fact, some selfish jerks are just enjoying the chaos, finding fun where they can, and realizing it is easier to stay hidden and alive without caring for others. Falling Skies introduces a gang of rebels in the first two hours to represent these types of people, and provide a counter balance for the noble, do-gooder heroes.

The gang is led by the notorious John Pope (Collin Cunningham, Da Vinci’s Inquest, Stargate SG-1) Pope observes the 2nd, and would like to get his hands on some of the 2nd’s bigger weapons, and will stop at nothing to do so. He lures Tom and a small team into a weapons depot, then kills one of their men and captures the rest. He tries to trade Weaver the hostages for some supplies, including a big, car-mounted gun. Weaver refuses.

Should Weaver negotiate with terrorists? Probably not. As stated above, Weaver does understand his responsibility to the civilians, and won’t mess with the safety of hundreds of people for the sake of a few. It’s a smart tactical decision, and one Pope, with all of his self-interest, cannot understand. This leads to a showdown where Pope arrogantly attracts aliens to their position, figuring he can leverage the threat to get what he wants. The plan backfires, and Pope ends up in Weaver’s custody.

Weaver has Tom place Pope in a cell, rather than kill him, or send him away, where he might cause more trouble. In fact, Pope is listed as one of the main characters of the series. Does that mean he will soon be tamed into fitting in? If so, that will be disappointing. But Falling Skies doesn’t appear to make anything easy on anyone, so hopefully that will not be the case.

The last main character not yet mentioned, is Margaret (Sarah Sanguin Carter). She is part of Pope’s gang, but doesn’t seem all that happy about it. Margaret kills two of her comrades to help Tom escape. She implies she has been raped by her dead fellows, and that is plenty of motivation to turn her as soon as she has an option. What is unclear is how she will fit in with the larger group, since there has been almost no interaction between her and them. This is a wait and see thing.

With a sweeping cast, intriguing plots, and great special effects, this is a show not to miss. Be sure to tune in to TNT every Sunday at 10 p.m. ET, the normal time slot for Falling Skies.

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About JeromeWetzelTV

Jerome writes TV reviews for BlogCritics.org and Seat42F.com, as well as fiction. He is a frequent guest on two podcasts, Let's Talk TV with Barbara Barnett and The Good, the Bad, & the Geeky. All of his work can be found on his website, jeromewetzel.com