“Falling Skies” is not pretending to be the next “Battlestar Galactica”. This is not show attempting to break any boundaries for what is acceptable on television, or do something remarkably radical that will attempt to redefine what we consider quality television. What it does instead is aim for steady, unspectacular quality, making up for the lack of spectacular drama with subtle hints at greater intrigue and some fascinating character drama.
One of the first things about this episode that I noticed was that the writing quality was not great. It was hammy and more than a little cheesy, and the actors couldn’t quite overcome it in the end. But this episode nevertheless provided some new clues and intriguing elements to the alien presence and the nature of their technology. From all appearances, there are two groups of aliens: the technological mechs and the biological/psychic skinners. The episode delved into more detail as to the harnesses that the children wear, which apparently involve some sort of drug induced state or servitude, combined with some sort of psychic connection. But more on that later; this plot point opened up some new channels for character growth I want to address first.
The presence of the harnessed children introduced us to one of the head medical people of the resistance in Dr. Michael Harris. He is linked to Tom through his wife, whom he left to die in a fit of cowardice during an attack. Harris is an interesting character because although he does try and hide his cowardice, he does it only because he knows what Tom will do. He is under no illusion about who he is. Rather than pontificate about how his survival of the attack somehow makes him a superior human being, he recognizes his cowardice and his belief that humanity will eventually lose to the invaders. Yet somehow, he still manages to fight with the resistance. It is an interesting and uncommon take on the character archetype, and it will be interesting to see if the writers take it anywhere.
Another thread which was more common in the premiere was the importance of children. I appreciated Tom’s desire to rescue all the children as opposed to just his son, given the potential for favoritism. He protested when they wanted to get all the children. The breakdown in discipline when Mike saw his son shows just how desperate some of these people are. They have so little to hope for, and the chance to rescue his son was far too great to overcome. I wasn’t too upset that he did something stupid, because let’s be honest, most of us probably would have done the same thing.
The ending scene of the show opened up a great deal of possibilities. For the first time the survivors have a chance to talk to their invaders and gain some sort of intelligence. Already they know more about their technology, thanks to biological nature of the skitters’ technology. And of course, the fact that they know that the humans are trying to rescue the children, and aren’t afraid to massacre them to send a message. The capture of Karen and the continued enslavement of Ben are likely to provide the small level focus for the 2nd Mass as they are drawn deeper into the conflict, keeping the broad narrative about the alien presence on the planet balanced with the more relatable personal narrative. This level of intrigue, combined with the interesting and unique character dynamics from Harris and Pope point to a good foundation. Now if only they could fix the dialogue!