Chicken Little Was Right: A Review of Falling Skies
- Monday, July 18, 2011
It took the real horror of 9/11 to create a new landscape of fear. Thus, some of the better science fiction onscreen has been television series that imagine disaster's effect on our humanity. Thus both Lost and Battlestar Galactica became the signal narratives of the 21st century.
In the former, survivors of an airliner crash must make sense of a strange island that challenges what they believe about everything. They fought each themselves, and the strange Others who could be metaphors for our fears of terrorism or deeper existential threats.
Galactica depicted the survivors of a human culture destroyed by the robots it had created, but who rejected humanity's polytheism for a harsh monotheism, opening the discussion of how do we defend ourselves from an annihilating threat without losing our humanity. Probably neither series would have existed without the watershed event of 9/11.
In Falling Skies, the near hopeless scenario of human refugees seeking to fight back at their intergalactic aggressors about whom they know practically nothing is balanced by plenty of Spielbergian moments of familial warmth and positive affirmation that in the end, the right must prevail.
But despite the high production and family values, Falling Skies feels simply too unoriginal and safe for so drastic a scenario, as if the producers are afraid of how harrowing life under these conditions would really be. Ron Moore's re-invention of Battlestar Galactica showed audiences just how human nature would be far more complicated as it faced the existential threat of near-destruction; the pressure of survival brought out the worst and best of human behavior.
Falling Skies' characters so far haven't brought us perfidy on the level of Galactica's Gaius Baltar, the human who betrayed the entire human race, and even the show's "good guys" were capable of torture and rigging democratic elections, all in the name of protecting humanity.
Battlestar Galactica was a far more groundbreaking series than Falling Skies, and I watched every episode of the former, but, so true was its commitment to examining the potential for both good and evil in every heart that I always felt a bit of dread at the start of an episode.
Perhaps afraid of pursuing the logical result of their own dire premise, Falling Skies invokes no such unease and that is likely to make it more palatable to a wider audience. But it also makes the first episodes feel a little too safe. The 2nd Mass has set up camp at a public school building and is apparently unknown to the alien conquerors a few miles away.
With their vastly superior technology that made the invasion so brutally fast, surely the aliens can detect all those bodies' heat signatures or movement from space or through some other advanced means.
Rather than the terror of being both in constant retreat while waging guerilla warfare, the humans seem strangely overlooked. Maybe this disparity will be explained soon, if viewers can stick with it. But now it comes across as being too assuring and not nearly tense enough.
I will credit the series with a type of character that is too rarely seen in entertainment programming. Lourdes (Seychelle Gabriel) is a medical assistant who retains her Christian faith despite the dark conditions. In the episode "Grace," she leads the cast in giving thanks to God for everything they've received from Him and for their connections to each other, "in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit."
This was a rare, affecting moment in contemporary television extolling faith in a loving personal God as one of the great values the ragtag human army is hoping to preserve. Otherwise, besides Wyle's Tom Mason, most of the characters are only superficially defined, a shortcoming with a cast so large as this one.
Falling Skies goes where other movies and series (such as both versions of V, many Dr. Who episodes) have gone before and hasn't yet found its resonating chord that would give it the fresh meaning it needs in a very familiar genre. But as a mainstream science fiction family adventure series, it will probably find its audience.
*This article first published 7/18/2011
** Falling Skies airs Sundays on TNT
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