Episode 'Falling Skies' Season 1, Episodes 1 and 2 - 'Live and Learn' and 'The Armory' Recap
Last night, the Spielberg-produced sci-fi epic "Falling Skies" premiered on TNT, hoping to fare better than the last alien invasion series. I watched the pilot episode of "V" and stopped there. But after watching the pilot of "Falling Skies," I think I'll stick around.
The alien invasion show has been done before, but "Falling Skies" takes an interesting approach at the beginning. Rather than watch a happy, unsuspecting Earth watch the ships roll in, we're thrown right into the human resistance after most of the human race has already been wiped out. Frankly, I'm happy for that fact...our time is better spent getting to know these characters in their new setting, as militiamen.
The voice-over from the little kid in the beginning (everyone knows that children have a knack for exposition) explains the situation so far: the aliens showed up, but we were hesitant to nuke them, thinking that maybe they had come in peace. Boy, were we wrong.
The aliens blew up every capitol city, and continue to target smaller and smaller groups of survivors. Not only that, but the aliens choose to attach spinal "harnesses" to the younger kids, controlling them for a yet-to-be-revealed purpose. I bet it's a nefarious one, though.
Unlike with "V," we get to see our enemies in their true form right away: they're ugly things, greenish-gray with claws and six legs. Those are the "Skitters," as our heroes call them, but the aliens also have the Mechs, which are bipedal robots with laser targeted guns, rockets, and a penchant for pulverizing humans. The Skitters also have small fighter ships equipped with heavy bombs, and giant tripod-looking base structures.
That brings us to our heroes: the young Matt Mason was the one providing the exposition (thanks Matt! Nice drawings!), his older brother Hal is around, and our main protagonist is Tom Mason, played by Noah Wyle. As is often the case with Noah's characters, Tom is a slightly bookish man who rises to the occasion to become a hero. We're told that Tom was a U.S. History professor before the attack, which gives him a few occasions to lecture on how smaller forces have driven out invading armies in the past, and other lessons to provide hope for their little resistance.
"Falling Skies" wants to make sure you get it, though. Just two hour-long episodes in, the "Falling Skies" drinking game is clear: every time Tom makes a historical reference, drink. Every time someone makes fun of Tom for being a history nerd, drink. Seriously, this show wants to make absolutely sure we know that Tom knows his history. Even more obvious is the fact that Tom is from Boston. And his last name is Mason, as in Freemason. Do you get it?
But Wyle puts in a great performance, and he's likeable throughout these first two hours of the show. The first hour has Tom and his motley crew raiding a food warehouse for supplies and taking down some Skitters in the process. They're tough to kill, but it seems that these guys never run into more than one of them at a time. Poor distribution of troops, Skitters!
During this time, Hal sees his younger brother, Ben (looks like Tom has three sons), who has a harness on and is marching soulessly on. While the next hour and a half involve Hal and Tom wanting to go get Ben, it keeps getting pushed back ("...and then we'll get Ben" seems to be said a lot). Looks like that might be the main objective throughout the first season, eh?
The second hour takes a turn that brings "The Walking Dead" to mind, as Tom and his squad try to infiltrate an armory for weapons and ammo, but run into a gang of human outlaws who take them hostage. They're a despicable lot, as evidenced by their overt racism. Okay, so it's a little obvious, but their leader John seems to be a much deeper character than that. And judging from IMDB, it looks like he'll stick around for a while, so that's cool.
So things won't always just be us versus them, it'll be us versus us too. I was beginning to wonder, with all of these civilians in tow, happily eating their oatmeal and playing soccer and not rioting, why the remaining humans were all so well-behaved. It's good to see that there's a bit more reality than that.
It ends with John's gang getting the crap bombed out of them by an alien ship in attempting to take the biggest gun from the militiamen. Lucky for the hostages, one of the outlaws, a bad-ass girl by the name of Maggie, wasn't too fond of her buddies (for some pretty dark reasons).
There's a lot going on here in these first two episodes. We have to meet and get to like our heroes (not hard with the charming Wyle), introduce the over-arching goal of the season (get Ben, later), meet the enemies, meet the other enemies, and even introduce a possible love triangle surrounding Hal.
It's definitely going to be an intricate first season, but not in the way that many recent (and failed) shows were. Some shows were trying too hard to be "Lost" and holding out on viewers, providing forced plot twists and question upon question. "Falling Skies" is TV the way it should be: a story, straight and simple, acted out by characters with clear motives. With that strong foundation to lean on in lieu of a mystery that will never get solved (I'm looking at you, "The Event") or a conflict that is too slow to escalate (yes you, "V"), "Falling Skies" should go far.