Thursday, June 14, 2012

Falling Skies returns for some more alien melodrama

Last summer’s surprise hit, TNT’s ‘Falling Skies,’ returns Sunday to kick off its second season.

What’s interesting about ‘Falling Skies’ is that the show started months after the initial alien landing – something that show runners in the genre usually wouldn’t even think of doing.

I mean, both versions of ‘V’ took great dramatic license with the actual landing of alien space crafts and the reaction of humanity. Only the original is better than ‘Falling Skies,’ though. By the time the reboot came around it was a tired concept.

Perhaps Executive Producer Steven Spielberg realized that had been done to death and opted to try something fresh. Any way you look at it, though, by starting the series after the survivors have already adapted to their new environment allowed for a lot of new dramatic options.

When we meet the cast of ‘Falling Skies,’ most of the Earth’s population has been decimated. What remains is a ragtag group of survivors that are broken up into two groups: civilians and military.

The central figure in ‘Falling Skies,’ is Noah Wylie’s Tom Mason. Tom lost his wife in the initial attack and was separated from his middle son, Ben. His 16-year-old son Hal is now a soldier in the resistance army and his youngest son Matt is struggling to find his place in a world he doesn’t recognize.

The Masons are with the Second Mass (or Second Massachusetts). Essentially, the military has been ordering groups of civilians and soldiers to be broken down into smaller and smaller groups so that the aliens won’t be able to find them as easily.

The Second Mass is led by Captain Weaver, a snarling Will Paxton at his best. Captain Weaver is struggling with his own military background, keeping civilians safe and not wallowing in memories of his own lost family.

While ‘Falling Skies’ is an ensemble cast, Tom Mason and his family are clearly the most important pieces.

The first half of season one was filled with Tom’s efforts to rescue his middle son from the aliens – or skitters. Ben had been “harnessed” – which made him easier to control and the skitters were using the indigenous children as slave labor.

After Ben and several other children are saved and de-harnessed, that’s when the real drama begins. For his part, Ben seems to be adjusting to his new environment better than his counterpart, Rick, who desperately wants to return to the skitters.

Ben is now more athletically inclined, though, and the scars on his back from the harness don’t appear to be healing properly. Oh, and many of the other survivors are suspicious of Ben and Rick’s motivations.

While I’m attached to the Masons, my favorite character is actually played by Sarah Carter. Margaret is a girl that overcame leukemia before the invasion and was essentially kept and brutalized by a group of men after the invasion. She waited patiently, putting up with their sexual and mental abuse, until she took an opening to escape.

Despite everything that has happened to her, Margaret has not let her circumstances harden her heart. She acts as a sounding board for many of the characters -- but she’s also the strongest female on the canvas.

The other character of note is John Pope. Pope is a gruff badass that was part of the group that brutalized Margaret. That’s not all he is, though. In the vein of Ham Tyler (V), Pope actually has a decent heart and he has some great skills – but he also is a realist. I don’t think Pope believes he’ll survive this catastrophe – but he’s willing to do what he can to stop the skitters while he’s still alive.

At the end of the first season, camp doctor Anne Glass (a bland Moon Bloodgood) discovers that the skitters aren’t what we thought after all. In fact, the skitters appear to be harnessed beings – meaning that they were other life forms at one time.

What this means for Ben and Rick is still up in the air.

The other important turn of events is that Tom is taken to the alien ship in the final minutes of the season – where there are certain beings waiting to have a discussion with him. They are different "aliens" than the skitters -- which means this is a totally different war.

What that discussion is, though, is anybody’s guess. Tom's return to the group will play heavily into season two storylines.

For me, ‘Falling Skies’ is what the ‘V’ reboot should have been about a few years ago. It isn’t about fancy special effects – although there are plenty of those – and it isn’t about scientific melodrama that goes above the audences’ head.

No, ‘Falling Skies’ is about simple people in extraordinary circumstances. It’s about how people that lose everything can still find a reason to live. And, most importantly, it’s about a father struggling to raise his sons the best way he can in a world he no longer recognizes.

‘Falling Skies’ returns at 9 p.m. Sunday.

What do you think? Will you tune in for the second season of ‘Falling Skies’?


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