TNT’s “Falling Skies” has proved to be one of the surprising television pleasures of the summer. After an average first season, the first four episodes of season two have demonstrated significant improvement, making the show an engaging science fiction program. Though I have recently discussed the fading influence of 9/11 on television and film, “Falling Skies” is yet another in a line of quality sci-fi/fantasy shows and movies that have used alien attacks as an allegory for terrorism and its aftermath since 2001.
Like “Battlestar Galactica”(2003-2009), “Falling Skies” portrays humanity struggling to survive following an alien invasion. In this case, the show begins six months after the initial attack and focuses on a resistance group called the “Second Massachusetts,“ employing the same name as a Continental Army unit that fought in the American Revolution. Among its leaders is Professor Tom Mason (“ER’s” Noah Wyle), who taught military history prior to the attacks and now puts his academic expertise to real world use. The show is replete with references to the American Revolution as an analogy for humanity’s resistance to the aliens and the first season even takes place in the Boston area, not far from Lexington and Concord, where America’s War for Independence began in 1775.
Though the aliens’ ultimate goals are unclear at this point, they routinely capture children and attach a parasite that makes them subservient. From what we know, the “harness,” as the resistance calls it, will eventually transform the children into aliens. In the pilot, we discover that the aliens have “harnessed” one of Mason’s sons, Ben, and Mason is determined to get him back. The Second Massachusetts rescues Ben during the first season, but once the apparatus is safely removed it is not clear if he is rid of its influence or has been permanently altered by the process. Other members of the unit remain suspicious of him and just as humans in “Galactica” couldn’t always tell if someone was an enemy Cylon, the humans in “Falling Skies” fear that the enemy may be among them. These fears are exacerbated when Mason himself returns to the Second Massachusetts after surviving a stint aboard one of the alien spacecraft. Both “Galactica” and “Skies” reveal the post-9/11 fear that sleeper cells or other terrorists might lurk in our midst.
While the resistance fights off the aliens, they also have to protect a group of refugees. As a civilian, Mason often clashes over tactics with his career military superior, Captain Weaver (Will Patton), much like President Laura Roslin (Mary McDonnell) and Admiral Adama (Edward James Olmos) fought in the early seasons of “Galactica. “ Like Roslin and Adama, though, Mason and Weaver appear to have patched up their differences and become friendly.
Greater hope emerges in the third episode of this season when a pilot finds the rebels and tells them about the formation of a new government in Charleston, SC, called the “Continental Congress” (another reference to the American Revolution). Weaver and Mason decide to lead their unit to South Carolina in hopes of joining a broader-based resistance. Like the Galactica’s search for the mythical Earth, the Second Massachusetts hopes to find safe harbor and a new beginning.
I might have stopped watching “Falling Skies” after season one if not for my DVR. After all, alien invasion and resistance has been depicted many times before on the small and big screen, from the original “V” to “Independence Day.” With Steven Spielberg serving as executive producer, “Skies” also bears more than a passing resemblance to his remake of “War of the Worlds” (2005). Though it feels too familiar at times, “Falling Skies” is proving to be a worthwhile addition to the genre.