A few weeks ago, Mathmajick had a series of dreams that involve a synchronicity with a story about a young hero. Her dream and the post involved the name Noah and a TV series on TNT called Falling Skies, which stars Noah Wyle playing the character of Tom Mason, the father of three sons and a former history professor before the aliens invaded the planet and killed a whole bunch of people. Spielberg is the executive producer of the series.
Rob and I were surprised we hadn’t heard about the series. Then again, there are so many TV series and movies related to UFOs/aliens, it’s hard to keep up. At any rate, when our daughter was visiting, we rented the premiere from Amazon for $1.99 and streamed it through one of the laptops. Then we went to Netflix. We’ve now watched five episodes, and the fifth one is the most powerful to date.
This story is strong on family ties, that’s the human side. These aliens, after all, abduct children and put harnesses on their spines, bio-gizmos that resemble large crustaceans. These harnesses somehow control the children, turn them into zombie-like beings who are at the complete mercy of the aliens. A special surgery is required to remove these harnesses from children and it isn’t always successful. Once the harnesses are surgically removed from the children’s spines, the kids are creepy. You don’t know if they’ve been freed or if they are still under alien control or if they’re suffering from PTSD.
Sometimes, the human side of this story collapses into soap opera country; you can tell the writers are trying too hard to make these characters people with whom we can identify. We get it with dad and his three sons, okay?
In terms of the aliens themselves, this series is the polar opposite of ET. These aliens are…grotesque. First, there are huge robotic creatures that make a lot of noise as they patrol the area. They are armed with lasers. Then there are the Skitters, the aliens themselves, reptilian creatures with six legs that resemble walking octopi. They communicate through radio waves and who, according to the Falling Skies website, super-intelligent, tactical. So far, I haven’t seen any evidence of that intelligence.
What are their special powers? Rob asked as we talked about the fourth episode. Are they telepathic? Telekinetic? Well, no. But the harnesses they put on children apparently cure whatever ails them, so this in itself suggests intelligence, right? But he has a point. The one alien who is captured is placed in a wire cage that doesn’t look strong enough to hold rats.
One of the most intriguing characters is a female pediatrician, Anne Glass, played by Moon Bloodgood. With a real name like that, you know she’s unusual. Like the character Noah Wyle plays, she lost a son during the invasion. But her back story promises to be a game changer.
Some of the intricacies of the plot and characters weren’t apparent to me until I clicked around TNT’s blog on the series. Certain things aren’t adequately explained – like why the humans are using a school as their headquarters while the Skitters (aliens) are in a hospital just across town? If I were among these survivors, I would urge my community to get as far from these aliens as possible. Of course, then there wouldn’t be a story, right?
Skitters apparently sleep like bats – hanging upside down – have soft palates which, when damaged, instantly affects their brain stems and renders them unconsciousness. By the time you learn this, you really don’t care about the flaws in the story. Thanks to the strong acting, the post-apocalyptic theme, the aliens, as ugly and horrid as they are, there’s enough here to keep my interest through the first season.
We’ve seen and read these stories before – V, Flashforward, I, Robot, Soylent Green, 1984, The Giver, Logan’s Run, Blade Runner, Day After Tomorrow, Childhood’s End, The Handmaid’s Tale – but now they are their own genre – dystopian. In fact, that’s the genre assigned to J.J. Abrahms new TV series, Revolution. This dystopian tag may be due, in part, to the success of Cormac McCarthy’s brilliant and depressing Pulitzer prize novel, The Road, and to Suzanne Collins’ enormously successful trilogy The Hunger Games.Both became movies and seemed to set trends in storytelling.
I recently finished a young adult novel called Delirious, set in a world where love is forbidden and where everyone undergoes a surgery at the age of 18 – a rite of passage – that nullifies emotions. What fun, huh?
And yet, these types of stories can be enormously powerful. The storyline always goes like this: a mass event changes our reality, and people are forced to adapt in order to survive. Human flaws and strengths are revealed. Heroes, rebels, rogues, prophets, pagans, and bad guys emerge. We become vested in the characters, identify with them, and imagine, What if.
What if thousands of alien spaceships appear in our skies tomorrow? What if the Arctic melts completely and the oceans rise a hundred feet next week? What if democracy in the Western world collapses, what if the nuclear meltdown of Fukushima happens worldwide? What if the poles abruptly shift? How will we react? Perhaps the real value in these dystopian visions lies in the horror they trigger in each of us and through that inner terror, we reject such a future and become more committed to creating a peaceful, integrated world, an Indra’s net.
I suspect that if the writers on Falling Skies are left alone, if the committee decisions cease, this series could become a classic that would prompt us to make better, more humane choices in these precarious times.