I’m not into The Walking Dead because zombies have never been my thing. I ignored Revolution because I can’t stand the assclown they chose for the lead. I’m vaguely aware various other apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic shows have come and gone in recent years. And yeah, maybe if I’d given them a chance they would’ve won me over with their fresh takes on an old concept, their clever scripts and their sharp dialogue. But I doubt it.
I doubt it because I just don’t care. No matter how good one of these band-of-survivors-struggling-to-survive programs might be, the honest truth is that watching a serialized depiction of humanity on the verge of extinction just isn’t the way I want to spend my woefully-limited spare time. And if I ever was going to hitch my wagon to such a horse, I’d need a lot more than romantic subplots and infighting. Just to get me to take a second look I’d need, say…aliens and phaser guns.
Enter Falling Skies.
Somehow this TNT series, which has been running since June of 2011, had flown completely under my radar. I only caught wind of it recently, when a friend mentioned it in passing. I looked it up, found it was streaming, and decided to give it a shot. Part of that decision—in the spirit of full disclosure—was based on the fact that Noah Wyle is the show’s star. I’ve had a soft spot for the guy ever since he popped up in Donnie Darko.
One last note before I get to the point of this thing. Science fiction, done well, has the ability to expand minds unlike that of any other genre. Almost by definition, sci-fi takes what we see before us today and speculates about where we might find ourselves tomorrow. It doesn’t have to, of course. There’s no shame in aiming for entertainment value alone. Like a dutiful male, I love Star Wars. But when all is said and done it’s pretty much just intergalactic wizards battling it out with laser sticks.
And that’s fine. Better than fine, actually. But there’s a reason that in our current geopolitical climate so many comparisons are made to the literary classics 1984 and Brave New World. These books, through their devastatingly creative splendor, are warning shots. Orwell and Huxley were using the science fiction genre to give humanity a heads-up. And the potential for such use has only increased with the passing decades. In film alone, the number of sci-fi flicks that’ve cunningly riffed on existing ideas is simply too great to mention any one by name.
Gattaca. Sorry, had to.
Now then, Falling Skies. For anyone unfamiliar with the series, the premise is easy enough to grasp. The show picks up six months after an alien species has invaded Earth, all but wiping out the human race. The power grid has been shut down, the world’s governments have collapsed, and the resistance has been reduced to small pockets of fighters scattered about the planet. The focus of the story is on the Second Massachusetts, a militia loosely coordinated with other groups fighting along the East Coast of the United States.
Sounds like a hoot, right? Depends on your idea of entertainment. Whether or not it’s technically a good show is for someone else’s article. To get bogged down in the various aspects of film production would be irrelevant to what I’m trying to do here. On that front, it’s sufficient to say that I watched the first three seasons—at times I was into it, at times I rolled my eyes.
Thing is, I might’ve stopped watching after the season one finale, which I found to be somewhat underwhelming. But something was nagging at me, and I couldn’t place it. I had no choice but to carry on. It hit me like a jackboot to the ribs toward the end of season two. But to get the full view of the picture I’m trying to paint here, there’s something about the series you need to know.
It’s an absolute, unabashed, not even thinly-veiled glorification of the American Revolution (which was not a revolution, by the way). Not that they’re trying to hide it or anything. Episodes are peppered with references to Colonial America and our so-called Founding Fathers. The series is even set on the same lands where the colonists fought off the British. I mean…the hero of the show, Tom Mason, is a professor of American history, for Christ’s sake.
Anyway. So it’s getting toward the end of season two and our plucky freedom fighters have finally reached Charleston, where there’d been rumored to be the foundation for a new United States. A colony, you might say. And sure enough, the folks of the 2nd Mass find in Charleston many of the comforts of their old lives. Fresh food, running water, electricity—even actual beds. And as luck would have it, the guy that runs the place is an old professor of Tom’s. He holds the title of majority leader, and he wastes little time in summoning his former student to his office for a chat.
And it was here, in watching the conversation between these two men, that the pieces fell into place. I realized what had been bothering me all along. The problem, in this show about a people trying to rebuild after a paradigm-shattering event, is that the necessity of establishing government is a given.
The rules are out the window. The state exists only as a concept—or at best, a memory—and the military needed to support it has effectively been eliminated. The survivors are free to fashion a society of their choosing. And yet, the idea that government is requisite to any successful community is never questioned.
“It’s a new beginning, Tom,” the majority leader tells our hero. “From the ground up. And that includes forming a true government.”
It’s stated as if there were no other option. As if, upon the founding of this new city, there was no need for a discussion on the matter. There would be government, because that’s just how it works. And indeed, the older man gives no explanation as to why forming a “true government” is essential to the prosperity of Charleston.
“We’re going to need a political system designed for a post-invasion world, Tom,” he later says to a nodding Tom Mason.
Again, no argument. No debate. And it actually gets worse. Because not only is the establishment of government beyond consideration, but the type of government to be established is beyond it as well.
“We could be like Washington and Jefferson,” he tells Tom. “Founders of a new democracy.”
I counted, and the word “democracy” is repeated 4.7 million times throughout the rest of the season.
Where are the socialists? Where are the theocrats, the autocrats, the communists? Where are, dare I say, the anarchists? Are we to believe that the individuals, each of an individual mind, in this melting pot of a nation of ours would unite behind a single idea, simply because they’re facing a purported external threat?
Apparently, yes. And why not? It’s happened before, after all.
Ultimately, it was this epiphany that encouraged me to pull a chair up to the keyboard. Because at the time I was watching Falling Skies, every media outlet in the country was covering the anniversary of the attacks on September 11th.
When I thought back to the weeks after the planes found their mark, I had to shake my head. I was young and didn’t know anything about anything, but I remember the national mourning, the fear, the collective call for protection with little concern over how that safety was achieved. I had to shake my head because I was struck with the dispiriting realization that Falling Skies might have it right. Maybe what I was seeing on screen is exactly how it would play out if the aliens really did come a callin’.
Either way, one thing is clear. It sure as hell didn’t take long for the infant government of Charleston to begin mimicking its real-world counterparts.
Toward the middle of season three, a situation arises wherein air travel is required. It’s discovered that a citizen has been hiding the fact that he’d found a plane sometime before. The citizen in question is a wise-cracking thief and ex-con. Per usual with these types, he’s easily the most likeable character on the show. A group of government officials, including now-President Tom Mason, confronts the outlaw at a table in his own bar.
“Let me get this straight,” citizen John Pope begins. “The so-called government of Charleston, SC is commandeering my personal property, for unknown reasons for an unknown length of time, is that it?”
“Pretty much, yes,” replies a battle-hardened captain.
“Well that has the sickening ring of tyranny, don’t you think?” posits Pope.
“A good citizen would’ve gladly told his government representatives that he had an aircraft,” says the prez, “and then willingly made it available.”
If you say so, Tom. But I wouldn’t push that too far. Property rights are a big deal for some, and the aliens blew up all your BearCats.
All of this is just one guy’s observations about some random show he otherwise would’ve never watched. You can take those observations for what you will. No charge. And since they’re free anyway, I’ll make one more.
Falling Skies is a show moving backward.
It’s venerating a time long past through the same stale propaganda we were fed, strangely enough, in our government-sponsored schools. It turns our gaze to yesterday, and doesn’t even try to guess what tomorrow might hold. So while Falling Skies might technically be a decent series, I can tell you without hesitation that I know—all the way down to the boy reading Asimov on the sofa of my brain—it’s irredeemably bad science fiction.