Consider this: the worst thing you can be in Falling Skies is a collaborator, someone who works with the aliens who’ve invaded the Earth, smashed our communications, military, and technology, and begun enslaving our children for reasons not revealed by the end of the first season. You can be a murderer or rapist (or both in the case of the show’s would-be antihero Pope) and still have a shot at redemption, but those characters who cross the line and work with the crab-like “Skitters” never come to a good end. What I’m saying is the series, for good or ill, doesn’t bury its ideas all that deeply, and there’s something almost old-fashioned about its characters which you might find either endearing or off-putting.
In spite of its large-ish cast, Falling Skies isn’t an ensemble is squarely focused on history professor-turned-freedom fighter Tom Mason (Noah Wyle), a good, decent man who finds himself unexpectedly a lieutenant in the Second Massachusetts under career military man Captain Weaver (Will Patton). Much of Falling Skies is concerned with the ideological tug of war between the two, Patton focused only on the military victory while Mason simply wants to find his missing son while protecting the two that remain (in one of the series’ more broadly-drawn threads, the soldiers resent the civilian population comprised of the very young, sick, old, or otherwise unable to fight after only eight months or so).
The first season sees the Second Mass taking the battle back to the Skitters and their giant robot enforcers, and then there’s the aforementioned hunt for Tom’s son, encounters with bandits, and regular engagements between the humans and aliens. Early on, the members of the Second Mass fortify a high school and it’s at this point that the series loses a little of its sense of desperation, danger or momentum, given that the humans can simply hole up in a very visible location without any sort of real repercussions for most of the remaining episodes. Still, when they go up against the Skitters, Falling Skies has some ambitious, if unsuccessful CG, as the aliens hop around and stalk their human prey and the mechs lumber around in the darkness, shooting at anything that moves.
Wyle is likeable in his role as Mason, although the actor playing his eldest son, Hal (Drew Roy), never really manifests a personality beyond “rebellious” while the youngest, Matt (Maxim Knight) is still kind of settling into his role. There are attempts to establish romantic tension between Tom and the camp’s doctor Anne Glass (Moon Bloodgood) that doesn’t quite work out: ideologically matched (the two counterbalance the militaristic instincts and potential excesses of Weaver), there’s nevertheless no real passion between the two and their relationship is more interesting for how they shore each other up as friends and allies rather than potential lovers. But the scripts are determined that it happens, and Falling Skies very reliably telegraphs every plot point, every emotional beat (to a fault).
The first season of the show is intriguing, and sets up an interesting mystery (what’s with these aliens, why are they here), but the character work needs, well work in the upcoming second season. Less storytelling where characters say what they’re feeling, more allowing us to discover it for ourselves. While that earnestness is refreshing, sometimes you kind of just want an alien invasion drama to be an alien invasion drama.
The set includes a handful of short-ish featurettes: “Animating a Skitter” details the process behind the CG work creating Falling Skies’ insect antagonists; “Falling Skies Panel: San Diego Comic-Con” presents the cast and crew on stage at last year’s event; “Unanswered Questions: Season 2 Sneak Peek”; and two behind-the-scenes featurettes, “The Uknown,” and “The Second Mass.” Commentary tracks are available on the episodes “The Armory,” “Prisoner of War,” “What Hides Beneat,” Mutiny,” and “Eight Hours.”
Falling Skies: The Complete First Season is available now on DVD and Blu-ray.