TV

‘Falling Skies’ Spoiler Interview: Writer John Wirth On Ep. 3.03 ‘Badlands’

Each week, MTV Geek will sit down with the writers of TNT’s alien invasion drama “Falling Skies” and in a spoiler-heavy interview about the developments in the latest episode. Who lives, who dies, and what strange new factions will develop in the third season as the 2nd Mass escalates their conflict with the alien invaders.

When the shooting starts, it’s not just the Eshpeni the 2nd Mass has to worry about as another group of humans is introduced in this week’s episode of “Falling Skies.” But not everyone will survive first contact with this new group who may either be friends or the chance to restore the United States.

In this week’s spoiler interview, writer John Wirth (“The Cape,” “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles”) talks about the human cost of alien conflict, writing drama around loss, and how “Falling Skies” might just be the story of our times.

Geek: Grace’s death: what did the writing team feel about taking this character out of the mix–why this particular character?

Wirth: You know, I don’t really know why this particular character. There was a decision made prior to my arrival on the show that the character would be leaving, and that’s just a juicy opportunity. I had a story in mind and I didn’t want her to just get shot in the head and be gone in an eighth of a second–I wanted to use it as a chance to open some characters up. I think in the case of John Pope, we’d seen some aspects of the character that we hadn’t seen.

It’s about taking a member of our immediate family and killing them off and exploring the sacrifices that everyone is making for the greater good.

So it started out with this practical decision we made that someone was leaving, and out of that grew the Liberty Tree.

MTV Geek: I was speaking to some of the other writers last week about the first two episodes of the season and how the addition of the rebel Skitters and the Volm have complicated things for the 2nd Mass. Now we have yet another human faction out there surrounding the “legitimate” United States government.

What kinds of conversations was the writing team having about piling on the number of people gunning for Tom and the 2nd Mass this year?

John Wirth: I think it was about opening up the world a little bit. Obviously, it’s a big world, but it’s also a small world when you take a group of people and put them in Charleston and you make one guy President.

You know, I think at some point in the writers’ room we were asking “Is anyone else alive?” and if anyone else is alive, where are they and what are they doing? And is the government out there in Air Force One somewhere or down in a hole with the President who has possibly survived this invasion?

That was sort of the impetus for creating this other group. And the 2nd Mass is always waiting around for the aliens to attack, and I thought it would be interesting for someone to attack them, and you realize over the course of this firefight that they’re not aliens, they’re human beings. It’s sort of a classic situation where you can imagine these human factions not trusting one another, right–especially since our guys are now working with the aliens this season. So when our other faction looks down their scope and sees humans working with Skitters and with the Volm, then they might think that they’re human collaborators.

Geek: And it also introduces yet another political dimension to a show that’s very invested in the idea of governance and rule by law. I guess the question is how many of the people in Charleston are going to want to cede control back to the other faction? How loyal are they going to be to Tom? And I have to imagine those people who question Tom or are outright against him might see this as some kind of opportunity.

Wirth: Absolutely. The whole idea that there’s a President out there is fascinating. The primary story in this episode was about losing one of our own and kind of humanizing the process of losing someone that you fight with and what that means. And that’s kind of the micro-story and how that reverberates through and how everyone sacrifices every day.

And there’s a wonderful element at the end of the episode called the Liberty Tree–you saw the whole thing with the Liberty Tree? Well, I was interested in what happens when your buddy goes down and gets killed and what that brings out in you–and by extension, what does it bring out in people?

Geek: It’s all part of a piece with “Collateral Damage” where we’re seeing what the 2nd Mass and Tom are willing to sacrifice–who they’re willing to sacrifice–to survive. There was a genuine question at one point in the episode of whether or not they should torture the captured soldier for information.

Could you talk about that tension a bit in the show and why the crisis of liberty and security keeps coming up this season for the writers?

Wirth: We’re telling the story of our times right now–we’re all living in that world. Whether it’s what’s going on in Guantanamo, whether it’s the use of drones, whether it’s a whistleblower who–for reasons known only to himself–has decided to leak information, it’s very timely subject matter. And it’s very interesting to see it play out in the world of a dramatic television show where you can explore where it can go.

Geek: What’s going on in Weaver’s head at this point? He’s mostly joking, it seems, about waterboarding the enemy soldier, but in the past, we’ve seen him show a willingness to cross the line to protect his people.

Wirth: You know, it’s interesting, because he’s sort of come the furthest–I don’t want to say the furthest, but if you look at Weaver and Tom. But Tom has traveled a certain distance towards Weaver and Weaver has sort of traveled a certain distance towards Tom. I mean in terms of Tom starting off as this liberal college professor who’s interested in maintaining human rights, integrity, and dignity at any costs. Weaver was more of a traditionalists in terms of being a committed soldier and those two positions are pretty far apart, and it’s been an interesting journey to watch as they come together.

I hadn’t really thought about it until you asked that question, but I think Tom has moved closer towards Weaver’s position than Weaver has moved towards Tom’s. I don’t want to say it’s humanized the character, because Will Patton is such a brilliant actor and I don’t want to diminish what he’s done with that character, but he’s softened somewhat because of his relationship with Tom.

Geek: And running parallel to that story were two different, very paranoid tracks: we’ve got Hal’s deepening fear about what he’s capable of while Anne tries to learn more about her rapidly maturing baby. This episode brought so many characters together in grief, but at the edges, we’ve got these fractures with characters who can’t trust themselves or are holding on to big, dangerous secrets.

Wirth: There’s a natural opportunity for playing this paranoia. And it’s interesting what’s going on in the world today–certainly in our country with the revelations that Snowden over the weekend. And prior to revealing himself, people were wondering “Who is the mole? Who’s spilling this information to the world?” And that’s just a natural thing with people.

In our show, we have alien bugs and technology, and people can be infected with this technology and it can be used by the aliens to get information. So it was interesting to have a mole and kind of play with who it could be, setting up certain people to lay suspicion on. We wanted to play with the idea of a tightly-knit group that knows someone is giving information to the enemy.

And that’s going to play out in a very interesting way as we go through the season.