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.
After a devastating attack, the 2nd Mass finds itself in deep this week's subterranean episode, "Journey to Xibalba." Will the Mason family be reunited in the ruins? Is Tom (Noah Wylie) stable enough to be there for his sons? How deep does the mall complex go, anyway?
We explored some of these questions with writers Davide Weddle and Bradley Thompson, who've returned for another chat about "Falling Skies," war, and the profound way it can damage the survivors.
MTV Geek: Not a great episode for the claustrophobic viewers out there. Was there any concern or pushback from the cast about this cramped, very unsettling episode?
Bradley Thompson: None that I heard of. I think they like to do unsettling things.
David Weddle: There wasn't a whisper of objection from our cast. They know that adversity equals drama, so they have never complained even though we frequently shoot outdoors in the dead of night in freezing rain and snow. In fact, it may have been claustrophobic to have been trapped on those sets, but at least it was warm! It was a walk in the park for our battle-hardened members of the 2nd Mass.
Geek: With this episode, we come--to coin a phrase from the episode--back from where we started again. The 2nd Mass has taken a lot of hits, they might not have a weapon, and the Eshpeni have the upper hand. Could you talk a bit about turning the conflict around like this?
Thompson: A long war tends to have ebbs and flows; successes and reversals for each side. It’s only after the thing ends that historians can point to one moment when the big picture changed – such as when C. Wade McClusky, Jr. pushed the nose of his Dauntless dive bomber down toward Kaga, Akagi, and Soryu on 4 June, 1942.
Weddle: This is the push-pull of war, the see-sawing fortunes of opposing sides. One side gains an advantage through new tactics or weapons or allies and gains momentum. The other side adapts, comes up with a way to combat the enemies innovations and regain the momentum. In this case, the Espheni resorted to asymmetrical terrorism as our enemies used against us in Iraq and Afghanistan. As we see in this episode, it can be highly effective.
Geek: Tom's clearly in a dark place emotionally this episode, turning back on something he said last season about being led by love instead of hate. Could you talk a bit about breaking the nicest man in the war?
Weddle: I am the son of combat veteran. My father was a Marine who fought in the South Pacific in WWII. So I have lived with the psychological impact combat has on an individual. It doesn't matter how smart or sensitive or decent an individual is, intense combat conditions over time will do great damage to their psyche and take them to some very dark places. Tom Mason is a stronger individual than most, but he is not immune to the effects of combat trauma.
Thompson: Every one of us has limits. We don’t know what they are or what we will do until we’re pushed to them.
Geek: Similarly, Matt's retreated into a fatalistic place. What was the thinking behind pushing the youngest member of the cast into that direction?
Thompson: Matt’s a normal kid in a situation that’s far from normal. He’s seen friends die, and been powerless to help them. His world is populated with real monsters that are indeed out to kill or enslave him. His mother was killed; his stepmother kidnapped. His brothers have been kidnapped and infested with parasites, large and small. The same thing almost happened to him One brother got deranged and pointed gun at him, and threatened to murder his father. He’s shot a human being in defense of that same brother... and he’s not yet thirteen years old. Kids are resilient, but this kind of life is bound to cause some bends in his psyche.
Not only that, school bores him.
Weddle: We wanted to paint a realistic portrait of what would happen to a young man under intense combat conditions, as you see with the child soldiers in Africa and the Middle East. Matt has a strong family support system that has kept him from spiraling into a psychopathic killer, but they can't keep him from being hardened by war.
Geek: It's weird--at this point Pope seems to be the one person Tom feel's he can trust to do what needs to be done. Is that a fair assessment?
Thompson: Sometimes your enemies can do what your friends won’t or can’t. It’s one reason Tom insisted that Weaver keep Pope with the 2nd Mass
Weddle: In a weird way, Pope has always been that person.
Remember when Tom was being chased across the bridge by an army of skitters in Season Two's Now We Shall Gather at the River? The bridge needed to be blown to keep the aliens from overrunning the 2nd Mass. But Tom was on the bridge and his sons and even Weaver could not bring themselves to do blow it. Pope had to grab the detonator to blow the bridge. And Tom chose Pope to stay behind with the charges to keep the aliens at bay at the end of Season Two's "Molon Labe."
Because Tom recognizes that Pope may be many things, but one of those things is a tough minded pragmatist who is unimpeded by sentiment. This is a huge advantage in war, but of course a profoundly negative quality in peace. Pope is a creature of war, perfectly adapted to combat, and Tom has always recognized that.
Geek: Which of the moles do you think the 2nd Mass has it in for more: Hal or Lourdes?
Weddle: Both. How would it be possible to know how many deaths each is responsible for? It's impossible to know. So I think there's an element in the 2nd Mass that would vigorously advocate stringing both of them up.
The next time I get pulled over for speeding, I plan to use the eye worm defense. I will let you know how successful it proves to be.
Thompson: Depends upon what you define as the 2nd Mass. A mob can be directed to the closest target of opportunity. Then it will move to the next. It’s our leaders’ job to keep the unit from becoming a mob. Will they succeed?
Geek: It's always darkest before the dawn: what's one thing you think the 2nd Mass has going for it that the enemy doesn't?
Thompson: Tom Mason, of course.
Weddle: The one thing the 2nd Mass has going for it is love. They are a family, intensely loyal to each other and bound to each other by love. Even Pope--though he would violently deny it--is bound by this emotion. Tom may be in a dark place and driven by a thirst for vengeance against his enemies, but he still fights primarily for his sons, for Weaver, for the 2nd Mass. That is what has sustained these people in the face of one devastating defeat after another. It is what allows them to endure