I’m seriously wondering. There have been plenty of TV shows that have gone through a slump, and then miraculously re-emerged. But has any TV show ever dug itself as deep as Falling Skies, and then found its way back out again? Spoilers ahead...
I’m inclined to say not. Falling Skies began its fifth and final season last night, and the good news is that the show is clearly pushing on towards a conclusion that wraps up the overarching alien-invasion storyline. That’s excellent news, in fact. But at this point, Falling Skies is sagging under the weight of so many WTF storytelling decisions, that it has two very serious related problems:
1) The characters have no character any more. I no longer know who any of these people are, after all the weird shit this show has done to them.
2) The world feels like someone left a random plot generator on for too long. And now, nothing this show does can possibly surprise (or even intrigue) me. Watching Falling Skies is educational, because it shows you just how far you can push nonsensical plot twists before they become a world-building issue. In the world of Falling Skies at this point, anything is possible, which means that nothing is interesting.
The great strength of Falling Skies, in its first season, was the opposite. The world had very clearly defined rules (mostly, that the aliens were incredibly deadly and powerful, and the humans were running scared) and the characters were, if not brilliantly three dimensional, at least recognizeable people. Then at the end of the first season, Falling Skies had its first hit of the “random plot twist” pipe, and nothing has been the same since.
So in this season opener, Tom Mason is still in space after miraculously blowing up the alien base on the Moon, and he gets rescued by miraculous aliens who put him into a dreamworld where his dead wife is still alive and the invasion never happened. This being Falling Skies, it’s like the fifth time Tom Mason has been in a dream world where his dead wife is alive. He’s like, “Oh, it must be Tuesday.”
The dead wife tells him that he has to get angry and find his inner warrior to finish off the alien invaders, and then shows him a bust of Woodrow Wilson, which is a clue to the name of the high school where one of the aliens is hanging out. (Why don’t these all-powerful new aliens just bomb the high school from orbit, if they know enough to know which dead president it’s named after?)
Anyway, the rest of the episode is just Tom rejoining his friends, leading the offensive against the Espheni, who are weakened by losing their lunar power supply, and acting like a wack job. Tom gives a pep talk about giving in to rage, makes Anne take off her necklace, and uses a dead guy as a decoy (which seems like a sound tactical move, actually.)
The “Tom is acting like a wack job” thing is supposed to worry us, but there are a couple problems. Firstly, I no longer have any clear idea of how Tom is supposed to act when he’s not being a wack job. Partly this is because the show’s been off the air for a year, but mostly it’s because I’ve seen Tom acting wacky for years at this point, including having an eyeworm, being a masked superhero in the alien ghetto, and defending his half-alien daughter. But also, “Tom acting like wacky” could have been interesting character development, after all—except that it’s all externally imposed. He’s acting wacky because aliens did a thing, again.
Falling Skies clearly wants to put the half-alien daughter thing behind it, because it’s just an embarrassing millstone around the show’s neck at this point. But we have to witness at least a token attempt at mourning Lexi, who was good then evil then good-ish, then dead. This, in turn, just reminds us of how much baggage the show has loaded all of its characters up with.
Like there’s still a terrible love triangle between Maggie and two of the Mason boys, because Maggie was implanted with some of Ben’s spikes and now they’re psychically linked. (But Hal still loves Maggie even though Hal was cheating on Maggie with his alien-controlled girlfriend, back when Hal was in a wheelchair but was secretly not disabled and was under alien control.)
At this point, all of the non-Mason characters on this show are basically just there as cannon-fodder, because there’s a limited number of episodes left, and it’s going to take a mighty effort to make even the main characters feel remotely believable at this point. So most of the supporting cast gets about one line of dialogue each, and the show casually kills off Denny, one of the characters who had the most potential (including what seemed to be a possible romance with Ben, at one point.) Denny dies of casual stupidity, and then her death is mostly an opportunity for Ben to look longingly at Maggie, with whom he shares a bond that’s like the bond he used to have with Denny, only more kissy-faced. Sigh.
Meanwhile, we learn things this week. Like, there are a ton of militias fighting the aliens, all over the world, and the Volm could communicate with them all along, and just chose not to mention this. And there’s a defined limit to the distance at which an Overlord can control its Skitter slaves, and it’s shockingly small. (I think they said 2.5 miles?) Outside that radius, the Skitters—which were intelligent creatures before—become mindless animals. At this point, the show can just announce any rules it wants, because aliens, right?
There is one kind of great moment, in an otherwise dismal episode. Poor Anne Glass—remember when she was a doctor?—gets into hand to hand combat, and is stabbing a Skitter in the neck, and it just refuses to die. (I’m not going to gripe about how, in season one, the Skitters were incredibly hard to kill, so this should be par for the course.)
And Anne just pleads with the Skitter to let go and die, and she tries to soothe the creature she’s murdering, as if she’s performing euthenasia. It’s actually kind of an amazing moment, that reminds you how much better than this show Moon Bloodgood is. It’s also a real moment of emotion and horror, in an episode that otherwise tries to manufacture some drama, mostly in vain.
There’s a weary quality to Falling Skies, in its final year on television. It’s only the fifth season, but everyone involved gives off a profound sense of ennui. As if, even as the show ramps up to show us the final victory over the aliens, the show itself has already admitted defeat.