[The following is a review of Falling Skies Season 5, Episode 10. There will be SPOILERS.]
For five years, fans of TNT's Falling Skies have been battling alongside Tom Mason (The Librarian's Noah Wyle) and the 2nd Mass militia against a variety of alien hordes. On Sunday night, the long battle came to a close, with a surprisingly low death count and sunny disposition.
While following a similar template to end-of-the-world dramas like AMC's The Walking Dead, Falling Skies never succumbed to those same levels of darkness and despair. Always there was a beacon of light, always there was a miraculous last-minute save, and always there was a Mason to show us the way. Perhaps the most indicative element of this brightness (on a show that took place almost entirely at night) was the impervious nature of Tom Mason's family and closest allies. If you were fortunate to become a part of the 2nd Mass early on in this series, you were virtually guaranteed a front-row seat to Mason's uplifting speech that closed out the series.
Falling Skies isn't a show where anyone could die at any time because it wasn't trying to be that show. This is a show with a positive message about family and belief and being there for one another. The message gets muddled if Mason's family is getting slaughtered around him and his friends are getting gunned down by the alien Espheni and their "Skitter" henchmen. Even the death of his wife Anne (Moon Bloodgood) in the show's final hour couldn't stand in this world. Thanks to the same mysterious aliens -- the fourth introduced in the series -- that saved Tom after his trip to the moon, Anne bled out and died only to be resurrected as mysteriously as Tom was.
There were deaths along the way, but these were always tangential characters that were given a few brief heavy scenes to humanize them (enough so that we would feel obligated to care when they were mowed down by opposition forces). Mostly though, their sacrifices were so that we could feel more empathy and sadness for the surviving members of the immortal 2nd Mass. Even the death of a character who'd only joined the group a few episodes before was more about the resolve it gave Col. Weaver (Will Patton) to ensure his death wasn't in vain.
The most tragic death of the season was that of John Pope (Colin Cunningham), but that's because his entire final character arc was a disservice to the character. Yes, Pope represented the darkness inside of humanity, but it wasn't necessary to push him to the absurd level of cartoon villain (hellbent on eliminating Tom Mason) to say that it is goodness that will win in the end. The character of Pope, as brought to wonderful life by Cunningham, deserved a better fate than he was given after losing the woman he loved. Even his death, where he was completely dismissed by Tom, seemed unfair. If the show's writers were going for a moment of redemption for the character, they failed miserably. A dying offer of his gun to Tom was't enough to undo his dastardly deeds as an animated maniac. They turned one of the most compelling characters on the show (and a necessary foil for Tom's self-righteousness) into a pathetic distraction and a rip-off of every post-apocalyptic warlord we've ever seen before.
There were several other action/sci-fi/fantasy tropes along the way to the dramatic final confrontation to Falling Skies, including the requisite inexplicable disaster that forces the hero to forge ahead alone for the final encounter with the face of evil. Add to that the convenience that killing this one evil being (like Sauron in The Lord of the Rings) would eliminate the rest of the evil hordes and end the war, and we're faced with an ending that was both overly familiar and lacking in visual spectacle. Still, Falling Skies achieved a lot of respectable special effects and battle scenes on a basic cable television budget, so I was expecting at least one last final SFX blowout for the finale.
Instead, the focus was on making the Espheni queen as believable as possible. Perhaps it's appropriate that this show about the importance of family ended a global war on an intimate scene between two solitary individuals, both fighting through the anger and grief of those they've lost. That said, I couldn't help but feel the queen's reason for targeting Earth seemed a little added on. It had already been established the Espheni came to Earth for its resources, and harnessed children as a work force. Suddenly, though, it turns out it was all a thousand-plus-year-old personal vendetta after the queen's sister was killed by early mankind during the first Espheni invasion attempt. She told Tom Mason she wanted to wipe out humanity in revenge. So what was all that other stuff? Now it's just a petty revenge story?
Also a little too pat was the giant magic pill -- also a gift from those same aliens who saved Tom's life -- that could kill the queen just by getting close to her. Coming into Season 5, we had no idea how humanity could possibly win the war and then as the season progressed it just seemed to get easier and easier. (Here's a pill that can kill Espheni. By the way, if you kill this one Espheni, they'll all die. By the way, she's right here.) I get the need to wrap things up, and this is one of those light sci-fi projects like Independence Day, but it all came together so conveniently it felt a bit forced - like maybe the show's writers had to quickly come up with an exit strategy once they learned they had a 10-episode final season to wrap their story up.
In the end, Falling Skies ended as it began, as a somewhat fluffy and forgettable piece of popcorn entertainment. It was incredibly watchable through most of its run, with a great cast of engaging actors, but it's never going to win any awards, and it may not be remembered by anyone in a decade's time. (Who remembers the equally enjoyable The 4400?) But at least it got the chance to tell its story the way it wanted to, and all the way to a definitive ending. This is more than many sci-fi and fantasy shows get to say.
Falling Skies aired on TNT from June 19th, 2011 to August 30th, 2015.
Photos: James Dittiger/TNT