The most important thing to know about Falling Skies — TNT’s new post-apocalyptic alien-invasion survivalist romp — is that the series premiere got its worst scene out of the way early. Skies kicked off last night with a montage of crayon drawings presenting the viewer with the end of the world. A chorus of adorable-sounding children narrated us through the arrival of a strange alien race, the annihilation of some 90% of the global population, and the current state of the human resistance. It could’ve been poetic, but it played like a PowerPoint presentation assembled by overeager preschoolers. It was a bit of unnecessary exposition, completely out-of-place in an otherwise fleetfooted premiere.
Here’s the second most important thing to note about Falling Skies: It doesn’t want to be the next Lost. Or, if it does, it’s at least not falling into the same traps as wannabe cult-sensations like The Event, V, or FlashForward. Those shows kicked off with impossibly high stakes and densely interwoven mythologies that grew steadily more impenetrable with every passing episode. The characters on Falling Skies aren’t trying to solve any grand mysteries, at least not yet. They’re just trying to survive.
Early in the premiere, we saw a meeting of the brain trust of the Second Massachusetts (the local branch of the Resistance, named after a historical regiment from the Continental Army.) The commanding officer explained that it was time to move: “We’ve picked this area clean of weapons and food.” (“Weapons” and “food” already seem to be a recurring motif in Skies: The first hour of the premiere focused on a mission to get more food, while the second hour centered on a dispute over weaponry.) So, the 2nd Mass would be going to ground, dispersing into units of 300 — 100 fighters and 200 civilians. The plan was brutally simple: “We’re gonna run. We’re gonna hide. And we’re gonna survive.” That this line of dialogue was spoken by Dale Dye, a soldier-turned-technical advisor and sometimes actor who was in Vietnam for the Tet Offensive, gave it extra bite.
The Skies premiere got in a bit of ambient mythmaking — we learned that the invading force is comprised of six-legged lizard-insect beings nicknamed “Skitters” and tall robots nicknamed “Mechs.” Neither of these beings look particularly interesting — the Skitters in particular prove Kyle Buchanan’s assertion that Hollywood really needs to move on from the “anorexic oversized insect” mode of creature design — but I was ghoulishly fascinated by the fact that part of the aliens’ master plan involves controlling human children by way of a “harness,” which resembles nothing so much as a runaway spinal cord. Whenever the Resistance has attempted to remove a harness, the child winds up dead — and the show didn’t shy away from showing us an example.
The most interesting bit of serial-mystery came in the night’s second hour, when the Kindly Ol’ Schoolteacher brought up an interesting thought experiment: If the Skitters have six limbs, why are the Mechs bipedal? It was suggested that the Skitters might have been studying the earth for a long time, and that they created humanoid robots to create “a bigger psychological impact.”
My Ridiculously Early Theory about the Invaders: The Mechs are actually the controlling faction of the alien invasion force. They’re a race of artificial intelligence that rebelled against their masters and now go through the universe enslaving every race they find.
My Even-More-Ridiculously Early Wager for a Season-Ending Twist: The Skitters aren’t allied with the Mechs; they’re slaves, and they’ve been harnessed just like the human children.
NEXT: Resistance is futile?