James Dittiger/TNT
August 31, 2014 at 12:00 PM EDT

Falling Skies wrapped up its fourth season Sunday with what may be the show’s most hopeful yet most enigmatic season closer.

SPOILER ALERT: Details of tonight’s season 4 finale lie ahead!

The last couple minutes of the two-hour finale ended on a very hopeful note back on Earth. As Hal says, “The Espheni are sitting ducks for a change,” thanks to Lexi’s sacrificial destruction of the aliens’ power core. But above Earth’s atmosphere, things got really weird — the kind of weird that should have fans theorizing and debating throughout the long wait to the fifth and final season.

Noah Wyle (Tom Mason) tells EW that when he read the last page of that finale script, he thought, “This is insane!”  He called showrunner David Eick — who took the helm of Falling Skies at the start of season 4 — and said, “Are we talking about another alien race? Please tell me we’re not talking about introducing another alien race. This is the time in the show when we need to be wrapping up loose ends, not creating new ones.” The actor recalls that Eick (a Battlestar Galactica alum) then “pitched this storyline to me that I thought sounded pretty good, so I went, ‘Oh! Okay. Let’s do that.'”

So what was Tom looking at in the last shot of the finale? Wyle teases, “All I’ll say is it’s not a new alien race that we’re looking at. It is something we haven’t met before, but it’s familiar.”

Is it an alien hybrid? Is it artificial intelligence? Is it something with the DNA of a specific character we’ve met before, like Rebecca? Eick, of course, isn’t going to supply the answer just yet, and he was careful to not commit to calling that thing in the mirror an “alien” or even a “creature.”

But the showrunner did break down that scene a bit for EW during a break from his busy schedule prepping for the last season of Falling Skies. Read on for what he had to say about that scene, about why Lexi ultimately chose to side with her human family, and about the mystery of the Espheni’s motivations for invading Earth.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Let’s start with that final scene — what can you tell us about what the hell was going on there?

DAVID EICK: Of course, I’m not at liberty to deliver fully disclosed spoilers, but I will tell you that what Tom does see will prove to be the sort of lynchpin in what drives [the 2nd Mass] and provides a strategic angle for the 2nd Mass to pursue in the fifth season. I wouldn’t say they discover a doomsday device, but what they discover is a strategic weapon of sorts that will prove to have a great impact on what happens in the fifth season.

So this creature Tom sees will launch more war strategy elements for the show — will it also play a part in the family drama, more emotional elements of the show?

It is a more emotional, internal motivation that propels Tom Mason in season 5. It’s not just about tactics or looking at war room maps, although that remains a big part of the show. It’s about how even the best generals will tell stories about how they had to rely on their gut, and [season 5] is a season in which the gut aspect of Tom Mason’s approach to defeating the enemy takes on a much more prominent role via the encounter he has at the end of season 4. So through that encounter we will emphasize the emotional aspects of his decision-making, his strategy, and the ultimate outcome.

You know fans are going to pick apart every piece of that scene – did you and your team put a lot of thought into which clips from speeches and music to use and what paintings to put on the wall?

Yeah. The specific ideas that you see in the show were a little bit different than what was scripted, which was “When a Man Loves a Woman” [by Percy Sledge]. The rights for that were a little outside our budget. What we came up with, I thought, built the same emotion of nodding to a part of American or, I guess, human culture that is so indelible and specific that it’s undeniable. So you would hear that and go, “Oh my God, that’s a friend. There’s a friend nearby” or “There’s someone who understands me. Whether they’re trying to manipulate me, whether they’re trying to trap me, or whether they’re a friend, they at least get where I come from.” That’s the first moment where we might have some hope about what he might encounter in this environment. But the specifics are everything, right? You gotta find the things that really pull those strings. FDR’s speech was always in the script, and it was just sort of a more general cacophony of voices and music. Our post-production supervisor, in realizing that “When a Man Loves a Woman” was outside our budget — he had the idea to use the electric guitar of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” which is not the Jimi Hendrix version, but it evokes that, and I actually thought that was better.

Was there a lot of talk among the writers and the visual effects team about just how clear to make that thing in the mirror, just how out of focus she’d be?

That went back to even the writers’ room when we were breaking the story. In terms of what it is conceptually and how much we’re showing the audience and what we’re hiding, that was all by design months and months [before filming that scene].

At Comic-Con you said we shouldn’t expect to see any more new alien species on the show, but we may see hybrids and mutations of species we’ve met before. Is this creature in the mirror an example of that?

Well, I certainly don’t know that it’s a creature, but in terms of of seeing things we’ve met before, the great thing about this show was the DNA of it — which Robert Rodat and others were involved in creating — really laid the groundwork for a great deal of evolution of some of these creations. So once you say that there’s this race called the Espheni and we determined that their M.O. is playing with DNA, playing with genetics. That’s a great fertile soil to plant a whole bunch of things in. There’s this sort of ruthlessness that the enemy has, as we saw with the humanoid skitters last year, about the pain it may inflict with these creations, only that they kind of do their bidding.

Did this final scene have any influence from the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey?

Yes. Yeah, the last line [in this finale] is sort of our nod to “It’s full of stars,” which is a great last line from 2001. That was definitely not only a conceptual influence, but an aesthetic influence. The sort of cleanless and the starkness of the environment Tom’s in is our cable budget version of what Kubrick did to evoke a sense of isolation and all that kind of stuff.

NEXT PAGE: Character deaths, why the Espheni invaded Earth, and more

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