The Nihilism of "Falling Skies"

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Author Rick Moran wonders if the intriguing new TNT series Falling Skies is succumbing to political correctness. His concern is based on the episode from July 10 in which pediatrician Anne Glass (Moon Bloodgood) appears to be developing empathy with a captive alien creature, perhaps seeing it as a persecuted minority.

In the Falling Skies storyline, the aliens (which the human resistance calls "skitters") have invaded earth and are systematically exterminating humans—while at the same time enslaving teenagers. Moran is not alone in viewing it as an excursion into "PC" for a character to attempt what he calls an "alien-human bond of some kind," on the basis of pat theories like these:

Maybe we're just misunderestimating (sic) each other. Maybe we look as bad to the aliens as they do to us. Maybe we're just not on the same communications wavelength and with a little effort, we could be great friends.

The "lesson?" Just because we look different doesn't mean we aren't all the same underneath.

Perhaps this theme will indeed emerge more clearly as the series progresses, and disappoint a lot of viewers. But if it does, I think it will be a symptom of a more fundamental condition, one I have been trying to put my finger on while watching Falling Skies with a sort of clinical fascination. Something about the series rings hollow and false to me, and Rick Moran's comments help to put it in perspective.

The odd thing about Falling Skies is the extent to which certain enduring, recognizable elements of humanity are missing from it. Anne Glass's attempts to understand the alien and make a connection with it actually come across to me as a rare instance of genuine, visceral humanity, rather than political correctness. Women really do that in human life. It's the other things in the series that are jarringly untethered to our patterns as a species.

There have been noticeable voids in three particular dimensions of humanity. Perhaps the most basic is the realm of ideas about a transcendent purpose for mankind: God, the meaning of life, the origin of things. The people in Falling Skies have seen earth invaded by outlandish, homicidal aliens; their civilization lies in ruins; their families have been slaughtered; they live in primitive conditions, constantly on the run from the invasion force—and yet they never discuss what all this portends about the meaning of man's future and whether there is a God who cares. With the world falling apart around them, the residents of Massachusetts react in a way no group of humans ever has to such calamity, exhibiting no collective interest in faith, spiritual relief, or answers.

There is a single character—a college student named Lourdes—described as a "devout Christian." She is occasionally allowed to say something positive (if vague) about her faith, but her faith is too self-effacing and personal to offer any answers, and the attitudes of the others range in any case from hostile to uninterested. Their posture goes beyond a lack of interest in the Christian religion, however. The characters have a very uncharacteristic lack of interest in the big questions of meaning and purpose in life.

The second important void is the series' lack of recognition that man is a political creature, who, when faced with existential challenges, organizes himself politically. Missing from the resistance group in Falling Skies is any semblance of a leader on the political model common to even the most primitive human groups. There are a couple of men who make tactical decisions—history professor Tom Mason (Noah Wylie) and Captain Weaver (Will Patton), a veteran solder —but neither of them performs other functions that ought to be obvious, like leading the resistance community in deliberations about its arrangements, objectives, and plans.

A resistance group composed of modern-day Americans would be vociferous and engaged regarding its central, inherently political purpose. There would be factional disagreements on issues of substance; in a realistic "Massachusetts resistance" group, there would be a process for voicing opinions and voting, and it would figure large in the routine activities of the group.

Yet we see no signs of this in the series. Instead, the blunt, irascible Captain Weaver occasionally makes decisions for the group about tactical military objectives, and Tom Mason usually disagrees with them. Although the group is teeming with adults, no communal process exists to include them in decision-making.