The Nihilism of "Falling Skies"

This passivity is of a piece with the third dimension in which Falling Skies misses an important facet of the human character: that is, its appreciation, when in crisis, for leadership, discipline, and order. In the story, the only dynamic in which this aspect of human nature appears is the tension between Mason and Weaver. We are invited to sympathize with Mason, the bookish hero bringing historical insight to Captain Weaver's militarily conventional approach.

But the existence of command authority is at once taken for granted and vaguely resented in the narrative, as if there is nothing to explore here beyond the annoyance it sometimes presents to Tom Mason. This is an oddly adolescent perspective for a story premise as ambitious as that of Falling Skies. Certainly it's unrealistic.

In an hour-long weekly drama, screenwriters can't address everything. But what has been left out of Falling Skies leaves it feeling thin, unfamiliar, and insignificant. It makes an interesting—even a poignant—study in what the producers considered unimportant in telling the tale of an existential crisis for humanity. The story has revolved so far around Tom Mason's effort to rescue his son from enslavement by the aliens, but the narrative's case for why we should care is not so much formulaic as non-existent. The characters who band together in the Massachusetts resistance are uncompelling; they seem to have no meaningful aspirations beyond killing "skitters," foraging, and eating.

This minimalist cycle of existence isn't a subtly revealed "truth" about the human condition; it is anti-truth. It's profoundly revealing that a series like Falling Skies, presented by some of the premier names in the entertainment industry, has chosen to tell its story on this essentially nihilist basis. The cultural divide this implies between entertainment executives and average Americans seems remarkably wide.

Millions and millions of Americans do believe, without embarrassment, that human life has transcendent meaning, and that God is a real presence and refuge in times of trouble. They regard a particular, empowering form of political organization as important to the success of human endeavors. In crisis conditions, they would be more likely, not less, to mull and hone these ideas. They appreciate effective leadership because they care unashamedly about the future.

Yet in the philosophical void implied by the narrative of Falling Skies, no one would care if the giant spiders won. It is as if America's most creative minds have written themselves into a corner from which the rules of their philosophy offer no way out.

7/17/2011 4:00:00 AM