Cable television’s latest fad is nihilism.
All the cool kids and Emmy contenders fearlessly proclaim that life is meaningless, the TV hipsters declaring that the deterioration of the human race is already upon us, if we could only be clever enough to open our eyes. On The Walking Dead, the apocalypse promises that humans are the real monsters, while on Game of Thrones fathers barely blink as they burn their daughters alive.
But Falling Skies is different. Created by the team behind Saving Private Ryan, Falling Skies has Steven Spielberg’s fingerprints all over it — even if the aliens aren’t exactly of the cuddly E.T. variety. Falling Skies falls back on the idea that humanity, given the chance, will continue to choose to become the best version of itself. It’s the idea that no matter where we come from, as a collective, humanity’s instinct is to aspire to be great, to be kind, to be good.
Falling Skies isn’t optimistic about the apocalypse — when the aliens show up in season 1, they rip apart the world, leaving most of humanity dead by season 5. The survivors are few and far between, left in tiny underground pockets of the world, but despite it all, they continue to fight for their right to survive.
What Falling Skies is optimistic about then is humanity. It holds out hope that even in the darkness, we strive to hold on to what makes us human. It insists that there is something to be admired about humanity: our tenacity, our commitment to family, love, and faith amidst hopelessness.
After the aliens take over in season one destroying 90% of the world’s population, what’s left of the United States divides itself into small pockets of survivors that form a resistance movement resembling a Continental Army militia. Led by a retired U.S. Army Captain and a Boston University history professor, our heroes call themselves the Second Mass as they fight to find their way to civilized sanctuary, and eventually unite in an organized fight against the invaders themselves.
Several hundred strong in season 1, the Second Mass tries to hold on to a sense of normalcy by sending their kids to school, and setting everyone up with jobs that suit their strengths. By season 5, only a couple dozen from the Second Mass are left, with only one child among them, but in each other, they’ve found a new family. The aliens in Falling Skies prey on humanity’s ability to love as a weakness, but the Second Mass has turned this “weakness” into a strength. Their love and faith in each other is what has kept the Second Mass going amidst the horror that surrounds them, because they still believe that there’s something in the world worth fighting for.
Even in its darkest moments, Falling Skies refuses to be bleak. Colonel Weaver’s daughter gets captured and mutilated by the aliens, only to break herself free and sacrifice herself for family. John Pope starts off the series as the rogue renegade pirate, only to later risk his freedom to save the new family he’s found amongst the Second Mass. When two brothers fall into a typical love triangle trope with pretty much the last living girl around, instead of fighting over her, they choose to focus on how lucky they are to still have a family to hold onto.
Falling Skies insists that people need people. And as long as we fight for our humanity — that empathy which makes us human — humanity will be worth fighting for.
Falling Skies’ fifth and final season airs Sunday nights at 10 p.m. EST on TNT.