Aside from an over-reliance on clichés, Falling Skies’ biggest weakness in its first three seasons is its tendency to feel more like The Dirty Dozen than an authentic war story. It has always done a fine job of recreating military conflict’s grim trappings but has shied away from the grim realities in favour of showcasing American myths around resilience.
At the start of Season Four it looks like business as usual. The 2nd Mass are trudging through the countryside too busy congratulating themselves on standing up to the Volm in last season’s finale to realise it’s a mistake to move in broad daylight. Predictably, they soon come under an Espheni attack.
The story takes an unexpected turn when it jumps ahead four months and we find the survivors split among subplots that are as surprising as they are different. One group is starving in a ghetto where they have been imprisoned by an Espheni overlord.
He plans to use them as test subjects in experiments that could lead to a Final Solution for humanity. Elsewhere, in the invaders’ version of a Hitler Youth camp, children are being brainwashed into gleefully turning in those who resist the New Order.
These unsettling references to Nazi cruelty in World War Two give Season Four the discomforting edge its predecessors lacked. Together with a creeping sense of hopelessness, they move the show’s focus towards a more realistic and universal vision of human strengths and frailties in combat. This shift is helped by the introduction of Treva Etienne as a South African with a tragic past and Mira Sorvino, who plays a junkie ex-graphic designer.
The latter is one of several strong female characters who challenge the gender imbalance resulting from the dominant role of the Mason family. Even a return to cliché in the season finale can’t reverse these strides.
Consequently, the fifth and final season has enough promise to make you wish this war would go on longer.