Under a cold, driving rain, a platoon of resistance fighters moves through piles of dead, charred Skitters — the spidery aliens that invaded Earth and massacred billions — and smashed-up Mechs, their giant deadly robots. Signs of who (or what) killed them are nowhere to be found, but that mystery could provide the truth about the invasion that kicked off TNT's Falling Skies. Right now, however, the team, headed by former history professor Tom Mason (Noah Wyle) and his two oldest sons, Hal (Drew Roy) and Ben (Connor Jessup), have live Skitters to hunt and their comrades in the 2nd Massachusetts unit to keep safe.
Sci-fi adventure and family dynamics remain the trademarks of Falling Skies, which became an instant hit last summer. But that formula — a signature of exec producer Steven Spielberg — is pumped with more testosterone in Season 2. Despite the strong ratings (an average 4.8 million weekly viewers), many fans openly hoped for more edge and ramped-up action. Producers and cast are confident that's what they'll be delivering this summer. "Everything's stepped up a notch," says Wyle, while seeking shelter under a tent from Vancouver's December dampness, "especially the level of threat and deprivation."
"In the end, the show is about aliens," says new showrunner Remi Aubuchon (Caprica). "We'll get to know them better." Wyle promises the big questions will be answered this season: "Why are the aliens here? What purpose does the planet serve to them?"
The season opens three months after Tom entered an enemy spaceship in last summer's finale, invited by an Overlord, a rep of a previously unseen alien species. Tom agreed to go in search of more information about Ben, who was abducted by the aliens and attached to an organic harness that, though physically removed, has kept the teen psychically tethered to the oppressors. Visiting the enemy's lair was not well-received by Tom's team — or Twitter. "I didn't know it was so controversial until 11:01 on the night it aired," Wyle admits. "I got calls from friends and family, like 'What the hell? You're not going to wake up naked in a cornfield, are you?'"
"To me," the actor protests, "it seemed like a bold move. It might not be a wise decision, but it's an important plot point. Tom's family is his Achilles' heel and that's the leverage they use on him." Flashbacks will reveal the character's ordeal and encounters with the mysterious alien who's seemingly above the Skitters' pay grade and giving the orders.
When Tom returns to the 2nd Mass, he finds a darker unit, demoralized by Skitter attacks that have killed hundreds and destroyed their schoolhouse haven. Among the most cynical is Ben. "He's become distant and cold, and he's taking out his anger on the Skitters," says Jessup. Making it even worse, his comrades don't view him as human now that he, as Roy puts it, is "full of Skitter juice," which gives him superhuman senses and strength.
Pope (Colin Cunningham) and his shady "Berserkers" gang are not happy that Tom is back either. They ask the questions others are thinking: Did Tom make a deal with the aliens to save his son? How far will he go to save his family?
The answer to the second question is, most likely, very far. "I took [Spielberg's] directive seriously," Aubuchon explains. "The premise is [that] family will endure no matter what the circumstances." That's a heartbreaking challenge when one son leads deadly missions, another is an alien hybrid and even the youngest, 9-year-old Matt (Maxim Knight), is itching to take up arms.
At least now Tom can seek solace from company medic Anne Glass (Moon Bloodgood), as both try to move past tragic losses in what Aubuchon calls "postapocalyptic dating." Their romance barely gets off the ground when a pilot flies in to spread the almost unbelievable word that there's a new "Continental Congress" in Charleston ready to begin an organized resistance. Tom considers going, but suspicious unit commander Weaver (Will Patton) is certainly not ready to head south. After all, there are a lot of Skitters between Massachusetts and South Carolina.
One Skitter who might not be quite so menacing is Red Eye, a character that might reveal possible discord in the aliens' structure. Could certain invaders have sympathy for the humans? "This season is about who's on what side," says Bloodgood. "The gray areas of war are always interesting to watch."
Wyle acknowledges "the tricky line the show has to walk. We're not on Syfy; we're on TNT. We're creating a show that has something for everyone." To genre lover Bloodgood, this season is on the right side of the line: "This year, we're primarily science fiction, which doesn't mean we're lacking in human story. The alien stories are just a little bit more clever, with one species after another ready to destroy humanity." In other words, brace yourself for close encounters of the deadliest kind.
Falling Skies premieres Sunday at 9/8c on TNT.