Falling Skies season one gave us a sometimes-intense look at the world after a devastating alien invasion. But in season two, the stakes get massively raised, and life gets a lot harder for the Second Mass, according to the show's stars and showrunner.
We were lucky enough to speak to stars Noah Wyle, Moon Bloodgood, Colin Cunningham and Drew Roy, plus new showrunner Remi Aubuchon. And one thing came through loud and clear: This season, Pope's dark, twisted view of the world is a lot closer to the truth. Minor spoilers ahead...
We already presented some of our interviews with the Falling Skies stars a while back, focusing on the challenge of continuing the story after a really out-of-left-field season-ending cliffhanger. The good news is, after watching the first few episodes of the new season, we can attest the show does a pretty good job of making that cliffhanger pay off, and the new season is feeling a lot stronger in general. (We'll have a full review of the new episodes on Friday.)
The note we heard over and over again from the stars of Falling Skies during our interviews was: This isn't going to be as cozy as it was in season one. "It's even grittier," says Drew Roy, who plays Hal Mason. "It's no longer this nice little show where everybody feels like we're on a big camping trip. This one is serious. Each day is a battle."
The aliens are no longer screwing around — they're trying their hardest to wipe out the humans at this point, says Roy. Since we last saw the Second Mass, three months have gone by, and there's been a devastating battle called the Battle of Fitchburg, in which 100 people died.
In the first season finale, Tom Mason managed to damage the alien structure in Boston, which "felt kind of good to us, but all it really did was piss them off. So now they're on the hunt for us," says Roy. "We're going to spend the season on the run. We can't fight these aliens the way we are positioned right now. We're too small a group."
"There is no question the show is darker," says Colin Cunningham, who plays the sociopath Pope. "I think you're going to see changes in characters, because the stakes are higher. It's edgier." And there's going to be no doubt in season two that this world is "much more akin to how Pope sees it than how any of the other characters see it." All of the characters who were simpler and more idealistic in season one are going to get grayer and "a hell of a lot more complicated," Cunningham promises.
Roy adds that there is more of what people say they wanted from the show the first time around, as it goes in a "darker direction." At the same time, the show hasn't given up on the thing that makes it unique: the connections between the characters, and the feeling of community.
We're no longer living in a world like we do right now, where it's all about getting to the top. Who has the coolest car, and living in the right neighborhood. This is all about, 'This is the person who's standing next to you and you trust them with having your back.' We definitely still have that stuff. Where you well up inside and think, 'That's a brother looking out for a brother.' That's the heart and soul of the show.
Aubuchon also stresses that the show isn't really "darker," so much as "edgier" and closer to real science fiction. The focus on interpersonal relationships is still there, and it's not going to feel like a totally different show or anything. "I would even argue at the heart of every episode, there's an emotional core there." And yet, everything feels a little more immediate, and the stakes of everything are higher.
Sometimes when you do science fiction, there are a lot of "bells and whistles," but not a lot of character depth, says Bloodgood. In the first season of Falling Skies, meanwhile, "there was a lot of character development, but I was actually, as a science fiction fan hoping to see some more surprises, and some edgier twists and turns," says Bloodgood. "That definitely came in the second season."
She describes the second season as "less Hallmark, and more palable, [closer] to science fiction."
No more magic bullets
One of the surprising thing towards the end of the first season was the way the humans suddenly had super-effective weapons against the aliens. They suddenly had Ben Mason's ability to jam the Mech transmissions, and "mech bullets" that could inflict massive damage. That's all taken away in season two, says Cunningham.
In terms of the humans being able to jam the aliens using Ben, "the aliens figured out how to alternate their frequencies," Cunningham explains. "So the jamming's no longer valid. They have to move on to another way of fighting. In terms of the 'mech bullets,' because [the humans] are on the run, they're no longer based at the school, they no longer have the hardware or the ability to create these mech bullets. So the playing field becomes a little bit more precarious once again."
"I'll be honest. I just felt that it was more interesting. If we are ever going to defeat these aliens, it's better if we do it with our own ingenuity, and not a magic bullet," says Aubuchon, the new showrunner. "I understood why they did that in the first season. [But] I wanted the stakes to be higher, and I wanted us to to figure out a way in which we could basically battle these guys with our own tools and our own human ingenuity."
It's the difference between an alien invasion movie and a TV series: a movie has to end, with a laptop virus or a surprising alien weakness providing a victory. A TV series can go on and on, and build things more carefully, and also keep dealing the good guys a series of setbacks. "I don't want to make it easy for our heroes at all, to eventually win the war against these aliens."
"If the first season is about dealing with the initial horror of aliens coming to our planet and wiping 90 percent of us," says new showrunner Remi Aubuchon, "by the second season, it's pretty much sunk into everybody that these aliens aren't going anywhere. Our lives will never be the same again. We have to fight, and if we're to have any semblance of survival, we have to get these things off our planet."
In a way, that cliffhanger where Tom Mason walks onto an alien spaceship serves as a turning point that gives the show more of an edge in season two. Says Aubuchon, "Tom certainly comes off the spaceship with a resolve and a drive. 'There's no negotiation to be had here. We just have to fight. And I if that means I have to put a gun in my nine-year-old's hands, then that's what I have to do.'"
Wyle added that Tom Mason "comes back slightly changed" from his visit to the alien ship, and this helps push him along his trajectory from reluctant freedom fighter to actual leader.
But at the same time, there will be questions about whether Tom Mason can be trusted. Says Wyle:
Where has this guy been, and what have they done to him? Is he a homing pigeon, leading the enemy right to them? It makes for some interesting storytelling in the first couple of shows. And I think he's a smart enough character to realize that that's a possibility that he doesn't really know himself and until he can get his footing and establish himself back in the group and win their trust and vice versa, he should be watched... He can't be positive that he was released with some ulterior motive in mind. So that allows us to start this season off with a little bit of tension in trying to figure out how to envelop Tom back into the fold and him to try and establish a position of leadership again after having been gone for three months.
The characters are very aware that this is a new world they're dealing with, and all the rules have changed. That suffuses everything, says Aubuchon — in a world where you could be killed at any moment by Skitters, is it even worth having a romance?
More alien mythos
Drew Roy promises that we'll find out a lot in the first two hours (airing Sunday) about the aliens and their intentions towards humanity. "There are new aliens showing up, and some new creepy things. We're going to see new things that aliens can do."
As new writers have joined the writing staff for season two, they're exploring some new ideas that the show didn't touch on at all in season one — like, what effect are the aliens having on Earth's environment. We'll see some new creatures where we're not sure if they're new aliens, or mutations that result from the alien presence on Earth.
Separately, Noah Wyle promised that the show would explore the mythology of the aliens, including "why they're here and who they are, and how we'd radically misunderstood the situation in season one."
And as we learn more stuff about the aliens, through the eyes of the Second Mass, we will learn more secrets that make it plausible that the humans could eventually defeat these invaders, promises Aubuchon. "I don't ever want to make it easy," he adds.
Meanwhile, the show isn't doing quite so much exploration of the aliens kidnapping children, but that's been replaced by a stronger focus on the lingering effects of the harness on Ben Mason, says Aubuchon. "It's still very clear that these aliens are interested in grabbing our kids and harnessing them."
"I didn't read a single script this year, where I thought, 'Oh, what is this?'" says Roy. Every one of the ten scripts of season two packs a decent punch, he promises. For his part, Wyle says he's proud of "eight and a half out of ten episodes" this season.
Falling Skies returns this Sunday on TNT at 9 PM.