Falling Skies continues to prove it’s a show where you don’t know who to trust, who to believe, who to rely on. The characters have no-win choices to face. It’s unbearable.
I can’t wait for each episode.
But I find it also has lessons for me as a writer. After all, this visceral response is what I want to create in my readers. So I try to watch each episode with some part of my brain paying attention to how they rivet me to the screen and leave me begging for more.
Falling Skies is an unusual show in many ways, in my opinion. One of those ways is that it provides a rare moment in storytelling — TV, movies, novels, nearly all modern stories. In this story, any character is available for death. At the start of an ep, I truly don’t know if a character is going to die or not.
There are rules that most modern TV shows, movies, and books adhere to. One of them is that we know — we can be certain — the main characters are not going to die. A popular show isn’t going to kill off the popular, main character because he or she brings in the bucks — I mean, the audience. Because of this, there’s a certain loss of suspense. I know when I watch, well, any action movie out there right now, that the main hero is not going to die. I may not know how he or she will get out of the mess he or she gets into, but a solution will be found (or pulled out of a director’s ass). No main character deaths allowed.
Falling Skies doesn’t seem to decide how to tell their story by what makes the most money. A couple of weeks ago, they killed off Jimmy, a very likable kid — and a kid! These writers are not afraid to piss people off to tell the story they want to tell. So, two episodes ago, as Weaver lay in a hospital bed, infected by some alien bug of some kind, I really couldn’t say if he would make it. Yes, he’s one of the main characters in the show. Yes, the show would be different without him. But perhaps the writers want to force the main character, Tom Mason, to take on the lead in a whole new way, push the character to new limits. Tom Mason would have to take the Second Mass to Charleston somehow, with his lack of military training and only what Weaver and his history classes had taught him.
Probable? I don’t know. Possible? Yes. Because in Falling Skies, everyone’s potential skitter fodder. Anyone can die at any time. They proved it again this week. Killed off yet another character (damn it!) as well as a red shirt “beserker” we hadn’t seen before. Truthfully, I just kept waiting to see who we were going to lose next.
Now that’s suspense.
I’m convinced that there are some storytelling truths within this show for writers. Lessons like how to constantly keep your readers on the edge of their seats. Like asking yourself what are some of the worst things that can happen now — then doing all of them at once. The latest lesson I’ve learned is that you can’t be too afraid to annoy people to tell your story. If you’ve got to kill off that character, start the slash and burning. Bring on the killin’. Follow the story to the end it asks for.
I’m sure coming episodes will provide more lessons for me and my writing. I’ll try to pay attention in between Mech attacks. If I don’t have heart failure first, I’ll try to write about here.