“Falling Skies” had been running on fumes for a while, frustratingly so in its final season, which should have been building up to a big cosmic comeuppance for the Espheni, the alien invaders who had blown much of humanity to smithereens. Instead, the final episode, after a protracted and sometimes-meandering buildup, had a slightly anticlimactic quality, reinforcing, more than anything, that it was overdue for Chicken Little’s warning to finally come true.
For a time representing one of Steven Spielberg’s more successful recent endeavors as a TV producer, this TNT drama began with some promise, increased its ambition in season two and then began to hit rough patches, such as that whole hybrid-alien-baby-who-ages-ridiculously-fast storyline. The final season, in similar fashion, spent too much time dealing with the show’s various soap opera elements, while taking detours that pitted the humans against each other — most notably Everyman Tom Mason (Noah Wyle) and longtime antagonist Pope (Colin Cunningham) — in what felt too much like distractions, or time killers (such as the “Tom’s put on trial” interlude), before getting to the main event.
That came, finally, on Sunday (and SPOILER ALERT if you haven’t watched), with Tom leading a small party that introduced a virus intended to eradicate their Skitter problem. The series gave up on subtlety or originality some time ago, but the finish (written by David Eick, and directed by Olatunde Osunsanmi) — which introduced a huge, malevolent alien queen, voiced by “Battlestar Galactica’s” Tricia Helfer — felt like a rather conspicuous “Aliens” ripoff, which at least qualifies as borrowing from the very best.
It fell to Tom, of course, to save the day, after the queen made the classic Bond villain error of trying to talk him to death before getting down to business and finishing the job of killing him. Yet given all the evil the Espheni have done, the payoff wasn’t nearly as satisfying as it should have been. And the notion that the effort couldn’t be achieved without sacrifice — namely, the temporary demise of Tom’s wife (Moon Bloodgood) — proved fleeting, which felt like something of a cheat emotionally.
Even Tom’s last exchange with Pope, brought back for an encore after being blown up in the penultimate episode, felt gratuitous, providing Tom the excuse to state the obvious: that with the aliens defeated, this ordinary fellow had no reason or desire to kill anymore. Time for him, and humanity, to get back to normal, or as close as they can get to it.
The one clever note, saved until literally the very last moment, was Tom’s speech to the assembled survivors as they approach the daunting task of rebuilding civilization, realizing their traditional differences don’t amount to a hill of beans after what everyone just endured. “We are not alone,” he said, a line infused with several meanings, including a call back to the slogan for “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” Spielberg’s early exploration of a more benevolent sort of alien visitor.
In terms of Spielberg’s feature filmography, “Falling Skies” hewed more closely to his “War of the Worlds” remake, with a separate touch of “Independence Day” woven into its DNA. (As an odd juxtaposition, another sci-fi series under the director’s production banner, ABC’s “The Whispers,” ends its first season Aug. 31, having explored similar terrain, albeit in a much lower-key manner.)
Yet while the TNT show delivered its share of highlights along the way — and certainly is a cut above something like CBS’ “Extant” — the final arc underscored a sense that it was time for this war to end. Because while the series enjoyed a good run and its human warriors were certainly resourceful, the storytelling had so clearly run out of ammo that it’s past time for these E.T.s to go home.