“I don’t know who’s going to cross the finish line, but I can promise you this: it will be crossed. This war will be won, because of you.” And so ends one of Tom’s speeches in the Sunday, Aug. 30 series finale of “Falling Skies,” “Reborn,” which sees the battle for Earth end and offers a brief look at the aftermath.
“This has been a punishing journey, not just because of those who we’ve lost but because of the parts of ourselves that we’ve had to sacrifice along the way. Our innocence and our hope. Maybe even part of our souls.” – Tom to the 2nd Mass
Realistically, “Falling Skies” could not have ended in any way but with the 2nd Mass emerging as the victors of this war, making some of the finale a bit predictable. Is it the best series finale? No. Is it cheesy at times? Oh yes, especially the final scene. But is that okay? Again, yes. It is a mostly satisfying ending, though it isn’t perfect. But for as much of it that could have been done better, there’s just as much, if not more, to praise from the hour. The finale takes the show’s strengths and puts them on display – Tom’s speeches and direction, Weaver’s leadership, the 2nd Mass’ determination and sacrifices, Hal and Maggie’s relationship, Matt’s growth – but does fall short in a few other aspects.
First things first, there’s the episode’s title: “Reborn.” With a few quick flashes, Tom’s return in the beginning of the season is explained in such a way that he knows that the same can be done to save someone else, and Anne too ends up going through the same rebirth process as he – but not Lexi, as the Espheni plant tried to lead him to believe in the previous episode – did. Humanity too also goes through a rebirth of sorts, as those left after the war is over must figure out how they will rebuild Earth for the future.
Before the somewhat cheesy final scene, there is still one last fight to be fought, as well as the big confrontation with the Queen, a moment for Tom that leads to the answer to the big question of why the Espheni targeted Earth. It is in that final push, to D.C., to the end of the war, that comes the superb guest cast. Jeff Fahey (“Lost”) guest stars as Ellis, the leader of one of the militias, and the only complaint here is that he’s not introduced sooner and there’s no bigger role for him to play moving forward. Tricia Helfer (“Battlestar Galactica”) voices the Queen, and there’s something so fitting about Helfer voicing the Queen, though at the same time, it seems like she’s under-used.
This final season has had its hits and its misses when it comes to introducing new characters. It was a waste to introduce Isabella as a new love interest for Hal so late in the series when it was so clear by that point that it could only end with Hal and Maggie together. As for Marty, too much was done to try to turn him into a vital member of the 2nd Mass following their initial encounter with him. Perhaps if he had just joined the 2nd Mass and been one of the group, it would have been okay. Instead, he latched onto Weaver, becoming almost his butler and then blabbed about the 2nd Mass to the soldiers at the military base before they attempted to redeem him by having him vehemently protest the Masons’ death sentences and then just so happen to be the biochemist they needed to alter the Dornia’s weapon to kill the Queen and not kill humans. (Again, Dr. Kadar is missed.) In fact, killing him off during the hornets’ attack at the beginning of the episode and giving him that goodbye with Weaver feels like a cop-out, a way of killing off a 2nd Mass member without actually killing a major character. If the show had tried to flesh out any of the people Pope and Anthony ran into and spent time with this season, they too would have fallen into this category of characters that took up time that could have been better spent on almost anything else.
On the other hand, there are some new characters that should have been brought in sooner and been around longer. Wolf was one of them, right from his introduction, as was Shelton once he began to question what was happening on the base in “Stalag 14th Virginia.” (However, Wolf is not without his faults, one of which is expressed in his final moments as he says Marty died a soldier, a hero, and wishes he could do the same. Unfortunately, he does. As Weaver puts it, “Dying didn’t make him anything he weren’t already,” and while he was talking about Marty, it is also true of any of the fallen 2nd Mass members.) As stated above, the same can be said for Ellis, who questions Tom just enough to not be obnoxious but is willing to do whatever he has to in order to serve as the 2nd Mass’ backup. And Mothball is entertaining enough in the small bits seen of him that it would have been nice to see more. At least he’s still around when the war is over.
One of the bigger disappointments of the finale is the amount of fighting that takes place off-screen. After all the talk about these other militias, it would’ve been nice to see them fighting elsewhere in D.C., to see the distraction at the wall, to see how the 2nd Mass got to the tunnels, even if only in flashes. Sure, it’s probably due to budgetary reasons and time constraints (perhaps most of the problems with the finale could have been solved with a two-hour episode), but it feels like there should have been more humans (and Volm) versus skitters/hornets/even baby Espheni than there is for the final episode. This problem may have even been solved if the rest of the 2nd Mass had run into problems making their way around to reunite with Tom after being separated; instead, somehow, they manage to find an area in D.C. where they can all stand around while Anne dies, Ben can run off to find Tom and apparently not run into any problems and the reason they know that Tom succeeded is because they see hornets exploding in the sky, not because of any aliens near them on the ground. After they ran into the baby Espheni, it was almost too easy for them (and for Tom to reach the Queen too). Those deadly babies are almost under-utilized as well; wouldn’t it have been a good strategic move for the Espheni to use them if they’re so dangerous, rather than only hope that one of them is disturbed to do some damage?
The finale may not have delivered on that front (among others), but it does when it comes to answering the big question of why the Espheni came to Earth, as the Queen explains to Tom once she has him trapped (which maybe he should have been expecting; is there nothing in his memory from history that suggests he should have kept the weapon hidden away until the last possible moment to prevent it from falling out of his hand during an attack?). “Has intellectual curiosity given way to your bloodlust?” She asks when he says he doesn’t care. The Espheni followed their own prophecy and expanded their empire from planet to planet, but Earth was unlike anything they had encountered before, the only habitable planet in the galaxy with immeasurable strategic value. And so many years ago, when it was inhabited by primitives, she sent her fiercest warrior to lead the invasion, her daughter, but humans slaughtered her and consumed her flesh to consume her strength.
The Queen vowed to avenge her death and wipe out humanity – and now, to do the same to him as was done to her daughter and leave his head for the spike. As she sees it, without their leader, the rest of humanity will go like lambs to the slaughter. But even with that threat hanging over his head, Tom just sees history repeating itself: “You can kill me. You can put my head on a stick. You failed to learn the lesson for the second time: We will never surrender.” As has been done before, it’s when the enemy is striking to kill the hero that the final move is made. Tom grabs the Dornia’s capsule and, as she drinks her blood, it latches onto him and, thanks to the alterations from Marty, safely travels from him into the Queen and kills her. And so begins the end of the Espheni, with the hornets exploding in the sky like gruesome fireworks, fitting for D.C.
As for the 2nd Mass, there’s more relief and happiness on display from them in the series finale than there had been the previous five seasons, which is to be expected. On their final night at the base, Tom knocks another speech out of the park, and it’s one that no one wants to even attempt to follow up as he recalls the first speech he gave this season. Those speeches of Tom’s remain one of the best parts of the series, and while they may not be as heavy with historical references as they were in the beginning, they still serve as a reminder that he was once a professor and not a fighter.
“We began the last leg of this journey with me admonishing you to find your warrior, as I’d felt I’d found mine. To some of you, that may have been just the boost you needed, and to others, I know it didn’t sit very well, and I understand that. This has been a punishing journey, not just because of those who we’ve lost, but because of the parts of ourselves that we’ve had to sacrifice along the way. Our innocence and our hope. Maybe even part of our souls. But if you ask me, it’s been worth it. You are why I fight. And I don’t know who’s going to cross the finish line, but I can promise you this: it will be crossed. This war will be won, because of you.”
The 2nd Mass knows that the end is truly near, that there is an actual finish line just out of reach, that they have a goal, that they know where they’re going, that all they have to do is get the new weapon to the Queen and kill her and the rest of the enemy forces will fall as well. (And in a way, that in itself seems just a bit too easy after everything they have been through during this war.) And while the 2nd Mass has celebrated victories before in the war – the season started with them shouting their success in the woods – Tom’s exclamation following the death of the Queen and as he watches the end of the rest of the Espheni forces is a whole other story. It’s a moment that had been just out of reach until then. The joy comes in the final scene, in the knowledge that the fighting is over and all that’s left is to rebuild. Good or bad, it’s a well-deserved ending for these troops.
But between the end of the Queen and the look into the future comes (briefly) tragedy. The journey to the Queen includes dealing with Espheni eggs and the warning from Cochise that baby Espheni are more violent than the adults. When one gets out, it leads to the necessity of using a grenade, and in the blast, Anne, who only moments before had revealed to Tom that she’s pregnant, gets hit by shrapnel. Though she tries to keep up as the rest of the 2nd Mass, separated from Tom (because that is, also, the only way that this could go), try to find another way to the Lincoln Memorial, all anyone can do is be there for her as she dies… until Tom shows up and remembers how the Dornia saved him and carries her all the way to the nearest body of water (which can be explained by the adrenaline rush of the end of the war?). His pleas (“I did everything you asked. I believed in you. I delivered your vengeance. You saved me, so I could help you. Now you’re gonna save her. Help her!”) work, and Anne (still pregnant) is right by his side as he delivers his final speech.
As depressing as it would have been for Tom to lose Anne and another child, at the same time, it seems just a bit too easy for him to have a way to save them or for the war to end without another Mason (especially, perhaps, one who has been around since the beginning) dying. “Lexi” in the penultimate episode doesn’t count. In fact, as the Espheni forces fell, doesn’t it seem like it would make sense to have Ben fall as well, to have the thing that helped them win battles – his spikes – be what also cost him his life because they’re an enemy weapon, especially after the relief that they were helping him heal from having one of them forcibly removed? But perhaps that would be too depressing, especially since the goal seems to be to have the series end on an optimistic note.
And while humanity’s conflict with the aliens comes to an end when Tom uses the Dornia’s weapon, there’s still time in the finale for one last confrontation with Pope, who somehow manages to find his way to Tom as he awaits the Dornia’s resurrection of Anne. Just like in “Reunion,” Pope’s return is, unfortunately, once again, a joke because it is just too short. Somehow Pope finds Tom at just that moment. Somehow Pope survives all those injuries long enough for that one last scene with Tom. Like the battle at the military base, it comes across as poor execution of a good idea. There should have been something more to each of these scenes, given their past.
Everything that had been building between those two from the very beginning deserved better. Pope deserved better. Colin Cunningham deserved better. Tom/Noah Wyle deserved better from his final scene with Pope/Colin Cunningham. But perhaps if the “reunion” in the previous episode hadn’t been such a letdown, this one wouldn’t have either. Perhaps if Pope had been around for more of these two episodes, this final scene as their last wouldn’t have felt a bit cheap. “All this time, I thought it would give me satisfaction, that your suffering would make me feel better,” Pope tells Tom as he realizes that the other man too has lost someone but it doesn’t make it better. It’s also too bad there isn’t one last Pope and Weaver scene before it’s over; though not as contentious as Pope and Tom’s relationship, that dynamic was so entertaining. There was such potential with Crazy Pope following Sara’s death and his kidnapping of Hal, but it seems that instead of going as far as they could have with it, they hesitated and failed in the execution of it.
Just like the Mason family gets its happy ending, so do Hal and Maggie. “I made up my mind a long time ago,” he says to Ben when his brother points out he has to do something about his current love triangle, and that confirms his choice, which was never really in question. He just met Isabella; there’s no way that could in any way be described as “a long time.” And for the two fighters, what better move is there to make that clear than for Hal to propose to Maggie right in the middle of battle? Those two have had their ups and their downs and their love triangles and their separations, but their ending has been inevitable, and they were heading for where they end up from the moment she had her spikes removed and told him her decision had everything to do with him. That was her big gesture, and his was the proposal. The love triangles – both of them – have not been the best moves done by the show, but they were at least handled the best they could be once they were introduced, and at least they didn’t make a big deal out of ending them. Besides, Hal and Maggie had to end up together; any other ending just wouldn’t have made sense.
Something else the finale gets right is that it begins and ends as it should. Recalling the series premiere, “Reborn” opens up with kids’ drawings of the war and Matt’s voiceover: “Our final fight with the Espheni didn’t go as planned, but one thing was clear: this would be the bloodiest battle yet.”
All in all, the ending feels rushed. Tom kills the Queen, the Espheni forces die, Anne dies, Tom saves Anne and Pope finds Tom, and then boom! There’s a jump ahead in time. They’re already rebuilding, from a point far enough in the future from the final battle that it’s a bit of a letdown to not see the immediate aftermath. There should have been something from humanity, with presumably the Volm’s help, since they are there for Tom’s speech (though their role in the war has regrettably seriously diminished as of late), picking up the pieces in D.C., figuring out what they’re going to do next, how they’re going to move forward. Instead, the world may not be back to what it was before the invasion, but it is looking pretty good for having been torn to pieces only moments before as Tom steps up to the microphone, and this all happens in a matter of minutes.
After spending five seasons on fighting the war and seeing these characters change from what they were to what they had to be to survive, it’s a bit disappointing to not see them having to then adjust to a new normal, to see everyone happy and no in between, no PTSD, no battle scars still visible. Instead, everyone seems a bit too settled in their new roles as they stand around, happy that the war is over, in regular clothes, without weapons on them or within reach. Obviously enough time has passed to make that possible, and it’s too bad that none of that is directly addressed onscreen.
What transpires in place of an adjustment period and showing how everyone is gathered like they are to listen to Tom’s speech is a cliché, with Tom at the podium, his family, both by blood and by extension of the war, at his side, starting off his speech with, “Once upon a time, there was a place called America,” having to pause for the cheers. It’s an emotional moment and a bittersweet moment, knowing that it’s not only Tom’s last speech, but the final minutes of the series, and it’s hard not to imagine that if the show were going to continue and if the season had still ended this way, there would be something else, another threat, in space. Then he continues, echoing the thoughts he read in “The Last World War By Those Who Fought It,” a book chronicled and annotated by Matt. (After all, look at what he’s been doing all along and who his father is.) “But now going forward, borders don’t mean what they used to because before we were countries, we were human beings. And despite the horror, the loss, and the death, the war with the Espheni might very well have made us better human beings. Because we’ve discovered we are not alone.” It could not have ended with anything but a Tom Mason speech.
With that, “Falling Skies” has ended on TNT. What did you think of the series finale “Reborn”?