How to make an Opening

Now that Netflix has come to town I am finally able to watch more of Falling Skies. The more involved I get in writing, the more I find myself able to see how the storyteller constructs their work. (Also, the harder it is for me to turn off this internal review system, to actually enjoy the show!)

Season 1, Episode 1 of Falling Skies is a great example of this. The premise of the show is that aliens have come to earth and destroyed civilisation as we know it; leaving the few bedraggled humans to mount a resistance.

This is the opening dialog of the show, spoken in the voices of several children, and with numerous shots of accompanying art work.

I was in school when the ships came… they were really big, and they said that we weren’t going to attack them with the nuclear bombs because they mighta wanna’d to be friends, but they didn’t want to be friends…¬† not at all. Then there was a bright light that makes like all electronics stop working… computers, radio’s… cars, satellites, TVs… everything. They blew up army bases, ships, submarines, the navy and all the soldiers are gone… now mum’s and dad’s have to fight… after that they blew up all the capitals New York, Washington DC, Paris… all the major cities… they then came. There were millions of them… trillions… everywhere… we call them skitters and mechs… they kill grown-ups and catch kids… they put on harness things… they put it on kids and control them… they say it hurts a lot… my parents went out to get some help… but I know they’re gone, they’re dead…

Falling Skies S01E01Now if you think about what is actually said, it is a horrific idea. Millions,¬†perhaps billions are dead, We are no longer the dominant species on the planet, and we’re fighting just for survival. Everything is destroyed and humanity is really in trouble.

In the first 55 seconds of the show they manage to deliver a great overview of the background and set the plot up in an ingenious way. By using children as the point of view they are able to gloss over the details that we would expect from an adult, and bring in a heightened sense of pain, loss and fear.

Within the first episode they set up multiple lot hooks:

  • “Tom Mason” is the main protagonist: a tough-but-also-very-scholarly Professor of History. His knowledge of warfare is going to be invaluable. He’s made second-in-command of his group (2nd Mass.), and we know he understands the duty of the role… but he is also torn by the competing desire to care for his three sons: one of whom has been taken captive by the skitters (pre-show). Tom’s clearly “the mentor” role, with a group of young fighters around him.
  • “Weaver” the commander of the 2nd Mass. who prefers his soldiers over civilians (with an inferred comment that he could be a threat to the civilians)… and doesn’t particularly like Tom Mason… or agree with the orders handed down to him… trouble’s a brewing.
  • The enemy fortress and speculation of how to destroy it.
  • There’s a budding romance and a young love triangle forming.