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TV Snapshot: "Falling Skies" and the stories we live by


In TNT's new science-fiction series Falling Skies,Tom Mason (Noah Wyle), a former history professor and second in command of a group of soldiers and civilians fleeing an alien invasion, has been captured by John Pope (Colin Cunningham), a thug who’s seeking more weapons and supplies. In a lull in the action, they have a conversation:  
Pope: So, how’s the resistance going?  
Mason: Just getting started.  
Pope: You honestly believe that?  
Mason: I do.  
Pope: History buffs as yourself ought to know better.  
Mason: I taught the American Revolution. You know how that turned out.  
Pope: Yeah, but is that the right—what do you call it?—analogy? Instead of us being the Colonials and the aliens being the Red Coats isn’t it more like we’re the Indians and they’re the never ending tide of humanity coming in from Europe? How’d that work out for the Indians?  
Mason: Well, if you don’t see any hope…

A group of humans banding together to survive an overwhelming apocalypse or peril that threatens to wipe them out—a story retold many times in modern television. Stargate Universe. Jericho. Battlestar Galactica. Walking Dead. Caprica. Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. These stories are often driven by acts of courage, love, valor, and sacrifice—but these stories also often display the worst of what we human beings are capable. As critic Maureen Ryan puts it, shows like these tend to beg an “age-old question of speculative fiction: Are human beings their own worst enemies, rather than alien invaders or an alien environment?” And that begs another question: In the face of such horrible acts, what makes the human race worth fighting for or saving? I think we begin to find an answer in that conversation between Mason and Pope.

Indeed, it’s not hard to take Pope’s perspective. We’ve seen it over and over in history—the selfishness, back-stabbing, gluttony for power, the horrible acts of which we humans are capable. It all happens again and again and again. What makes us worth fighting for or saving if we are capable of such acts of horror and destruction?

But, as Mason reminds us, how we respond to disaster and depravity depends on what story we see ourselves living by right now.

Pope sees humanity’s story as a relentless tide of every man for himself, dog eat dog, the strongest survive. Mason, on the other hand, sees the story of humanity as one where good men are capable of triumphing over bad men, a humanity capable of rising above a history marred by horror. And that gives him hope.

And that invites us to ask what we believe—I mean really believe—about how the world works. What story are we living in? Is it, like Pope, every man for himself? Or do we believe there is a larger truth—a good and an evil—that beckons us to act differently? And if we believe that is our larger story, do we believe good triumphs? Because there is a Story where a God loves this species so much that he goes to the greatest lengths to ensure our Story comes to a glorious, breathtaking end. And in that Story, we, in all our capacity for evil and destruction, are worth saving for one reason only: because he loves us. And that—even in the face of the most insidious darknesses of our own creation—gives us the best kind of hope.

This best kind of hope gives us the assurance that, even in the midst of struggle, all shall be well. That, no matter what happens in the middle of the Story, we are worth fighting for and saving—and our Story ends good. That can be overwhelmingly difficult to maintain when witnessing the overwhelming power of suffering and the evil we humans are capable of inflicting on each other. But trusting that Story is true makes all the difference.

Because here’s something key: what story we live by is revealed by how we live right now. It is revealed in how we see and approach others, in the decisions we make and the paths we walk in our daily lives. If like Pope, we believe our larger story is every man for himself, then we will treat others as objects to be bartered and used for our own benefit; in essence, we are creators of horror. If we believe—really believe—God is who he says and can do what he says, then ultimately we will make decisions that reflect the best interest of others; we are co-creators of good. There are, of course, many other stories we tell ourselves in between Pope’s story and the Story, but I am among those who think they all ultimately lead us to one path or the other.

Stories like Falling Skies call us to examine which story we live by—and remind us that how we live now will ultimately determine how we respond to darkness and horror down the road, be it the falling skies of personal sufferings or the wider skies of sufferings we share together. As Ryan points out, Falling Skies isn’t the best television has to offer when it comes to stories like these—for that matter, I’m not sure any series will ever match the bar that Battlestar Galactica set for good stories—but I’m willing to stick with this story for awhile because I need to be reminded of the Story I live in today.