Posted by: ritagone | April 16, 2014

Watching The End of the World


At the risk of being considered a colossal nerd, I have a confession to make: I am a sucker for apocalyptic science fiction stories, both in film and in TV series.

That’s why I’ve just recently binge-watched the TNT original series “Falling Skies,” three seasons done and dusted, waiting for the fourth to start up in June. I had not seen it when it was airing regularly over the last three years, which is why I was binge-watching, to catch up so that when season 4 starts, I’m ready for it.

And yes, it’s about an alien invasion of Planet Earth that happens suddenly and changes the world as we know it. Pretty formulaic stuff. This series boasts none other than Steven Spielberg as one of its Executive Producers and stars Noah Wyle, of “E.R.” fame, so it had some merit to it going in.

But for me, it’s all about the theme and the practical questions raised: given that most of the human population is wiped out in the invasion, how do the survivors behave? How do they adapt? How do they live through the changes and the adjustments that would necessarily occur all around them? I find these questions and these themes fascinating both in movies, TV series, and books, because I think they show how we fare when pushed in the ultimate challenges of life, when all the frivolities are stripped away and we’re left with basic survival.

Now, in reality, I don’t for one minute think that I’d be one of those survivors were there to be a real alien invasion. To think that I would be a survivor if only, say, 10% of the population made it, is like thinking that if reincarnation were a reality, I would have been a princess in a former life rather than a maid. Why do we always put ourselves into the leading roles of life rather than assuming that we would be the first ones out of the picture? No, I understand all too clearly that I don’t have the chops to survive or the stamina to do what would most likely be necessary in a post-alien invasion world.

So let’s get that straight from the start.

And that’s exactly why I can watch these kinds of shows and project myself into them, like taking a ride at Disneyland knowing that you aren’t really in danger at all but being able to see yourself more or less in a “role.”

So I concentrate on the overriding themes and motifs that are a vital part of these kinds of shows: man’s relationship to others, how we preserve our humanity in the face of adversity, what we’re really made of under stress. When life is pared down to these bare essentials, what becomes important and what becomes insignificant? And are we always able to tell the difference? A well-made science fiction series can get to the heart of these questions and really make us take a good look at what we’re like deep down inside, under pressure, when it really counts.

And I like that.

So even though there’s the customary assortment of aliens and everything that that brings (think about it: dealing with aliens, while it would be something new, eventually settles down to being similar to dealing with your neighbor or the country to the north or south of you, after all, with more of a language barrier and perhaps a much different look), ultimately it’s still good guys vs. bad guys, how you react when someone cheats, lies, or does something that shouldn’t be done. It’s setting up new rules when the old ones don’t hold anymore, or at the very least figuring out which old rules don’t hold anymore, and why. It’s about getting up every day and making it through the day, surviving.

Some of my friends dislike science fiction. They won’t read it or watch it in any visual form. To my mind, it’s their loss, because I believe we have much to learn from the creative minds who take us to other worlds or bring other beings to us. If it’s all about the basics of survival, it’s also all about the basest of human behavior and emotions at a time when everything is raw and essential. Nothing is complicated: just put one foot in front of the other and make it to the end of the day, but do it with some dignity and honor and decency, or it’s not worth doing it at all.

At least that’s the lesson we’re supposed to learn from a good science fiction show, in the end.

Very basic, very simple, and still at the heart of the Bible, no matter whether you’re dealing with humans or aliens from another world: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

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