Friday, April 20, 2018
Lost in Space: "The Sky is Falling" (November 17, 1965)
In “The Sky is Falling,” a strange alien probe seems to assault Dr. Smith (Jonathan Harris), leading him to fear that an alien invasion is imminent.
The Robinsons attempt to calm down Smith -- this cosmic Chicken Little -- but very soon humanoid aliens do beam to the planet on rays of light during a matter-transfer process, and set up a small research facility.
Like the Robinsons, the visiting aliens are a family: a mother, a father, and a young boy.
While Smith advises murdering the aliens before more of their brethren get a foothold on the planet, Robinson (Guy Williams) argues for saner heads.
But when Will (Bill Mumy) disappears, Smith is able to ratchet up everybody’s fear and suspicion.
He suggests that the aliens have abducted Will, though the truth is that Will is helping the alien child, who has developed an illness from exposure to the human boy.
Heavily armed, the Robinsons lead a small assault team, consisting of John, Don (Mark Goddard) and Smith) to the alien territory, ready to kill to retrieve Will.
But the aliens are also suspicious of the humans, and are missing their son too. Worse, they have superior weapons…
“The Sky is Falling” is another great, classic episode of Lost in Space (1965 – 1968). It rises right to the top of the series catalog (alongside “My Friend, Mr. Nobody,”) in fact.
The idea underlining the episode is that, simply, on the frontier there are no second chances.
Danger lurks around every corner, and fear is a constant companion. But if that fear spirals out of control, violence is inevitable. Therefore, it is incumbent on all of us to control our fears; to remain rational in the face of the unknown.
In this case, Smith is the provocative agent of fear, playing on the Robinsons’ protective instincts towards Will. Smith wants to destroy (meaning murder…) the alien family, even though that alien family has done him no harm, and has shown no signs of aggression.
By contrast, Robinson argues nobly and logically against war. “There’s every chance we can live together in peace,” he suggests.
But Smith won’t surrender even though, as he acknowledge, he has no proof that the aliens are hostile in any way.
“Evidence? What do I care about evidence?” He asks.
In other words, he has an agenda, and the facts be damned.
Robinson also makes a cogent argument about dealing with alien life and alien morality in general. He thinks the situation through, even though others demand immediate, violent action.
Specifically, Robinson asks what happens if the Robinsons do start a war, and they are successful in the campaign. What happens next, when the thousands of aliens that Smith fearfully anticipates do arrive?
Because the Robinsons have acted violently, they truly will stand no chance of survival.
Smith -- as Machiavellian thinkers will -- dismisses Robinson’s ideas of “universal brotherhood” as hopelessly idealistic, misguided. When a person wants a war, we see, he or she will do anything to get it, against the better angels of our human nature, and against the simple facts, even.
“The Sky is Falling” looks at this total irrationality, this tendency to react fearfully and in a cowardly fashion, in the face of the unknown.
And remember, Lost in Space acts universally as a space age metaphor for the American West, and the settlement of that territory in American history. The Robinsons encountering an alien family brings up, naturally, the idea of American pioneers encountering Native Americans, and the possibilities that arise from that encounter.
You can either choose courage and peace, or choose fear, conflict, and ultimately genocide. Which path ennobles us? Which path damns us?
Certainly, "The Sky is Falling" is a moral story worthy of Star Trek, because it concerns mankind choosing to be better in the future than he was in his past. We do not have to be trapped by our history. We can overcome it.
But, importantly, this exact story could not work on Star Trek as effectively as it does within the pioneer family paradigm of Lost in Space. Here, we understand what’s at stake: parents worrying for a missing child, and therefore drawing the absolutely worst conclusion about what has happened to him.
Where our children are concerned, we want to take no chances. We must be their vigilant protectors. And when we fear they are in danger...watch out. I say this as a parent, myself.
But does this sense of paternal and maternal protection mean, lacking information, we should go to war…out of ignorance?
That’s the campaign Smith begins in “The Sky is Falling. Finally, only Will and the alien boy -- representing the possibilities of tomorrow, or the future -- can get the adults to lay down their arms and face each other not with fear, but with humanity.
Obviously, you can’t have Smith starting a war every week, every single episode, but “The Sky is Falling” finds a worthwhile use for the oft-over-exposed character.
If the Robinsons represent the best of humanity the rational, caring, “pioneer spirit,” Smith represents the worst qualities: cowardice, fear, hatred, prejudice.
When push comes to shove on the final frontier, the question becomes, which “human nature” -- Smith’s or the family’s -- will prevail?
“The Sky is Falling” is just about a perfect episode of Lost in Space in this format, reminding us that when we move on to the next horizon, outer space, we will take with us not just our angels, but our demons too.
In terms of historic/canonical importance, this episode also gives Smith his first opportunity for another memorable catchphrase: “Have no fear, Smith is here.”
It’s important in context. Have no fear? Smith is the one who brings the fear! It is his presence that nearly leads the Robinsons into a disastrous and unnecessary war. But, in typically self-deluded fashion, he sees himself as the hero. As Yoda himself might tell him, wars don't make anyone great, or a hero.