Darrell always says that he loves discussions when the hosts are on opposite sides, and usually that means, in our case, that one of us likes the episode while the other does not. And after this discussion, I happen to agree with him! The episode discussion for A Thing With Feathers was fun for a couple reasons, and mostly they have to do with getting the opportunity to share the literary tie-ins I picked up on. If you’ve ever listened to my Lost in Literature segment for the We Have to Go Back Podcast (also with Golden Spiral Media), you’ll know that sometimes I really have to stretch in order to make a parallel work between a piece of literature on the show and current story arcs. I did not feel like I had to make stretches, but more so that the literary references were there, waiting, if you wanted to look, but neither invasive nor filing gaps (such as, you don’t need the literary references to make sense of the episode). Perhaps you were like Darrell and didn’t know what value this episode had to the overall story, well, I really think that analyzing this episode through the lens of Dante’s Inferno could really help and increase appreciation for it.
It’s been a while since I read this…epic poem, I guess you could call it, so I was a bit rusty on my knowledge in the podcast. But I think I got the gist across. Essentially, the point I wanted to make, was that this season seems like it is just one form of hell after another. The Tom, Weaver, Hal, Pope and Tector in the ghetto (thieves and violent criminals); Anne, Anthony, and Deni on the move (also criminals); Ben, Lourdes, Maggie and Lexi in the haven (fraudulent); Matt at the Espheni reconditioning center (liars, betrayers).
Please understand, I am not trying to imply that every character mentioned explicitly falls into the category of “sin” within the parenthetical, however, for the sake of argument and the parallel each group has to Dante’s Inferno, I’ve placed them into these categories.
Inferno follows Dante and Virgil as they enter hell and make their way through its nine circles. Each circle has its own categorization of sinners. In the second circle, Minos guards the gate and judges sinners and sentences them to one of the nine circles, based on the weight of their sin. The lustful (and the gluttons, I think; if not, gluttons are in like the third or fourth circle) stay in the second circle, for example, but the violent criminals get thrown down to one of the rings in the seventh circle (divided based on the type of violence they exhibited), while the frauds, liars and betrayers are thrown down deeper, circle eight or nine. And, as an example of the depth of sin, Cassius and Brutus (who murdered Caesar) and Judas (who betrayed Jesus) are held in Satan’s mouth at the very, very bottom. In every circle, the punishment fits the sin.
I categorized each of the separated groups into one of the various circles, then, in order to depict the characters’ perception of their lives. Hell, or Gehenna, or the Valley of Hinnom, however you want to look at it, is popularly characterized in two (major) ways; either hell is a literal pit of fire, or it is a state of mind. Either way, there is pain and suffering. I believe in the Biblical interpretation of Hell, so I would describe it is a burning lake of sulfur in which a person’s soul is forever separated from God (Psalm 6:5 “For in death there is no remembrance of thee…”) which is what causes the “screaming and gnashing of teeth” because the soul is permanently divided from the One who can make it whole. Point being, whether hell is literally a burning lake of sulfur or not, most people would agree that it does represent perpetual, cyclical anguish and torment. And that kind of seems to be what the characters are experiencing this season on Falling Skies, no matter where they go, they just seem to enter another circle of hell.
There are a lot of ways in which this parallel fails, it’s not by any means 100%. For example, the sinners sentenced in hell have no ability to hope, because their punishment is eternal. In the scene where Tom and Dingaan are trapped under the rubble and Dingaan says “We’re being punished!” Tom shoots back, telling Dingaan that they have to hope. And yes, he lies to himself that hope is possible. If Tom was a sinner sentenced in Dante’s Inferno, he would not be capable of hope.
Of course, this is where the term “metaphor” saves me from having to account for all these differences. It is simply a parallel designed to emphasize realities and paint them in a different light. If you look at Dingaan and say, “He’s super whiney, I don’t like him when he’s like this.” Then you’re going to come away from this episode with a sour taste; however, if you look at Dingaan and say, “He perceives himself as enduring perpetual torment as punishment for the negligence of his son, and resulting death of his wife.” and then apply the “circle of hell” skin to that paradigm, I’d say the whole point of Dingaan being trapped with Tom improves.