Ben Mason 3.0: More Awesome Than I Thought?

In the very last hour of Guest-Writer-A-Con, BethTX returns to give a different perspective on the blog’s favorite character: Ben. 

Ben Mason 3.0

The idea for this article came, as most of my writings do, at work while I’m looking for a distraction from real life. I’m sure my company doesn’t need reports to be accurate or anything, so my mind started to wander to Falling Skies; specifically, to Ben Mason and why he seems to be the reigning fan favorite.

I love Ben. Now, I know what you’re thinking: squealing fangirl=dismissed. Nope. I’m old enough to be Ben’s great-great-great grandmother with room in there for another couple of generations and I haven’t squealed since the last time I stuck my foot in a shoe containing a scorpion. I just love the character and it seems I’m not alone in my opinion for once.

It hit me this Friday mid-spreadsheet (thereafter sadly abandoned in favor of this article) that there is very little that unites the majority of fans of any show. True Believers tend to be polarized along very specific lines about every single character. Witness the online gang fights between Team Shane and Team Rick fans of The Walking Dead. Team Shane all the way, baby, and the sooner they kill off Lori, that conniving, manipulative, despicable—sorry. I took a solemn blood oath to stay on-topic. The point is that I’ve read articles, blogs, and discussion boards around the internet and have yet to see anything but positive fan response for Ben. Of course, some of his actions have been criticized, but the character himself has worked his way into fan’s hearts this season. We’re just able to identify with him, but why?

Mad credit has to be given to the immensely talented Connor Jessup. In the hands of a less-able actor Ben and all the changes he’s going through would have sunk faster than Rosie O’Donnell in a pool of quicksand. Of course, the best actor can’t overcome bad writing, so props go out to the Falling Skies writers for actually making a teen character both believable and non-whiny. Ben easily could have gone the other way and been groan-inducing fan Kryptonite, the Wesley Crusher of the alien apocalypse. [Hey! I like Wesley Crusher! -Greg]

So why do we like Ben? First of all, he’s a teenager and fans are either teenagers themselves or have been one in the near past. We all remember that awkward stage where no matter how popular we were inside we felt like a being from another planet. We may have been lacking the actual glowing worm creature spiked to our backs, but we can all identify with Ben’s feelings of isolation and feeling different from everyone else. In spite of having the unending support of two brothers and an adoring father, Ben feels all alone in the universe. Remember when you thought no one else in the world had ever had a pimple on the night of a big date? Yeah, that, times about a hundred for Ben. No one around him does understand. I’m a crusty old broad, but I sniffled a little when Ben pulled off his shirt to show Tom his back and said, “They turned me into a freak.” You win, Ben. My pimple on date night story has been shamed and sent home to its mama.

We also like a hero, and Ben is a hero. That word gets thrown around a little too freely in our society (rant mode activated) and I’d like to point out that just surviving something does not make you a hero. It just means you got lucky. A hero is someone who not only survived but did something courageous in the process. Everything Ben has done since being unharnessed is an attempt to overcome his demons and use his experience toward the greater good. As much as he wishes he’d never been harnessed, he’s determined to use its residual effects– strength, speed, enhanced senses—to protect the 2nd Mass and kick the aliens the hell off his planet. The Skitters really created their own worst enemy when they harnessed Ben. Weaver had a throwaway line where he told Tom that the 2nd Mass was essentially sunk during the Battle of Fitchburg until Ben found a weakness in the Skitter siege and exploited it. But, by all means guys, keep calling him a razorback and ostracizing him. Sheesh.

Ben is a flawed hero, which works in his favor. We don’t like perfect heroes. They’re boring characters that make for boring television. As pure as Ben’s heart and intentions are, he’s still very human and relatable. His overconfidence on an unauthorized mission leads to Jimmy’s death. He hides his growing connection with the Skitters even from his family out of fear. He’s so desperate for someone to connect with that he’s easy prey for Karen the Overlord’s Executive Assistant. He goes from Slipknot emo one moment to Eminem anger the next (Anyone who didn’t let out a little snicker of glee when Ben forced Hal to his knees, raise your hand. Put your hand down; you’re lying.)

The final point that really stands out is that we watch post-apocalyptic shows like Falling Skies partially because we wonder how we ourselves would react in that situation: civilization gone, every day a life-or-death struggle, food and technology in short supply, and enemies all around. Ben is doing what most of us would like to think we would: fighting heroically no matter the cost. We may be accountants, lawyers, or students now, but the minute those alien ships land we picture ourselves putting down the iPhone and picking up the Desert Eagle nine mil to take some serious guerrilla whoop-ass to those scaly green dudes. After all, if a self-described “math geek” who was pretty much bully fodder for his older brother can do it, we like to think we could too.

Beth did NOT have a website she wanted to plug, so I leave you, as always, with the wise words of Wesley Crusher:

Keep the Resistance Strong!

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~ by The Falling Skies Blog on August 5, 2012.

12 Responses to “Ben Mason 3.0: More Awesome Than I Thought?”

  1. I really liked this post. I agree with everything that is written. It really sums up my feelings for my favorite character Ben. Thank you.

  2. Re: “because we wonder how we ourselves would react in that situation” – In regards to that, I’m with Pope all the way, except for the miles I go with Dai and Anthony. I don’t identify with Ben more than I identified with Maia (the awesomely written 8 years old girl from The 4400) – they are kids, and it’s been a freaking long time since I was a kid.
    But nonetheless, I still think Ben is a great character and one of the very few kids/teenagers who is written in a realistic way. In most fiction, kids are either stupid and in the way of whatever the adults are trying – dead weight they have to watch out for – or they are overpowered annoyances that seem to make the rest of the cast utterly useless. See Wesley Crusher – the very reason the actor is such a fan favorite now is him agreeing with fans that the character sucked.
    That I do NOT identify with Ben is part of why I think he’s so well written. If I identify with a character, I’m less likely to complain about the writing. If I don’t, I’m a lot more inclined to complain about things I’d not even think about otherwise. Non-identification gives the character an extra obstacle to overcome. My general mindset is “characters under the age of 20 suck by default”. Playing against these odds and still winning me over means the character went an extra mile to get where others go by default. (Y’know, Pope had me the moment he complained about a crying child, because hell yeah, that’s very much what I would do!)
    In most TV shows, the (usually male, around my age) writers manage to write decent male-around-our-age-characters, but fail horribly at writing women and children. Falling Skies stands out for doing fine on both fronts – Anne and Ben being the prime examples, but they also seem to have found a way to make Lourdes; both young and female, more interesting.

    Contrast TWD, where you not only hate either of the male leads, but also every other character – and that’s a universal truth; no-one likes “all” or “most” of the characters. People like “Daryl + x” and hate the rest with a passion. (I like Daryl and Andrea, and I was sorta Team Shane.) Falling Skies didn’t make all the mistakes TWD made (gradually revealing that all characters are jerks, in many different, sometimes even kinda creative ways) – which is, to me, the single best evidence that FS does not “try to be TWD”. Post apocalyptic shows work if you want the heroes/humans to survive and win, not if you want them all dead asap. And the real art in making that happen is to write ALL characters well enough for people to not hate them, and some so well that people will love them – identification optional.

    • And here’s the long version, lol http://circusofscars.wordpress.com/2012/08/05/who-would-you-be-if-the-world-went-to-hell/

    • All good points. My next article is about comparing and contrasting TWD and FS and you really did hit on the main thrust. Having some polarizing characters is okay, it leads to discussion, but when the majority of fans sit in front of the TV saying, “Don’t care if Character A dies, don’t care if Character B dies, actively hoping Character C gets eaten slowly…” there’s a serious writing foul. And I agree that TWD women and children are simply horrid with the exception of Andrea.

      FS is actually the first show I can think of that has completely avoided this. Everyone is going to have a favorite or two and an unfavorite or two, but the majority of fan posts I’ve read suggest that in general most of the characters are liked.

      Basically, I’d like to buy the writers a few drinks!

      • Yeah, I can’t think of a show that didn’t have at least one character I hated with a passion. The 4400 had it toned down, but there were still people I just couldn’t stand. Really all of my fave shows have a character I completely hate. If it’s just one or two, fine, then the show is awesome *despite* those characters. But TWD takes it to a whole new level, as if they aren’t even trying to make the characters likable or truly want you to hate them all.
        You aren’t looking for a co-writer for the FS vs. TWD, by any chance? I was planning on writing something more about that myself.

      • Collaboration sounds great!

      • I’ll send a mail with some ideas then.

  3. […] her article over at fallingskiesblog, fellow author BethTX makes a strong point for why Ben Mason is one hell of a character. I agree […]

  4. Poor Wesley. Longtime punching bag. I should probably leave him alone!

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