Faraday makes a few stops along the way, such as reaching a certain transmission spot in New Mexico that turns out to be the center of a tornado, and later to a tech empire called Origin in Seattle. An introductory scene in episode one shows us Faraday from a stage, like a massive sold-out tech guru, ready to unleash a world-changing energy source. We know he achieves it success more or less, and that this is his life story. The frame device takes some distance from the overall tension of the “save two worlds” story, although we know that mastering technology is the essence of a “Man Who Fell to Earth” story.
Meanwhile, Jimmi Simpson’s CIA agent Spencer Clay gets wind of these strange activities taking place in New Mexico, especially after a tornado comes with a strange signal not seen in four decades. Hyperfocused and with an uncertain moral compass, he becomes fixated on understanding the transference and begins to discover more about the legacy of former tech guru Thomas Newton and his company World Enterprises.
The series was co-created and often co-written by Alex Kurtzman (“The Mummy”) and Jenny Lumet (“Rachel Getting Married”). The series has the sheen of a blockbuster, but remains reasonably grounded. The series is particularly good at tackling the text people most associate with this story — not so much Walter Tevis’ novel, but the 1976 film, directed by Nicolas Roeg, and starring David Bowie. It cleverly presents itself as a sort of sequel, using certain passages from that film, such as a traumatic surgery scene, and an iconic image of Bowie’s Thomas Newton covering his face with a hat, to add color. (It also casts Bill Nighy here as Newton, so the role can live on unscrupulously.) In a thematic sense, all of this makes Kurtzman and Lumet’s “The Man Who Fell to Earth” more about people righting a past that’s resurfaced. , faced with unanswered questions. It’s a good way to give this series a heart and soul of its own.
The writing sometimes takes too long to really get things going, burdened by creating the mysteries per episode rather than being ignited by them. But that’s where the collective charisma of the cast kicks in, as they are able to fill much of the gaps in the show. Ejiofor is often fascinating as an outsider who learns to be human, interacting by interaction, while being obnoxious and strange to everyone around him. He doesn’t know certain mores, like how not to just say “F**K!” screams. in a public place, and if he says something like “I have four stomachs” with a wide open gaze, it doesn’t have the kind of whimsy or magic that would kill his sincerity. His performance is also where the show (in the first four episodes at least) makes the most effort to talk about what makes a modern human. Taking a completely different approach to Bowie’s minimalist own title performance, Ejiofor charts his own journey of discovery in “The Man Who Fell to Earth”, with an ever-expressive face, messianic calm and unpredictable response.