Faraday makes a few stops in the journey, like reaching out 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 introducing scene in episode one shows us Faraday from a podium, as a massive tech guru with a sold-out crowd, ready to unleash a world-changing energy source. We know that he achieves success more or less, and that this is his life-story. The framing device slightly takes away from the story’s overall “save two worlds” tension, even though we know technology mastering is par the course for the gist of “Man Who Fell to Earth” story.
Meanwhile, Jimmi Simpson’s CIA agent Spencer Clay catches wind of these strange activities happening in New Mexico, especially after a tornado comes with a strange signal that hasn’t been seen in four decades. Hyper-focused and with an uncertain moral compass, he becomes fixated on understanding the transmission, and he starts to uncover more about the legacy of former tech guru Thomas Newton and his company World Enterprises.
Co-created and often co-written by Alex Kurtzman (“The Mummy”) and Jenny Lumet (“Rachel Getting Married”), the series takes a blockbuster movie’s sheen, but keeps it fairly grounded. The series is notably savvy about how to address the text that people most associate with this story—not so much Walter Tevis’ novel, but the 1976 film directed by Nicolas Roeg, starring David Bowie. Smartly presenting itself as a type of sequel, it uses certain passages from that movie, like 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 as Newton here, so that the role can live on with no qualms.) In a thematic sense, this all makes Kurtzman and Lumet’s “The Man Who Fell to Earth” more about people rectifying a past that has reemerged, facing questions that are not answered. It’s a good way to let this series have its own heart and soul.
The writing sometimes takes too long to truly get things going, weighed down by creating its episode-by-episode mysteries instead of fired up by them. But that’s where the collective charisma of its cast kicks in, as they are able to fill in a great deal of the show’s gaps. Ejiofor is often fascinating as an outsider learning how to be human, interaction by interaction, while being off-putting and strange to everyone around him. He doesn’t know certain mores, like how you don’t just scream “F**K!” in a public place, and when he says something like “I have four stomachs” with a wide-open gaze, it does not have the kind of whimsy or magic that would kill its sincerity. His performance is also where the show (in its first four episodes at least) makes the most effort to talk about what makes a modern human. Taking a wildly different approach than Bowie’s minimalist own title performance, Ejiofor charts his own path of discovery in “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” which includes an always expressive face, a messianic calm, and an unpredictable.