Ep. 201 “Worlds Apart”
Ep. 202 “Shall We Meet At The River”
There were no two bigger ratings-grabbers on basic cable last year than The Walking Dead and Falling Skies. Both post-apocalyptic survival stories, but one is because of zombies, and the other is from aliens. The Walking Dead questions if humanity can survive the pursuit of an unknown, relentless enemy. Falling Skies, which premiered Sunday, asks similar questions through a sci-fi-military filter and with an enemy that our protagonists can see and combat. The first season followed a group of refugees from Boston comprised of bits and pieces of a makeshift army, a band of renegades and citizens who have taken to an all-out war. At first they are just trying to stay alive, but by the end of the season, they are given hope–a small understanding of the invaders’, their intentions and an idea of how to defeat them. There were a few nuggets of some tasty television but they were spread out too unevenly over ten episodes. If Sunday night’s two-hour, Season 2 premiere is a preview of this year’s story, then it should be all about the humans striking back.
Season One left us watching our main character, a history professor-turned military strategist, Tom Mason (Noah Wyle) board an alien spacecraft to talk with the aliens through a former soldier in their infantry, Karen (Jessy Schram) in exchange for his sons’ safety. Flashbacks reveal Tom’s uneasy meeting with the aliens, who offered to leave humans alone if they all relocate to one location and leave the rest of the planet to them. Tom refused to cooperate and he is released amongst others, who were offered the same deal to an open field in Michigan where a mech and skitter are waiting for them. Tom is the only one spared, as the mech sprays the others with bullets; Tom acts as a messenger because they know his resolve with lead him back to the others but they are hoping he invokes fear too.
In Tom’s absence the resistance has raged on. John Pope (Colin Cunningham) is now in the front lines for the 2nd Mass, leading a group of land pirates called the “Berzerkers.” Anthony (Mpho Koaho) who was severely injured but saved by Pope at the end of last season, now fights skitter and mech shoulder-to-shoulder with him. Tom’s oldest son, Hal (Drew Roy) has filled-in admirably, leading battalions and reports directly to Captain Weaver (Will Patton). Middle-son Ben has responded to being harnessed by the aliens vindictively and has been forever-changed mentally. Hal has a trusting and flirting friendship with Maggie (Sarah Sanguin Carter), while Dai (Peter Shinkoda) remains one of the most reliable soldiers in the 2nd Mass.
The group has been through adverse situations and some of the minor cast members have been killed off between seasons, but they’ve managed to maintain perspective and what humanity they had before. Weaver knows to take a moment to enjoy a drink with Dr. Glass (Moon Bloodgood). Lourdes (Seychelle Gabriell) found love in new cast member Jamil (Brandon Jay McLaren), a dependable scout for Weaver. All things considered, 2nd Mass progressed as planned in the three months Tom was taken, and the action has been ramped up for this new season. In the first five minutes of “Worlds Apart” brings Tom back into the fold.
Physically he appears normal but despite being gone for three months he is welcomed back by Weaver and the refugees with no questions. Only Pope sees fit to speak freely about his reservations of Tom’s “safe” return. Nightmares and flashbacks reveal that Tom’s journey back to Boston was not a lonely one. He managed the long trip back to the eastern seaboard with a teenage girl and her motorcycle after he saved her from an attacker and buried her mother. Dr. Glass discovers a parasite of some sort swimming in Tom’s eye and the removal of this alien life form will raise the hair on one’s neck. This worm snaps into a ball when placed into a jar and confirms Tom’s fear that he’s been compromised. Mason’s youngest son, Matt (Maxim Knight) even fears him.
Thankfully, there is more to Falling Skies than Tom Mason. The 2nd Mass is a rolling convoy now and an attempt to cross a river over a large wooden bridge provides the second hour’s harrowing action. Other key entry points include Ben’s vengeful motivations, and remains psychically-connected to the skitters. He can detect their high frequency signals and his body is deformed from being de-harnessed. Moving forward, Ben Mason’s arc is the most interesting and least-predictable of the bunch. One of the skitters who will be be a recurring character bears a red eye and is a high ranking figure on the other side. It appears that we’ll be seeing much more of the aliens this season. Lots and lots more. Then there’s still the question of whether or not Weaver’s family is still alive.
But here’s what else there is to enjoy out of this season. So far we’ve gotten the action that Season One sorely missed on a more consistent basis. I don’t know if the budget can be reasonable with this much post-production effects but more of this and less of the Season One arguing is a plus. We know who these characters are, but we don’t necessarily know them better, but at least the pacing didn’t suffer from any forced or unnatural exploration of any one character, well, besides Tom Mason that is. There is a noticeable improvement in how the stories have been structured and it makes for a more balanced and brisk-moving adventure. Two hours in and I already feel like Falling Skies will turn into something greater by the end of this season.
Pope continues to be the most sensible character but he’s never going to win any friends thinking with his head and because of that, he also remains the most compelling figure in the series. Based on this premiere, there will be a cloud of doubt in Tom Mason’s actions but it’s clear that his decision to board the ship was a tragic mistake. Let’s hope he’s not given a free pass. Plenty of good stories can come from consequence. Hal has become more interesting by way of his interest in Maggie as well as his sibling rivalry with Ben whose physical attributes have been enhanced. I’m telling you though, Connor Jessup is has the best story of the three young actors playing Wyle’s sons on the show.
My wish is for secondary characters like Anthony and Dai become featured and they come into the foreground fully fleshed out at some point, but I’m still struggling to find interest in Lourdes who is clearly the token hopeful and faith-driven character who appears oblivious to the reality of the situation. Also, the aggravating Jimmy (Dylan Authors) is still alive. We already have the three Mason boys, do we really need another? The biggest improvement is that the 2nd Mass is constantly on the move, in attack mode, and no longer setting up a camp, waiting like ducks in the water. Eventually they’ll need to join another infantry for reinforcements and mix it up with other survivors. And at some point, Falling Skies will be able to emerge out of the shadows of all of the other alien invasion stories without drawing comparisons to Battlestar Galactica or Starship Troopers, and create its own mythology–I believe that moment may arrive soon this season.
8.0 / 10
Falling Skies airs Sunday nights on TNT at 9pm ET/PT.