Falling Skies season 2 episodes 1 & 2 review: Worlds Apart & Shall We Gather At The River

Ron checks out the first two second season episodes of TNT's alien war series Falling Skies. Read his review, here...

This review contains spoilers.

2.1 Worlds Apart & 2.2 Shall We Meet At The River

At the end of the first season of Falling Skies, Tom Mason (Noah Wyle) abandoned the human resistance to wander on board an alien spacecraft. That’s a pretty big cliffhanger to end on. However, the cliff only hangs so long. While the 2nd Mass is involved in a fierce firefight with an alien patrol they’ve ambushed, guess who comes wandering back into the group (and also into the line of his son Ben’s fire)? If you said Tom, you’d be right! Disregarding his brother Hal’s orders, Ben promptly shoots his returning father, ostensibly by mistake. Happy Father’s Day, Tom! Welcome back and here’s a bullet for your troubles!

Of course, the last time people returned from alien custody, one of them turned into an asset and the other turned into a serious problem for the group. Will Tom end up being more like his son Ben (Connor Jessup) or more like the traitor Rick? That’s the big question for the group, and that question only grows tougher to answer when Tom starts spasming and bleeding from the eyeball thanks to a little, ahem… gift left him by the aliens who captured him, then let him run away free in Lansing, Michigan.

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Things have changed quite a bit since Tom left. How he’ll adapt to the new power dynamics of the resistance group, and how they’ll accept his return is still to be seen. While Captain Weaver (Will Patton), Dr. Anne Glass (Moon Bloodgood), Dai (Peter Shinkoda), and the rest are still there, the days of holing up and hiding are over.

The centerpiece of the second episode, Shall We Gather At The River, is a long tracking shot of the camp as they prepare to roll out and try to escape the oncoming alien attack squadron. The camera moves very fluidly among the departing column of vehicles, as if travelling between and among them, and while it moves we get actors delivering lines and then departing. In a show that has a lot of special effects, it’s a fairly traditional long shot that captures the episode for me. Director Greg Beeman, who directed both episodes, did a great job with moving and blocking this week.

Getting those little snippets of conversation turns a simple scene of trashed vehicles getting on the road into a brilliant little slice of life for the camp as a whole, and a nod to what looks like the show’s new emphasis: mobile combat. I’m sure they’re going to be hunkering down for awhile at some point, but the first two episodes seem to suggest that they’re not going to be fortifying a school and trying to stay under the radar anytime soon. Weaver seems to be shooting for more active combat. Hit them on your terms, don’t wait for them on theirs.

There were some incredibly clever lines delivered this week. Colin Cunningham is always great as Pope, and Noah Wyle’s pleasant, optimistic face helps keep Tom’s innate goodness front and center, even when he’s troubled about his own status as a threat to the resistance. Those two play off one another very well; I like that the roles have reversed from the first season. Then, Pope was the wild card who had to prove himself and Tom was the stalwart, now Tom is the loose cannon (possibly). That’s the kind of territory you cover in a good war show, and it’s fun to see the roles reversed (though the 2nd Mass clearly hasn’t forgiven Pope for his behaviour last season, given how quickly they are willing to pull guns on him when provoked). The writers for the first two episodes, Tom Verheiden for Worlds Apart and Bradley Thompson and David Weddle for Shall We Gather At The River are all from the Battlestar Galactica crew. (Bonus fun fact: Tom Verheiden wrote/created Timecop!)

However, the time-jump could be a bit problematic for some viewers. There are new characters, like Jamil the engineer (Brandon Jay McLaren, late of The Killing), who are just thrown into the 2nd Mass, while characters from first season, like Uncle Scott, disappear with only a passing mention of their death. Apparently, Tom missed a LOT of action, and since we’re following Tom’s story, we’ll just get filled in on the war as he does. It’s not a terrible decision by the cast and crew (and it rewards people who read the digital comic books that fill in the gaps around the Battle of Fitchburg).

I actually like that time passed and group dynamics changed in the interim. The show’s been off the air since last August. Rather than hoping we get caught up in a hurry via the DVDs or whatever, Falling Skies has decided to just change things up and let us catch up along with Tom. It’s challenging while, at the same time, it makes it easy for those that didn’t watch the show during the first season catch up without needing all the backstory filled in.

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It’s what the show does with its fresh restart that will determine the future of Falling Skies.

US Correspondent Ron Hogan is glad to see Falling Skies has returned with a bang, rather than a whimper. Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.

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