This War of the Worlds review contains spoilers.
War of the Worlds episode 5
It gives with one hand and takes away with the other, The War of the Worlds. Episode five came so close to leaving us on a note of sweet and tender romance instead of abject bleakness, but in the end, must have thought the better of it.
The final image of this instalment was superlative horror: a beautifully shot corpse drifting in a lake of Arthurian mist, its pregnant womb bloodily scooped out like a balled watermelon. “I don’t believe in the existence of angels,” sang Nick Cave over the top. Me neither, Nick. After this, who could?
The baby-abduction from last week, we learn, was not done on an alien whim. For some dread scheme, the robot dogs are harvesting kids – up to and including 16-week-old foetuses. (If it was human babies you were after, fellas, perhaps you shouldn’t have murdered all the humans. We make those little guys on the regular!)
Whoever came up with this plan, we also know that it wasn’t the dogs. Bill’s kitchen table poking this week revealed that their neural density’s about as packed as a leaky beanbag, Those fools don’t even have an optic nerve, let alone the acuity to come up with something of this magnitude. They’re just the (terrifying, machine-gun-faced) monkeys, Bill surmises. Somewhere out there, is an organ grinder.
Durrand reaches a similar conclusion in her investigation of the crash site. There, the dogs are stumbling around like autumn wasps, purposeless and insensible. Once as terrifying as the aliens in Aliens, with their crunchy mechanics and custom bayonet expansion packs, these sad-sack mutts are almost… sympathetic. It’s a triumph of VFX animation that makes them such. It’s cleverly done; no faces, no voices, just a bunch of articulated joints, but still they seem pitiable.
More pitiable, at least, than the “organic material” Durrand and Mokrani discover at the crash site – less organ grinders than ground organs. If humanity’s been scourged by what looks to the untrained eye like a side of rancid bacon jammed into a melted vacuum cleaner, it’s a sad state of affairs.
It is a sad state of affairs. Still. The corpses are beginning to rot. Characters are wondering out loud if they’ll be lucky enough to die of cancer. Chloe thinks the best she can hope for is a quick death. Ash is crying in the nursery over a little blue hat. It’s not great timing for a series this filled with woe to have finally arrived in the UK. If we want to see deserted streets and desolate, unpeopled landscapes at the moment, there are windows for that. Comfort and nostalgia are the TV escapism people want right now, not incrementally moving, elegantly austere sci-fi.
It is slow-moving, this series – atmospheric and tastefully composed with all its cool blues and chilly greys, but creeping along in terms of story. We’re over halfway and it seems we’ve yet to meet the real enemy. Appreciating that some things have to be saved for season two, it makes for frustrating viewing. Plot points like Emily and Sacha’s psychic connection to the aliens are unexplored while Chloe and Noah’s baffling incest-assault (and now, muscular dystrophy) storyline plays out.
Some movement from the alien camp is now overdue. There are only so many strangulated conversations to watch characters have as they hide from stalking robot death.
That’s what did for Noah this week. A character whose death it was impossible to feel anything about but relief, he went the way of the skull bayonet and good riddance.
Who’ll be next? Not Emily or Kariem, please. Their gentle romance is the nicest thing to happen since the streets filled with corpses. Who doesn’t love a seduction that starts with a conversation about wetting yourself? It’s a (forgive the pun) warming relief amid all the misery and tension.