Warning: this War of the Worlds review contains spoilers.
Careful what you wish for. In its first season, War of the Worlds came under fire for its deliberately meditative pace. It was just too sparse for some. They found the journeys too slow and the revelations too few and far between. Season two appears to have addressed that complaint by turning up the dial. Episode one upended a barrel of plot all over viewers’ heads, and episode two has done the same, leaving us swimming in the stuff.
This week, there were name-character deaths, an armed attack, a big family reunion, a pregnancy, two break-ups, two assassination attempts and a sibling murder around which a conspiracy was formed. No sooner had one event happened than the next came along. There was no chance of getting bored, but also little time left for reflection.
In the rush to set up the characters in their new configuration, emotional moments aren’t quite getting the space to resonate. It feels as though a speedy repositioning is taking place to serve a plot schematic. For Emily and Sacha to be together, Emily and Kariem have to break up. For Jonathan and Chloe to be a couple, he has to leave the wife he just reunited with.
The Gresham family reunion was momentarily moving before it was undermined by Jonathan’s ‘by the way love, you’re chucked for this French bird’ bolt-on coming so soon afterwards. From Ash telling Jonathan that his family weren’t only alive but around the corner, to that final hug with Emily, it was a touching sequence. The break-up following so fast on its heels, with no real sign of any turmoil on Jonathan’s part, detracted from that.
It also made Jonathan’s character roughly as sympathetic as a cyberdog (less perhaps, as even they have that surprisingly endearing puppet-with-slack-strings thing going for them). Though seeing as the first time we met Jonathan he was about to cheat on his wife, perhaps sympathy and admiration were never the goal with his character. This series has always been emotional but never sentimental, neither has it followed TV’s rules of moral desert. Innocent kids and good-hearted heroes are as likely to die as anyone, as this episode showed.
The attack on the Observatory gave us fast-paced horror and real plot consequences. With no musical score, it unleashed a sense of realistic panic from the moment that first bullet came through the window. Sophia’s young charge Theo was shot dead, as was Adel Bencherif’s Colonel Mokrani, who was the closest thing this show had to an old-fashioned hero, and who will be missed.
The Invaders kill just like their Cyberdogs – indiscriminately and without conscience. Well, some of them do. There’s clearly a schism among their ranks, which are split between hard-line human-hating zealots like Jokim and Adina, played by Leo Bill and Ania Sowinski, and more peaceable thinkers like Micah and Isla, played by Robert Emms and Aimee Ffion-Edwards. Jokim’s zealotry made him choke his own brother to death to stop him from collaborating with the humans and changing the course of events. (By the way, Jokim, Micah, Adina… what’s the significance of the Invaders having Judeo-Christian biblical names?)
We learned from Micah that over hundreds of years, the Invaders developed the scientific capability to transport their ships through space and time. It would be fair to assume then, that this lot are from the future and descended from Emily and Sacha’s future child, which will inherit his familial muscular dystrophy, and her Stargardt disease. That is, if Emily survives Bill’s virus, which we’re to believe he injected her with after her DNA psychic link-up made her sleep-walk into a scissor-based attempt on his life. I said there was a lot going on this season. We’re only on episode two.
An exchange between Adina and Isla this episode perhaps offered an obscure clue into Human-Invader relations. As Adina prepared to give the stolen babies their very own Invader tattoos, Isla mused that they would never know they were human. “If they knew, they’d grow up to hate us,” said Adina. “Like we grew up to hate them,” said Isla, “We kill them, they kill us, sometimes I think it will never end.” “It’s different this time”, said Adina, suggesting that somehow, the warring factions are in a repeating loop. Why did they invade Earth? Because they’re dying and want to live. Why are they dying? Because of the virus created in retaliation for them invading Earth… It’s a thinker.
This season certainly isn’t lacking for brain-twisting plot. Anybody else miss the comparatively relaxing days of sumptuous glacial lakes, Nick Cave ballads and endless contemplation of loneliness and death, or is it just me?
War of the Worlds is airing on Canal+ in France, Epix in the US, and will stream on Disney+ in the UK from Friday the 16th of July.