This War of the Worlds review contains spoilers.
Dieu merci! My prayers were answered. After two action-heavy, plot-stuffed episodes that replaced atmosphere with incident, this week War of the Worlds got back to what really matters: existential discussions over red wine and 20-year-old songs about the fragility of mortal life. A bomb went off too, for those who prefer their apocalypse more fast and furious. Something for everybody.
While the London crew were being blasted apart in every sense, Catherine, Sophia and Nathan were grieving, healing and connecting in a French farmhouse. After the attack on the Observatory, they’d holed up in the university library to search for references to Professor Bill Ward without the help of Google or the Ctrl+F function. Eventually, his author blurb was spotted on the back of a book (I didn’t catch the title, but judging by his behaviour of late it might have been ‘Ethics in Medical Experimentation: Why Dr Mengele Had a Point’). Now, they’re all on his trail and en route to London, having picked up widower Victor and his ancient voiture along the way.
Before the new quartet set off on their road trip, some satisfying character work was done around their various responses to grief. War of the Worlds’ contemplative pace and the space it leaves around dialogue means that it’s taken longer to get to know to its characters than it might in another show. We’re on season two and still only on nodding terms with most of them. Despite their prominence, Jonathan and Sarah for example, feel more like the kind of neighbours you might chat to about the weather or the bins, but not ask why he seems to have moved out and she seems to have started drinking during the day. We’re not close, is the point.
Episodes like this one though, draw us together. Soldier Nathan may still be a blank page (though the Milka chocolate provision does indicate that he’s a keeper), but Catherine and Sophia are well-drawn, well-acted, and easy to care about.
Léa Drucker is responsible for much of that. As the French crew’s resident scientist, her character could easily be reduced to brainy-explainer-of-stuff, but Drucker’s convincing performance elevates even her most functional lines. She has a way with delivery that disguises exposition, never making the viewer feel as if anything is being said for our benefit. It’s quite a gift. And this episode was a gift for Drucker, showcasing her range as an actor and bringing her relationship with Emilie de Preissac’s Sophia to life.
Catherine and Sophia’s scenes were strong, but Catherine and Victor’s scenes had real poignancy. Played by Féodor Atkine, new character Victor was introduced mid-suicide attempt – a characteristically bleak move for a show that doesn’t flinch at sadness. Whether it’s a widower trying to gas himself, or a woman violently wrestling a child’s corpse for possession of a rucksack, War of the Worlds confronts uncomfortable emotions without looking away. When a distraught, grieving Catherine asked Victor what she could do about her pain, he told her “Nothing. Cry,” which is exactly right. We may not all be facing the apocalypse, but we are all equally powerless when it comes to losing people we love.
In London, emotions were running as high but the result was less affecting. The minute Emily got the sweats, she realised what Bill had done, and revealed his betrayal to her understandably furious parents. Now Bill and Zoe are ostracised from the group, which is newly slimmed down to the core after that grisly bomb blast (did Ash survive that, by the way? Anybody see him?).
A dose of hard-won insulin saw Emily right, leaving her free to cosy up with Sacha about their shared visions. “Glad you’re here, makes me feel better,” she told him. Would she feel that way if she knew that he’d left Noah to be skewered by a Cyberdog, or attacked her dad with a pitchfork? Assuming that Emily and Sacha are the future ancestors of the merciless time-travelling Invaders, seeing them grow closer feels ominous, like watching Mr and Mrs Hitler hit it off on a first date.
If Emily is somehow the Invaders’ mother, surely even she couldn’t forgive what they’ve done. Their battle tactics, though effective, are barbarous. That was a brutal thing to do to Scarlet (Donna Banya), and a nasty bit of body horror from this show. Add that to the billions they’ve already killed and tell me, why shouldn’t we be rooting for Bill’s virus to work?
War of the Worlds season 2 airs weekly on Epix in the US. It starts on Disney+ in the UK on Friday the 16th of July.