Friday, June 22, 2012

Review: Falling Skies "Shall We Gather At the River"

Non Spoiler Review:
The aliens have the 2nd Mass pinned against a river, forcing Weaver to try to find a way to cross before they're attacked. Tom fears he has been compromised during his time on the ship, especially given his chunks of missing time. Meanwhile, Hal, Ben and Matt all struggle with their father's return.

This second part to the premiere was a tense and really well-constructed episode. It's quite evident how the series has matured, carrying forward the previous hour's sense of urgency. There was also quite a horrifying operation scene that ranks right up there in the leagues of Prometheus for a cringeworthy moment.

I'm eager to see where the series goes this season. If these two episodes are indication, they've worked out quite a few of the bugs of the first year.

Spoilers Now!
Tom has a nightmare of the red-eyed skitter from the ship. Anne gives him an examination and he seems normal, despite Tom worrying that the aliens have turned him into a sleeper agent. He's still suffering guilt from abandoning his boys, but Anne informs him they've lost a lot of good people when he was gone—including Scott and Rick. While Ben's fitness is unusual, until she can get her hands on a working X-ray machine, she has no idea what's happening to him internally.

Jimmy, Matt, Hal and Maggie are scouting out a bridge. Dai manages to shoot down an incoming scout ship (with their armor piercing bullets) but it damages the bridge in the process.

Weaver fills Tom in on what's happened—since attacking the structure they've been hounded relentlessly and were surrounded until Ben found a soft spot in their lines that allowed them to punch through. They lost more than a hundred people. Now they're being pinned against the river. Weaver is thankful for Hal and Ben, but he needs Tom back as his XO. Tom doesn't trust himself and warns him not to either. 

The resistance debates ways to get across the gap in the bridge—rebuilding it would draw alien attention. Jamil suggests patching it long enough for them to get across. The aliens can now beat their jamming signals, too, so that's nolonger an option. Hal and Maggie volunteer to check out what lies beyond the river but Ben points out he can swim it faster. Weaver tells him to take Jimmy.

Tom admits to Hal that there are gaps in his memory with the aliens, and needs him to promise to keep an eye on him. If he does anything to endanger them he wants Hal to stop him by any means necessary. Matt overhears. Then his eye starts bleeding and he goes into convulsions.

Anne finds some sort of cyst in his eye and realizes it's moving. Tom freaks out and wants it removed. Anne gets the wormlike creature out and puts it in a jar. Tom is even more paranoid, asking they restrain him. Though the device has been removed and seems inert, Weaver obliges.

Ben crosses the river and explores the forest, which is full of the debris from the shot down ship. He gets a headache as he approaches the crash site. He takes a picture of some kind of organic device, then destroys it. He finds an alien tower with scout ships and mechs moving around it. 

Pope informs Weaver they won't be taking Tom across the river, and refuses to obey orders, forcing Weaver, Hal and Anthony to draw their weapons on him. Weaver sends him away. 

Ben visits his father after returning from the river. Tom is handcuffed to a pole in the bus. He tells his father to use hate to help him maintain control, and shows him his back where the harness was, because he hates the skitters for turning him into a freak. Tom explains it was his love for his boys that kept him going, not hate. 

Jamil wants to grab as much of the wreckage from the crashed beamer as they can so they can learn about their propulsion systems, given there appeared to be no pilots. Weaver says once they get across the river he can take what he wants. If they're drones they must be getting commands from the base Ben saw. Weaver plans to blow it up to keep the beamers off them before they cross the bridge. 

Jamil and Lourdes seem to be hitting it off, as does Hal and Maggie. Matt is scared of his father after seeing what came out of his eye. With no one noticing, Tom's parasite unfurls and breaks out of the jar, climbing onto Lourdes' jacket and flying out of the bus.

Hal, Maggie, Dai and Ben take the boat across the river while the resistance waits at the bridge. Jamil has repaired the break enough to cross. The attack group watches the mech and beamers depart so Dai goes in closer to take out of the station. Dai fires and scores a hit. Ben can sense that the signal has stopped, so they take off.

Pope arrives to alert Weaver skitters and mechs are on their tail. Anne takes the bus over but gets stuck. The resistance tries to hold off the mechs and give them enough time to free the bus.

Tom tells Matt to cut him loose. Anne refuses to leave the wounded. Tom runs out into the battle and takes over the gun. Matt grabs a gun to help, too. Weaver gets the bus free and it crosses, and he calls for Tom to leave the guns and get to their side before they blow the bridge. Tom makes a run for it but Pope grabs the detonator and blows the bridge before the mechs can reach them. Weaver orders everone to move out. 

Weaver assures Hal they'll go back with a search party. They've lost six people, three vehicles and a food truck, but they made it across. Maggie has scouted ahead and found an airport to serve as their new base. 

Matt's feeling guilty for staying away from Tom. Hal punches out Pope for blowing the bridge, but his father emerges from the river, while Lourdes finds the jar empty. While Tom enjoys his reunion, the red-eyed skitter watches the convoy from the woods as the parasite lands and crawls into its eye.

The Verdict:
An even stronger episode, Falling Skies doesn't get bogged down in a lot of what's transpired, bringing the audience up to speed on their losses and tactical moves along with Tom. They've also certainly beefed up the tension with a very creepy operation scene. Is Tom a sleeper agent? And how is he connected to the red-eyed skitter? I'm pleased they addressed the obvious concerns about his loyalty rather than string it out for very long.

Shall We Gather At the River brought some nice action to balance out the more character driven first part, with lots of shots of beamers flying around and mechs and skitters to lend a sense of the alien occupation. It's also interesting that they so casually mentioned the skitters have adapted to their jamming technique used last season. I like the fact that the aliens would (logically) figure out a solution, but just a little surprised how they dropped that plotline so quickly. And is Ben growing skitter skin despite having his harness removed? I wasn't entirely clear if he was bearing the scars of the harness or if he was, in fact, still changing.

Several relationships are blooming—Jamil and Lourdes, as well as Hal and Maggie (which will certainly have to deal with Karen at some point. None of them seem forced simply to add some romance to the story, which is good. All the characters are familiar with each other enough that such things can evolve naturally with the series.

We get a mention of the invaders nuking cities, and reasons why the aliens are choosing not to just eradicate their problem. That raises the question of radiation in general given the initial attack involved nuking many cities worldwide. Has there been any discussion about possible radioactivity from Washington and New York (which I think was destroyed, as well)? Just a thought as the resistance moves across country.

So two strong episodes to kickstart season two. I'm hoping the extra special effects we caught this week is a growing trend, and not just a special case of blowing the effects budget.

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