Monday, June 18, 2012

Falling Skies Season Two Premiere Review (spoilers)

10 months ago, Season One ended on quite a cliffhanger. Tom Mason agreed to enter the alien ship and allegedly talk with the alien masterminds behind the invasion (who are dubbed 'Overlords').  What did they want to tell him?  Is it possible they want to negotiate a truce?  Will we learn more about the aliens?  Speculating about all of those questions was good fun, but now it's time to get some real answers to these questions... or at least some of them.

Tom saying goodbye to the 2nd Massachusetts Regiment is a huge deal.  He's placing his life on the line by walking into the unknown and he's putting the safety of the people he loves in Captain Weaver's hands - and let's face it, Weaver has almost always needed Tom to serve as his voice of reason.  Thankfully, the premiere wastes no time reuniting Tom with the militia and does an excellent job showing us what happened on the craft.

Just like Season One, the show kicks off with a bang.  We're treated to another resistance versus alien encounter, except this time around the humans finally have the upper hand.  A handful of skitters and a mech walk right into an ambush, and the fight is anything but fair. Pope (who has some Spider-Man level reflexes in one moment), Weaver, Ben and Hal lay waste to the alien invaders as they unload clips and clips into their enemies and set off explosives.  I immediately noticed the improved visuals, and that's a huge plus since this show relies on a host of CG heavy scenes.  More importantly, the encounter gives us a quick recap on the cast without any forced exposition.  Pope is the traditional anti-hero in the group, Weaver is in command, Hal is now second in command, and Ben is chugging some serious haterade.

Previously "harnessed" by the aliens, Ben is driven by revenge and wants to kill every skitter and mech he sees.  While the harness was removed, parts still remain and he continues to change.  Luckily for the resistance, these changes have created their very own super soldier.  He's faster and stronger than regular humans, and with a bloodlusted attitude, he's definitely going to become one of the most interesting characters this season.  

Unfortunately for Ben, he was a little too trigger happy and puts a slug in his father's gut.  Thankfully, the lights going out for Tom means we get insight on what happened to him while he was away.  As he dreams, we see he was kept in captivity for some time before finally getting some one-on-one time with the Overlord.  The alien using Karen as a puppet for his voice helped make these moments especially enjoyable.  It presents Tom with an offer: an alleged safe zone for the remaining groups as the aliens go on to wreak havoc on the rest of the planet.  As expected, Tom refuses and equates the offer to a prison.  The Overlord fires back, rubbing humanity's lowest points in Tom's face (the holocaust, trail of tears, etc).  Tom retorts, saying he expected such an advanced species to be better than us, but the massive alien shrugs off the insult.  This is without question one of the standout scenes of the episode.  Tom has the brass to hold his own in a conversation with a creature that towers over him, it sheds new light on the attitude of these mysterious figures behind the attack, and to top it off, we see Tom electrocute the fool.  This segment also has the luxury of introducing what appears to be an reoccurring skitter with half of his face deformed/injured.  His eye is bright red, so it's easy to give a nickname based off of that, but I'd rather call him "Alien Two-Face" from now on.  

The Overlord claims the resistance doesn't pose a threat, but this conversation makes it pretty transparent that we pesky humans are proving to be quite then nuisance.  Tom gives the extraterrestrials a piece of his mind with what appears to be a giant cattle prod before ultimately being allowed to leave.  As Tom exists the ship, it's surprising to see he's with a large group of resistance leaders.  Based on a short conversation, it seems like the Overlord offered each human the same deal.  However, this conversation is cut short when a mech opens fire on the crowd and Alien Two-Face is by its side.  Tom is the only one to escape, and soon we'll see why.  I can't help but wonder if this means several other resistance groups are still fighting the good fight, and if so, if the 2nd Mass will bump into them.  Regardless, it was nice of them to let Tom go, but they dropped him off over a hundred miles from home and without any cab fare.  Not cool.  

On his walk back home, Tom encounters a girl struggling with a large man.  Always the hero, Tom saves her and eventually convinces the girl to let him use her motorcycle.  While the survivor is terribly obnoxious and defensive, the character does a good job reminding us that the resistance militia actually has it easy in comparison to the other survivors.  They've lost all hope and have been reduced to only looking out for themselves and their immediate family, without a care in the world for their fellow humans.
We're shown a decent chunk of Mason drama as Ben and Hal go at it over the chain of command.  Hal's pissed at Ben for going on a killing spree after he was told to cease fire, and to top it off, Ben went behind his back and started teaching their youngest sibling, Matt, how to use a firearm.  It isn't exactly the most original feud around, but it absolutely beats hearing Matt always whine about how he's being treated like a child.

The highlight of the first hour has to be when Dr. Glass and a few others hide from a passing mech.  The few stayed behind to finish up medical work on Tom, and as they focus on digging a bullet out, the flashes of lights and thunderous stomps of the mech get closer and closer.  The noise these giant killing machines make is awesome and would definitely make any survivor wet their pants.  It's almost like a T-Rex with a sore throat.  Despite that, a decent chunk of the first hour was dedicated to the theory of alien ships tracking heat from vehicles.  A plot device or two later and the problem is solved.  It honestly felt like filler to me and I'm shocked the aliens didn't think of using this method sooner.  The first hour ends on an important note I've been thinking of for at least half of the episode now... why aren't they more concerned on how Tom made it back to them?

Tom is concerned over blanks in his memory from his time with the aliens, and it looks like his fears are justified.  The second hour delivers one of the creepiest moments you'll see in recent TV history (it'll be familiar if you watched Prometheus) as we discover the aliens did indeed put something in Tom.  What can only be described as a mechanical bug slithers around the hero's eyeball before being gruesomely ripped out.  Was this a tracking device?  Can it control him? Are there more inside him?  We won't receive any answers in this episode, but it's likely we will next time around.  Regardless, Tom has always been the wisest among the bunch, so he immediately knows that he needs to be restrained.  Despite this, Weaver still demands for Tom to be his second in command, and frankly, we can tell if it's because he needs Tom.  When he has a foolish plan prepared, he knows Tom is there to point out all of the flaws and even suggest something superior.  I can't help but feel as though Tom will eventually replace Weaver during this season.  We'll just have to wait and see.  
In spite of Pope serving with the group for months now, he's still being treated like a man they can't trust and they constantly give the dude a hard time.  Every now and then it's cool to play on that if he's being an overly sarcastic jerk, but when he's questioning their safety over Tom's mysterious return, I'd say it's a perfectly legitimate question to pose.  I really hope they're not going to play the whole "he's a bad boy and we can't trust him" card this entire season.  The man has had their backs for at least three months now.

We also see that Ben is getting hardcore headaches every time he approaches an alien base, but he's hiding that information from Weaver and his peers.  I understand he's likely concealing this information because he's insecure about his slow mutation or fears they'll treat him differently, but the pros massively outweigh the cons.  It seems painful for him, yet tolerable, and can provide a key tactical advantage in the war.  Getting a headache again?  Heads up, it means there's a big ole' base nearby!  At any rate, there has been a key focus on Ben, so I'm certain we'll have a chance to explore why he's hiding that from the humans.

The final action sequence of the two-hour premiere must have cost them a pretty penny or two.  There's plenty of gunfire, explosions, and more mechs and skitters than I recall seeing in any other scene so far.  Once again there's a scene where Pope is treated as the sketchy guy even though his decision to blow up the bridge was completely rational. 

Complaint time.  What really killed the adrenaline heavy moments for me was the hero-factor surrounding Tom.  We know skitters have us completely outclassed physically, yet he decides lunging and trying to grapple with one is a wise idea.  When said skitter decides to effortlessly toss him against the wall, tis but a scratch!  Later on, he'll evade gunfire from a mech that mowed down 6 or so gunmen.  That same mech was smiling in the face of .50 caliber bullets, but when Tom decides to man the turret, it's serious business time and that huge robot takes some damage.  I found this especially peculiar because Dai (who has a shining moment with a RPG) previously revealed the pick-up truck mounted guns were packing the anti-armor rounds.  It's unclear if it was just one specific truck of if they ran out of the ammunition, but I imagine if they have the ammo, each one of those heavy weapons will be equipped with the special rounds.  Matt also has Hawkeye-like accuracy as he saves his father from a close range skitter attack.  Recoil be damned for a child who apparently trained with a gun once!  Overall, these are all pretty minor complaints and I must admit I'm excited for the next episode.  

For me, this show isn't even close to the quality of hits like Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones, but I'm a sucker for a good alien invasion and it's keeping me thoroughly amused.  It's cheesy at times, but they've created the groundwork for some interesting topics during this premiere and hopefully they'll continue to do so.  The main cast does a solid job and I was happy to see they're beginning to expand on the secondary characters.  Hopefully Season Two can continue with this kind of momentum.

7.5/10