TNT’s FALLING SKIES has returned! Those who watched the alien invasion drama last summer may have forgotten how things ended, so first, a quick refresher. The 2nd Mass attacked the aliens, resulting in serious consequences and quite a few deaths. On the way home, Tom (Noah Wyle) was invited aboard the alien ship by the alien-controlled Karen (Jessy Schram), leaving his family and friends behind.
FALLING SKIES’ two hour premiere picks up three months later. Tom is still missing, but it soon found during an attack, after being accidentally shot by his middle son, Ben (Connor Jessup). Rejoining the group, who are happy to see him, and, strangely, barely ask any questions, viewers see a little bit about what has been going on with Tom via flashbacks.
It must be said that flashbacks have been done to death, and aren’t really necessary unless they add something vital to the story. The events in Tom’s life that unfold in the first hour, “Worlds Apart,” do not qualify as vital. Sure, there is a very small look at what Tom goes through as a prisoner and the circumstances of his release. But there are also unnecessary scenes where Tom teams up with a young girl for a bit, before she takes off on him that seem designed to be filler.
“Worlds Apart” is frustrating because it does not live up to the potential of the series. There are some very cool special effects, and character drama that profiles the new dynamics of the group, including Ben and his older brother Hal (Drew Roy) struggling for power. But Tom’s bits slow things down from these more intriguing stories, resulting in a lackluster installment.
Besides the family reunion when Tom reconnects with his three sons, we also get to see just how much Anne (Moon Bloodgood) has missed Tom. This is all well and good, as the chemistry between the two is nice. Instead of consummating these mutual feelings, however, there is only a hug. Yes, FALLING SKIES is family friendly, and the Tom / Anne relationship will be a slowly built one, as many television couples are put through to draw out the arc. But why not be bold and go for the hook up now instead of unnecessarily delaying the story? They’re adults, and people act a little more impulsively in such stressful times.
Those complaints aside, the second hour of the FALLING SKIES season premiere, “Shall We Gather at the River,” is much more exciting. The 2nd Mass has to move, worried that they will soon be attacked (again) by the aliens. Tom is concerned that he might be under the aliens’ influence, a fear echoed by Pope (Colin Cunningham), so Tom removes himself from the game. Ben also gets to demonstrate his new value to the group in front of his father by conducting a solo scouting mission no one else can accomplish, using the physical prowess the aliens gave him.
“Shall We Gather at the River” is full of exploration of characters and how they relate to each other, which is where FALLING SKIES is strongest. This is possible because we’ve gotten to know who the characters are, so now there can be some experimentation with who they might grow to be. Some of the dialogue may be a bit cheesy, but the acting all around is quite good, especially Jessup as Ben, a feat that belies his age. There are new people taking power, with Tom missing and Weaver (Will Patton) seemingly grown soft, and some new romantic connections might be forming. This provides a shake up moving into the sophomore year.
Sadly, in between seasons, some characters have been lost. Anne has a cabinet of pictures, and she and Tom briefly discuss the fates of a couple of comrades. Rick (Daniyah Ysrayl), in particular, is a question mark, as he shows loyalty to the aliens before disappearing, making his motivations and mission unknowable, but he is certain to be seen again. There are also a couple of new faces to replace those lost, most notably Jamil Dexter (Brandon Jay McLaren, The Killing), who is quite possibly forming a bit of a love connection with Lourdes (Seychelle Gabriel).
Another strong point in “Shall We Gather at the River,” which is actually started in “Worlds Apart,” is that FALLING SKIES finally gives a face to the enemy. For most of season one, fans get only glimpses of the skitters and other aliens. In the season two premiere, one skitter individual, whom I’ll nickname Scar because of his disfigured face, stands out as a true antagonist. Scar is watching Tom closely, and has a hand in nearly every problem that befalls the 2nd Mass in these two hours. Having a face to root against kind of energizes the series, and puts the stakes a little higher, providing identity to the enemy, and a target for mankind’s hatred.
Speaking of high stakes, it is clear now that the aliens, or at least Scar, have a plan for the 2nd Mass. Do the aliens hope that this particular group of people will agree to the sanctuary arrangement that they propose, as a kind of reverse District 9? Why is Tom singled out as a focus for their attention? What is up with the shape-shifting parasite? So many questions, and each one just leads to new mysteries, pointing to a level of importance that the main group holds in the minds of their conquerors. If this plot thread continues to be followed, it may become clear exactly what the aliens are doing on Earth, and why they act they way they do, sooner rather than later.
Overall, there are flaws with FALLING SKIES¸ but its still better than much of the summer fare being offered. Tune in Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on TNT to see what happens next!