Billed as ‘War of The Worlds: The Series,’ this high-concept, low budget, pulp alien invasion serial was hailed by all who saw it as a solid but unspectacular piece of genre fiction that hadn’t quite lived-up to the kind of hype the attachment of a name like Steven Spielberg (executive producer) inevitably brings. Then came vindication in the form of virtually the entire Fall 2012 network television slate, along with every midseason replacement. Stuffed to bursting with lazy, poorly-plotted, badly-executed rubbish on every network that promised much (The Playboy Club, Alcatraz, Ringer – Oh my god, Ringer!) and delivered naught, this workmanlike series, with its emphasis on strong characters as opposed to gimmicky set-ups, all of a sudden started to look a lot better than it had been given credit for. Solid but unspectacular, trumps, it seems, just plain crap.

While TNT has a healthy conveyor belt of original series, it’s minnow status means that you simply can’t expect it to compete with the majors in terms of scale, which has been a thorn in the side of Falling Skies since its inception. While the effects are suitably impressive for the small screen (scuttling aliens, towering mech-driods, neon spaceships), the budget often necessitated an awful lot of what could be termed ‘hurry up and wait syndrome,’ where characters talk an awfully big game about the dire circumstance, and the impending fate of the world…and then do nothing.

It remains to be seen if they have shot their wad, so to speak, but the two-hour premiere of the second season certainly had an awful lot of money shots liberally sprinkled atop of what appeared to be an intelligent, considered transition towards more urgency than we saw last year. Three months have apparently passed since the cliffhanger of the season one finale, which saw former history teacher and second-in-command of the Second Massachusetts militia, Tom (Noah Wyle), stroll onto an alien ship for a pow-wow with the enemy. Now Tom has returned, apparently released so that he might present terms of surrender, which would allow the surviving humans to take on a Trail of Tears like relocation, but with the teasing prospect of a hidden agenda lurking dangerously close to the surface.

Much has changed in that time. Ben (Connor Jessup – who having worked on his accent no longer sounds like he just stepped off a box of Lucky Charms) is still an unknown quantity fearful of revealing the full extent of his lingering connection to the alien comms network. Loudres (Seychelle Gabriel) now has a much more central role, and Matty (Maxim Knight) is eager to get in on the action despite being barely bigger than the rifle he is so determined to hold. As Capt. Weaver, Will Patton retains the kind of gravitas essential to this sort of thing making his great fun to watch. Pope (Colin Cunningham) remains the series’ ace-in-the-hole, distrustful of the returning Tom and dangerously unpredictable, ably flitting from comic relief to potential betrayer as the story dictates.

As with all good science fiction, Falling Skies serves as a framework on which to hang ideas about contemporary society and examine ourselves as a species. It’s no accident that Tom is a history teacher, offering an able portal through which the writers can cannibalize much of America’s 200-year transformation from righteous colonial rebels to self-righteous colonial empire for a healthy serving of dramatic irony.

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