Falling Skies season 3 episode 9 review: Journey To Xilbalba

The penultimate episode of Falling Skies' 3rd season is well-written, well-directed, and pleasingly character-driven. Here's Ron's review...

This review contains spoilers.

3.9 Journey To Xilbalba

A show like Falling Skies can be difficult to review in a timely manner. Not simply because it’s on at the last gasps of prime time, but because it can raise some mental debates with me as to how I should cover the show. Should I grade it for the choices it made or the choices I wanted it to make? Do I give the show credit for injecting some real possibility that major characters could be killed off, or punish the show for NOT killing off those major characters? It’s a pretty difficult decision to make; I guess this is how Tom Mason feels every day when he’s not sailing stock-footage sailboats back into Charleston harbour. 

The Charleston Mole, whom we all know is Lourdes after events of episodes past, has been quite busy in her efforts to destroy the human resistance for reasons unknown. She’s planted more bombs, has somehow managed to destroy the underground mall structure that Charleston retreats to when beamers and mechs come marching in for battle, and she’s even managed to destroy the Volm weapons factory and most of the Volm not named Cochise in the process. 

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The explosion leaves our cast scattered. Hal and Maggie are trapped in the armory, Tom, President Peralta, Anthony, and others are trapped in the cafeteria and infirmary, and others, like Weaver and Pope and the rest of the Mason clan, are trapped above ground, separated from their friends and family and on the lookout for more mole-centric explosions. It’s a good idea for an episode, fairly well written by Battlestar Galactica and DS9‘s Bradley Thompson and David Weddle (who are apparently writing every sci-fi show on television) as it allows the cast to be broken up into smaller, more manageable groups. In turn, that gives us a lot of chances for characters to talk to one another about character-specific things, which is an improvement for this show. The back-to-back scenes in which Tom goes to Weaver and Pope and tells them both to shoot him if he starts acting funny, and the way those two characters reacted to Tom’s request – Weaver looking sick and Pope practically giggling at the honour of being trusted to off Tom – was illuminating and one of the better pairings of the night. 

Perhaps even more importantly, it allows Falling Skies to wring tension out of multiple scenes without spending too much money (saving needed cash for the season finale next week). That’s a real credit to director Jonathan Frakes – yes, that one – who should definitely be considered for more episodes next season, and pretty much any other sci-fi show on television. He manages to take the claustrophobic idea of being trapped below ground and make it even more claustrophobic, from the locked room full of injured people holding Tom and Lourdes and company, to Maggie and Hal’s air-free prison in the depths of Charleston. That particular pairing actually had the most interesting staging of their scenes, because they were placed in a pile or rubble and their deaths were teased very heavily, both in terms of how the script handled them and in how the scene was shot. I can’t help but think it’s unfortunate that they weren’t killed off, as it would have been the perfect bummer ending. 

However, despite not killing off two of my least-favourite characters (to be fair, they’re the two worst-executed characters these days), the show actually turned itself in an interesting direction. Things in Charleston have seemed pretty hopeless as of late, but they have found some successes in recent weeks. Sure, they lost the help of the Volm, but they still have the weapon… maybe… and rather than being overwhelmed by the long odds of their successful strike, they all seem to be filled with renewed anger at the alien invasion and what it has taken from them all. 

For two seasons, Falling Skies has been focused on the strength of the human spirit, which Cochise has identified as humanity’s strongest trait, but now it seems like that strength is taking a new form. No longer does it depend on being trusting, believing the best in people, and loving one another. Now it seems to be taking the form of that indomitable human desire to crush those that stand in our way and get revenge on those who wrong us. Here’s hoping Tom’s new burning anger lingers with him even after the inevitable reveal that Anne and Lexie aren’t actually dead (because there’s no way Falling Skies would let THAT happen).

Read Ron’s review of the previous episode, Strange Brew, here.

US Correspondent Ron Hogan would never survive being trapped underground with limited oxygen and no way out; he can barely stand long car rides. Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.

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