Falling Skies: 309 “Journey to Xilbalba” Review
Reviewed by James Wynne.
In Maya mythology, Xibalba is known as the “place of fear” (in actual fact, it’s an underworld governed by the presumably inhospitable gods of death). Xilbalba of “Journey to Xilbalba” is either a small spelling mistake on behalf of the person responsible for titling this episode, or a clever play on the original word. Whatever the cause for the change of name, “Journey to Xilbalba” analogously constitutes being trapped in a place of fear, as Lourdes’ covert sabotage of Charleston’s war efforts literally brings the whole roof crashing down.
Lourdes has often been one of the more irritating characters of the 2nd Mass entourage. This is no real fault of the actress herself, Seychelle Gabriel, who has, in the past, been charged with spouting some of the most sickening cheese on a week-to-week basis. The character’s identity as Charleston’s resident mole this season, however, has relieved us of that irritation (we’ve thankfully been spared the sufferance of her preaching her ideals to any and all who’ll listen), and allowed Gabriel to spread her acting wings a bit during the scenes depicting Lourdes’ deceitful villainy.
The complete destruction of Charleston’s underground structures that she ensues does come across like the most unnecessarily elaborate and conspicuous diversion, with it being done solely in an effort to terminate Cochise whilst he is regenerating from prior injuries and thus uniquely susceptible to attack. You’d think more subtle means would be utilised to gain access to him. It also highlights – for the umpteenth time, I might add – that Falling Skies forgoes any of the dramatic impact an event like this might have with the constant lack of consequence. Watching what felt like a roll call of the main characters rising from the rubble of Charleston’s ruins without any serious injuries, whilst Tom and Marina briefly ruminate over the countless deaths of yet more anonymous military personnel, was extremely frustrating.
Even Hal Mason finds himself in a deathly predicament once again as a result (along with Maggie, this time), only to evade it at the last minute – a la “Be Silent and Come Out”. Trapped in the confines of the munitions room, with the oxygen supply running thin, Hal takes it upon himself to try and save the pair of them, and Maggie, seemingly drunk from the lack of breathable air and content to lie down and die, derides his efforts.
There’s always been a somewhat affectionate conflict between these two – Hal’s occasionally naïve, altruistic optimism at odds with the cynicism of Maggie – and although both have rubbed off on one another through their mutual experiences (i.e. Hal’s become more pragmatic about his heroism, and Maggie’s misanthropy has subsided), it’s never absent from their exchanges, and is still key to what makes their dynamic one of the most entertaining and interesting in the show, especially when it’s put under the microscope, as it is here.
Despite this, it’s disappointing to see Falling Skies again promising what it couldn’t deliver. There’s nothing to be achieved by repeatedly placing the main characters in peril and never following through on it. Not only is it comparable to ‘the boy who cried wolf’ in how it attempts to delude the audience, but it really strains believability that in this warring environment, the same people are managing to escape unscathed time after time (and they just so happen to be the people best known to the viewers). I’m not suggesting cast massacres on the scale of The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones, but at the moment Falling Skies is headed too far in the opposite direction, with its total abstention from killing anyone of importance.
“Journey to Xilbalba” avoids the misstep of last season’s penultimate instalment: it’s not so slowly paced as to be at a relative standstill. But the excitement and the twists and turns don’t fully disguise the fact that the series’ issues are still annoyingly prevalent. At the very least, though, it maintains Falling Skies’ recently solid form, even if it can’t quite match the anomalous brilliance of “Strange Brew”.