Falling Skies: "Journey to Xibalba" (Season 3, Episode 9)


Xibalba, roughly translated as “place of fear” according to Wikipedia, was the underworld in K’iche’ Maya mythology. So there—who says you can’t learn something from watching mediocre science fiction TV? And mediocre it is this week, as we shift back to stories built around rubble and the magical Dr. Kadar.

Seriously, if you have a thing for rubble, this was your dream hour of television.

We open with Colonel Weaver getting ready to deploy the Volm weapon. At the same time, Tom arrives back at Charleston on a sailboat. Yes, he sailed all the way back from Boston, 713 nautical miles in a straight line. Six whole days at typical sailboat speeds. So I guess the Espheni weren’t actually interested in recapturing him.

Did the show ever mention Tom as having any particular background with sailing vessels? Eh, he’s from Massachusetts, right? Must have the Downeaster Alexa in his blood.

Tom’s pissed about the death of Anne and Alexis. For the record again, I don’t think they’re dead since we wasted so much time on that baby already, not to mention that Tom only saw vague outlines of bodies inside a ridiculous, semi-translucent tortilla. But Tom now wants to kill Karen something fierce. So he proposes they use the Volm weapon to attack the Espheni tower in Boston.

???? I think Tom just proposed transporting the big Volm weapon by boat 713 nautical miles along the Eastern seaboard. That would be the absolutely critical, game-changing weapon the Espheni desperately want to destroy. Tom comes up with some cover story about the defenses at Boston being weak. Of course, that’s just an excuse to give him a chance to kill Karen. Okay, he’s not thinking clear. What’s troubling is that the Charleston military command seem to take this idea seriously.

Steam the big weapon the Espheni want to destroy 713 nautical miles? On a boat big enough that it would be hard to miss. Of course, the Espheni did subcontract all their military strategy out to a 17-year-old-girl, so what do I know?

Tom and Cochise the Volm trade a few philosophical musings about war. Tom then goes to Pope and asks him to shoot Tom if he acts like he has an Espheni bug in him. Pope says sure. Immediately thereafter, a big explosion occurs from out of nowhere. No real explanation is offered. It’s just a big bomb that hit the Volm compound and buried their super weapon under rubble. I’m presuming the Espheni did it, since it was accompanied by a big white glow. Maybe they didn’t have the patience to wait for that long, slow boat to Boston.

Some Volm got killed, and Cochise is injured. He says he can regenerate if left alone ( I wonder if he’ll look like Tom Baker—we could use a colorful scarf around Charleston), so they leave him alone on a gurney with Lourdes the mole lurking around. She doesn’t just kill him, though. Instead, she puts a red glowing thingee in a ventilation duct. It sprouts tendrils that eventually cause an explosion, or an earthquake, or something. The end result leaves the majority of our stalwart heroes trapped in the hospital/command structure with every last exit buried under rubble. More rubble than you can shake a stick at. Except, if you put all the various scenes together, there doesn’t seem to be any geometrically feasible way for them to have all been underground. But that’s probably putting too much thought into this episode.

For the next thrilling half hour, the people below try to dig their way up, the people above try to dig their way down, and Lourdes the mole tries to kill Cochise in a lazy, unfocused kind of way. I still think it would have been better to kill him in a focused way with everyone else off doing other things. This plan leaves everyone trapped underground in close proximity to Cochise.

Dr. Kadar climbs up from even further below ground through a ventilation shaft. Naturally, he has an idea. He’ll just build a shaped charge out of some C-4, electrical wires and gun powder lying around. That way, they can blow a hole through rubble of unknown depth and composition within the confines of a damaged building of uncertain structural stability. Oh, and he wants some peanut butter, too. The insane genius, apparently having satisfied his peanut butter craving, is about ready to blow everyone up when he finally notices where he’s placed his makeshift charge. That would be directly beneath a concrete I-beam with a big V-notch chunk torn out of it.

Hmmm. Might want to ponder that. Or maybe the brilliant doctor can just patch the damaged I-beam with an epoxy made out of peanut butter, Skittles and Mountain Dew.

Hal and Maggie offer unintentional comedy. They find themselves trapped alone in a small area where their constant bickering is using up all the oxygen. Hal, in the midst of screwing up, actually says this: “Either help me or shut up!” Try that on your significant other sometime. Let me know how it goes. Maggie pays him back by virtue of an interesting piece of trivia: she has a truly nerve-jangling cackle when she’s low on oxygen. Better off dead, you say? No such luck. They’re saved by Ben, who goes to some undamaged location even further below ground and finds a pipe they can open to let in air. From below. This whole episode feels like a slapdash Escher drawing.

Lourdes is eventually exposed as the mole. It’s that old “how could you know Fact X when I only told Person Y” cliché. She’s captured, not killed. So Evil Lourdes snarls at Tom about what a loser he is. Tom’s so pissed he grabs a Volm weapon and shoots Dr. Kadar’s badly placed, half-ass shaped charge. Of course it works. And of course the damaged I-beam holds. There are never any negative consequences to irresponsible behavior on the part of Tom.

The very best part, though? That would be the closing conversation between Tom and Cochise. The valiant Volm is depressed because his giant weapon is buried under rubble and all his engineers who knew how to operate it are dead. Can you guess what Tom says? Come on, surely you can.

“Maybe Dr. Kadar can help?”

I s**t you not. A little Coke, a box of Mentos, and Kadar will lift all that debris off. And figuring out the alien weapon that even Cochise doesn’t know how to operate (since he’s not a Volm engineer)? As long as there are paper clips lying around to stick in circuits, it’ll be child’s play. And besides, they’re only fighting a 17-year-old girl.

I almost feel sorry for the Espheni. The thing holding me back is that they set out on a plan of interstellar conquest based on making big towers out of leftover junk.

What could possibly go wrong with that?

Will conservatives like this?

I don’t think so. The Espheni more and more remind me someone in dire need of a government program to find direction. Dr. Kadar is flat out dangerous. He’s the absolute poster child for why safety regulations exist. And the heroic humans are kind of dense.

I could see this show ending with an interstellar John Kerry sitting both sides for a much needed talk. “I’m sorry, Espheni, but the whole death grid thing just doesn’t seem to have much support, particularly since it affects you, too. And over here on the human side, I mean, how to put this politely… The Volm weapon is stuck underground and they don’t know how to fire it anyway, so I’m not sure what you’re really going for here. I’d like to see the two of you collaborate on some rubble art projects as confidence building measures.