Earth: Final Conflict Review: 1x01 Decision
The opening theme! For your enjoyment!
This contains spoilers, but dude, the show's from 1997. Deal.
"I only want to touch your species"
Episode 1x01, the Decision, starts with a big presentation in downtown...somewhere, where a Taelon named Da'an is giving a speech. The speech establishes some important things about the "Companions": namely that they fixed world hunger, eliminated some diseases and are really interested in helping humanity. (Really). While this is going on, a cop named Boone is kvetching because the security arrangements don't meet his approval. As it turns out, he's right, since a sniper attack almost hits Da'an. Instead, the businessman presenting with Da'an, Jonathan Doors, takes the bullet instead and dies. When Boone chases the assassin, he sees that it's an old friend of his named Eddy.
After the chaos, Boone is offered a job with the Companions (or Taelons, as they're properly called). Boone is suspicious of the Taelons' intentions and turns them down. He wants to focus on the wife and starting a family. His wife actually is displeased by this. She's pro-Taelon and figures they can start the family anywhere. On her ride home, she's intentionally run off the road. Then just in case we weren't sure of the other driver's intentions, he explodes her car. Subtle!
The newly widowed Boone is approached by the mayor of...somewhere. She tells him that the Taelons have gotten the President to contact the governer, and get her to convince him to take the job. And they've sent a pilot, so he can be taken to speak to Da'an right then and there. The Taelons believe in playing hard ball. And don't believe in time for grief, apparently.
After the meeting with Da'an, the pilot, Lili, takes him to a place called the Flat Planet Cafe, where he meets with Eddy and discovers that Jonathan Doors is actually alive. He's suspicious of the Taelons and has faked his death to further his goals of learning the truth. He tells Boone some scary truths: the Taelons killed his wife, and the Cyber Viral Implant thing that he'll get if he accepts the job not only increases mental capabilities like they say, but will brainwash him into loving the Taelons. However, they can get him one that lacks that tricky little bug. Boone agrees, with the caveat that he gets to investigate his wife's murder himself. Doors agrees.
So Boone goes in, gets implanted with a big brain needle. Also gets a nifty thing on his arm to shoot things. Then he finds out something unfortunate: Eddy's dead. But a talk with Lili and a visit to his wife's grave steel his resolve.
New Characters or Developments:
William Boone: a cop with a knack for security. He's impressively competent and pretty hot, though he has the occasional tendancy to
Bob the Detective: Boone's partner on the police force. His job seems to be exposition-guy. He apparently has no last name. Like Cher or Madonna. Though he doesn't share their dress sense.
Kaitlin Bennett Boone: Boone's pro-Taelon wife. Fridged.
The Taelons/Companions: Benevolent race of aliens who've come to Earth and ended world hunger. They don't however appear to like taking "no" for an answer.
Da'an: The only Taelon we've met so far. Da'an seems to be calm, patient, wise, and apparently curious about humanity. He's also however prone to musing a bit smugly about how ironic it is that Boone's wife's death opened his mind to the Taelons. He technically has no gender, but is called "he" out of convenience and probable symbolism.
Ronald Sandoval: Companion Protector, FBI Agent. Shows every sign of being Capital-E Evil. (These signs include plasticky hair and heavy eyeliner. And being inexplicably hot wearing them.) He does not like to be corrected by people, and has the tendancy to twist the knife in conversation. And possibly otherwise.
Skrills: Awesome arm weapons of doom. They're symbiotic with the host, apparently, and like digging in deep.
Lili Marquette: She's a pilot who works for the Taelons, and helped design the interface that allows humans to fly shuttles in the form of interpretive dance. She's blunt and straight forward. Now she's Boone's second in command in service to the Taelons, as well as his contact with Jonathan Doors.
Jonathan Doors: A comic bookly rich business man whose life was apparently too public for him to get his shit done. He's faked his death (heroically even) to do this. He knows how to make an entrance.
Dr. Julianne Belman: Played by Majel Barrett Roddenberry! She's a doctor who pronounces Doors dead and is in charge of implanting the CVI + Brainwashy device into Boone. She's not incompetent, though. She's a spy. Hence Doors is alive, and Boone is unbrainwashed.
Unworthy of images-
Eddy Jordan: The best man at Boone's wedding and attempted Taelon assassin. Now he's in a body bag. Oops.
The Assassin: He has no name, but drove Kate Boone off the road and then exploded her car. He has style but no subtlety.
Mayor Luiz: Boone's original boss, caves in under political pressure.
Mentioned: The President is named "Thompson" and the Taelons have a governing group called the Synod.
Kalinara's review: It's a very strong premiere, really. A good set-up, an assassination that isn't, an accident that is, and a suitably sinister alien race. Da'an talks a good game, but it's clear that he probably has something to do with the death of Mrs. Boone and sees nothing wrong with exploiting Boone's grief over it. And Sandoval alone is an indicator that something is fishy. You judge a man/Taelon by the company he keeps, and Sandoval's openly pretty sinister.
There's a nice contrasting set-up between the Taelons and their pretty words, but extortionist tactics (While it's not confirmed they killed Kate, they put a great deal of pressure from the President on down to get this one cop to hire on with them), and Doors's group, namely Lili. When Lili wants to take him to Doors, all she says is "Come with me if you want to, it's your choice." Later, when Boone suggests that he doesn't know if he can trust Doors, or her, Lili tells him that she'll prove herself with her actions and that eventually he'll know her well enough to never question her loyalty again.
Neither Lili nor Doors will ever make good diplomats, but so far, they've been straight-forward, honest, and leaving the choice up to Boone.
There's an interesting visual effect with the Taelons and the humans, too. The Taelon we see so far is delicate, pale, bald and ephemeral, identified with male pronouns, but played by women. The humans all have dramatic makeup/coloring and are fairly aggressively masculine/feminine. Boone, Bob and Doors are sturdily built, broad shouldered men, with strong, masculine features. Sandoval is smaller and slighter, but still very masculine in face, dress and stance, and the eyeliner enhances his eyes/skin tone rather than effeminizes him. Lili, Dr. Belman, and Kate wear clothes that while not inappropriate certainly enhance their feminine charms. And I think it's neat that they don't just leave it with "Humans have hair, but Taelons don't", instead, all of the humans have very bright vibrant hair. Red, bright blond, black, deep chestnut. Nothing bland. It all adds up to a really interesting visual effect that will pay-off next season.
The Taelon designs are already awesome. The embassy and the shuttle are stunning. Da'an looks a bit too grey like for my taste, but that's something that will smooth out over the course of this season and distinctly improve in the next.
As characters go, I think everyone is particularly strong and establishes a good baseline for their character. I found Lili and Sandoval most appealing so far. Doors and Da'an are pretty awesome. Even Bob has kind of a wry charm. Really, the only character I'm mixed on is Boone. I don't think it's the actor's fault really, but sometimes "inscrutability" comes off as "block of wood." And while it's good for a spy to be inscrutable, it makes it hard to connect to a main character that doesn't really give any hint to what he's feeling. I mean, it's clear SOMETHING is there, but I can't really tell what.
Mario's Review: This is a good opening episode. It efficient establishes the world, the central players and core conflict. You get that Boone is a tough and capable hero. He’s somewhat inscrutable but it’s a quality that serves him well since he can’t trust anyone. He’s a pawn in a chess game that has been going on long before he was pulled into it. He’s a blue collar man in an increasing fantastic world. He’s a PKD hero in a Roddenberry world.
There are some serious budget limitations here (and it’s a show that’s dated all to hell) but there’s a ton of cool concepts. The show does present some interesting ideas about what the effect of an interventionist alien race would have on humanity. There are some clichéd bits (The Taelons have ended worldwide hunger and have gifted humanity with some advanced technology) and some not (we see that the Taelons inspire worship from the masses and also exert considerable political power). It’s interesting to note that this is very ground level sci-fi. We’re with the regular folk from the start and aren’t given much insight into what the true intentions of the Taelons are. All of this is serves to set the show apart for other 90’s sci-fi shows; it’s sort of the missing link between The X-Files and Star Trek (though Babylon 5 is probably a better analogue, as we’ll see as the series goes on).
The Taelons are a pretty cool race with a unique aesthetic. Their design leans heavily toward the “forehead alien” trope but the odd shimmering skin effect offsets that somewhat. Their technology and architectural sensibility tend towards the organic, with a rounded fractal patterning, which is a nice break from the established hard edged, steel and glass look that was de rigueur for the post TNG era the series debuted in. Another clever bit is that the Taelons don’t have genders but choose to be identified as male. No way that’s unintentional.
One of my favorite things about this show is its opening credits. It contains a lot of your basic sizzle reel stuff like explosions and cool alien ships whizzing around but also most oblique stuff like the butterfly emerging out of a man’s mouth and an idealized portrait of a Taelon surrounded by candles. These are compelling images that won’t be give context until much later in the season (The Wire also used this technique). They give the audience a reason to keep watching the show in a way that is more nuanced than your typical syndicated Sci-fi TV show.
And the statistics game, for 1x01:
Times that the 90s were funny: 4 (the clothes, the monitors, the SFX, and Lili's unfortunate hair.)
Instances of Magic Future Tech: 6 (The Shuttle, the Embassy, the Skrills, the CVI, Weird future guns, device used to kill Boone's wife)
Instances of EVIL Future Tech: 2 (The brainwashing CVI, the painful Skrill)
Times with thinly veiled sexual overtones: 3 (Lili with Boone in the shuttle, the Assassin as he kills Boone's wife. Da'an as he describes how he wants to touch humanity.)
Ways the Taelons are eeevil: 4 (brainwashy tech, super weapons, Boone's wife's death-probably, employing Sandoval)
Times we were frightened by Lili's spectacular rack: 2 (the time with Boone in the graveyard. Waiting for Boone at the police station)
Deaths: 2 (Kate, Eddy)
Too awesome to die: 1 (Jonathan Doors)
Amusingly silly sci-fi effects: 1 (Piloting a shuttle is apparently interpretive dance)
Highly improbable time frame instances: 1 (Really, Boone managed to have his wife buried, the ground perfectly green above it, with a fully inscribed gravestone in a couple of days?)
Instances where there is a hilarious lack of subtlety: 2 (The assassin exploding Boone's wife, Sandoval in general)
Times the humans are dicks: 1 (faking your death is a dick move, Jonathan)
And a teaser image from a later episode, because we can: