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Friday, May 21, 2010

Earth Final Conflict Review: 1x04 Avatar

I'm guessing I might have a few new readers for my reviews on account of being linked so I figured I'd say hi. Just so you guys know, I'm a fan of the show (stupid bits and all) and I only mock out of love. (Except for one exception.)

So you know my biases ahead of time: I prefer Liam to Boone and seasons 2-4's almost comic book style energy and craziness to season 1's deep but slow ponderousness. That said, I do LIKE season 1, but just not as much. Personal preference thing.

Season 5 did not happen and will probably not be reviewed on this blog. (I reserve the right to rant vehemently about how terrible it is though.)

Okay, so with that out of the way, I'm starting the review for episode 4 of season 1: Avatar.

"Have you broken Umrathma's hold? Are you as human as I?"

This episode starts with a very stereotypical prison. Bars. Grey walls. A very picturesque rat running across the floor. A very twitchy looking guy watches a guy who looks like a more demented Pee Wee Human draw on the wall with his own blood. While twitchy wants him to wipe it away, Pee Wee Herman goes to sleep. The camera zooms in on an awesomely creepy Taelon poster.

A guard who I recognize from the episodes of Glee that my friend made me watch (the football coach) comes in to check on the guy who's not responding. After calling a lot of guards who carefully train their guns through the bars (Coach Tanaka has clearly watched a lot of escape movies), they discover that the guy, who's name is James Pike (heh), is dead.

However not so much, because he wakes up on the autopsy table.

In their shuttle, Lili and Boone provide us with more exposition. Pike was a lawyer (hah) and other serial killers felt he gave them a bad name. (I love lawyer jokes, no lie.) They've been assigned to find Pike, which confuses them because it ought to be a cop job. Sandoval wants secrecy though, and we find out why when Boone watches an interview with Pike that reveals he volunteers for experimental drug therapy.

At the mortuary, the doctor who's name is Kaplan is understandably freaked out and vetos Boone's suggestion about how some Yogic masters can fake death by asking if they can fake rigormortus too. No one can understand why Pike didn't kill the doc, especially since his M.O. used to be about targetting fear and inadequacy.

They head into the prison, to the usual cliched prison catcalling and grabbing arms. Boone recognizes what looks like very simplified Taelon script in Pike's mural and we find out that non-Taelons can barely pronounce Taelon and no one can read/interpret it (spoiler: yet). Boone points out that no one can rise from the dead either.

Elsewhere, Pike doesn't look good. He's bleeding out the ear, freaking out, sobbing and hallucinating Taelons in the mirror. As he makes his way to some other place with entertainingly awful 90s music in the background, he says something like "Shaqarava is come."

In the lab, Doctor Kaplan gives more info about Pike. He was intelligent and a brilliant criminal lawyer, with extreme methods that apparently degenerated to cutting the heads off his clients. They look in a microscope and discover something nifty: Pike has a CVI.

Boone goes to see Da'an. Sandoval tries to stop him, to Boone's annoyed "Don't you ever go home?" Da'an is resting in an energy shower. It looks pretty awesome. But he wakes up to confirm: Pike has a CVI and had one for 2 years. Da'an gives a speech about how human prisons only incarcerate and not rehabilitate. Boone wasn't informed because Sandoval convinced Da'an to secrecy, claiming it's impossible to explain to the human public.

I can't imagine why, what with the non-consentual (or at least uninformed consent) alteration.

Pike was given an imperative to love human kind and behaved like a model inmate. Aside from the weird art tendencies I'd imagine.

Meanwhile, Pike continues to act non-modelly and researches Boone. The images flash across in the usual CVI reading mode before settling on an article about Kate Boone's death.

In Boone's awesome office (spoiler: his successor does not get an awesome office. How unfair), Boone watches some interaction between Pike and Kaplan, while Doctor Belman is in another monitor. The interaction doesn't go well, Pike yells a lot in Taelon and lunges at Kaplan. They note he grabs a prod longer than he should, and Belman theorizes that he's learned to use his CVI in new ways: increase pain tolerance and switching vital signs off and on. She's fascinated, but also clearly feels guilty.

She justifies the experiment but doesn't convince herself or Boone. She does theorize that it might be a side effect. The CVI has a time limit and is dying, taking Pike with it. Boone is understandably aghast and asks if ALL of their CVIs have time limits. Belman doesn't know.

Meanwhile, Pike's left them a present. Two people ducktaped together, it looks like. Each has an image on their heads. One is dead. One is alive. Boone notes that the images match the sketch from the prison: the symbols are an eye and a mouth, and one twin killed the other. Boone thinks he's re-enacting something, and while not rational is predictable.

Lili wants to inform Doors, since Pike clearly has access to a LOT of Taelon info in his mind. Boone distracts her with the reveal about the implant's shelf life, and she immediately asks about his. Boone says he doesn't think about it, and is rescued by Sandoval calling on the awesome video phone. He tells them someone hacked into a government system, just as his image flickers out and Pike's appears on both their global and Da'an's data feed. He keeps saying the name of Shaqarava and Umrathma. Boone figures out it's coming from a satellite.

Boone chases, but Pike ambushes him good and hallucinates him as a Taelon. Pike reveals he knows he's dying but "every avatar dies to be reincarnated." He says that "Umrathma and his lies will be silenced by death." Then he kisses Boone on the forehead. Creepy.

Da'an and Boone go to the prison, and the Warden warns that it's like a zoo. Da'an points out it's a zoo of humans and talks about how he understands the effects of a cage on captive and captor. We'll find out what he means by that in later episodes.

The prisoners are silent and gaping this time. Da'an goes to the no-longer-so-twitchy fellow and asks why he's there. The guy killed four people and tells Da'an he could love him to death. Da'an is horrified and asks Boone (who by the way, is someone he thinks he brainwashed) if "this debasement" represents "the cost of your human freedom." Boone confirms. We also find out Da'an recognizes the story on the wall. Da'an can do better than that, he can recite the story.

Later we see Belman speak to Sandoval, who's also concerned about the time limit. She says, rather coolly, that if he's curious he should come to see her, after checking with Da'an of course. Sandoval mildly insists that he just wants to maximize what time he has left. Belman's expression gets a hint of pity and she tells him to come at any time. Then she gets in the car...where Pike is waiting.

While Pike has Belman drive off, we get to hear the story of the twins from Da'an. Basically Umrathma and Shaqarava were brothers. They quarrel over some omen. Umrathma wins, Shaqarava dies and is "cast into the void." Eventually, he's supposed to come back with "the fury of truth."

Boone and Lili converse at the embassy until Pike appears (as a very detailed hologram) behind them. Lili goes to trace it while they talk. Pike reveals a level of guilt about the twin's death (he's programmed to love humanity after all) and then manages to provoke Boone into as much of an angry response as Kevin Kilner seems to be able to manage by bringing up Kate's death. Since Boone is not supposed to be able to GET angry (contrast with Sandoval's utterly unconcerned description of DeeDee's fate in the Truth) Pike asks, surprisingly desperately, if Boone has broken free of Umrathma's lies and if he's as human as he is. Then he grabs his head, screams and the image flakes out.

Lili comes in, having traced the image. Boone sends her with instructions quickly entered into a global. She has to tell Da'an, and then take Sandoval's soldiers to the location, she does and finds a shaved Doctor Belman tied to a chair. She has a bow and arrow drawn on her head. It's fucking disturbing. She tells Lili that he made her alter his CVI, so now he can use Sandoval's skrill.

Speaking of Sandoval, Boone finds him almost unconscious on a lab table with a bloody and bare arm. He mutters something about how Pike said "the Servant's arrow will slay the master."

Pike gets his chance at Da'an's university appearance. It looks kind of awesome actually, with Da'an seated and various figures sitting with him. Pike tries to shoot him, and Da'an seems to be destroyed. Pike then collapses into Boone's arms as the latter runs up to catch him.

As this happens, Da'an enters to everyone's amazement. The other had been the same kind of hologram Pike had used. Pike, now bleeding from the ear and nose, begs Boone again to tell him if he's broken Umrathma's Hold. "Are you as human as I?" This time Boone nods, and Pike is comforted. He tells Boone that Boone is Shaqarava now and will reveal the truth and judge Umrathma. He reveals that the Taelons are afraid of something called the Sleeper and dies.

Da'an comes up looking regretful, saying there's much he would have asked. Boone looks angry, but keeps his eyes locked on Pike. He says that Pike just babbled at the end.

Later, the Taelons ask Da'an what dissection of Pike's remains revealed. Apparently not much, but Da'an theorizes that the implant had allowed Pike's mind to evolve into a state similar to the Taelon collective minds.

Meanwhile, in jail, Boone gazes at the image.


New characters/developments:

James Pike: Crazy ex-lawyer, murderer, avatar of Taelon myth. He's oddly sympathetic at the end.

Dr. Kaplan: The prison doctor. He has a vaguely germanic accent and a kind of enjoyable pragmatism and liking of being alive.

The Shaqarava/Umrathma myth: This story kind of embodies many conflicts that take place later in the series. The Taelons are pretty much always Umrathma, though the Shaqarava embody various forms over the years (Jaridians, Kimera, Boone, Liam, and even the Atavus all kind of fit in their own ways).

The Sleeper: Something that the Taelons are deathly afraid of.

CVIs: apparently have a time limit. Eek.


Review: This episode introduces the Shaqarava/Umrathma myth that, as mentioned above, tends to echo throughout the series. It's one of the cores of the Taelon metaplot, I think, and even though it's not really addressed directly after Season 1, the underlying dynamics continue well into season 4. Maybe later even, but I still deny season 5 happened.

It's kind of awesome how in this episode, even, there are layers of meaning. Such as the bow and arrow on Belman's head. On one level, Sandoval's skrill is "the Servant's arrow" but on another Pike and his CVI are Belman's arrow. I dig that sort of thing.

The Taelons are indeed proving themselves to be pretty sinister here. What with the experimentation on prisoners (albeit somewhat consentual, though Pike clearly had no idea what he was getting into), rewriting human minds, and dissection of Pike's corpse.

I appreciate how Da'an can give such wise, kind speeches when he's talking to a human that, at least as far as he knows, he has safely brainwashed. This is an element that I think works better in later seasons, when he knows his conversation partner has the ability (and inclination) to respond with his true thoughts.

The bit where Boone is glaring at Pike's corpse was a great moment to illustrate this, as for once, Boone genuinely looks furious. But he has absolutely no ability to reveal this fury to Da'an, he has to swallow it. It's a good moment for him and one that emphasizes that as much as Da'an's a great, complex character even this early in the show, we can't mistake him for a "good guy". He's softening toward humanity, but he's not there yet.

This was a good and bad Boone episode, I think. It highlighted Kevin Kilner's strengths and weaknesses both as an actor. I don't think Kilner really does explosive, visceral anger well. His moment with Pike, when the latter was provoking him with Kate's death, came out very flat and awkward. He came across wooden to me. And really, Boone seems more like the kind of guy who gets softer with rage, not louder.

However, the quiet moments: the realization of what Pike's CVI's time limit means, the brittle cheer when he says he's not thinking about it, the almost teary anger as he glares at Pike's corpse...those are all really great moments. Kilner's a good actor, but he's a very minimalist actor. This works well in those quiet moments because it's clear he's holding things back. Fortunately, the writers get that most of the time and generally avoid the loud "show it all" type of angry scenes.

This episode also had some very good Sandoval moments. He continues to be a tragic figure, really. He's still a manipulative, curt jackass and has those moments. But he's also a victim, and the moment where he's genuinely concerned about the time limit because he needs to maximize his service to the Taelons. That was kind of heartbreaking really, because you could tell he meant it. He doesn't even care, otherwise, that he might be doomed. It was a good parallel to later when we see him physically injured and helpless. It's hard not to feel for Sandoval.

And of course, James Pike is really well done. He's a scary, deluded, crazy murderer (and lawyer!), but at the same, his death is actually sad. Poor guy presumably went into the drug program to rehabilitate himself, and instead started channeling a Taelon boogeyman. Naturally, it's good that he didn't succeed in killing Da'an, but he was so pathetically happy when he found out Boone had free will. And then he ended up dissected for his trouble.

I think this episode's theme seems to be freedom, and the ways it's taken from us. 1) the prison, obviously. 2) the drug therapy and its means to change a person's self in order to truly rehabilitate them (though they remain in prison), 3) the motivational imperative that keeps Sandoval from mourning his own mortality, 4) the binds of duty that keep Boone from ever revealing his true thoughts, 5) the physical bindings of all of Pike's victims, 6) the love that distracts Lili's intention to inform Doors in favor of horror at Boone's possible fate, and so on, and 7) the geas Pike puts on Boone at the end when he names HIM Shaqarava. The judge.

This episode really doesn't have a happy ending either. Pike is dead. Boone, Sandoval, humanity really, is still in bondage. And the Taelons themselves are in fear of something potentially worse.

It's kind of awesome that the serial killer has the name of two original Star Trek captains. James Pike. Hee.

So what did we learn this episode: Myths suck. CVIs suck. And even serial killers make lawyer jokes. Hah.


  • At May 21, 2010 5:46 PM, Anonymous Dan Coyle said…

    Well, even if you don't review S5, you gotta at least review the last episode, if only for Sandoval's final scenes. Those were awesome.

    I know you probably dislike Street because she was a (totally unnecessary) replacement for Augur, but I always liked her.

  • At May 21, 2010 7:05 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Oh no, Sandoval's end is one of the reasons I HATE that episode. I'm saving up a rant for it, but here's a mini sneak peek version:

    Why the hell was RENEE the one to defeat him in the episode where Liam shows up again? Boone would have been okay, Zo'or, tolerable. Both have some emotional history to work off of. Preferably, it should be Liam (with reveal). Renee? No. And via a wire-work ninja kick? When even the part-alien characters had to resort to standard street brawling. Egads. Not to mention the "no regrets" thing, when regrets and rage about the whole Taelon-service thing is like the core of his later series motivation? Granted, I could buy Sandoval being the end, but on top of everything else that bothered me about that whole bit, it didn't work for me.

    It was nice to see Liam again though, and actually looking like he ate a sandwich. :-)


    I do like Street actually, she was cute and funny. I also like pre-Season 5 Renee a lot. (When she was Emma Frost, not a middle aged Buffy the Vampire Slayer.)

    This is not the show to watch if you can't handle replacement characters, though. :-)

  • At September 16, 2011 4:03 PM, Anonymous Jessie said…

    The chap is completely right, and there's no skepticism.

  • At September 27, 2015 2:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    That "awesome video phone" was a Global.


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