Earth: Final Conflict - Season 1 Review
Shortly after his death in 1991 Gene Roddenberry’s wife, Majel Barrett had uncovered notes for several television ideas, namely Andromeda which would be produced in 2000 and Battleground: Earth. A series was green-lit, but its title was altered due to producers raising concerns that it sounded too much like L. Ron Hubbard’s “Battlefield Earth” – which had yet to be adapted into an awesome movie. Certainly Roddenberry’s creation bore a striking resemblance to Hubbard’s tale from 1980, not to mention Kenny Johnson’s V from 1983. Regardless, the ideas that Roddenberry had shaped in Star Trek would once again be applied here, and expanded upon.
”Three years ago they came, forever altering the future of humanity.”
It’s the 21st century and Earth has been greeted by an alien race known as Taelons. They wish to share their knowledge of the universe with humans, claiming to be companions with no other agenda than to spread peace. In just a few years they had managed to cure disease and eradicate war and famine, in return all they asked for was friendship. But there are those who don’t trust the Taelons; who believe that there is more to their friendly visit that they’ll freely admit to. When Billionaire industrialist Jonathan Doors (David Hemblen) is shot and killed by an assassin Police Security Officer William Boone rushes to the scene. Shortly afterward Boone is approached by Taelon Spokesperson Da’an (Leni parker) and FBI American Companion Attaché Ronald Sandoval (Von Flores); they ask if he would join them as Commander Head of Security and Inter Species Relations, to which he declines the offer. Shortly afterward Boone’s wife Kate (Lisa Ryder) is killed in a car accident, forcing him into an investigation. Taelon chauffeur, Captain Lili Marquette (Lisa Howard) convinces Boone to follow her to a place that can give him some of the answers he seeks. He is soon surprised when he meets Jonathan Doors. Boone learns of an underground resistance, spearheaded by Doors and that the billionaire faked his own death so that he could pursue this goal of exposing the Taelon race. Doors also informs him that it was the Taelons who were behind his wife’s death, but if Boone wants more he’s going to have to infiltrate the Companions quarters. He then decides to take up Da’an’s offer and is told that he’ll need a CVI (Cyber-Viral Implant). These implants can increase mental awareness ten-fold, but their actual purpose is to brainwash their hosts into blindly following the Taelons. Luckily Dr. Julianne Belman (Majel Barrett Roddenberry) has devised a way to engineer Boone’s CVI, thus keeping him in full control of his mind, while retaining his heightened senses. And so Boone joins the Taelons and searches for the truth…
“If it’s too good to be true then it probably is.” That very saying could applied to Roddenberry’s vision, which deals with the ever popular alien invasion tale. Earth: Final Conflict is a “what if” kinda series. What if aliens made their way to our planet and were so friendly that they cured the world of all its ills. Surely we don’t deserve such unequivocal delights? Of course not, nothing is for free or without question, which is why at the heart of Earth: Final Conflict lies a human race setting out to seek answers. However in a paranoid world where cover-ups and conspiracies take place every day it’s not easy for your good ol’ fashioned resistance group to uncover the truth. So just what is the Taelons’ agenda? Well that’s not for us to find out in detail at this early stage, with the series having lasted for five seasons, although in terms of gripping storytelling and characterisation this first season remains the best of the bunch. The reason for this is that its very core is built up on familiar Roddenberry traits. The science fiction legend always infused his work with a deep understanding of humanity; he was a well versed man who clearly had something important to say. There isn’t a Roddenberry series to date that doesn’t deal with everyday human trials and tribulations, placing them in situations that will often generate fear for what they do not yet understand.
This is where the series becomes a little more interesting, due to the placement of a human protagonist who doesn’t quite trust the forces he’s up against. With Boone serving as Commander Head of Security and Inter Species Relations he must appear to have only the utmost respect for Taelon wishes, but as a spy he needs to keep covert and plan his actions carefully, what with a nation’s future resting on his shoulders. But more importantly is that Boone, as a central figure is justly played as a haunted man; suppressing his true feelings for the greater good of his people. Torn between sides he’s often presented with arduous tasks that will test his faith and his loyalty toward those around him. The death of his wife often comes back to haunt him, and even when he’s discovered who was behind her murder he cannot begin to show the slightest emotion, in fear of breaking his cover. Keeping him in check is Agent Sandoval; a humourless and entrusted guardian to the Taelons with one thing on his mind – to respect only them, even if it’s at the expense of his own family or, worse still the life of another. As the season develops there’s a strong sense that Boone does in fact greatly respect Da’an, and so a bond begins to form as they teach each other about their different cultures.
The addition of viral implants become a compelling addition, affording anyone with such a thing a far greater understanding of Taelon methods, but more so it gives the user access to areas of their brain that most people will never have the luxury of knowing. This leads to dealing with a new kind of warfare; its cerebral approach providing the key to winning any given situation and thus infusing the series with an intriguing science all of its own, that which utilises Taelon bio-engineered weapons known as skrills. These creatures attach themselves to their hosts arm and connect to his or hers central nervous system. However, an implant and skrill comes at a hefty price: the host becomes stripped of their “humanity”, turning them into a kind of drone, with their feelings and memories deeply masked so as not to prove to be distracting from their job at hand. Other Taelon technologies that include the ability to travel inter-dimensionally and inhabitable organic structures continue to give the series a unique scientific element, which certainly does well to highlight the Taelon’s superiority, though not enough to give the resistance any great inferiority complex, because at the other end they too are developing technological counter-measures, which they can easily fund.
But, and in fear of using the word interesting again, the series takes another interesting turn when it comes to how the Taelons are depicted as a secular group left to their own devices. The Synod (their council name) sits around planning their next move, questioning human loyalty and yet they display a certain amount of naivety toward their human companions. But their collective isn’t without it problems, especially when certain council representatives are busy backstabbing other members; namely this comes down to the inner rivalry between Da’an and Zo’or. The ambiguous nature of this species means that nothing is clearly spelt out for us, however during the progression of the first season their goals do become readily apparent. With this aspect contrasting against the plight of Jonathon Door’s movement we have a compelling drama; the scripts here are tight and refined, the action moves effortlessly between both sides without ever becoming convoluted and as the conspiracies mount the series often approaches some very tense moments.
Like many of Roddenberry’s other endeavours Earth: Final Conflict shows us his fascination with topics that still reflect our society in a non-too positive light. Religion, prophecy and its great effect on war or its evangelical preaching to the easily duped; racism and biological warfare take precedence during several episodes. But it’s Roddenberry’s philosophical approach that ultimately garners this first season so much praise. Of course Roddenberry only provided the blueprint for the series; its writers – of which there are several – had the task of staying true to his intentions, and they do so without being overly forceful. Though a couple of episodes don’t really say much more about world prejudice than any other show they are given a nice enough angle when introduced to otherworldly races. Naturally, as with many shows dealing with aliens, there is a paranoiac thread running throughout, and as the season expands it gets around to humans being used as test subjects. However yawn inducing that might sound it does at least serve a genuine purpose because clearly these invaders need to know what they’re up against and how they can use humans to their advantage, unlike The X-Files for example, which merely showed aliens probing people because, well, that’s just what aliens do. In this respect Earth: Final Conflict throws away cliché and genuinely embraces the idea of a real threat to our world, no matter how sugar coated this ambiguous race of beings show themselves as being.
The most troubling thing about Earth: Final Conflict, and I’m getting ahead of myself here, is that it had a perfect cast and yet the producers had the god awful habit of changing the line up every season. This is something that I hope to talk about for future season releases, but for now I’ll focus on who we have here. Of course Kevin Kilner takes centre stage and he is most definitely a person who helps make this season so enjoyable. Kilner is a much understated performer; he never goes into theatrics and his demeanour is that of a calm and collected fellow, which is crucial to Boone’s character because he has to play both sides totally straight. Kilner has a knack of displaying his emotions in a way which earns our empathy, without the need to force himself upon us. He’s also our only real way into the series, we’re seeing most of the events through him and he’s the only guy we can truly root for. It’s a shame then that after just one season he was let go, for reasons that are unknown; there are rumours that there were on-set difficulties, whereas Kilner maintains that he was simply told that the producers wanted to take the series in a new direction and that they wouldn’t be renewing his contract. Whatever the reason it proved to be a death sentence for the show, which would rapidly decline from here.
Joining Kilner is an eclectic ensemble of characters, something which is a pure given for any science fiction series. Here we have Lisa Howard in a role that can be muddled at times, something which saw the writers try to flesh her out over the course of the season, whilst trying not to let her take up too much time. However Howard is a solid performer and her character has a good repertoire with Boone, but it’s also a complicated relationship, not of a romantic variety thank heavens, but in that they often rarely see eye to eye, particularly when Lili needs to remind him that he’s working for the resistance. Von Flores as Agent Sandoval, rounds up the primary human characters, though he’s more of an antagonist here than a hero. Sandoval sticks close to Da’an’s side, and he is indeed ruthless. Flores was the only original cast member to actually make it through the entire series, and while they progressively worsened he sure as hell put 100% into his performance. Arguably Flores has the most interesting character of the entire series, largely to due to his many personal conflictions, of which we see some throughout season one – a belter of an episode being Sandoval’s Run in which Sandoval’s implant allows him to feel human and see the Taelons for what they really are. But it’s also a tragic episode which highlights just how fragile the man really is. Flores proves to be more than a worthy addition to the series, and a crucial one at that; the back and forth banter between he and Boone is often played wonderfully and should have ensured a few more memorable seasons. Everybody else is introduced slowly, bar Da’an who is a predominant character played acutely by Leni Parker. We soon get to know Augur, Doors and Zo’or, while Majel Barrett’s Dr. Belman is rarely touched upon, but necessary all the same.
Season one of Earth: Final Conflict is spread across six single sided discs which come in a simple and attractive slim design. Those with Universal Playback titles already will be familiar with this packaging style. Sadly, as with most Universal TV releases, there are no extras to speak of.
Earth: Final Conflict is presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio and actually looks pretty darn solid. For a series knocking on ten years old it’s been well looked after. I cannot comment on where this has been sourced from, most likely broadcast masters, though I must point out that this is an NTSC – PAL conversion. I know that will turn off some potential buyers, but at the moment this is the only region available for this season. With that said things looks very nice; aliasing is kept minimal and there doesn’t appear to be any distracting Edge Enhancement, although certain shots exhibit a slight colour halo, which is simply a result of composite effects. Colours are accurate and detail is fine, aside from a little softness during wider shots; certainly they appear as good as they did when the series aired. While I could easily bang on about the numerous special effects, some of which are very good, others glaringly obvious I feel it would be counter productive, but I should point out that in the age of DVD they do stand out a little. Nevertheless they don’t prove to be detrimental to the series’ enjoyment.
As for sound we have a well mixed English 2.0 Stereo track. No problems here for a TV series, with some nicely placed ambiance and punchy effects for action bits and pieces. Dialogue has plenty of clarity – which is very important…obviously.
The lack of subtitles here is once again disappointing, and I cordially invite Universal ‘round for a slap in the face.
The first season of Earth: Final Conflict was without a doubt its finest hour; the writers seemed to have a clear understanding of where they were headed, and indeed it shows a natural progression for the twenty two episode run. Granted there are a couple of fairly average episodes and its special effects aren’t up to the standards of other popular science fiction at the time (and clearly several are experimental), such as Star Trek: Deep Space 9, but the sheer quality in its storytelling is more than enough to see these quibbles easily put to one side. I would thoroughly recommend any fan of science fiction to give this a run, but I will warn them that the series would drastically change after this, and not for the better.