Tonight, I watched a TV program where an otherworldly entity came down to Earth, told us a bunch of things we wanted to hear, make grand promises about the future of mankind without talking a single minute about their real agenda. But enough about the Republican Debate on CNN! As the GOP presidential candidates slugged it out on the nation’s leading purveyor of news-ish programming, we continue on with the second of three parts with Childhood’s End. Tonight the agenda of the Overlords comes into some focus, but if you’ve never read the Arthur C. Clarke book you were probably left scratching your head.
Upon seeing the first part of Childhood’s End last night, I wondered if this middle part might be the most difficult in a structural way. Part one is where you can set everything up, and part three is where the heady sci-fi themes pay off with what I assume will be a version pretty close to the profound and melancholic conclusion of the original Clarke novel. In between though, there would be growing pains as the story covers several years between the Overlords arrival and the inevitable end of their intervention.
What’s problematic is that this middle chapter is dependent on characters that we didn’t meet until tonight. One is Dr. Rupert Boyce (Julian McMahon), who runs a scientific institute in South Africa where the grown up Milo Rodericks (Osy Ikhile) works. Boyce has regular contact with Karellen, and is executing an Overlord plan to gather specimens from animal species across the planet. He doesn’t ask questions, as he tells Milo whose concerned about the end of scientific inquiry and discovery. Milo wants to ask the Overlords about it, but Boyce doesn’t want to rock the boat.
The other new characters are the family we saw at the end of last night’s episode watching Karellen reveal himself. Father Jake (Ashley Zukerman), wife Amy (Hayley Magnus) and their son Tommy are three of billions leading an idyllic life, that is until Tommy starts having night terrors that seem to give him psychic powers. He knows that his mother pregnant before she does, and he knows that the baby’s name will be Jennifer before Amy picks it. The three are invited to a fancy reception at Boyce’s institute without knowing that the Overlords and Karellen are extending said invitation for reasons other than altruism.
The execution is problematic as the script tries to take us from point A to point B, and there’s no consistent tone as to whether or not Tommy’s psychic connection to his unborn sister is a good or terrible development. Also underplayed is the subplot from the book that the source for all the psychic events is the Overlords themselves as they’re conducting psychic research on the human race. Instead, the family’s situation is used as a catalyst for Peretta Jones’ further build-a-conspiracy theory notion that Karellen is Satan and their “homeworld” is Hell. There’s a scene where Tommy’s psychic temper tantrum somehow causes Peretta’s cross to choke her, and for a minute I wondered if this was turning into The Exorcist.
Later, Jake gets in a mood because the Overlord’s utopia means that no one has jobs anymore because no one needs to make money. Of course work, ideally, is about more than making money, it’s a thing you do that has meaning and reward beyond the capitalistic. Jake’s sudden anger about lacking employment/purpose comes about, coincidentally, in time for Boyce’s reception, and seems purely meant to give Milo someone to bounce his concerns about the Overlords off of. Milo’s uncertainty about utopia at least comes from a place developed through character, he became a scientist so that he might help stop the loss of scientific interest and inquiry. It begs the question, would Jake still be missing work if we were a fry cook at Burger King?
Jake is just an appendage to the role being played by his family though. Karellen brings Amy to a Space Ouija Board in order to send a very important message. The point of the Space Ouija Board and why only Amy can use it is something not explained to Boyce (or the audience), nor is Karellen particularly inclined to shed light on the situation to either Amy or Boyce.
There’s something almost leeringly creepy about the way Karellen interacts with Amy, and if Childhood’s End was going to riff on The Exorcist than why not Rosemary’s Baby? Gladly, that’s a road we don’t go down, but the scene definitely adjusted Karellen’s characterization to something colder and more mission driven than we have seen him before. I have no problem with the character having a hidden agenda, but you do have to build up to those moments and not just drop them on us.
Meanwhile, the primary character that led us through the action last night, Ricky, was mostly cast aside. Part of the problem with the Boyce character is that they don’t build up any kind of relationship between him and Karellen, so that when they appear together later on in the Ouija Board scene, their interactions are practically meaningless. Karellen’s interactions with Ricky though, all two of them in episode two, felt well earned and loaded with meaning. What do you do when you’re called to something great and it’s all over? Can there ever be a normal life afterward?
The cost to Ricky is that his time on the Overlords’ ship has made him terminally ill, and the doctor thinks it’s also the reason why he and Ellie haven’t been able to conceive. Enter Peretta who seemed to come around to the idea of using Ricky to get back at the Overlords in a completely random way. She befriends Ellie, and waits for Karellen to return, and naturally he comes back on the same day that Ricky is out doing some shooting practice with his shotgun. It’s a bit weird that that there would still be a gun in utopia, so I guess the Overlords are fans of skill shooting.
If you saw where all this was going, it was made all the more clearer when Karellen arrives in Ricky’s barn with the one and only vial of cure for his illness. The Overlords, since they’re immortal, have no need for medicine. That is unless a crazy religious lady shoots them. I said it last night, and I’ll say it again, having Peretta in the mix is taking a whispered bit of subtle mythology from the book and turning it into an air raid siren. Peretta no like Satan. Yeah, no kidding, but there’s an interesting discussion that could have been had about aliens killing religion, especially when juxtaposed with Milo’s concern about aliens killing science. Science and religion aren’t usually on the same side, but against the Overlords maybe they have a common enemy?
The episode ends with Karellen revealing to Ricky and Ellie that he’s responsible for their inability to conceive, he wants to spare them the pain that will soon befall the parents of the human race as Earth achieves its destiny. Meanwhile, baby Jennifer is born with glowing green eyes, a sign that things are about to change forever. The last 15 minutes were fairly well executed, but this second part lacked definite focus. Hopefully, that means that tomorrow night’s conclusion will have all its ducks in a row and ready to deliver.