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Reviewed by Ross Ruediger
t might be difficult to imagine an entire TV series being built around the leftover notes and story ideas of a deceased individual, unless that individual is someone like Gene Roddenberry. “Earth: Final Conflict” went into production nearly six years after his passing, and it was based on notes he left behind that were in the possession of his widow, Majel Barrett. (Interestingly, this occurred not once, but twice – “Andromeda,” starring a post-“Hercules” Kevin Sorbo, was another posthumous Roddenberry series.) We’ll never know exactly how Gene would’ve ultimately fashioned this material, but this first season remains an oftentimes thought-provoking look into the mind of a man who’s predominantly known for one achievement: “Star Trek.”
The story begins sometime in our near future; close enough to now (or rather ’97, when it was made) to feel like the present, but not far enough away to feel futuristic. The most noticeable difference is that aliens known as the Taelons have been openly living with humanity for three years. It’s not the bleak scenario of a series like “V.” No, these seemingly benevolent beings have shared with us their strange, organic technology which has allowed Earth to jump ahead and catch up with the rest of the universe, although the effects the Taelons have had on the planet are not always portrayed as clearly as they perhaps should be. There are questions for the viewer from the start, which might be part of the goal. In return, the Taelons only appear to desire a peaceful coexistence. They ask for little in return, other than the ultimate cooperation of a select few.
Enter William Boone (Kevin Kilner), a police officer who’s in the right place at the right time. After an act of heroism, he’s offered the opportunity to become the protector for the North American Taelon “Companion,” Da’an (Leni Parker). (There actually don’t seem to be very many Taelons – one for each continent, as I understood it.) He at first declines, but after his wife is murdered, he has nowhere else to go, so he accepts the position. Getting in this close to Da’an means two things. First, Boone gets something called a CVI – an implant that enhances the mind in numerous ways, including perfect memory recall (an idea that’s never really explored or exploited as thoroughly as it could have been). In a much later episode, it’s revealed that Boone can no longer become intoxicated by alcohol which, to my mind, would be a tragedy were it not disclosed upfront. Additionally, the CVI instills a sense of unwavering dedication to the Taelons, at the expense of all other emotions and feelings (more on this shortly). Secondly, our hero is outfitted with an alien parasite called a Skrill, which permanently attaches itself to his arm. The Skrill is a bitchin’ weapon that never runs out of ammo. If everyone had one, there’d be no one left standing.
Of course, aliens can’t just settle down on planet Earth without at least some folks getting suspicious. There’s a resistance movement led by one Jonathan Doors (David Hemblen). Doors is certain that the Taelons have ulterior motives and he’s so very much on the inside that he gets to Boone at the same time as the Taelons. Working for Doors is Dr. Belman (Majel Barrett), who plays both sides. After Boone agrees to double agent status, the CVI Belman implants in him allows Boone to retain his humanity and conscience (unbeknownst to the Taelons). So he must keep up the pretense of devotion to Da’an at all times, which he quickly learns isn’t all that difficult, as Da’an is an awfully agreeable alien most of the time. Who’s the greater evil – the Taelons or the resistance? Aiding Boone in his adventures is yet another double agent, Lili Marquette (Lisa Howard), a pilot with a Bettie Page ‘do, whose Taelon-engineered ship may be more bitchin’ than Boone’s Skrill. On the adverse side is Sandoval (Von Flores), a guy whose CVI is exactly as it should be; Da’an’s constant lackey watchdog, and the cause of many a Boone headache.
The series moves along, with all manner of standalone stories, and a vague arc that mostly seems to consist of “Are the Taelons good guys or bad guys?” There isn’t any real formula, and the vision is fairly jagged, which isn’t a bad thing for the first season of a sci-fi show, as it seems the writers and producers are just trying to find something that works. It could be the kiss of death, and it isn’t the kind of thing a piece of TV criticism should admit, but you wouldn’t believe how often I fell asleep watching these episodes. Yet it wasn’t because they were boring, but rather because they have the ability to hypnotize and lull. “Earth: Final Conflict,” despite the aggressive sounding title, is like the New Age music of sci-fi shows. (For what it’s worth, back in its heyday, I was quite the fan of New Age noodling.) Some episodes are better than others, but mostly there’s just a very amiable vibe going on – the feeling that this will all eventually work out for the best.
If the material works at all, it’s mostly due to Kilner and Parker, as Boone and Da’an respectively. Kilner, who resembles a young Mandy Patinkin, is not an especially good actor (nor is he glaringly poor). He’s got that stock, sci-fi leading man quality down pat, which works really well here. It’s comforting to have a character who you just know is never going to surprise you as your guide. Parker (a woman) plays one of the most absorbing screen aliens I’ve seen in a good long while. Da’an is all about the androgyny, the mystical, the philosophical, and the unknown, and Parker imbues the character with all that and a little bit more. It’s a fascinating, genuinely alien performance; well it is for a while, anyway.
Just over halfway through the season (after Episode 12, “Sandoval’s Run,” unquestionably a Season One highlight), there’s a jarring shift in the storytelling. The opening credits are revamped, and the show begins to have a different feel. It might become more focused, but I’m not sure it’s in a way that was ultimately good for the show. The stories are suddenly more action-oriented and considerably less thoughtful. More gimmicks are introduced, including new Taelon characters who quite simply are not as interesting as Da’an and, worst of all, Da’an is quickly whittled down from the enigma (s)he was earlier in the season, into something far less intriguing. It’s as if the character development put into Da’an for the first 12 episodes is suddenly ignored. Internet opinion suggests that “Earth: Final Conflict,” which racked up five seasons, drastically declined in quality with each passing season, but I’m left wondering if all started here in its first.
It isn’t bad sci-fi by any stretch, but given all that’s come since and by today’s standards, it often feels out of step with its presentation (not to mention the ‘90s Canadian production values, which haven’t aged particularly well). For the hardcore sci-fi aficionado, though, it is recommended, taking everything said here into the equation. It’s certainly a much different view of humanity from the man who created “Star Trek,” and that, in and of itself, makes it quite the curiosity piece.
Special Features: The extras kick off with a brief introduction from Eugene Roddenberry (the son of Gene), who has the credit “Technical Advisor” on the series; he admits upfront that Season One is his favorite of the five. “Earth: Final Conflict Genesis - A Retrospective” is an 18 minute look back featuring both cast and crew chiming in. “The Roddenberry Philosophy” runs six minutes and seems to mostly be an extension of the “Genesis” featurette. Finally, there are six commentary tracks featuring members of the cast and crew, including Eugene Roddenberry, Lisa Howard and Von Flores.