Well, it wouldn’t be a show about first contact with an alien race if it didn’t include some sort of episode about the effects first contact would have on religion– and here we go! “Miracle” brings Roddenberry collaborator and all around television sci-fi veteran D.C. Fontana on board to write the story of a young woman, Julie Payton, who lost both her hands and her parents in a car accident when young. Fitted with clunky but functional prosthetics and raised by nuns afterward the accident, Julie is on the verge of jumping off a building as Boone is passing through. Boone talks her off the ledge (literally) and her plight catches the eye of Da’an, who is moved with sympathy for the poor woman. An experimental Taelon procedure grows Julie a new pair of hands, and afterwards, during a press conference, she sees an aura of light around Da’an. She falls to her knees and proclaims Da’an to be a messenger from God.
Coincidentally, it just so happens that there is a world-wide “Church of the Companions” who just happens to believe the same thing. We’re never clear on whether or not the televangelist-styled Reverend Murray is a huckster or a true believer, but whatever he is, he’s no dummy, and realizes the opportunity Julie affords his church. That is, until it becomes clear that the restorative procedure is only a partially successful, temporary fix, and Julie’s hands begin to whither. A note of urgency is added when angsty billionaire-in-hiding and bankroller-of-the-Resistance, Jonathon Doors, intones, “I’ve seen the Taelons hide their failures before, and Julie doesn’t deserve that.”
Look. Religion is kind of my thing; I have two theological degrees (BA in Ministry, M.Div.). I’m aware that thinking critically about religion isn’t something that a lot of people actually do, whether or not they think they do. There’s a difference between being critical and thinking critically. We all know Roddenberry wasn’t the biggest fan of religion, talented communist hippy that he was, but simply being critical of something doesn’t lead you to a place where you have much of anything useful to say. I have no idea how much of “Miracle” (or any part of Earth: Final Conflict) came from Roddenberry’s work, but the episode is a wasted opportunity. We have some interesting groundwork laid– the Church of the Companions, Boone’s discovery that much of Earth’s religious art suggests the companions were here before, and the companion’s use and manipulation of charitable outreach for their own ends– but the episode simply doesn’t do anything with it. For a show that’s intentionally played up the suggestion, even in its opening credits, that the Taelons have seeded Earth’s religions in the past, the episode feels really toothless. Murray is maybe just in it for the money. The Taleons are maybe just in it for their agenda. The Church may be just a scientologist cult. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe.
I would have liked to see more of the Church. I would have liked to see more to them then just a Christian synchronism. I kept thinking about how the Reverened should have seen a glimpse of Boone’s skrill and fallen to his knees in the presence of the Holy Skrill, or something like that; styling the Reverend after a televangelist huckster didn’t do the episode any favors. If we’re going to say that the Taelon have created our religion, modelling that religion on a novel development in religious history is a mistake. The Church of the Companions should have been done in the High Church style, smells and bells. I mean, watch the opening here: We’ve got the eastern musical vibes. A Da’an icon. Faithful at a candlelight vigil. The desert around the Pyramids green and fertile. Stonehenge. A butterfly emerging from a man’s mouth. Those credits clearly tell us a story: the Taelon are here. They were here before. They are changing everything. Those credits are masterful. And this episode just isn’t. Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t agonizing. It’s just not what it should’ve been. It says nothing and squanders its premise. And maybe that’s a relic of its era; Earth: Final Conflict is telling a long form narrative in short form stories that have to be largely resolved by the end of the episode. The lesson that Babylon 5 taught us probably wouldn’t really sync into television until Battlestar Galactica came along and did it again. (Stargate is an exception that probably merits its own post.)
- Boone creating a composite of religious artwork and discovering a Taelon face
- Taelon motives continue to be convincingly opaque.
- Boone’s initiative and lack of programmed “Yes man” tendencies continue to set him apart from his counterpart Sandoval.
- No teeth in what it has to say. Probably no clue what it wants to say.
- Julie lost her parents, but that’s just totally glossed over when it comes to her angst, because “mah hands.”
- If your religion was made in the distant past by aliens, it should look ancient, not like TBN.