90s Rewatch – Earth: Final Conflict S1E4, “Avatar”

Pike has visions of himself as an avenging Taelon avatar

We all tend to think of Roddenberry as the guy who made Star Trek, and thus we think of him as a science fiction guy. But with both episode four, “Avatar,” and episode two, “Truth,” I kept finding myself reminded that he spent seven years with the LAPD. Seven years isn’t a lifetime, but it’s plenty of time to get something into your system– ask anyone who has worked for an airline how they feel about sticking to a schedule. So maybe it’s not surprising that after four episodes, we’ve got two “chase a murderer” plots. On the other hand, there are some boxes we’ve got to check off on your average science fiction TV show check list, and sci-fi serial killer is one of them.

“Avatar” opens with what feels like a caricature of a penitentiary. Big cells that have 2-3 walls a piece that are nothing but bars, inmates being served slop by angry guards. Howling. Insanity. The usual. Now, I’ve never been in a prison, but this thing seemed more like a heavy handed attempt to portray something I’d buy as Arkham Asylum, maybe, more than any sort of real prison facility. (Though maybe I’m wrong.) One inmate is anxiously demanding that his neighbor across the aisle scrub some occultic drawings from the wall, drawings he’s made from his own blood; the man, one James Pike, refuses to do so and collapses. When the guards find Pike, they find that he has died, mysteriously– at least, that is, until he opens his eyes as the coroner is beginning the autopsy and escapes.

Occult? Alien? Both?

Boone and Marquette are called in to investigate; while the logic behind calling in the companions is initially opaque to the characters, our glance at Pike’s scribblings tells us what will be confirmed fairly quickly: he has some connection with the Taelon. Pike, as it turns out, was given a CVI as an attempt to use the implant’s motivational “overrides” as a means of rehabilitation. It seemed to work fine– until the CVI began to degrade. And some how, during that degradation process, Pike has managed to access things he really should not be able to do, such as control his heart and mimic death, learn the Taelon language and mythology, etc. Unfortunately, since Pike is also psychotic, he’s convinced himself that the Taelon, with their clearly hidden agenda, represent one twin in a mythological struggle, with himself as the twin that banishes that one. What follow is a lot of typical cop/killer cat and mouse kind of stuff. Rather unexceptional as far as things go. Which is annoying, because some interesting things happen during this episode, and the episode showed us precisely the wrong things.

Sandoval’s skrill has been stolen.

Trying to get screenshots for this episode was hard; we spent all our time in the been there, done that cop and killer chase and glossed over the interesting things, like Pike unlocking secret functions in the CVI, getting his CVI upgraded, and freaking stealing Sandoval’s skrill. (Just to recap: the CVI is a Taelon neural implant that upgrades the user’s intelligence and recall, and allows them to fire blasts of energy from their skrill, a symbiotic organism embedded in their arm. It also ensures the agent’s unquestioning loyalty to the Taelon, unless it’s been edited, as Boone’s was.) None of that stuff was shown on screen, and it should have been. Pike forced Nurse Chapel, er, Dr. Bellman to upgrade his CVI– but how? That’s a really invasive medical procedure. And then he stole the Skrill from Sandoval– How? Pike is dying because of his decaying CVI, and Sandoval is an FBI agent/Companion protector at his peak. And how do you remove a symbiotic organism like that? In another scene, Boone brings Da’an to the prison to view Pike’s scribblings, and my first thought was, “Why not just show him a picture?” followed by “Man, they missed a great opportunity to show us Da’an deciding to visit this place in person.” This scene, where in Da’an shows compassion to murderers and tries to understand the flawed human penal system, would’ve been way better had we explored Da’an’s feelings about this to any extent, instead of just hammering us with “prison sucks.”

We did get some interesting narrative hints for the larger show– the myth behind Pike’s ramblings is definitely a suggestion of what’s to come, and he flat out tells us that the Taelon are afraid of something that is coming… but that’s kind of tacked on to a humdrum serial killer chase, and this episode should have been anything but that. Even the end lacked any punch– Pike attempts to assassinate at a religious conference, and is foiled. I felt pretty much nothing at that point, other than being happy to move on. Maybe if I didn’t have sort of the road map of the show sketched out in my head, the hints about the show’s mythos would have been more satisfying. But as it is, it feels like yet another bunch of missed opportunities.

High Points:

  • Hints about the show’s future.
  • Does Da’an suspect that Boone’s CVI doesn’t function as intended? Sure seems that way.
  • Pretty sure the “sleeper” that Pike references is our first glimpse of a Jaridian.

Low Points:

  • Ham-handed “Prison is bad” subtext.
  • Wasted good story beats off screen. Notably skrill theft and Da’an’s decision to visit the prison instead of just viewing images.
  • Chasing a serial killer with out offering anything new to be memorable or even screenshotable.

Previous Episodes

Season One

Joshua Young

Joshua M. Young lives in Columbus, Ohio with his wife, son, and two more feral cats than the optimal number of feral cats. (That is, zero.) He holds a Master of Divinity from Ashland Theological Seminary, and yes, he's quite aware that writing this kind of stuff isn't exactly what you'd expect from a trained theologian. A life long lover of science fiction and fantasy, one of his earliest memories involves some confusion with a Klingon Bird of Prey and an X-Wing in the middle of a theater showing The Search for Spock, and, once upon a time, he could select the desired Robotech novel from his bookshelf, in the dark, by the feel of its spine. (Don't ask why that was a necessary skill. He couldn't tell you.) He has been published in numerous anthologies, including Planetary: Mercury, Planetary: Venus, and Tales of the Once and Future King.

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