90s Rewatch – Earth: Final Conflict S1E6, “Float Like A Butterfly”

The “Metal Scarecrow”

I want to say that everyone does an Amish episode sooner or later, but I it’s surprisingly hard to turn up a list of “Amish TV episodes.” (Thanks a lot, TLC.) There was at least an X-Files episode, and this episode of Earth: Final Conflict is definitely trying to get into the X-Files vibe. How well it succeeds is up for discussion.

In a “remote” Amish community, something strange is going down. Members of the community are committing suicide at an alarm rate, with each suicide a different MO. Elijah Good, an Amish man who is non-traditionalist enough to both A, have gone to Harvard medical school, and B, not sport the beard that married Amish men typically have (Look, it really bugged me.), believes it to an outbreak of “Companion Reaction Syndrome,” a condition that plagued religious folks shortly after first contact with the Taelon. Because religious beliefs are fragile enough (eyeroll emoji) that they can’t withstand the arrival of an alien race, people all over the world began committing suicide after their arrival. The problem has apparently sorted itself out in the last few years (because all the fragile nutjobs are dead by their own hands?) and so a fresh batch of CRS is a concern to Da’an. Boone and Lilly come to investigate at Elijah’s request and against the wishes of the village elders, and get precisely nowhere– at least, that is, until another death occurs, and the community witnesses a butterfly emerging from the dead man’s mouth. Meanwhile, a group of children have discovered a “metal scarecrow” and come to ogle it every so often to remind the viewer that it is there. Eventually are heroes discover that the object in question has been building mini-probes in the form of monarch butterflies (from one it absorbed in an earlier scene), and has been using them to investigate the area and the limits of the human body. With this being the first piece of black “Taelon” tech they’ve ever stumbled across, the decision is made to capture it for the Resistance.

An iconic Earth Final Conflict image.

“Float like a Butterfly” gives us our first real break from the machinations of the Taelon, and that’s a nice change of pace. Although Boone and Lilly don’t know the origin of the the threat, it’s pretty clear to any astute viewer that the object in question is nothing remotely like what we’ve seen from the Taelon so far. Where as Taelon tech is all organic curves and blue/purple hues, this thing goes out of its way to look inorganic, and quite frankly, that’s a nice touch. We know from “Avatar” that something is out there and the Taelon are afraid of it. The probe itself is handled rather well, more often than not, and the contrast between it and the Taelon origins make Boone and Lilly’s mistake kind of grating. In fact, Boone and Lilly are where this episode kind of falls apart. Maybe it’s a subconscious comparison to the X-Files; at their best of times, these two are no Mulder and Scully. But I think it’s probably more some clunky scenes and writing (gasp) that sabotage the good things this episode has done. Boone and Lilly aren’t really here as characters so much as they are plot-movers– even though their actions are consistent with their characters. For that matter, the same goes of Sandoval. While everyone here is consistent with who they’re supposed to be, none of it quite works. Boone is heroic and square jawed and kind to everyone, but in a way that I’m not buying it. Lilly is competent and cool under pressure, but again, in a way I don’t quite buy. Sandoval is overbearing in a way that’s excessive even for him– and while I bought it, it left me wondering why he was such a jerk this episode.

Sandoval. More of a jerk than normal. Let that sink in.

I’m kind of frustrated. I remember liking this episode. It’s our first real glimpse of the Taelon enemies, and I remember a nice sick-to-my-stomach feeling that the Taelon might actually be the good guys compared to this thing. And I did like the first half, but once we got our butterfly-and-probe reveal, things kind of start falling apart. Like we’re just hitting the notes we have to hit to get this “metal scarecrow” into play. Couple that with another set of ham-handed attempts at touching on religion, and it just doesn’t quite live up, even if it should be satisfying.

I was thinking about what I wanted from this episode– or, more precisely, the image of the butterfly emerging from the man’s mouth. That’s always stuck with me, and while the explanation that the probe is seeing what it takes to kill humans is pretty decent and definitely horrifying, I’m not sure it lives up to the quasi-mystical vibes we’re supposed to have for the series. I’d like to have seen something besides death happening to these people; a transfiguration, perhaps.

Maybe when I’m done with this show, I’ll file the serial numbers off and do it right.

High Points:

  • Nice reveal of the probe. It’s clearly not the kind of tech we’d expect from the Taelon.
  • The mechanics of the episode are satisfying, even if presentation isn’t.
  • Some well done beats: the butterfly emerging from the mouth, the metal scarecrow’s POV, destroyed butterflies becoming goo.

Low Points:

  • Characters are just plot movers.
  • The reality of the probe doesn’t fit the mystical vibe of the show.
  • Elijah’s beardlessness really bugs me.

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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