I wouldn’t say that the 90’s were by any means a golden age of entertainment, but if nothing else, we had a glut of scifi shows that hadn’t quite learned to be cynical yet and hadn’t quite over-corrected into constant self-deprecating snark. There are, of course, the big six: Babylon 5, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Voyager, Stargate SG-1, Farscape, and The X-Files. But we also saw a slew of other shows of greater and lesser quality and it always seemed that while chances were that most everyone I knew watched at least 2/3 of the big six (I’m a 5/6, never having tackled Farscape with any consistency), those other shows would get one person really excited and the rest of us would never tune in. For me, the show that got me really excited was a frankensteined monster of a show dug out of the deceased Gene Roddenberry’s notebooks: Earth: Final Conflict. I haven’t thought about the show for ages, but some reason I can’t even begin to remember, I thought about it the other day. Lo and Behold, Amazon Prime doth provide.
The premise of Earth: Final Conflict isn’t excessively original, but that’s okay. Not everything needs or should be some new and never-before-seen concept, and there’s no sense in reinventing the wheel. So we have here a story in which an advanced and benevolent race of aliens, the Taelon, have arrived at Earth and given us a bit of a boost. Taelon science has boosted agriculture, medicine, and all that jazz; they should clearly be loved by everybody. But when Da’an, the Taelon “companion” for America shows up to a speech and is nearly assassinated, it’s clear that not everyone agrees. (Because how else would we have a show?) The attempted is foiled when the billionaire industrialist hosting the speech, Jonathon Doors jumps in front of a sniper’s bullet; police officer William Boone and FBI agent Ronald Sandoval leap into action, with Sandoval release a mysterious energy blast from his arm to blow an enormous hole where the sniper’s perch was. The assassin escapes, but not before Boone recognizes him as an old friend.
The Taelon are so impressed by Boone’s performance that they attempt to recruit him as a protector ( a role played by Sandoval) and Boone rejects the offer, citing his desire to start a family with his wife. His wife is murdered a short time later, and the Taelon again extend their invitation. Boone accepts, but not before being contacted by a fledgling resistance orchestrated by none other than the supposedly dead Jonathon Doors– because no one travels untold light years just to give a struggling species Christmas presents. As proof of their evil, Doors offers William the shocking tidbit that a Taelon orchestrated the death of Boone’s wife. Further, one of the inducements the Taelon offered Boone was a brain-boosting “Cyber-Viral Implant” with sort of “oops” side effect of making the recipient absolutely loyal to the Taelon– but never fear, they have a doctor on the inside and a modified CVI without the brainwashing feature. Boone accepts the offers of both the Resistance and the Taelon, gets his CVI, and probably one of the most fascinating weapons of my teenage years: the bio-engineered, symbiotic Skrill. (The source of Sandoval’s mysterious energy blast earlier.) There’s a press conference about the new protector… and end episode.
By modern standards, Earth: Final Conflict‘s pilot is on the hokey side, but I’m a big fan of watching (slash-reading-slash-playing) things in with their context in mind. This was the 90s, a time of fairly melodramatic mustache twirling villains and lower TV budgets– not to mention syndicated shows running at ridiculous hours of the night. (I recall EFC being on at like midnight or something like that.) And EFC is most definitely a product of that time. It makes not quite-liberal use of CGI to bolster some cheap sets and props, and in some places, succeeds fairly well. The wormhole-generating shuttles used by Taelons and their protectors show their age, sure, but are still pretty cool– provided you can ignore the purple shag carpeting that I swear seemed like some sort organic surface on an old 19″ CRTV.
The episode’s antagonists are a bit of a mixed bag, too, with Da’an providing a pleasantly unreadable alien. “He” seems benevolent and friendly, though it’s clear that there’s more to him than meets the eye, and Roddenberry’s old trick of casting women as relatively masculine aliens works better here than it did in the Babylon 5 pilot with Delenn. The intentional use of Buddhist and (other) icongraphy in the design of the Taelons does wonders for making theme seem eerie even as they’re being friendly– as does the Taelon “blush,” in which they become semi-transparent, revealing their nature as energy beings. The human antagonists, on the other hand, are of the aforementioned mustache-twirling types, with, in particular, the death of Boone’s wife falling victim to a sequence that had to have been terrible even at midnight in 1997.
Earth: Final Conflict is, even at this point, clearly not a Bablyon 5 or a Deep Space Nine. But what’s good here is pretty good, and compelling enough that I moved on to the second episode after finishing this one– but more on that next week.