Appellate Judge Mac McEntire's final conflict is with his upstairs neighbor who keeps making a racket all night long.
"Three years ago they came, forever altering the future of humanity."
In 1997, sci-fi and fantasy on TV were huge. There was not one but two Star Trek shows running concurrently, The X-Files had exploded into the mainstream, Babylon 5 maintained legions of fans while fighting to stay on the air, Hercules and Xena experienced huge popularity, and word-of-mouth was spreading about a brand new show called Buffy.
In the midst of all this, Earth: Final Conflict exploded onto the sci-fi scene. The big deal was that the pilot episode was written by Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry before his death. Many, at the time, wondered if this series would become the new Trek. Years later, we can see this is not the case. Still, Earth: Final Conflict lasted five seasons and contains some great acting, intriguing ideas, and quality production values.
Facts of the Case
Three years earlier, Earth made contact with an alien race called the Taelons, also known as "The Companions." The Taelons have cured disease, ended hunger, and ushered in a new age of enlightenment. There are those, however, who believe the Taelons are up to no good, operating in secret to learn the truth.
After his wife is killed, William Boone (Kevin Kilner, Auto Focus), a cop, is hired to provide personal security for Da'an (Leni Parker, The Man), the Companion assigned to work alongside the American government. Boone suspects the Companions had something to do with his wife's death, and he's not the only one. Boone is recruited to join the liberation movement, working as a double agent against the aliens.
Now, Boone lives a double life, with a fellow undercover agent, pilot Lili Marquette (Lisa Howard, Long Island Confidential) as his partner. He has to watch out for Sandoval (Von Flores, Degrassi: The Next Generation), who is fiercely loyal to the Taelons. Boone is also at times wary of Jonathan Doors (Richard Hemblen, Rollerball), leader of the liberation, whose motives might be just as questionable as the Taelons' are. Also helping Boone is Augur (Richard Chevolleau, Narc), a quirky computer hacker.
This episode list was created in the hopes of bettering mankind:
• "Old Flame"
• "Float Like a Butterfly"
• "Horizon Zero"
• "Scorpion's Dream"
• "Live Free or Die"
• "The Scarecrow Returns"
• "Sandoval's Run"
• "The Secret of Standhill"
• "Pandora's Box"
• "If You Could Read My Mind"
• "Wrath of Achilles"
• "The Devil You Know"
• "Law and Order"
• "Through the Looking Glass"
• "The Joining"
Basically, what we have here is a cop show with an alien twist. Every week there's some sort of cop show case that Boone has to handle. The twist comes in because Boone works for the Taelons, and not the police force, so every case involved the aliens in one way or another. A secondary twist comes in with Boone's secret association with the liberation, which usually gives Boone a counter-mission while working on every case. So the show has several layers. Throughout the course of any given episode, viewers have to remember all the motivations of the characters and their factions, even when those characters are acting to deceive one another.
At the center of the show, Kevin Kilner is the one who walks this line more than any other. When he is around the Taelons or Sandoval, he must act as if his humanity, for lack of a better world, has been dialed down to the point where all that remains is pure loyalty to the aliens. This makes him appear stiff and cold-hearted in many scenes. The thing is, this is his character putting on an act in front of his enemies. When we see the real him, usually around Lili, he's usually thinking like a cop, trying to find the best, most ethical way to strike back at the Taelons. Interestingly, this often puts him at odds with Doors, who is more interested in taking out the Taelons by any means necessary. Some of my favorite scenes are when Boone and Doors clash, because this where Kilner really gets to cut loose and show Boone's anger and frustration, even though he's letting it all out on someone who is on his side.
Still, the double agent scenario isn't without its flaws. Boone is constantly confronted by Da'an about how his actions serve the Taelons, and the explanations he gives feature such ludicrously roundabout logic, I'm shocked that Da'an always buys it. I would've thought that Da'an would say, "Whoa, even for me that's abstract." Instead, he always praises Boone for finding new and inventive ways to be faithful. I suppose it's possible that Da'an is onto Boone's secrets and is messing with Boone, but the writers never explore this.
That leads into the next interesting aspect of this show—the aliens and their ambiguity. There's no denying that they're the bad guys, but, again, there are levels. Da'an is something of an anomaly among the Taelons. He has an interest in learning about human culture. He wants to connect with the humans in ways that the other Taelons do not. Still, he's not against squashing all over a human's basic rights for his own purposes. If Da'an is the "good cop" Taelon, then Zo'or is the "bad cop" Taelon. So'or is just a cold-hearted bastard. To him, humanity is just a tool to be used by Taelons, nothing more. The disagreements between Da'an and Zo'or, not unlike the disagreements between Boone and Doors, reveal that this not a "black and white" world. Here, the bad guys can be noble at times, and the good guys can be heartless at times. That makes the show exciting and unpredictable.
Hemblen and Flores are two actors who play things close to their chests. Hemblen doesn't get as much screentime and the regulars, but he always plays Doors with a kind of unstable cool, yet you always get the sense that there's all this rage just under the surface. Similarly, Flores plays it cool and even-tempered, but there's a feeling of huge intensity just under the surface, ready to explode. Contrary to this is Chevolleau as the quirky hacker (is there any other kind?), filling the comic relief duties. He's the rare comic relief who gets to be both funny and sexy-cool at the same time.
As Lili, Lisa Howard gets to play the tough girl quite often, and she clearly has fun with that. She gets to show some humor as well in moments when it's just her and Boone. Plot-wise, though, she's the people mover. Her job is to fly the alien shuttle, and get the characters from place to place. The shuttle is a cool creation, and one of the iconic images of the series. It looks a little like a bug, with some parts of it held together by glowing energy fields, and different parts of it move around based on whether its landing or going inter-dimensional or whatever.
The production values are nice throughout. The alien makeup jobs are freaky but kind of cool, as expected from a Roddenberry-related show. The alien sets have an organic, almost coral-like look to them. Then there's the CGI. For a 1990s syndicated TV series, the show employed a lot of CGI effects, more than most others of its kind. Some effects, like aforementioned shuttle and the Taelons in their all-blue energy forms, still look quite good. Other effects, such as some bluescreen shots or the rarely-seen Taelon mother ship, are a little clunkier. The slightly more cerebral nature of the show means there's not as much action as others of its kind, but the action scene are nicely staged for what they are.
The picture quality on this five-disc set is surprisingly good, with bright, vivid colors and details that pop right off the screen. The sound does its job with all dialogue, score, and effects coming through nicely. The best of the extras are the commentaries, hosted by Roddenberry's son, Eugene "Rod" Roddenberry, who was a writer and technical advisor the series. He's joined by various actors, writers and directors on tracks for six episodes. There are two featurettes, one an overall retrospective on the show, and the other on "the Roddenberry philosophy." The younger Roddenberry also provides a short intro to the series on the first disc.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
You know what's missing from this show? A sense of paranoia. Boone and Lily talk openly about the liberation while in Boone's office, or out on the street, and he takes calls from Sandoval while he's inside liberation headquarters, and so on. I kept wondering how he could be so comfortable in his double life, and why he wasn't constantly looking over his shoulder.
In summary: Fun show, good acting, and interesting ideas. Now the bad news—as fans already know, the series was significantly retooled after this season, and it was retooled even more radically in later seasons. This season is your one and only chance to enjoy "classic" Earth: Final Conflict before it became "the new" Earth: Final Conflict.
Naaahh-sharraaahh-faaahh. (Translation from Taelon: "Not
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