Monday, December 14, 2015

REVIEW: 'Childhood's End' - Karellen and the Overlords Appear to Bring Utopia to Earth in 'Night One: The Overlords'

Syfy's Childhood's End - Episode 1.01 "Night One: The Overlords"

An alien presence arrives on Earth with the intention to end all suffering and guide humanity into a utopia. But when the aliens refuse to reveal their appearance, some wonder if this dream is instead a nightmare.

The world radically changes in the Childhood's End universe. One day a bunch of alien ships descend upon the world and offer to usher humanity into a new era. They promise to end all suffering and unite everyone under the same utopia. Over the course of these first two hours of the miniseries, the people of Earth come to embrace the new world that the overlords are promising. The hours are filled with tension as not everyone wants to accept such radical change from an alien race that no one knows what they look like. And yet, the hours are building towards that peace. The invasion forces the world to become different. It becomes better and the majority of humanity is able to live in peace for fifteen years. However, the audience doesn't get to view things in the same way. The first scene teases the destruction of the human race. So the audience is on high alert throughout these two hours regarding just what these aliens have planned for Earth.

So much of this story is being told from the point-of-view of Ricky, a farmer from Missouri who also happens to be a great peaceful negotiator. He is the one chosen to be the sole representative of the alien race to the humans on Earth. That comes with a ton of responsibility. He is chosen for a reason. He is made to feel special under these incredibly unique circumstances. The aliens have some wonderful powers. The first display they do in this world is to send a message to every human via the image of someone they loved but who is dead. That shows that these aliens can connect to and understand the deep amounts of love each person feels. That largely just sets up an awkward love triangle dynamic for Ricky. He lost the love of his life, Annabel, in a tragic accident and is trying to move on with his new fiancé, Ellie. Karellen, the main alien supervisor for Earth, is able to use that love Ricky still feels for Annabel to his advantage. It becomes rather annoying and transparent very quickly into the opening hours of the miniseries.

Ricky sees Annabel during the aliens' big introduction to Earth. When Ricky is sent up to the spaceship, he emerges in a room made to look identical to the hotel room he and Annabel stayed in for their honeymoon. Even when Karellen needs to be more manipulative, he uses the image of Annabel to get Ricky to come around to his way of thinking. Ricky isn't suppose to be a dumb character. He's suppose to bring peace to the entire world because the aliens have a plan and the resources to bring everyone together. It's a precarious mission but one that goes about rather smoothly. Ricky does what the aliens ask of him and the world is radically changed as a result. It's a change for the better. But it's also clear just how corrupted Ricky is becoming because he has put so much of his faith in Karellen and his people - even though he has never seen the creature face-to-face. He was willing to question what the aliens wanted just like everyone else. He figures that they don't want to kill them otherwise they would have done it already. Over these two hours, Ricky becomes a servant to the overlords. He believes he's working with them to help bring peace to the world. In reality though, he is just working for them and they are still very comfortable manipulating him just to get what they want.

It's understandable that there is a resistance to the way the overlords want to do things. It's just somewhat awkwardly portrayed solely though the voice of journalist Hugo Wainwright, Jr. It's a rather hammy performance that becomes a bit redundant over time. He notes that the overlords could just be buttering them up just to make their eventual extinction an even more pleasurable experience. He never believes that the overlords just want to bring peace to this world. He's most likely right. And yet, he's presented as the opposition to the way that Ricky wants to do things. Hugo also goes about things with violence and the need to sway public perception of the overlords. He's a capable man but he doesn't really have a strong understanding of what all Karellen can really do. The overlords are watching at all times. They can kill whenever they feel like it when some human makes a lethal decision. That doesn't sit well with Hugo. However, Hugo and his organization kidnapping Ricky only furthers the overlord's agenda. They could intervene at any point in time. Ricky is special to them. And yet, he's not special enough because they allow this to happen just in order to manipulate the minds of every human being. They show the horrible lengths Hugo is willing to go to deal with the overlords. He would rather have the world die then serve these aliens. That's an opinion that is vital to the show. It's just a little too one note across these two hours to feel all that important and something the main characters should have taken more seriously.

These first two episodes are also very deliberately keeping the appearance of the aliens a secret both to the people in its world and to the audience. Karellen is all controlling but also keeps himself at a distance. It's for a good reason too. The aliens have a rather harsh look to them. They are red beasts with wings. It's a sight that the show builds to over these two hours. It's a tad weird that Ricky is willing to do so much for Karellen without being able to see him. But the two did form a relationship where they could talk about things in that hotel room. Sure, it felt like Karellen always got his way. But it was still crucial character building. The overlords have been through this before. They know how harsh their look is. The human race has to wait fifteen years to see what Karellen really looks like. In that time, the world has radically challenged. Fortunately, most of the actors haven't because of something the overlords call the "youth of utopia." But strangeness is still apparent. Happiness is swelling in that final sequences as everyone is excited to finally meet Karellen. But that happiness soon turns to fear after they see what he truly is. Fifteen years might not have been enough time to get humanity accustomed to the gifts the overlords can provide. What happens next should be interesting - especially regarding how it will connect all the various stories together again now that Ricky hasn't been working for Karellen for a long time.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Night One: The Overlords" was written by Matthew Graham and directed by Nick Hurran.
  • The Karellen reveal is really cool. It's a great effect. And yet, I wonder how it will look once he's actually interacting with the rest of the characters.
  • Ellie is simply the woman Ricky is interested in right now. Apparently, the show thinks Ricky would only be a compelling character to watch if he was also in a relationship and had someone he had to return home to. Of course, that is further complicated by the Annabel stuff.
  • It's not that surprising that the wheel-chair bound kid throughout the episode grows up to be Milo who warns of destruction in the first scene. In fact, he showcases that the overlords are really interested in the children of the world. They heal all illnesses but the miniseries only shows that in action with youngsters.
  • Peretta Jones is an intriguing and important voice in this ongoing conflict. She wants to make sure that people don't forget religion despite the overlords being able to do so much for humanity. And yet, it's not all that clear that the show knows what to do with the character.