Childhood’s End: Fearing a Loss of Identity

The SyFy three day extravaganza which retells the Arthur C. Clarke novel Childhood’s End is finally over. While there are a few changes in the source material, aka liberties taken, the true message remains, after all is said and done mankind’s biggest fear is loss of identity.

Childhood's End - Season 1

The SyFy three day extravaganza which  retells  the Arthur C. Clarke novel Childhood’s End is finally over.  While there are  a few changes in the source material,  aka liberties taken, the true message remains, after all is said and done mankind’s biggest fear is loss of identity.  There are other fears mixed in with the tale of the Overlords; specifically Kerellen (Charles Dance) helping the denizens of earth to reach the next stage of their evolution. 

Interspersed throughout the entire three day small screen version of the Clarke classic are the themes of: There is no God, our children are not our own, there is no heaven, hell or even purgatory and in the end, there is only energy and that is neither good or bad; it just is.  The whole shooting-match is powered not by some benevolent and caring “big guy” but a sort of hive mind intelligence that is pure energy.

Perhaps the most disturbing message is that when we die, despite what several different religions believe, people just cease to exist. There is no place that their ephemeral being transports to, the loss of identity, self and individual energy just dissipates. As the grown up Milo (Osy Ikhile) asks Kerellen at the end, “Does any part of Rachel (Charlotte Nicdao) still exist?” The Overlord’s answer devastates the scientist:

“Only in you.”

In many ways, Clarke’s 1953 novel can be seen as an almost religious themed tale of aliens usurping mankind’s “modern” version of mythology. As early man created “Gods” to answer questions of why, so too did later, more “educated” man “create” a story of one all powerful creator who knew all and rewarded those who believe. While it may seem trite to allude to “our maker” as mythology, in Clarke’s world (of the novel) that is essentially what the “big guy” turns out to be; a myth.

When the devout believers realize this new truth they self destruct, suicide is the end for at least two of the “main” characters who continue to believe that God exists and will help mankind to survive this external threat.

The first installment has Missouri farmer Ricky Stormgren (Under the Dome star Mike Vogel) come into contact with the emissary of the Overlords while his partner Ellie (Daisy Betts, The Player, Chicago Fire) worries about a lot of things apart from this new development.  Colm Meaney plays Wainwright the insufferable head of a large newspaper who is the first human to aggressively question and challenge  the Overlords.  

Childhood's End - Season 1
Daisy Betts, Mike Vogel.

Ricky is the mouthpiece of the aliens. “Spokesperson” Kerellen who the world does not see until the second installment of the short three part series uses the farmer to explain what is going on and what will happen. . As the alien tells Stormgren, people are not yet ready to take in his visage. After seeing that the alien looks like an Old Testament version of the Devil, things begin to click into place.

The slow conditioning  of mankind where all, but a small population (in the US at least),  accept the fearsome appearance of Kerellen. Mankind enjoys decades of peace, tranquility and world rule under one organization. (It is this theme that mimics what can be found in the bible where the “end of days” scenario fits fairly well. Peretta Jones (Yael Stone) circles “False Prophet” when Stormgren begins to speak for Kerellen.)

As the tale progresses we are introduced to other players from Clarke’s book and more changes.  Ricky is dying and at last the meaning, as promised by the dead Annabelle, of the room at the Four Seasons is made clear.  New children are born, and they all are interconnected with their central conduit being Jennifer Greggson (played with a direct and disturbing grown up quality evocative of young Dakota Fanning by newcomer Rory Bochner).

There is at least one moment of incongruity. Young Milo, is shot dead by a drug dealer when the wheelchair-bound lad intervenes in a transaction gone sour between the man and his mother.  The Overlords “heal” the boy, not only bringing him back from the dead but he now can walk.  Of course later, the youngster with the insatiable thirst for knowledge will fight the “loss of science.” (Another allegory which relates directly to religion.) Milo is the only human to be directly affected by the Overlords who survives to the end, everyone else dies before the end.

By the time the third act ends, mankind is gone; with only The Lark Ascending melody as a single memory of man and earth. Kerellen has the final line where he tells his “assistant” after being asked what will they do with the tune:

“Leave it here for whoever passes through, so they can hear it.”

Childhood’s End is a depressing tale. Whether going back to the author’s source novel or watching the SyFy adaptation, it ends on a sad note. Milo, the last man standing, as it were, watches  Jennifer (who has not aged one whit in over 85 years) drain all the energy from the planet and its surroundings while channeling it up to the Overmind (which is God in the sense that it is all powerful but lacks the rage (Old Testament) and compassion  (New Testament) of the big fella.

Perhaps Milo himself best sums up the message of the entire saga of the death of mankind and the loss of identity.

“I miss cookie dough ice cream. You ever have it? It’s, like, the first time you try it, you’re all like, “How have I lived so long without this in my life?” You ever come across a civilization with cookie dough ice cream?”

“No.”

“We did that.”

The death of man in this verse is natural because evolution is also natural. It seems somehow fitting that the music Kerellen leaves behind in the void left by Earth is The Lark Ascending, a melody that evokes so many emotions; love, joy, sadness and most importantly, hope.  (Amongst others.)

Childhood’s End tells us that in the end, it may all boil down to an emotionally moving tune or a type of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream that sets mankind and humanity apart from the rest of “other worlds”.  It also tells us the truth, that we only live on in our children, small parts of ourselves that will outgrow and leave us.

These same children who will evolve far beyond what we have accomplished and who may never remember where it all began. Ergo the real fear of humanity, a loss, not of mankind’s identity as a whole, but our own personal one.

 

The Player Gets “Constantine-d” by NBC – WTF?

The Player - Season 1

NBC strikes again. Once more the network has killed a show before it really got started and just as the pace and interest level seemed to be increasing exponentially. The Player has been “Constantine-d” and shut down at nine episodes. Although Constantine was allowed to finish up 13 episodes instead of being halted mid-run. (It could be said that The Player has met the same fate as Joss Whedon’s Firefly which was also abruptly stopped mid-season).

Rather interestingly, the NBC series was on the up. Figures showed that, presumably due to what the series faced in terms of competition, DVR viewing was rising. Considering that the show was up against sports and is a “male” oriented series, this should have been seen as a positive sign.  It seems that those in charge of programming do not realize that Wesley Snipes, Philip Winchester or the gorgeous and talented Charity Wakefield were never going to pull viewers from a live sports event.

While the first episode was a little lackluster (mainly because of a lack of Snipes, whom the show’s producers seemed reluctant to allow too much screen time) the merits of Wakefield, who was by far the most interesting character, were obvious.

By the second episode, it was apparent that Damon Gupton’s character had been poorly written, making his “best friend” role to Philip Winchester’s Alex Kane (the Player) an odd fit. Snipes had more of a presence and Wakefield ruled the episode (as indeed she has pretty much ruled them all).

The third episode increased the action and the inter-action. The show was hitting its stride as the actors found their roles more comfortable and in turn made their characters feel more realistic. The mystery of Ginny became a constant and increasingly highlighted thread that allowed the delightful Daisy Betts to maintain a presence.

The Player  has a male lead, Winchester, who learned how to do action scenes convincingly on the UK series Strike Back,  and  is  a good “all rounder” who could produce tears and sport some very powerful acting chops. Philip is more than an athletic actor, he is an actor full stop.

As is Snipes. While the star has major martial arts skills, he also has more than his share of thespian talent. Wakefield has the ability to captivate the screen whenever she is in front of the camera and easily became the focus of attention.

So what went wrong?

It could be a number of things. The location for instance. With a  setting of Las Vegas, where a number of second unit shoots are used for each episode to continue the illusion that the show is not really shot in LA,  with exteriors done sans actors (mostly) on an ad hoc basis, may be expensive to maintain.

Or…

The stunts, which for the small screen are very impressive, may also be a bit costly to continue. After all, once a standard has been set, the show’s producers cannot cut back. Especially on a show with “limited” viewers already.

Or…

Snipes may want more freedom. The star is a film actor and not accustomed to the rigors of television work.  Hence his “limited” presence on the show initially. It could even come down to price tag. How much does it cost to put Snipes through his paces on a weekly basis?

Too much?

Constantine logo

In all likelihood, this appears to be a case of impatience on the part of NBC. Just as it was with Constantineand, ultimately, with Hannibal cancelled after three seasons because viewing figures were not what the network wanted.  The thing these two other show’s had in common was an “outside the box” mentality of the producers.

The Player was likened to Person of Interest (CBS) and while the latter series is still going strong, although it is rumored this last season is the last, the show’s may be the same “at the core” but the delivery is different.  Sadly, this will not matter to those in the NBC version.

It really does feel like NBC should stand for “No Bloody Clue” (pardon the language) when it comes to letting a new series hit its stride. The Player was hitting all the marks and even Damon Gupton was starting to feel like a good fit.  Despite a cast that were becoming an enjoyable team and episodes that were becoming addictive NBC have killed the show by cutting it off at nine episodes.

Unlike Constantine‘s Matt Ryan (as the main protagonist) who will at least have a small resurgence in CW’s The Arrow, The Player will have no such “second chance.” There has been no news of the show being taken up by Netflix or Hulu, or even another network, so the show is just as dead as the series’ player before Alex Kane.

The Player airs Thursdays on NBC for at least another four episodes. After which it will either fade into obscurity or get picked up by another network. Tune in to see what NBC has thrown away.

 

The Player: The Big Blind – Was that Ginny? (Review)

The Player - Season 1

Last week in The Player, Alex started searching for Ginny in earnest and Mr. Johnson offered to help his player in the effort. This week in The Big Blind, the pit boss is more interested in the game than in helping Alex find his “dead” wife.  It also seems that Johnson does not want Cassandra to know about the assistance. Ms. King and the pit boss reveal a bit more about their “relationship” while she struggles to keeps things smooth with her boyfriend.

The Big Blind delivers in spades. This new series has definitely hit its stride and is moving swiftly into an addictive experience. With the underlying plot thread of Ginny’s “fake” death (The missing tattoo and  Cassandra’s connection with Alex’s wife , that she removed all evidence of,  show that something shady is going on here.) plaguing Kane’s thoughts as well as  the increased action and impressive stunts of the game, The Player as series has shifted easily into the top spot on the NBC lineup.

This week the show starts with Alex laying in the dirt, bloody and disoriented and a female shape, with a silhouette that looks an awful lot like Ginny’s (Daisy Betts), appears and  Alex says her name.  Later, we learn that Alex met Ginny, aka Virginia, this way; wounded, laying in the dirt and blood at the Sudan.  Like any good romance scenario, the soldier fell in love with his doctor.

Alex and Ginny are given just enough screen time together to cement their backstory. The two are decorating their first home, “for posterity” and we see a playful exchange of paint and a kiss. (This scene is, perhaps, the only annoyance out of the whole episode. The reason? For a “self-filmed” bit of action, the camera work was way too smooth. Apart from that little problem the scene does set up the relationship between the two brilliantly.)

The stakes in this episode were raised through the roof as Alex has to face a number of bounty hunters who appear to be after a client of his. Later he learns  that the men are attempting to collect on an anonymous contract placed on the target, Ray, by his wife Monica.  After the initial attempt on Ray’s life, the contract changes. The mob thug puts out another contract on his missus.

It is also revealed that things between Mr. Johnson and Ms. King are not entirely harmonious. There is some tension there, not entirely caused by Cassandra losing her day off.

The Player - Season 1

Ray is almost killed by a bomb and Cassandra tracks down the hitman, using Alex’s security cameras and Kane finds the killer dead with four fingernails pulled out.  At this point, the player learns, with Ms. King’s help, that a number of new “hitmen” have been drawn to the $250K bounty.

A total of five hunters are competing for the bounty and Alex must defeat them all to win.

The Big Blind had the right amount of action, stunts for the win and even contained a couple of “MacGyver” moments. One, used a  timed flash on a smart phone and another was a paint thinner, duct tape and a welding torch construct. Both equally impressive, violent and effective. The fights between Alex and the baddies in the deserted hotel were choreographed brilliantly. Kudos all around for the action scenes in this one.

Eric Roberts, in his  cameo as the mafia daddy of Monica who is in prison with a wheelchair and a nasty bit of emphysema gave his usual above par performance. Roberts played Pauly Agostino, a mob figure who has connections with Mr. Johnson and despite his ailments is still a very powerful man.

The plot of The Player, set around the failed assassination attempt on Ray, is really about spousal abuse. Monica, who was friends with Ray’s wife Ginny (yet another trail leading back to Kane’s “dead” wife) miscarried once before when her husband threw her down the stairs.  Monica is pregnant again and since Ray beats her on a regular basis, she puts the initial contract out on his life.

Along with the domestic violence storyline the episode is also about relationships. Most notably Cassandra and all her relationships/connections with the main characters, as well as her personal one with Nick, a partnership that looks to be dissolving.  Cassandra King is connected to Alex (work), Mr. Johnson (work) and Ginny (This last is a question mark, is Ms. King a friend, an old colleague or former coworker of Mrs. Kane?  We do not know…yet.)

Charity Wakefield as Cassandra continues to captivate and the writers of the show have the “Dealer” down pat. The scene in the kitchen, the morning after, is spot on. Nick asks for spices and King opens a cupboard door to take out the one item on the shelf; salt. She hands it to Nick and he jokingly tells Cassandra that she’ll make someone a good wife some day.

The scene between Philip Winchester and Daisy Betts shows the chemistry these two performers have.  We have  no doubt that these characters are/were very much in love. Wesley Snipes also shows another side to his Mr. Johnson; pit boss extraordinaire. When Cassandra tells Alex that she is seven moves ahead of him and to “catch up,” Johnson grins widely and chuckles, a little touch that makes Snipes’s character a bit more dimensional.

By the end of the episode, after Alex “sees” the silhouette of Ginny and he wins the game, we have to ask if that was Ginny. Kane’s flashback to meeting his wife and her treating his wounds before makes the sighting feel a bit ambiguous.  Still, it is pretty much a certainty that Ginny is still alive so it could well have been her.

The Player - Season 1

The Player airs Thursdays on NBC. Tune in and see what an action/thriller television series should look like. Show creators John Fox and John Rogers have hit their mark perfectly this week and this series is delivering on all cylinders. 

The Player: Ante Up – There May be Hope

The Player - Season 1

So episode two of The Player keeps the action and the Ginny conspiracy running while star Philip Winchester continues to spar with Wesley Snipes and intrigue Charity Wakefield.  Aussie actress Daisy Betts, whose character Ginny was “killed” in the show’s pilot, maintains a background presence via photographs and Alex’s remembrance that the body in the morgue was missing a vital bit of tattoo ink.

The series moves into the game proper this week and things have gotten deadlier. A team of bloodthirsty and coldblooded killers are robbing security vans and killing innocents on a wide scale.  Kane is pitted against the “Carnage Crew.”

While the whole Alex grousing about the game may be annoying, the show’s action sequences are impressive and the mix of Wakefield, Winchester and Snipes is a good one. Damon Gupton, the best friend and cop who seemed hell-bent on putting Alex in jail last week, has warmed up a bit. He still has that cold delivery however and this still irritates.

Ante Up proves that high octane is the theme for this action thriller.  After Mr. Johnson shows Kane that he will make things personal for The Player, Alex’s target is an old comrade from his Afghanistan days, surprisingly it appears that the pit boss is also ready to help his reluctant asset.

The show has Alex being tortured, participating in a gun fight at a casino storeroom, another firefight on a main street, and a pretty impressive bit of action on an airplane and then in the air. There cannot be many programs that can boast a bit of “mile high” arial altercation where a parachute is swapped, unwillingly, between the fighters.

Wakefield continues to be the more interesting of the trio but Winchester is starting to become more watchable. The dialogue still feels  a little forced,  but, it is getting tighter and that bit more clever. Snipes, as Johnson, has a brilliant chemistry with both Cassandra/April and with Alex.

The one person who really does not fit in this scenario very well is Detective Cal Brown (Gupton). This may not be the actor’s fault, as it seems the writers spent too much time  trying to make Snipes, Winchester and Wakefield more interesting and witty. This has left Damon a little underwritten and oddly disjointed.  Seemingly way too eager to arrest his best buddy in the pilot and too understanding in this episode.

In terms of villains, Joseph Sikora, as Dominic McCall,  was perhaps a bit of a “one-note” baddy but his criminality was done with a sort of twisted panache and not a little psychosis.  The “double-down” second bet orchestrated by a clever Cassandra was a nice shift and gives us the idea that boyfriend Nick may be on the way out.

The Player - Season 1

The underlying plot thread of Alex believing that Ginny is still alive, by submitting hair samples for a DNA match become more interesting after being show that the body on the table was, supposedly, her. However…Johnson showing up at the end of the episode stating support and agreeing the Ginny is still alive gives Alex the idea that there is some hope she is not dead.

Just as this second episode of The Player gives us some hope that this action thriller is going to keep entertaining with a heavy dose of adrenaline and a improving plot line. The series airs Thursdays on NBC, tune in and see if they can beat that mid-air fisticuff scene in this episode.