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.
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?”
“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.