Now that the cat is out of the bag, or in this case, the Karellen is out of the spaceship, the people of Earth on Childhood’s End will have to reconcile a supposed peaceful alien invasion with the vision of those invaders looking like evil incarnate.
The first segment of Syfy’s three-part adaptation of Arthur C. Clarke’s 1953 novel ended on a major cliffhanger, as the alien Karellen (Charles Dance) exposes his true visage to mankind after speaking through average American citizen Ricky Stormgren (the no-longer-under-the-dome Mike Vogel).
Syfy’s adaptation wastes no time heralding the arrival of Earth’s new Overlords, examining how people from all around the world in various stations of life respond to this monumental cultural shift. From the press debating whether to sensationalize the Overlords and questioning their true motives to religious groups either swaying in their faith or remaining steadfast, “Night One: The Overlords” offers a swath of snapshot reactions, some of which make a more lasting impression than others.
Ricky’s story takes center stage, as he relays the Overlords’ message to the people of Earth, with their promise of preventing war, famine, and other international issues. The episode begins to drag whenever Ricky’s romantic woes become his primary concerns, but Vogel channels the necessary everyman vibe whenever he’s paired with Dance’s Karellen (who only appears in vocal form until the episode’s end) or when he’s set before the press to relay Karellen’s messages. The two meet in a room meant to evoke Ricky’s stay with a dead loved one in the Four Seasons in New York, and from his first arrival to this facsimile of a memory to his last attempt to catch Karellen’s appearance, Dance plays Karellen with an intimidating, elegant power.
“The Overlords” also picks up steam when it presents the immense power of the invading force. In an ironic step meant to convey his supposedly kind intentions, Karellen first speaks to the people of Earth through the form of deceased loved ones. It’s a haunting and powerful moment in this first third, the reality of what that must be like easy to understand for any viewer who has lost someone close. Other scenes, like the death, revival, and the regained ability to walk of a wheelchair-bound boy are given room to breathe. Yet often “The Overlords” speeds through events and time to show the world’s development without letting some of the series’ most intriguing ideas resonate.
And yet even if “The Overlords” clips along in service of its cliffhanger, the appearance of Karellen as a demon, perhaps the devil himself, is just as stirring a moment to end on as the revival of the world’s dead is to set the invasion into motion. Fear, surprise, amusement, indifference — there’s no shortage of fascinating reactions to mine from this reveal, which hopefully the second act can fully investigate before inching closer to the barren world glimpsed in the opening scene of Childhood’s End.
What did you think of the first third of Childhood’s End? Did the episode’s reveals outweigh the themes being explored for you, or did the episode give the Overlords’ first contact, and the world’s reception to them, its proper due? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter on @jmdornbush.