Childhood's End finale postmortem with EP Matthew Graham
Warning: This story contains major spoilers from Syfy’s three-night event Chlidhood’s End. Read at your own risk!
Childhood’s End had what some may call a bleak ending … the literal end of the world.
Syfy’s three-night event series follows the peaceful invasion of Earth by the alien Overlords, who promise to eliminate poverty, war, and sickness, ushering in an age of peace. But the Overlords insist on hiding their appearance, making some on earth question whether there’s a price to pay.
Eventually, their supposed leader Karellen (Charles Dance) appears, revealing that the Overlords look much like the Devil. In short, the Overlords made a better earth in order to foster the next generation, who can tap into powers like telekinesis, all in the name of turning them over to the Overmind — basically the collective consciousness of the universe — which results in the eventual destruction of the world. EW caught up with executive producer Matthew Graham to break down what just happened:
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Just to clarify for people who maybe haven’t read the book, what exactly is the Overmind?
MATTHEW GRAHAM: I’ll tell you as much as I know from the book, and we deliberately left a certain degree of ambiguity. Dare I say, inspired by [Stanley] Kubrick in 2001, we didn’t want to completely explain everything. As far as I understand it, all species in the universe reach a certain stage of evolution where they can go no further. At that point, the children of that planet have reached a place where their mental consciousness is going to be assimilated into a giant collective consciousness of all the sentient beings that have ever existed in the universe.
So, they are eventually assimilated into this collective consciousness through a conduit — in our story, Jennifer — and the adults are the Neanderthals, they’re the ones left behind, because they haven’t reached that level. That level can only be reached through a final act of midwifery by the Overlords, really, where they coax us into this place of peace and of greater moral calm and emotional calm. That’s the point where we can give birth to children that are ready to go off into the Overmind. Then the Overmind itself, as far as I understand it from the book, is simply all the consciousness of any thinking, feeling, intelligent being. It’s where all those minds end up, and becoming one mind, the closest thing to God that we can imagine.
So what exactly was Jennifer? Was she just a conduit, or was she a human-alien hybrid?
She wasn’t alien; she was the first child to be born that was more Overmind than human. She was the fish that grew legs, if you know what I mean, and came out of the sea. She is the final step of evolution. There is no stage of the evolution beyond Jennifer. Once you get to Jennifer, she effectively is so advanced that she is connected directly to the Overmind, and then it’s just a question of her drawing all the other children out — their bodies first, and then through their consciousness, as well — drawing it all into this big vast collective energy. That’s why she feeds off the energy of the Earth. Once the adults have all died out, the earth just gradually withers and dies, and she takes all that energy, and then finally she’s gone too, and they’re all part of the one thing.
The book touched upon this a lot more than you guys did in the miniseries, but the reason Karellen appeared as what we think of the Devil is because humans actually prophesied his arrival, right?
That’s right. It’s ingrained in us on a very deep level, so that eventually the time comes when everything we are and everything we know ends. Without knowing it, we made the Overlords into the very epitome of evil — their shape, their appearance. We decided that was what evil looked like, because to us, anything that threatens our way of life is evil.
When the children all disappeared, that was basically the equivalent of Revelations. Can you talk about some of the mirroring the series had to the Bible?
Some of it’s in the book, and some of it we deliberately did with imagery. It was actually the director’s idea to have them in a cruciform pose as they rose up, which I thought was really beautiful and very disturbing. So you have all these little crosses almost rising up into the sky, which I thought was rather nice.
There is something classically, mythically Christian, I suppose, about the idea of a very Satanic-looking being on the earth, and at the same time, the children being affected by it who are the epitome of innocence. Then the children becoming beyond what the adults can understand, which is very much like Paul writing about, “When I was a child, I thought like a child, but then when I grew up, I had to put away childish things,” which is, ironically, what the children themselves do, and the adults can’t do. The children are the ones who shed the childish things and move on.
A lot of it’s in the book, and then we just added to it with a few visual flourishes. But it was also quite a bit important to us that there was a degree of ambiguity, and things you can’t quite fully work out, and it was a deliberate thing. We could have pushed in things where everything was explained; we could have had Karellen explain absolutely everything very clearly. But we chose to keep it a little ambiguous and enigmatic, because I think the ultimate mysteries of the universe should feel a little bit beyond our reach, shouldn’t they, a little bit beyond our understanding? They shouldn’t be able to be tied up too neatly in a dramatic bow.
What message do you think the series sends? That humanity is ultimately doomed and we’re basically our own worst enemy?
Well, [Childhood’s End author] Arthur C. Clarke had a great quote: He said, “We’re the first era of man ever to genuinely try and predict our own future, which is ironic, because we very well may not have one.” No, I don’t see it as doom, actually. I think the initial reaction is to feel it’s doom. I think it’s about acceptance, and I don’t think we should take it literally; I don’t think the book is about: One day the world will end. I think it’s about: One day you will end. You are going to end, and within a couple of generations, people won’t know your name; they won’t remember your name. I don’t know the name of my great-grandparents, and I certainly don’t know the name of my great-great grandparents. That’s rather profound and rather challenging, but it’s about acceptance.
Whether you have a religious faith or you don’t, it’s not really about saying there’s no God or there is a God. What we do know for certain is that we’re very small in a very big universe, and one day we’re going to die. And when you die, effectively, that is the end of the world — it’s the end of the world for you. So I think he’s writing about that; I think he’s writing about death. And he was a very cheeky man, so when he was interviewed, I think he liked to wind people up and say, “We’re all going to die, the world’s going to explode.” I think he quite liked playing those games with people. But I think ultimately the book is about something more intimate.
I know everybody ultimately had to die, as you’re saying, but why did Ricky (Mike Vogel) have to die in the way that he did?
Well, he chose to die, actually. It’s the tragedy of prophets. Prophets very rarely live out their days happy. Noah ended up a drunk; Moses died before he saw the Promised Land. It’s the strange mystery of God’s relationship to man. The ones that he picks for the big jobs, often it ends in their death or, in some way, tragedy, where they don’t actually get to see the very thing that they set up or implemented. Actually, Karellen offers Ricky a happy ending; he offers him a chance to just live in this dream state in this hotel room and be with Annabelle (Georgina Haig). But Karellen doesn’t really want him to do that. Karellen wants him to accept his own mortality, and Ricky does. He chooses to walk away from the dream and go and die with Ellie (Daisy Betts) in the real world rather than live in a fantasy world. And that’s him throwing away his own childhood — his childhood’s end, I suppose. That’s what Karellen wanted him to do. He was giving him the choice, because he loved him and he wanted him to be happy, but he was ultimately glad that Ricky took, if you like, the spiritually mature decision.