An ending with a beautiful message is burdened by some choppy storytelling and development
This is the way the world ends on Childhood’s End. With a bang. But was that bang merely a whimper in disguise, or something more pertinent to what matters in the real world?
Syfy’s three-part series came to a close with the utter destruction of planet Earth, the last of its children taken to become one with the Overmind and a single song left in its place to remind those of what once was.
In this final installment, the true reason for the Overlords appearance is revealed to the people of Earth. Karellen makes it known that no more children shall be born, the world’s current generation of sons of daughters taken for the Overmind. The adults are given their time to live out in what Karellen hopes will be peace, but having to face their end leaves few of the characters we see in any state of peace.
Milo escapes the downfall, having hitched a ride onto the Overlords’ ship, which has made its way back to their home planet. He wants to save his planet and understand everything that’s happening, but the Overmind of all creation’s will set their destiny into motion long before Milo appeared on the scene.
Milo even has the chance to speak with the Overmind, to learn that humanity is finished and its younger generation has become one with the Overmind. The Overlords have been doing this being’s bidding for ages. Earth is merely their latest mission.
But Milo makes this mission different. He makes Karellen feel for his subjects, admit the envy he feels for them while his species remains indebted to the work of the Overmind.
Milo returns to Earth to be there for its end, as Karellen, from his spaceship, talks Milo through those last few moments. But Milo’s demand that something be saved before the planet dies is heeded, and Karellen finds the music in Milo’s memory. The last vestige of humanity, saved in song.
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As he reveals his plan to the humans, Karellen asks that he not be blamed for what the Overlords have done — it was merely in their service. But his final act suggests he feels some semblance of guilt for what he’s done. Will that change how he proceeds in the future? Perhaps not, but it means Earth didn’t end for nothing, even if it was tricked into its own downfall. It gave the universe something beautiful, yet ugly; perfect, yet flawed: It gave the universe us.
The sentiment is a beautiful one. Sure, if we assume in this universe that other species have existed, surely some of them have created a cultural touchstone like music. But music itself is such an expression of culture — the thoughts, feelings, societal pressures, and a dozen other influences wrapped up in several minutes of expression. And listening to a song can raise your spirits, move you to tears, evoke powerful memories, or become the bedrock for new ones. Above all other art forms, music made with passion can be so immediately felt.
Humanity may be gone, but it remains in the universe thanks to a piece of art that could have only been produced in the place and time it was. The song is Earth — and mankind — for all of eternity to come.
So it’s shame that Childhood’s End doesn’t quite capitalize on that musical motif throughout the final episode and the three parts as a whole. The series had lofty ambitions and did succeed in various ways, but for something so central to its final message and the final message of humanity, the power of that music felt underdeveloped. Particularly after a concluding act that spent much of its time asking us to care about human stories (the plight of the Greggsons, Ricky’s slow death, and Milo’s love story). Some of the highlights from past installments, like Julian McMahon’s Dr. Boyce, are also left in the rearview mirror, as is the lighter, energetic touch they added to the series, touches that were sorely lacking as “The Children” occasionally dipped into plodding melodrama.
Childhood’s End concludes on a beautiful note but one that comes after a clear case of ambitions exceeding reach. The various subplots contained within all three parts ranged from wildly superfluous to emotionally resonant, sometimes all within the same character arc. The series’ skipping over chunks of time at random didn’t help, as it bounced from character study to world-encompassing events with varying degrees of success. The heights to which it stretched were admirable, but it grasped them only so often that only some of the various conclusions to the story of Childhoood’s End’s main characters and Earth itself land with the necessary punch that such a touching ending deserved.
What did you think of the finale and the series as a whole? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter @jmdornbush.