In order for any story to be good, I feel it has to work on more than one level. Earth 2 did this, being a story about romance, redemption, forgiveness, friendships, parenting, human flaws, individual spiritual journeys, and character growth. To top it all off, it even managed to pause every now and then for some social commentary on the human condition, without ever being preachy. (Star Trek producers, take notes – this is how it's done.)
I feel that this episode, halfway through the season, was the nexus point at which almost every level on which Earth 2 ran came together in one story. There isn't a single scene in this episode which isn't overflowing with great acting, directing and emotion. The dialog just hits me in my stomach and takes my breath away.
Another thing to remember about Earth 2 is that no one was perfect. Throughout the season, every character played both the hero and the fool at least once. At no time was anyone perfectly heroic, or a perfect fool. Many times they were heroic and foolish at the same time. In other words, they were normal people like you and me, being scared and brave, acting on their instincts and sometimes getting it wrong.
"Better Living Through Morganite" was written by P.K. Simonds and directed by Frank DePalma. John Gegenhuber, as Morgan Martin, narrates. Other main characters of this story were Sullivan Walker as Yale, Debrah Farentino as Devon Adair, Clancy Brown as John Danziger, Jessica Steen as Julia Heller, Antonio Sabato, Jr. as Alonzo Solace, and Rebecca Gayheart as Bess Martin.
The story so far: Morgan has set off a geolock to stake a claim on the Terrian sunstones, petrifying a Terrian and almost petrifying the camp. Yale has gone berserk and has left the group so he won't kill anyone. Being very noble, he would rather die or kill himself than harm someone else, so he is hiding out in the Terrian tunnels.
To put it nicely, there's trouble in River City.
Morgan, Bess and Yale are all captured by the Terrians. Yale keeps warning Bess and Morgan to stay away from him.
Mary and the Terrians go to the bio-dome and tell the Edenites that freezing the sunstones has crippled their mother (the Earth), and a Terrian has been killed. Their three captives will be executed at dawn in payment for these crimes.
The tension during this meeting is very evident! Baines and Walman grip their magpros like the weapons are their best friends. For all anyone knows, the first war between humans and Terrians is about to start! Not a good situation.
This scene also reveals more about the characters. When told that the geolock has hurt the dreaming, Julia is inquisitive. (She wants to know, "How?") When told that the Terrians are holding three human captives, Danziger gets aggressive – despite the fact that the Terrians probably have a right to be holding them. (Their tribe was attacked, after all.) Devon is falling all over herself to "make things right." Alonzo desperately tries to get the Terrians to come back and talk about things. No dice – the Terrians are gone.
Yale's memories are coming back more and more. He keeps remembering attacking a defenseless group of people, with another soldier like himself, and executing them in cold blood. He's getting crazier by the minute.
Mary tells the captives they will be executed. Morgan and Bess beg for their freedom. Yale suddenly lunges forward and whispers something in Mary's ear. Mary blinds Morgan and Bess and leads them away.
Devon, Danziger and Julia attempt to unlock the geolock, but they can't. Cracking the abort code would take forever. The geolock also has a defense mechanism which shocks anyone not authorised to use it.
Danziger suggests threatening the Terrians with more geolocks to keep them from executing the others. Devon and Julia are opposed to this, scared of what that would mean. Alonzo tries to talk to the Terrians again, but the dream plane isn't working, and the Terrians aren't responding. Things look grim.
Devon and Danziger have a vicious argument. Danziger is convinced that a show of force is the only way to respond to the Terrians. Devon is desperately trying to find another way, but one is not appearing.
Morgan and Bess come back into camp. They have been freed by the Terrians, and Bess realizes that this must be because Yale told the Terrians that the geolock was his fault. Yale is willing to die in their place. Devon says, "Then we have to save him!"
The shift of emotion in the room is intense. Suddenly, everyone feels very awkward. Yale is a danger, and he left because he knew it. Now Devon wants to lay everything on the line for him, and people are feeling he's not worth it. But no one wants to admit it.
That subtle change in the atmosphere – the way the actors and the director made it seem so real – is a mark of how good this story is. But this episode is just getting started.
Devon now turns the tables on Danziger, who suddenly isn't so eager to face off with the Terrians. Others try to persuade her that it's not worth it, but Devon isn't having any. She leaves in a righteous huff, and no one else in the room can quite look at each other.
This episode has now reached intense factor 8.5 on a scale of 10, and is still building. I don't know what it is, but somehow, I feel I'm a part of this episode when I watch it. I really feel that this tiny band of humans on an alien planet, holed up in a rustic campground in the mountains, have been thrown into a tornado of trouble and they've got just 2 or 3 more hours to get out of it. The natives aren't anyone you want to be tangling with, and they're very difficult to talk to or relate to. There is no one to call for help, lives are on the line, and no easy solutions are becoming clear. People are frightened, and disagreeing about which course of action to take.
Then the fantastic dialog starts rolling down the script. P.K. Simonds put a few nuggets of wisdom in this episode, make no mistake.
Mary finds Yale praying, and they talk about doing wrong, harming others, and what it means to forgive. Yale says one of the most profound things in the show when he tells Mary, "Life is not simple for humans. We struggle. We make mistakes. And we try to learn. We want to learn. It's as basic as the need to eat. Like you – you ask questions, because you want to learn. And before I die, I want the truth. So I talk to God."
Mary replies, "Terrians don't talk to find truth. We listen."
She shows him that he can use the sunstones to access his hidden memories. He starts to remember, but pulls back in terror because he can't face it. He doesn't want to see what happened after he pulled the trigger. It's too horrifying for him.
Danziger is ripping Morgan apart for his greed, angry that he doesn't have the release code. Then Devon calls on gear to report that she is in the tunnels with Alonzo. She is making one last attempt to talk to the Terrians before the two species go to war. Danziger is convinced that she and Alonzo will be killed, too. He rushes after her with Baines and Walman, all three armed with magpros.
It is important to note here that although Devon and Danziger each represent an opposing view on how to solve the problem, they each did what they did because they cared. Devon and Alonzo were willing to risk their lives to talk to the Terrians out of a hope for peace. Danziger rushed into danger when he believed that people he cared about were also in danger. Two opposing viewpoints that clashed throughout the show, but each came from the heart.
Yale gathers his courage and decides to face his memories once and for all. Alone, he touches the sunstones. He remembers routing out the people hiding from him and his partner. He remembers he and his partner holding the prisoners at gunpoint. He remembers his partner cocking his gun as the prisoners beg for mercy. He remembers firing his own gun...
at his partner, saving the captives' lives.
And he remembers being sent straight to the Yale program for killing his partner, branded as a criminal.
In a rousing scene, Yale slowly gets up off the floor and says, "I am not a criminal! I've saved lives!" Then he shouts, "I will not die falsely accused! I - WILL - NOT - DIE!!!"
Okay. Hit the pause button. Take a deep breath. Let the heart slow down for a second. If Sullivan was holding anything back in that scene, I didn't notice.
Take another deep breath. Hit play again.
Morgan is desperately trying to decrypt the abort code of the geolock. Every attempt burns his hand with a shock, but realizing that he is responsible for the trouble everyone is in, he's not giving up. He breaches the first tier after an hour, but there are five more to go. Bess suggests he use his gear set, and he does. The shock still comes through, but at least it's faster.
Julia calls Devon on gear and tells her the sunstones are definitely intelligent. She found this out because when she tried to send basic signals into the sunstones, they responded with a much more complex language.
Julia says, "It figured out the binary language of my scanner in minutes. I'm wondering how long it would take to crack the geolock." Devon tells her to go for it.
The Terrians, with Mary, meet with Devon and Alonzo, who try to persuade the Terrians to spare Yale. Devon says that with a little time, they can undo the damage.
The Terrians respond that unless the price is paid, the humans won't learn and it will happen again. The Terrians say the humans don't think with one mind. Although they trust Devon, she can't speak for them all.
In the middle of talks, out jumps Danziger, Baines and Walman, magpros armed and aiming, to rescue Devon and Alonzo. The Terrians raise their staffs and charge them. War is about to happen.
The situation is a small-scale model of the old NATO / Soviet Bloc Cold War. "I'm aiming weapons at you because you're aiming weapons at me." "No, I'm aiming weapons at you because you're aiming weapons at me." "My aiming was justified." "Was not." "Was too."
The following scene is my all-time favorite of television, from any era, any show. And I don't say that because I like Devon so much. (It's actually the other way around: one of the reasons I like Devon so much is because of this scene.)
She says, "John, listen to me. The only chance Yale's got, the only chance any of us have, is if we teach the Terrians to trust us. Look, I know you want to help, so John, please help me by showing them that there's a lot more to us than meets the eye."
The importance of that speech, and its ramifications, can be found in the five words, "The only chance Yale's got."
Consider this: Devon has known and loved Yale for at least 20 years, probably longer. And yet, she is still willing to talk for his survival instead of fight. Why? Because she believes in something.
The thing that she believes in is peace and coexistence with the Terrians, as evidenced by her next few words, "The only chance any of us have."
What makes this scene so important, and why I think Devon shines here more than at any other time, is because only Devon understood that what happened that night would affect the human race's existence on G889 forever. She was the only one who was looking beyond that night, to the colony ship due to land at New Pacifica, and to the generations that would follow.
"The only chance any of us have is if we teach the Terrians to trust us."
Without peaceful coexistence with the Terrians, the human race would have had no home on G889. Period.
The situation went far beyond forgiveness and retribution. It even went beyond the us-vs.-them mentality, although that attitude was certainly prevalent. When Devon says that line, she's not just saying it to fling it into Danziger's face, and she's not exaggerating. She says it because it's true. For that one moment when they all have their weapons out, the entire fate of humanity's future on G889 is hanging in the balance, and it comes oh-so-close to being destroyed.
Devon was bargaining for the life of the man she probably loved more than any other except Ulysses. But she had to balance that with the fact that the Terrian people have a nation, even if they don't say so in so many words. They have a culture, and laws which bring punishment to those who break them. Since it's the Terrians' planet, and their laws and customs dictate the execution of someone, what do you do? Tell them they can't because different species should be treated differently? Or do you go to war forever over that one person's life?
It is interesting to note that if Yale had been magically offered the chance to live at the expense of war with the Terrians (i.e., other people would end up dying so that he could live), he probably would say, "No. That's too high a price to pay." Even after his revelation and determination to live, I don't think Yale wanted anyone to sacrifice their lives for him. He didn't strike me as that sort of man.
It is also interesting to note that the situation would have been different if it had been one of the children to be executed. If it were Ulysses instead of Yale who was to be killed, I doubt Devon's response would have been the same. For her son, I think she would have risked the universe.
So Devon persuades Danziger to lay down his weapon, and the Terrians do the same. The situation is defused, and she says, "See? We can think with one mind. We do not need to lose lives to learn."
Alonzo says, "I know you understand, Mary. Being human means seeing many sides. Make them see our side. You'll be helping them, too."
The Terrians say no.
From that point on, Devon sits with the others, trying to think of something. But even at the end, when all seems lost, she does not attack the Terrians or try to take Yale back through force.
Julia comes to see Morgan and Bess and presents them with the sunstones, but the time for Yale's execution has come. Yale tries to persuade Mary to let him go. (Are Mary's emotions getting pulled on tonight, or what?)
Again, Sullivan is powerful, first shouting, then lowering his voice to a whisper. "I want to live! Mary, help...me...live."
When Mary asks, "Why would I help?" Yale's response is another gem from P.K. Simonds: "Everything you know doesn't come from these rocks. The truth is never that simple."
Mary is not convinced, and Yale is electrified and sent into the Earth, into the Terrians' pool. But at the end, after Yale has descended, Mary turns around and comes back, hesitating.
The sunstones aren't decrypting the geolock through the scanner. Morgan decides that they need a better interface – "a twisted mind" – and picks up the rocks, burning his hands. The sunstones communicate with the geolock at lightning speed. The electrical shocks coming from the geolock blast across Morgan's head in a steady stream, and he is knocked out. The sunstones decrypt the abort code, and Bess orders the geolock to release.
The ground is unpetrified and the Terrian which was frozen into the wall is still alive. The damage has been undone.
As the sun rises, Mary comes up through the Earth holding Yale and dumps him gasping onto the snow. Yale thanks her and tries to persuade her to come back to being a human, that the Terrians have done all that they can do for her. "I know we confuse you," he says. "But we can be friends. It's frightening to go back to your buried past, but you have shown me that it's better to know!" The Terrians appear on a hill looking down at her, then disappear. When Mary tries to rejoin them, she can't.
"Is that what you get for helping me?" Yale asks. "You can't travel through the Earth any more! They won't forgive you, Mary. It is not their way! Stay. Stay with us."
Crying and afraid, Mary simply says, "Di-di-di-di-di," and runs off into the woods. I start to cry.
Morgan recovers. They tell him he broke the code, and he's excited about seeing dirt, and a tree. He says, "I love this planet."
The others are walking back from the tunnels. Danziger tries to console Devon. They hear Yale shouting for Mary. Devon runs to him shouting his name, almost like a little girl. I start crying some more. (David Bergeaud's music isn't helping me stop, either.)
Devon holds Yale tightly and says, "You're alive!" Yale responds, "Much more than you think."
There are so many reasons why I consider this to be the ultimate Earth 2 episode. It has almost everything: rebirth, redemption, sacrifice, growth. Even the Terrians, for all their wisdom, are shown to be imperfect. It is so well-done that I feel like I'm there. Little things, like being able to hear Devon's footsteps when she runs to Yale, and being able to see the cold breath when Yale and Mary are speaking, help to transport me to that world and make it so much more believable than anything shot in a studio using fake snow and fake sunlight. The fact that dawn is breaking as the troubles are resolved is symbolic.
From Morgan's statement about "I love this planet," to Yale's declaration that "I will not die!" to Devon's "The only chance any of us have," this episode delivers. It delivers big. So many characters change and grow by the time this particular episode is finished, I can barely keep track of it.
Someday, I'm certain that we'll be meeting an alien race. When that happens, something's probably going to go wrong, sometime. It's inevitable. There's going to be a clash of some sort. When that happens, there's going to be some Morgans, and some Danzigers, and some Alonzos, and some Devons in real life, and we'll have to make an effort to get along as best as we can. Earth 2 said in one season, in one episode, in one scene, what Star Trek has been trying to say for over 30 years without ever quite getting it right.
I also remember watching this episode for the first time and being totally wowed out of my chair by the revelation that Yale was not a criminal, then wowed again with the clever way the writers came up with having the sunstones decrypt the geolock! That was too cool.
This episode comes out strong and finishes with beauty and thunder, and every viewing leaves me seeing something I never saw before. It is my favorite episode of my favorite show. I think it represents Earth 2 perfectly, perhaps summing up the entire season with Morgan's closing quote, which encapsulates Earth 2's main theme beautifully:
"It's an extraordinary new world, and survival is simply a question
of whether we can reach deep enough to find the extraordinary in ourselves."