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New Netflix series shows the destructive consequences of negotiating with evil

The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance is not for the faint of heart, and certainly is not for children, but beautifully cuts through the mire of postmodern spiritual trash.

A scene from "The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance" (Netflix.com)

MPAA Rating: TV-PG
USCCB Rating: Not Rated
Reel Rating: 4 out of 5 reels

I was eight years old when I first saw The Dark Crystal—and it scared me to death. The grotesque wrinkles of the Skeksis and lifeless eyes of the Garthim were far too much to handle. Yet despite my dread, I felt inexplicably drawn to Jim Henson’s world and re-entered the living room as often as I left it.

Now comes the prequel series, on Netflix, titled The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, which is just as dark but is far more sophisticated and complex. Both the original film and its prequel promote a strong pantheistic ethic, but in age that is becoming deprived of any ethics whatsoever, that’s not necessarily a major flaw or drawback to the series (more on that below).

Thra is a planet dominated by the Skeksis, vulture-like creatures who draw their power from a mysterious object called the Dark Crystal. Under the thumb of the Skeksis are the Gelflings, elvish creatures broken into seven clans, each with a unique personality and set of skills. Their worldview becomes upset when Rian (Taron Egerton), a castle guard, witnesses the Skeksis using the Crystal to drain his girlfriend’s essence to unnaturally prolong their lifespan. At first, no one believes him, and Rian becomes a fugitive. He is soon joined by the princess Brea (Anya Taylor-Joy), who keeps having visions of a strange symbol, and the cave farmer Deet (Nathalie Emmanuel), who was a given a prophecy about an eschatological entity called the Darkening. Together, they must unite the clans, defeat the Skeksis, and stop the destruction of Thra.

One of the great gifts that television and cinema can give is visual awe, like Dorothy seeing the Land of Oz in color for the first time. Age of Resistance achieves this experience through one of the most detailed fantasy landscapes in recent memory. Every one of the nearly seventy sets, from the vast foliage of Stone-in-the-Wood to the luminous caves of Grotten to the harsh emptiness of the Skeksis castle, is lovingly crafted without a CGI image to be found. So, too, every new chapter reveals compelling characters and an increasingly intriguing mythology.

Another essential aspect was its adherence to traditional archetypes. It’s a fad now to amend or even upset traditional tropes in fantasy, but Age of Resistance brilliantly demonstrates that if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. Rian is the classic hero who must save the realm—and even gets his own version of Excalibur. Deet and her Podling companion Hop (Victor Yerrid) are great personality foils. Deet is sweet, kind, and intelligent; Hop is aggressive, impulsive, and clueless. The Skeksis are truly evil with no talk of redemption. There is good and bad—and good will triumph.

Like the original, Age of Resistance advocates a pantheistic ethic via the monistic concept of all becoming one. The Skeksis deliberately sow division among the Gelfling clans to keep them weak. Characters are constantly complaining that Deet “smells” and is “dirty” because her clan lives in caves. The prophetic Vapra are perceived as greedy and disparaged because they “never do anything for free.” It’s no accident that the three main protagonists are each from a different clan or that Rian and Deet develop romantic feelings for one another. It is Brea who discovers that “no clan is better than another” and that they must unite to defeat their common enemy.

This theme of unity by itself is not explicitly pantheistic, but the series unveils more clues as it progresses. Before the Skeksis, Thra was ruled by Mother Aughra (Donna Kimball), a strange creature who has the traditional Hindu “third eye.” When anything dies it “returns to Thra” to be born again. In this way, everything is the same. The Skeksis themselves are only half a being, spiritually united with the peaceful Mystics, manatee-like wizards who speaks with frustrating slowness. Whenever a Mystic or Skeksis is hurt or dies, its counterpart experiences the same thing.

Pope St. John Paul II once said that his favorite Bible passage was John 8:32, where Jesus states, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Although largely subconscious, Age of Resistance does a brilliant job illustrating this theme. The Skeksis control Thra by spinning an elaborate mythology regarding their own power. They are immortal, all powerful, and superior to any other race. By paying tithes and submitting to the Skeksis’ will, the Gelfling clans will have peace and order. In truth, they are mortal and not even originally from Thra. When Rian threatens to expose the Skeksis, the Chamberlain eases their fear. “Even if he tells, they will not believe,” he hisses. “To believe him is to not believe themselves.”

Despite mounting evidence, the new Gelfling leader Seladon (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) refuses to abandon her loyalty to the Skeksis, going so far as to fight against the rebel Gelflings. “We must obey the lords,” she insists even as their demands become more and more severe. Yet there comes a point where the Skeksis thirst for Gelfling essence is so strong they drop the façade and freely admit their crimes to Seladon with howling laughter. It’s the most devastating scene in the series and drives home the point that negotiating with evil is never beneficial. God will not compromise with evil to accomplish good, but evil is often content to willingly allow some good to bring about even greater evil and sin.

The series ends with a large enough gap for another season, and it can’t come soon enough. Age of Resistance is not for the faint of heart, and certainly is not for children, but beautifully cuts through the mire of postmodern spiritual trash. Even if its target is off, aiming more for Buddha rather than for Christ, it’s a lot closer than most of its contemporaries.


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About Nick Olszyk 143 Articles
Nick Olszyk teaches theology at Marist Catholic High School in Eugene, Oregon. He was raised on bad science fiction movies, jelly beans, and TV shows that make fun of bad science fiction movies. Visit him online at his website, Catholic Cinema Crusade.

7 Comments

  1. BEWARE! While I greatly appreciate the very detailed description of this Netflix series and the message of not blindly believing and/or compromising with evil, Buddhism as such is still highly enthroned all by itself in this series and that is dangerous. As a revert to the Catholic Faith, having been deeply immersed (I don’t do anything half-way) in Buddhism, other Eastern Religions, New Age, Occultism, etc. I found the tame, kind, friendly, soft, peaceful, nature-loving Buddhism to be the most dangerous by far and also a wide first door to all the other false poisonous beliefs, as it denies the existence of sin and evil (even if some of them now conveniently deny this), therefore denying Jesus’ Saving and Redemptive Work on the Holy Cross as needless, absurd and untrue (and why Oprah says it never happened).

    Be not deceived, this series in Netflix and all others inspired by Buddhism, are not a getting closer to Christianity in any way, manner, shape or form, ever. Behind the mystical, sweet, very populist mask, Buddhism is a poisonous sentimental beast that easily deceives and poses as Christianity’s “kinder, softer, more peaceful version”. I was deceived when Buddhism/New Age/etc. were not the huge juggernaut they are now.

    There was no excuse for me then and there’s no excuse for anyone else today. Follow Christ and breathe the fresh air of the Holy Spirit in True Catholic Teaching, Faith and Holiness, instead of the diesel fumes of ultra hyper-soft impostors. All far out extremes belong to evil, even the ultra-soft ones because they make us naive, blind, sentimentally fanatical and open to more evil, refusing to resist it as God commands. All far out extremes are evil! “SUBMIT yourselves, then, to God. RESIST the devil, and he will flee from you”, (James 4:7).

    • It may interest you to know that many of the ideas and practices characteristic of early Christianity (monastic life and intentional poverty, direct encounters with the Absolute, universal human emancipation, etc.) were in the air and broadly being discussed in the ancient world, ranging as widely as the later prophets, the Greek cynics, and the Hindu poet-Saints. Some of the first people to popularize these ideas were the Thereveda Buddhists. Christ’s pedagogy did not occur in a vacuum–He was responding to and working with a context shaped by the prevailing ideologies and understandings. In some ways, this cultural context owed even more to the traveling Buddhist monks (two of who visited Rome almost a century before Christ was born) as it did to the Pharasies and Essenes.

      I know it can be disappointing to recognize that teachings you hold dear did not emerge as a fully-formed, naturally or supernaturally occurring phenomena, but rather are the result of cross-cultural discourses. However, this insight can also be exciting and enlightening! Studying how Indian, Semetic, and Hellenistic religion and philosophy interacted historical help us to better understand things like the metaphysical implications of the Golden Rule, or the revolutionary potential of sharing a meal with a member of your society’s Unclean. Buddhism and Christianity and not mutually reducible to each other–anyone who claima otherwise is just trying to water down religion into one blandly good or blandly bad force. But just as Christ and the Buddha made use of familiar everyday images, expirences, and moral instincts to construct their teachings and parables, the two religions drew upon and co-produced common images and concepts which become more clear when the two are put into conversation with each other. For this reason students of early Christian and Buddhist thought have much to teach each other, historically, philosophically, and even spiritually, rather than dismissing each other out of hand.

      • The content, claims and condescending tone of your comment are old, recycled and already very well known to me and anyone who has studied the REAL history of Buddhism. “It is chiefly the legendary features of Buddha’s life, many of which are found for the first time only in works of later date than the Gospels, that furnish the most striking resemblances to certain incidents related of Christ in the Gospels, resemblances which might with greater show of reason be traced to a common historic origin. If there has been any borrowing here, it is plainly on the side of Buddhism.

        That Christianity made its way to Northern India in the first two centuries is not only a matter of respectable tradition, but is supported by weighty archaeological evidence. Scholars of recognized ability, beyond the suspicion of undue bias in favor of Christianity—Weber, Goblet d’Alviella, and others—think it very likely that the Gospel stories of Christ circulated by these early Christian communities in India were utilized by the Buddhists to enrich the Buddha legend, just as the Vishnuites built up the legend of Krishna on many striking incidents in the life of Christ. The fundamental tenets of Buddhism are marked by grave defects that not only betray its inadequacy to become a religion of enlightened humanity, but also bring into bold relief its inferiority to the religion of Jesus Christ”.

        Buddhism has to be dismissed, totally. I did not need a Catholic Priest or nun to, after being intensely immersed in Buddhism, to leave it forever. I got sick and tired of the absolute ease and total “peace” with which they lie, deceive, cheat and steal, even more those in the “highly enlightened” category. It’s all a self-serving, self-absorbed, mind numbing charade. For them, serving others is optional and only just a P.R. job when it happens, and yes I tried many different Buddhism groups. Rejecting the Truths of evil and sin, Buddhism does absolutely nothing to lift suffering humanity, preaching evil-empowering, self-righteous pacifism instead. Christianity lifts humanity, rejects and fights evil and that’s why I am Catholic now!

  2. I appreciate the reminder that negotiating with evil is a very bad plan but I think that enriching companies like Netflix through subscriptions may be unwise also. That’s a sort of financial negotiation with the darker side too.
    I’m not exactly sure what the best way is to access decent entertainment-it all probably enriches something Christians don’t support- but I think there must be better ways than Netflix.

    • I agree mrscracker. Ever since Netflix started attacking the pro-life states and people- and then with their statement of “We’re Here, We’re Queer”- I decided I had to do something. In all concience I could not continue to spend my money toward their satanic ideology. I canceled my subscription. Believe me, doing that was very liberating, like getting a demon off my back. A good, Christian alternative is http://www.pureflix.com.

  3. “I know it can be disappointing to recognize that teachings you hold dear did not emerge as a fully-formed, naturally or supernaturally occurring phenomena, but rather are the result of cross-cultural discourses. However, this insight can also be exciting and enlightening”
    ***********
    Zach,
    It’s great you took the time to read & respond to the article & comments but don’t you imagine that orthodox Christians have heard that insight before?
    God bless!

  4. We too have discontinued Netflix – however, I have to say, thanks for the good and balanced review, Nick!
    Through the prayers of the Mother of God, may your insight and abilities continue to grow.
    Rick, from Oregon

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