Alien Characters in 3rd Rock from the Sun
- that strange breed known as The Solomons -

"As every intelligent person knows, aliens are everywhere this is the story of four such intrepid explorers ..."

Thus ran the opening commentary (voice of James Earl Jones) of some of the early episodes of the TV series Third Rock from the Sun (aka 3rd Rock).

Who are The Solomons?

Dick, Sally, Tommy and Harry form the quartet of aliens disguising themselves as humans and living out a 'normal human existence' among the citizens of Rutherford, Ohio. Shortly upon arrival they adopt the surname 'Solomon' in order to pose as a human family. Later we learn that the name was chosen quite by random - they saw it on the side of a truck prompting Harry to observe 'to think, we could have been i>The Walmarts'.

Collectively they form a unit, each with their own training and expertise, except for perhaps for Harry who serves a purpose nevertheless. Initially we are told that he was brought along 'because they had an extra seat' but it quickly emerges that he also has a giant transmitter installed in his head (in the part he doesn't use - the brain). This device enables the aliens to communicate with their home planet, ruled by the iron fist of the Big Giant Head, who appears in person in later episodes in the human form of William Shatner.

Otherwise Dick is the High Commander with his own distinct salute. Sallyis a highly trained weapons and security officer.Tommy is a seasoned intelligence veteran. For the purpose of the mission, Dick assumes the role of family patriarchSally and Harry are his sister and brother respectively while Tommy is presented as his teenage son - by a mother who 'burned up on re-entry'.

In many ways the human roles that the aliens assume as The Solomons, is quite at odds with their respective alien personas. Sally for instance, as 'the woman' is easily the most terrifying and most macho of the quartet. Although taking the human form of a teenage boy, Tommy is actually the oldest member of the mission. Dick is clearly the least equipped in terms of leadership skills while Harry, who seems to be regarded as a simpleton by his alien peers, uses to good effect his amiable, unflappable and winning charm on more than one occasion.

Where do they come from?

The aliens come from a 'barred spiral galaxy on the Cepheus-Draco border'. They do not appear to have any superhuman or supernatural powers, or if they do they are forbidden to use them. For the purpose of the mission they are 'not allowed to interfere in the fate of planet in any way'. Later this is modified when Dick decides that they can make 'minor changes'. However this usually involves circumstances that concern his relationship with Mary Albright.

In the very first episode Dick and Tommy exhibit an ability to communicate telepathically. This happens when Tommy asks Dick to 'give me your mind', so that he can convey a sense of the kind of thoughts that occupy the brain of a young male adolescent, having just watched a game of girls volleyball. They are both disgusted and repulsed and Dick decides to terminate the mission forthwith. He countermands his own order later that day however, when he notices that he himself is experiencing similar 'feelings' for a certain female colleague with whom he shares an office.

Telepathy or no the aliens are clearly very intelligent. They speak multiple languages. In fact they appear able to assimilate and absorb vast chunks human knowledge almost instantaneously. In part it is their mechanical, learning-by-rote method of understanding various aspects of the human condition which inhibits their true understanding. This doesn't stop them from trying however and it is this determination which adds to the comic flavour.

The Solomons are extremely self-conscious, especially where their bodies are concerned. This gives rise to a lot of narcissistic humour but the aliens have reasons of their own to be by turns fascinated, disgusted or shocked at the actions and feats the human bodies can perform.

You see unlike ordinary humans, their bodies are not real in the sense that they are not part of their own being. For the aliens, their bodies and their minds are separate entities. They see their bodies as a mere vessels for their intellect (even Harry), informing that intellect at the same time as allowing it to flourish and express itself. They know that when they leave the planet they will have to give their bodies back, at which point they will probably expire.

For the Solomons, as an expeditionary groups of aliens this is just repetition of what they do on every planet that they visit. They adopt the form of whatever intelligent life exists as they journey from planet to planet. On earth Lieutenant Sally for example, adopts the role of 'the woman' for the sake of the mission, the task falling to her because she drew the short straw!

What are they like?

It is frequently alluded that their true bodily form is something akin to a foot-long or trophy-sized purple tube. They also appear to be either androgenous or asexual. In an episode where Sally walks into a gay bar and is mistaken for a transvestite she later remarks - "remember how we always found the notion of two genders limiting - it turns out some may have found a third way."

The more we know about the way of life on their home planet, the more difficult it is for us, as humans to fathom. Possibly this allows the aliens to maintain the deception while on Earth - where to begin trying to explain to alien existence to a human? Perhaps it's just easier to accept the charade?

Clearly their civilisation is vastly more sophisticated to ours. They after all have mastered inter-galactic travel. Yet despite their evident superiority, it does not sit neatly with their tendency for loud, boorish, obnoxious behaviour that contrast with the gentle, if somewhat strained, forebearance of their hosts.

Also, despite the fact that they pass most of their six years on Earth broke or barely surviving on minimum-wage jobs, they seem to fit right in, as if money is the least of their worries.

There are suggestions of a dark, unsettling aspect to 'intelligent life out there'. The aliens clearly do not originate from a society run on democratic principles. Rather their system of governance is militaristic and autocratic. The Solomons themselves see their roles as akin to drones and often refer to themselves in such terms.

Their blithe contempt for human weaknesses and shortcomings is matched only a fear-driven reverence for their leader - the Big Giant Head.

This poses a disturbing question - can superior intelligence really be the outcome of fear-based, slavish obedience?

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