Syfy’s desperate attempt to lure a hard sci-fi audience back kicks off with Ascension, a three night event. How does part one stack up?
Let’s bitch it out…
Ascension feels like a mixture of different sci-fi vehicles from years past in both good and bad ways. There’s a familiarity about the desperation of the mission, the look of the ship (despite being stuck in the 60s) and the stock characters inhabiting it. For some this may be a turn off, but the conventions of the space epic, including the ship acting as a microcosm for society with its socio-political strife, puts Ascension in good company.
That doesn’t mean that whole sections of this introductory section aren’t a little listless. The aforementioned stock characters are a bit of a slog (a tell tale sign is if you struggle to remember most characters names, which definitely happened to me a few times). The decision to open the series with the murder of entitled Lorelei (Amanda Thomson) is a good one because it immediately positions the audience within a familiar television trope. While this does mean parts of the opener feel like 1960s space CSI, that’s forgivable. At least Ascension doesn’t line up the characters to introduce the suspects and deliver expository dialogue – there’s a workmanlike approach as we followXO Oren Gault (Brandon P. Bell) around while he pieces together the details of an insurrectionist plot aboard the ship, as well as how much William Denninger (Brian Van Holt) and Chief Safety Officer Duke (Ryan Robbins) have been keeping from him.The angry, disillusioned and depressed teenage storyline is more interesting to me than the upper deck/lower deck drama involving Stockyard Master Stokes (Brad Carter). The latter is a case of burnout via familiarity as the put-upon grunt storyline has been done to death in recent years. The idea of teenagers born aboard Ascension, forced to participate in a humanity-saving mission against their choice is far more novel. Lorelei’s boyfriend, James (P.J. Boudousqué) is our point of entry into this world and his despairing chat with Gault on the shore of the fake beach is one of the opener’s strongest scenes for me. While Nora’s (Jacqueline Byers) unrequited pining for the boy feels like an unnecessary addition, it’s clear that the pair will have a large role to play in the drama going forward now that they’re in possession of the launch video Lorelei checked out of the library. Which brings me to the elephant in the room and the aspect of the miniseries that most reviewers latched onto: the twist at the end of the first part. I’ll admit that I suspected that Ascension, the ship, was not everything it was made out to be during the radiation storm. Either the ship had a stowaway (which seemed likely) or the mission was a ruse (less likely, but more interesting). I’ll confess that by going with the latter option, it’s not clear to me how Ascension can morph from a three night event into a full-blown series – something that Syfy has expressed interest in should the numbers hold up. Given the possibilities of a space opera version of The Truman Show, though, I’m sure there’s a number of different ways to proceed. With two parts (Tuesday and Wednesday) to come, I guess there’s still a lot of story to come.
- I must say that the premiere suffered from a lack of Tricia Helfer who, as Viondra – the Captain’s wife and ship’s Madam – brought a bit of oomph to the proceedings. Let’s hope she gets more to do in the remaining two parts.
- Despite the twist, the “earth” set scenes with Gil Bellows’ Harris, are super boring. Now that the twist has been revealed, I imagine we’ll spend more time dissecting the purpose of this grand experiment, but for now zzzzz.
- As a general rule, I’m not overly fond of child actors (precocious or otherwise) unless they’re really talented. Sadly, that’s not a descriptor I would use for Ellie O’Brien whose character Christa seems to be the only one tuned into the deception. I pray that she doesn’t become the focal point of the series.
- While no one really “pops”, it’s always nice to see familiar faces such as Ringer‘s Andrea Roth, Continuum‘s Rachael Crawford and Brian Van Holt, who is everywhere now that his tenure on Cougar Town has concluded.
- Finally, when in doubt, read Marlowe and watch Fitz Lang’s M to catch a killer.
Your turn: did you anticipate the twist? What is Harris hoping to achieve as puppet master of this deception? What will happen to Stokes now that he’s outside? Were you hoping for more Van Holt or Helfer? Which are you engaging with more: the class conflict or the disaffected youth? And who really killed Lorelei (because that’s still a thing we’re supposed to care about)? Sound off below.
Ascension continues Tuesday at 9pm EST on Syfy