After part one ended with a very surprising twist, it’s time to see where part two of Ascension takes us.
Let’s bitch it out…
The answer to the million dollar question is outside of Ascension. After holding back in part one in order to keep the twist under wraps, part two spends a substantial amount of time investigating the outside world, including speculation about exactly why hundreds of people are being used as guinea pigs in a fake spaceship.
Following the events of the opening night, Director Warren (Wendy Crewson) assigns an investigator named Samantha Krueger (Lauren Lee Smith) to look into the murder from the outside. Not surprisingly, Harris (Gil Bellows) is unhappy with the new arrangement. It turns out that he should be: Krueger isn’t actually there to solve Lorelei’s murder, she’s there to discover what Harris is hiding about Ascension. His argument is that the ship is a social experiment, aka the purest civilization, because it is untouched. Although Warren infers the same thing (arguing for the experiment thanks to the scientific developments that have been developed thanks to the scientists’ isolation), she also believes that Harris has too much personal interest in the program.
It quickly becomes clear that this is true and his interest is in <groan> Christa (Ellie O’Brien). If it wasn’t clear in part one, part two works overtime to reinforce that Christa is some kind of child prodigy with special (supernatural) powers. Unfortunately this not only means more airtime for a whiny child, it means that we have now stumbled into the “exceptional child” sci-fi trope, which is notoriously difficult to execute in a compelling fashion. The only scene of Christa’s that actually keeps my attention is the chase scene when Harris’ inside man, Robert Bryce (John Ralston) attacks her and that’s because it is shot like a horror movie.
The fact that Harris has a man on the inside is one of the biggest developments that part two drops and while it’s not comparable to the twist from part one, it’s pretty intriguing. Harris isn’t making any kind of claim that he is a legitimate scientist – he’s more of a director who simply wants to manipulate the drama. Tellingly the directors of part two put us in the same position: at several points the camera pulls back to reveal that what we’re watching is actually on Harris and co.’s screens (reality television is also name-dropped a few times). In this way, we’re subtly made complicit in the goings-on aboard the ship.
As the two hours proceed, Krueger emerges as the audience surrogate on the outside (in much the same way Brandon P. Bell’s Gault is our man on the inside). Despite her bad wig/haircut (both?) Lee Smith manages to make do with a fairly dry character. We’ve seen the hard-ass investigator a million times, but Krueger works for me because she seems to genuinely want to uncover the truth (it doesn’t hurt that Harris gets shadier as the show progresses). Krueger’s path eventually leads her to a conspiracy hotline investigating missing ’63/70 scientists, whom we know are the individuals aboard the ship. There’s more to the story, though; it seems that Harris’ father not only covered up the scientists’ disappearances, but also the disappearance of dozens of children. It’s not entirely clear, but this may have something to do with Dwight’s (Taylor St. Pierre) anguish over being “unclaimed.” Harris and Warren may both believe in the project, but after four hours, it’s becoming more and more obvious that all of the people aboard Ascension are actually prisoners…and victims.
- My biggest issue with part two is that it is clearly two separate episodes crammed together. Originally Syfy commissioned this project as a six episode miniseries and while part one operated as a relatively cohesive two-hour introduction, part two is clearly “episode three” and “episode four” (there are even separate directors). Episode three is concerned with a series of bombings and ends with Dwight’s death. Episode four details the rising political challenges Viondra (Tricia Helfer) and William (Brian Van Holt) are facing and Christa’s growing awareness of her captivity.
- All of the infidelity from part one is recontextualized as we learn more about the implant system. It turns out that everyone is assigned a mate by the computer at a certain time, regardless of their personal preference (dystopian plot point alert!). Naturally this creates tension since people who fall in love aren’t matched with their ideal partner. Thanks for the clarification, Ascension, but this doesn’t make me care more about Gault’s romance with Emily (Tiffany Lonsdale).
- In case you were wondering, Ascension has no gays because their inability to reproduce makes them “superfluous”. As Krueger – who was discharged from the military for being queer – suggests, however, a few will have undoubtedly “popped up” in the ship’s population. If the show goes to series, expect to meet at least one.
- Ophelia (Rachael Crawford) has a few bad episodes. We learn her backstory – that she was burned protecting Gault during the ’31 explosion – and then she falls ill after receiving stupid Christa’s personalized innoculation. She’s also at the center of a contentious video, one that Gault is certain has been edited for nefarious purposes.
- I wish Viondra and William’s plot to take down his rival, Councilman Rose (Al Sapienza) was more exciting. Similarly the machinations of Viondra’s vendetta against her protegé Jackie (Jessica Sipos) are pretty soapy and a touch predictable. Now that we know that the young stewardess is the one supplying Rose with secrets, I expect we’ll see some kind of take-down and/or murder in part three. All I know is that I wouldn’t want Viondra after me.
- In teenage news: Presley (Michelle Mylett) becomes a
whorestewardess and Nora (Jacqueline Byers) unintentionally creates a love triangle with James (P.J. Boudousqué) and his adversary Rawles (Sebastian Pigott). PS. Remember how I said that their story was the most interesting? Consider that rescinded, because all of this teen angst has quickly lost its charm.
- Initially I thought that Dr. Bryce’s (Andrea Roth) throwaway line about losing her necklace and Harris’ personal interest in her made her a prime suspect. Now that we know it is her husband that is the mole, however, I can’t help but wonder if Harris planned Lorelei’s murder – using Robert – in order to study how the residents would handle it.
- Finally, minor critique: if this truly were the 60s, the men’s swimsuits would be much shorter.
- Harris’ minion, Carillo (to Krueger, describing Ascension residents’ lack of privacy): “Best reality show never made.”
- Krueger (suggesting that Harris’ rationale for the mission is bull): “Billion dollars to tell me that 600 people don’t get along? I could have told you that for free.”
Your turn: now that you’ve seen the fall-out from the twist, are you more or less interested? Is Harris the ultimate villain? Do you like Krueger? Are the teenagers annoying? Are you excited or disinterested about the introduction of supernatural powers? And would you want Viondra gunning for you? Sound off below.
Ascension airs its final installment Wednesday at 9pm EST on Syfy. Come back Thursday for our wrap-up review and be sure to check in Monday for the start of the fourth annual Bitch Awards, celebrating the best (and worst) of film and TV.