Sunday, July 24, 2016

[Review] Ascension

I swear, Syfy channel is the most schizophrenic and bipolar one of them all. They either give us masterpieces (BSG, 12 Monkeys) or utter crap (The Magicians). And yet, it's the only channel I check religiously for new series and sample them all (sometimes use brain bleach after some of them). 
Ascension, a three-part little series went almost unnoticed last year. I missed it, fortunately my lovely friend Jubi recommended that, so here I am, writing a short info about this series.

From: TVMaze.
The plot, according to TVmaze:

"Ascension" is an ambitious original drama following a covert U.S. space mission launched in the 1960's that sent hundreds of men, women and children on a century-long voyage aboard the starship Ascension to populate a new world. Half way into their journey, as they approach the point of no return, the mysterious murder of a young woman causes the ship's population to question the true nature of their mission. 
 The series is only three episodes long, if we divide it into episodes, because it can easily be watched in one go, albeit a long one. In this, SyFy shows best what it does best - a science-fiction, space simulation and a starship (ah, BSG nostalgia hits). The fashion is perfect - a space variation of the 60's, the technology - space worthy (won't argue on the scientific merit if it, because it's not the point). The only thing that remains familiar is the human nature.
I'm not going to argue about why the fashion didn't change much, it changed little but in an interesting way, also I'm not going to delve into details of the probability of such spaceship being launched at all. It was done in the 60's, so even if the world (and Soviets) saw this project, how could this affect people on the ship? As far as they're concerned - they are 51 years from the Earth, leaving Cold War behind.

I like science fiction the best because it can show a wide spectrum of environments where a human can enter, yet remains fundamentally intact. Sci-fi asks about the human nature the most profound questions, deeper than any psychological crap we have out there. The SyFy wouldn't be itself, however, if they didn't insert a more fringe elements to the story. Almost for the half of the story, we are led to believe it's about something entirely different than it really is, and I don't mean the whole experiment with the spaceship that never was. It's an experiment alright, but this whole bunch of people inhabiting the gigantic capsule of glass and steel are expendables, except for one little girl. A very special little girl, who turns out to be the real experiment here. Not the ship, not the hundreds of lives, billions of dollars and 50-years long lie. A girl with powers so strong they destroy the illusion.

 The variety of characters is formidable - we have a ship captain William Denninger, the most inconsistent captain I have seen lately these past few shows. On the outside he seems to be a valiant and noble guy, but in private - he's a scum that needs to be jettisoned asap. Then we have his wife, Viondra, played by Tricia Helfer. The first lady of kind, she runs a group of girls who officially serve on the ship as hostesses, and unofficially - they trade information and bodies. Viondra herself dabbles into this kind of business as well. She's ruthless and scheming, not shy of murder if the need arises.
Harris Enzmann is the son of the Ascension mastermind and he follows his father's path when this project is concerned. He's willing to do everything to keep the project running. And he means EVERYTHING. There is a power play "on Earth" regarding Ascension, resulting in a failed coup, threats and death and most importantly - the destruction of Ascension itself.

There is also a power play on Ascension. The society is divided into class, from lowest, living in the deep bellows of the ship, to the elite leading a privileged life. Rarely a person from the bottom class can, well, ascend to the high level. Viondra managed to do that, which also cemented her character as the goal-oriented, strong woman. P.J. tries to do that in a way - by enlisting. For young girls becoming a hostess is one of the very few ways of elevating themselves. There is a disdain shared by the upper classes towards the low-born. There is a grudge shared by the masses towards the elite.
Not many characters are likeable, but that's not the point. When we, as the audience, see the Ascension for what it is, the unsettling feelings set in, and somehow the collective of lives inside the steel trap become one identity we can cheer on. Or feel pity for, because they are the second generation, and the one before them died not knowing the truth.

And it ends in a bizarre and somewhat unsettling way - in an absolute solitude on an alien, primordial, barren world.

As for me, it could be easily turned into a 10-episodes series, because some plots were rushed and underdeveloped, this way we could get a better glimpse into Ellie and her coming to understand her own powers, we could see more Viondra scheming, we could see more of political plays in Harris surroundings, because the whole conspiracy plot, and also the murder of Lorelei was just badly outlined. There were few inconsistencies that made this series flawed, few decisions I didn't agree with, like nudity (but lately this happens a lot, so I guess I just have to get used to it). I'm really tired of sex scenes in everything I watch, yes, it's natural, but even too much choco can make you sick. Overall, I enjoyed it, being able to track the stings of social and political irony in it. Strip any sci-fi show of high tech and we will see our world in all its ugliness. With a tiny spark of hope. The show was cancelled, so we will never know how the entire story could unfold.

The trailer: