RogerBW's Blog

Ascension 05 February 2015

2014 SF mini-series. In the 1950s, a project was begun to build an interstellar generation spacecraft as a lifeboat for humanity should the Cold War turn hot. Now they're half-way through the mission and they've just had their first murder. Meanwhile, on Earth, someone's looking into long-buried secrets. Possible spoilers ahead.

This Syfy show was broadcast as three double episodes of about 80-85 minutes each. As usual for Syfy's own recent productions (see for example Defiance and Helix), it attempts to mix soap opera with science fiction, with varying degrees of success. There are for my taste just slightly too many characters and too many stories going on; several of the roles could have been blended together, and the remaining characters could then each have had a bigger share of the screen time.

Plots run side by side: there's the murder itself, the young girl who suddenly seems to be having prophetic dreams, and the various couples playing musical beds. On Earth, things seem to be going awry in the old project headquarters too. (Indeed, "as above, so below" seems to be a recurrent motif.)

The big reveal at the end of the first double episode won't come as any surprise to anyone who was paying attention (and it's been handled better in other stories), but at least it isn't the big reveal of the whole series. I won't give it away here even so, which means I'm going to avoid discussion of the plot as a whole.

Parts of the shipboard society seem plausible enough projections of the 1950s (such as the "stewardesses" who are blatantly high-end prostitutes), but this world that pre-dates most of the victories of the Civil Rights movement seems bizarrely free of racism. One of the major viewpoint characters is the black XO, but skin colour is never an issue for anybody. (I suspect this is mostly there to make the show acceptable to modern audiences; I wonder whether having an all-white cast could have made the point more effectively. It certainly seems more plausible for 1950s Americans trying to build a lifeboat for the human race; look at how many black astronauts there weren't.)

There's rather too much lingering on hot young female bodies for my preference, apparently as the default mode whenever the director can't think of anywhere else to point the camera. Apart from that, the direction's fairly good, with excellent sets making it easy to keep track of where things are happening. Action sequences are suitably dramatic.

There are plenty of of easily-recognised Syfy regulars in the cast, most obviously Tricia Helfer, not especially stretching her range here; more impressive was some very powerful acting from newcomer-to-me Brad Carter as the butcher Stokes, in a part that could readily have turned into overblown melodrama.

The ending is very abrupt, apparently cut short to fit in more explosions (granted they're very pretty explosions). Still, we do more or less get answers to most of the questions that have been raised, even though some of them aren't much more than buzzwords and one interesting thread was just cut off hard after lots of build-up. Apparently the producers wanted to keep their options open for a potential future series, and I'll certainly give it a chance if it does get made; but this feels like a story that ought to get a proper ending, and while it does pretty much have one it could have been done better.

(Addendum: there will be no series.)

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  1. Posted by Ashley R Pollard at 01:03pm on 05 February 2015

    Well I think I can guess the secret; let me see gravity might be a clue?

    We're re-watching season one of Defiance at the moment, and much to my surprise I'm enjoying it more the second time round, and I'm now looking forward to getting to the end so that we can watch season two.

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 01:08pm on 05 February 2015

    I really think it's worth not spoiling, even though I guessed it, so I'll hide it here. (rot13.com if you don't have a convenient tool.)

    Vg'f abg npghnyyl n fuvc ng nyy; vg'f n obzo-cebbs ohaxre va gur cebwrpg urnqdhnegref.

    The other secret is a bit sillier:

    Bar bs gur checbfrf bs gur syvtug vf gb cebibxr gur "arkg fgntr bs uhzna ribyhgvba".

  3. Posted by Michael Cule at 03:05pm on 05 February 2015

    Well, yes that was always going to be the Big Reveal. Going the route of THE GOLD AT STARBOW'S END would be too brutal for television.

  4. Posted by Ashley R Pollard at 04:00pm on 05 February 2015

    So unless the dialogue, plotting and acting are top notch I think I'll give this a miss.

  5. Posted by RogerBW at 04:31pm on 05 February 2015

    There are probably better things to do with your time. It wasn't a huge disappointment, but nor was it a classic for the ages.

  6. Posted by Owen Smith at 06:59pm on 05 February 2015

    I guessed the big secret simply from your description of the series. And I'm not well read nor have I watched much sci fi compared to a lot of people.

  7. Posted by RogerBW at 07:09pm on 05 February 2015

    Oh dear. I hope I haven't spoiled it for anyone who does want to watch it. (I don't care much about these things, because I think if a thing's worth watching at all it's worth watching multiple times, but I know others feel differently.)

  8. Posted by Ashley R Pollard at 09:31pm on 05 February 2015

    You didn't spoil it for me as I guessed the reveal. What would make me watch it was whether or not the show was any good, as in more than the sum of its reveal, which from the sound of it, it is not.

  9. Posted by RogerBW at 09:36pm on 05 February 2015

    With regret, because it could have been great, I'd have to say that's a fair summation.

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