Ascension Premiere Review

Those expecting a typical space drama from Syfy will either be sorely disappointed or pleasantly surprised.

Proxima Centauri is just over 4 light years away, and with the ship known as Ascension supposedly embarking on a century-long journey, its acceleration to sub-light speeds would by necessity require a slow burn over months or years. The same could be said of Ascension, which took its time hooking the audience in its ninety minute premiere, but has only three days to complete it’s journey. Let’s hope it picks up the pace.

Kudos to the writers for avoiding heavy exposition as the viewer is thrown right into the middle of preparations for the 51st anniversary of the ship’s launch. I had high hopes for the story right from the start as details were skillfully doled out about the characters in the show without being heavy-handed about it. Stewardesses were scrutinized, teenage crushes were established, and forbidden love affairs were subtly suggested; and all the while the setting and environment were painted in the background with quirky details like old bottles of wine and CRT monitor screens. I enjoyed the subdued nature of these introductions.

The problem was that even though there was a murder in the first half of the episode, there just wasn’t much energy behind the reactions to this tragic event. Maybe it’s just because not many of the ship’s inhabitants seem all that happy in general, but the excitement surrounding what surely is a rare if not completely unheard of crime was decidedly muted. Captain Denninger, played stiffly by Brian Van Holt, assigns his XO to investigate, and actually it was Brandon P. Bell, who plays executive officer Aaron Gault, who gave perhaps the most dynamic performance of the night. It actually helps, in fact, that the character has his own flaws and secrets to keep, making him a more believable protagonist.

Thankfully, we have much more than a whodunit in Ascension. For example, the political maneuverings of the captain’s wife, played with sultry expertise by BSG alum, Tricia Helfer, promises to be a highlight of the miniseries, especially since her intelligence network is comprised of a bevy of favor-peddling beauties. Viondra Denninger could give Claire Underwood of House of Cards a run for her money!

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The first eyebrow-raising moment of this premiere episode was when the young girl who discovered the victim’s body seems to indicate that the star system towards which they are headed, Proxima Centauri, is devoid of life and that the ship should be headed towards a completely different set of stars. Indeed, she appears to have powers of perception beyond those of her adult companions, speaking of a “Globus” who can see all. Puzzling but certainly intriguing!

Meanwhile the details of those on earth, including Harris, the son of the mastermind behind Ascension played by Gil Bellows, inject a pleasant introductory nuance, apparently designed only to lay the groundwork for further exploration of the idea of how the journey began. Not so, however! In perhaps the most surprising turn of the evening, the show completely betrays the audience’s expectations for a space drama and gives us instead The Truman Show in space.

The problem is I actually wanted a space drama, and not one centered around a murder mystery. Instead, we now have a government conspiracy plot where we know more than the characters do. I haven’t decided yet how I feel about this; my motivation has flipped from wishing for the spacefarers to press on towards their distant goal to wanting them to see the truth of their circumstances. Presumably I will adjust to this new premise that has suddenly presented itself in place of the Ascension I expected, but for now, I’m a bit befuddled. Perhaps I’m feeling as duped as the ship’s crew members.

Some other stray observations: why was the seahorse necklace taken? Why has an investigative arm of the security force never been established? What will happen to Stokes now that he’s been ejected into “space?” Okay, I think you can seem I’m already adjusting to the new way of things. I’m definitely looking forward to tomorrow night’s installment; I just have to see what the writers have planned next. Hopefully, the mind-bending twists are just getting started!

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4 out of 5