This Lost in Space review contains spoilers
Lost in Space Episode 8
Being a film and TV critic is a wonderful pursuit because you get to indulge every flighty, fickle instinct you have and there are no Nielsen ratings to stop you.
In the review of Lost in Space Season 1 Episode 7, I bemoaned the show’s over-reliance on problem-solving in lieu of plot. Now, just one episode later I’m the Tyrone Biggums meme.
“Y’all got any more of them problems to solve?”
Trajectory is easily Lost in Space’s best episode yet. It does so not by changing anything fundamentally about how the show operates but by just operating better – more efficiently, more creatively.
This is still the at-times much dreaded “puzzle box” style storytelling. The puzzle just happens to be more fun than ever.
After their ill-fated trip to the tar pits, John and Maureen decide to pay a visit to Victor and his Jupiter 4. Kind of weird that John and Maureen didn’t want to head home first to clean off all the tar but I understand we’re pressed for time here – dying planet and all.
The first welcome surprise that “Trajectory” presents is that Victor is not waiting for episode 10 like a normal unexpected antagonist would. When he told Vijay he was getting the family off the planet, he meant like right now.
Victor’s Jupiter 4 is 17.4% filled with precious fuel and by the time John and Maureen arrive he’s already initiated the countdown sequence. Maureen tries to convince him that the ship weighs too much to survive the atmosphere while John launches into action, boards the ship and starts tearing out wires.
Ultimately the Robinsons are successful in halting the launch. Now, however, they must face an even more difficult task: telling the rest of the colonists their days are numbered.
Maureen, all around genius that she is, comes up with a compelling plan. They’re going to send one pilot up in the Jupiter 4 to the Resolute to send for help. First though, they’re going to gut Victor’s Jupiter 4 of all non-essential material to get the weight down. This includes the navigation systems. You might think that a ship needs a navigation system to actually escape the planet but you’re no Maureen Robinson.
“In the early days of space flight, NASA vessels were basically tin cans,” Maureen tells the captive audience. “We’re going to do this the old-fashioned way. Welcome to 1962.”
The opening credits follow and for the first time they carry a strange poignance. The technology on Lost in Space is believable enough but sometimes can come across as so advanced as to seem magical. Maureen’s enthusiastic re-embrace of the “old way” combined with the credits’ imagery of ancient Mercurys and Apollos and Shuttles is legitimately affecting.
That enthusiasm and poignance carries through the rest of the episode.
So many of the problems the Robinsons previously faced have carried with them a certain level of writerly contrivance. This time around, however, it’s all so rational, thorough, and satisfying. The “action” begins with Will stopping by his mom’s table to help her run some equations and it’s strangely among the most compelling action the show has done yet.
The conversations that Maureen, John, and company have about how to pull this primitive space flight off are filled with foreign science-y jargon and yet is still fascinating if only because the characters’ level of investment.
“You want me to do this because I’m the best pilot here? Not because I weight 110 pounds?” Naoko asks Maureen.
“That helps,” Maureen says, smiling.
Maureen smiles a lot in this episode. Her pure joy at trying to save lives through the beauty of mathematics is positively infectious – even when the best laid plans start to go awry.
Don has been relatively useless to the non-Judy Robinsons thus far and so understandably Maureen doesn’t want to believe he knows more about the Jupiters’ construction than she does. As both a mechanic and a smuggler, however, he does. The listed weight of the Jupiters and all of their systems are different from their real weight. Engineers built in too many redundancies.
That means they have to cut more weight than expected, which means bye bye to the life support and stabilization systems. Whoever is piloting the Jupiter will undoubtedly pass out on the ride up. Then once they come to, they’ll have around 20 seconds to vent the engines, adjust the steering, and do any other important activities that keeps the ship from exploding in the upper atmosphere.
So Maureen must run through the mission’s database of colonists to find whoever had the best “full cognitive recovery time” during their testing on Earth.
Does this all sound highly technical and unappealing? I understand that it should. But somehow Lost in Space not only makes it work but surpasses all previous best versions of itself. This is detail-oriented and weird, which almost automatically makes it fun. We watch television in part to see something we haven’t seen before. And I cannot recall ever being so invested in finding out what fictional character is the best at “waking up from being unconscious.”
Thankfully, Lost in Space also knows that all of this wonky science has to pay off on an emotional level. So instead of some redshirt named Gary in the accounting department having the best full cognitive recovery time, John Robinson does.
John is going to have to do the thing that he swore he never would again: leave his family.
First though he’s going to have to run some tests. That’s how the scientific process works – develop a theory and test it. So Maureen, Judy, Penny, and Will test John…and test him and test him and test him.
These are the best scenes that “Trajectory” has to offer. Not only do they get everyone involved from Penny’s time-keeping to Will’s ingenious “G-force” contraption but it also presents compelling, meaningful action in a way we rarely get to see it. Again: one wouldn’t have expected a montage of our hero undergoing jury-rigged “wake up after black out” tests but it absolutely works…probably because one wouldn’t have expected it.
Ultimately John isn’t able to “pass” the tests, which is a believable development as it’s a very big ask. The show then smartly accelerates the timeframe for their mission to work by having the Resolute radio in to announce that they’re leaving in 24 hours due to the temporal activity surrounding the black hole. John putting on a brave face for the kids and telling them to pack their bags to board the Resolute is touching and sad. Unfortunately John’s failures means that Lost in Space must turn to their character problem areas by bringing in West and Smith.
Don’s expertise with the Jupiter models extends to him becoming John’s co-pilot as he makes the potentially good-natured mistake of knocking off another 200 pounds of the Jupiter’s payload for Maureen. Per usual his involvement serves to dilute the Robinson family dynamics that are a lot more fun. Not only that but it represents the hardest that the show has pushed for the quite frankly creepy Judy and Don courtship yet.
Who could resist those pouty doe eyes? I don’t know but Don absolutely should. Judy actress Taylor Russell is 24 years old and perhaps we’ve become too accustomed to age inappropriate casting as her character comes across as much younger.
And then there’s Smith. Oh June “Dr. Smith” Harris, what is this show going to do with you? Perhaps it’s no coincidence that Lost in Space’s best episode takes place with Smith locked in a room for the majority of it. It’s not even necessarily that her character lacks sufficient motivation anymore. That’s been taken care of. But the way she goes about reaching her goals are not narratively sound. And in bending over backward to accommodate those plans the Robinson characters come across as real dumbshits.
When Smith claims that she is a successful physicist named Jessica (her sister’s identity), Maureen could have put an immediate stop to that lie by simply asking her how to calculate angular momentum or describe the process of nucleosynthesis. But she didn’t because the show still needs Smith to be useful in some capacity and her presenting a psychological threat from deep within the bowels the Jupiter 2 is the best they can hope for.
Despite the misuse of the Robinsons to serve Don and Smith, “Trajectory” is a wonderfully fun hour of television that ends in a literal bang. Are John and Don West dead? Obviously not. But if episode is any indication, Lost in Space will have a real good time explaining how they survived.