Night Sky Review: The Struggle To Find Meaning
Night Sky benefits from stellar performances and a compelling premise, but is the payoff worth it?
This review is spoiler-free for Night Sky.
Several characters in Prime Video’s Night Sky awaken to the idea that something is missing in their lives, something to make them feel special. Even the elderly couple Franklin (JK Simmons) and Irene (Sissy Spacek) who have kept secret a portal to another planet under their shed struggle to glean its purpose. The show, then, has the same thematic dilemma of finding its hook beyond the Lost-like puzzle box narrative: why should we care about the stranger who shows up in the couple’s lives (Chai Hansen) and what effect he has on them?
Most of the characters in Night Sky have a lot of inertia to overcome, and as a result, the first few episodes take awhile to gain momentum. A tragedy in Frank and Irene’s past has contributed to their reclusiveness and declining health through sheer inactivity. The couple’s neighbor Byron (Adam Bartley) runs for local office just to keep from feeling powerless all the time. Even the couple’s granddaughter Denise (Kiah McKirnan) spurns her academic success because she finds it all meaningless. This search for fulfillment is great for character development, but it doesn’t necessarily translate into compelling television.
The exception to this, however, is the heartfelt performance of Spacek as the former English teacher Irene, whose emotional journey in Night Sky anchors its first season. Whether she’s scolding her husband, mothering Hansen’s character Jude, or inadvertently pushing away her granddaughter, her improving health as she pursues these interactions forces her to break out of her inactivity. Even encounters with some of her former students in the small Illinois town provide a variety of sympathetic situations that make us wish we had someone like Irene in our own lives.
The problem is that most of her actions center on Jude’s personal quest, which remains shrouded in a kind of secrecy that feels more like obfuscation than an interesting puzzle to solve. Some small amount of light is shed on the central mystery of Night Sky by a side plot that begins in another small town in Argentina, but even that storyline serves more to distract than unify the story. Just as with other characters mentioned earlier, the teenaged Toni (Rocío Hernández) struggles to find meaning in her lonely life until her mother Stella (Julieta Zylberberg) shares with her a family secret.
This side plot also attempts to give Night Sky its antagonist played by Piotr Adamczyk, who represents a larger malevolent force, but all of the secrecy also manages to reduce the impact of his violent actions. In fact, even when the big reveal happens at the end of the eight episodes, many viewers will be left wondering what all the tyranny is about and what it has to do with Stella and people like her. There’s a big difference between holding onto a mystery and neglecting to provide proper motivation!
That’s not to say Night Sky isn’t worth watching; it definitely is! Especially for those who enjoy Oscar winners like Spacek and Simmons, both of whom prove why they deserve awards for their acting skills. It’s more a question of overcoming the same inertia the characters suffer from and getting to the payoff in the finale, which absolutely necessitates a renewal so that a season 2 can provide the full satisfaction that this first season didn’t quite provide.