The following contains spoilers for Resident Alien.
It’s not much of a surprise that this week’s episode of Resident Alien deals with parenthood. After all, Harry just found out the alien baby he’s been chasing around Patience—and that he just saw get kidnapped by a team of government black ops soldiers—is his actual offspring, born of a relationship between his future self and a human woman in New York. Also, the hour is literally titled “Harry, A Parent” so the show’s not being super subtle about its focus. But what’s surprising is how little of this episode is actually about Harry’s newfound fatherhood. (Save, of course, for more uncomfortable reminiscing about being left to eat his own siblings in the Ice Wind Desert. Alien parenting trends really need some work, is what I’m saying.)
Despite the episode’s title, we see relatively little of Harry’s reaction to the bombshell Goliath twist from last week. Perhaps he hasn’t yet accepted the larger ramifications of the revelation that the alien baby is also his literal child, or maybe he’s still trying to process what the whole idea of fatherhood even means. (It doesn’t sound like his species has a lot of great role models in this area.) But whatever the reason, for the moment Harry appears a lot more interested in contacting other alien races that might have made the portal his future self used than tracking down his missing child.
Instead, as it so often does, Resident Alien uses the outlandish alien framework of Harry’s journey (in this case: newfound fatherhood) to hold a mirror up to the rest of Patience and explore how its residents are still dealing with the many different ways our parents shape who we become, for both good and ill. But rather than give us a saccharine hour about the wonders of childbirth, the challenges of parenthood, or the importance of perpetuating one’s own species, the show instead takes a much more nuanced approach to the topic of family, reminding us that the relationships we choose in our lives can be just as durable and important as the ones we’re born into. Oftentimes, even more so.
Resident Alien doesn’t often get enough credit for the thoughtful ways it tells stories about adoptive families, but its nuanced understanding of the many emotions surrounding the process is very well done. From its even-handed depiction of the reasons that someone might choose to give up a child in the first place to its understanding that love isn’t bound by blood, the show imparts a depth and tenderness to these relationships that isn’t often seen in the genre space. Asta’s bond with her adopted father Dan is particularly rich and layered, and their scenes together are some of the best on the show.
Asta has spent most of her life dealing with the fallout from her decision to place her daughter up for adoption when she was sixteen. Although she and Jay are now taking tentative steps toward a genuine mother-daughter relationship now that the young girl knows their true connection, there is never a moment where Asta doesn’t wonder what her life—and their bond—might be like had she made a different choice. The show has always confronted Asta’s feelings about Jay’s true identity honestly and with care, recognizing that it’s possible for her decision to be absolutely the right choice for the girl she was at the time and something that her adult self still regrets today.
A child of adoption herself, Asta has questions about her own birth mother and dreams that their situations must have been similar: her mother was scared, out of options, and forced to give up her daughter in the name of giving her a better life. That on some level, Asta was a wanted child. Her discovery of her birth mother in “Harry, A Parent” is…anticlimactic at best and downright horrifying at worst. Granted, the show is clear that Mary Ellen made the best choice she could for herself—she didn’t particularly want children, she didn’t consider herself particularly maternal, and didn’t think she would have been a very good mother. And the thing is: those feelings are absolutely fine and fair and something that she shouldn’t be shamed for, no matter how much of a terrible person she might be otherwise.
It’s incredibly difficult to watch Asta’s dreams of who her mother was and what kind of relationship they might have had literally shrivel and die in front of us onscreen, but it’s equally important that Resident Alien doesn’t judge Mary Ellen for her choice to give Asta up. Yes, she’s rude and cruel and doesn’t even seem to have what my grandmother would have called basic company manners, but in the end, she did do one thing that was right: What was best for her daughter. And while she may be a garbage person otherwise, that has to count for something.
So much of Resident Alien is about the power of found family, and the importance of the relationships we forge with the people who love us whether they’re related to us or not. Maybe Harry can’t figure out how to be a dad just yet, but he’s learning how to be a real and supportive friend to Asta. (His attempt to call her birth mother as many different kinds of excrement as possible is juvenile but so well-meaning.)
Half the town shows up to cheer for D’Arcy’s return to competitive skiing when her parents can’t be bothered to be there to support her. Liv refuses to allow Sheriff Mike to close himself off to the world and gets him to open up by offering pieces of herself to show the way. As this episode ably proves, families really do come in all shapes and sizes and there are many ways for us to care for and love one another. Maybe Harry isn’t going to win dad of the year any time soon—but it doesn’t mean all hope is lost.