Science fiction on network television has traditionally leaned towards a hybrid formula of episodic and serial content, and Debris is no exception. Even as the series premiere laid the groundwork for the Orbital task force to investigate and contain the alien spacecraft wreckage that occasionally falls to Earth, it also left open the possibility for self-contained storylines reminiscent of monster-of-the-week episodes of The X-Files, only with debris pieces instead of creatures.
Scroobius Pip, who plays a shady black market debris purchaser named Anson Ash, enjoys the narrative flexibility this gives Debris. “It was one of the great appeals because the fact that the debris has different properties and does different things makes it this endless, exciting pool of things that can happen each week,” he says. “So I’d imagine the viewers’ experience will be similar to me as a reader of the scripts. Each time a new script comes in, I’m like, ‘What does this week’s do?’”
Norbert Leo Butz, who portrays Craig Maddox of the CIA, agrees that the episodic nature of Debris is an asset, supplementing the overall mystery of the series. “It works as a procedural with a new case each week, and yet there are arcs over the whole season as well; I love that!” Butz says. “It’s sort of like short stories within the novel… I always like short fiction in that way; I like a digestible amount. I like a story — beginning, middle, and end — to read for bedtime, not 50 pages of a 700-page book. And I like that very much about television, too.”
Tying the piece-of-the-week episodes together is the overarching puzzle concerning the nature of the alien debris and those who seek to control its powers. “Obviously the overlying arc is… the space race,” says Pip. “My team are racing against the government to get control of this technology. It is very much a case of which part you get that puts you in the lead almost. So yeah, that’s a really exciting and enjoyable part of tuning in each week and going… ‘What madness lies ahead?’”
Pip even surmises that the episodic content could resurface as part of the underlying mythology. “Even with the enclosed bits… there’s nothing to say that that bit of debris won’t have long-lasting effects if anyone has come into contact with it,” he says. “There’s nothing to say it must be wrapped up completely in one episode. It can be controlled, and it can be decided; but there can be even ongoing effects of that, which is fascinating.”
Those who enjoyed the Debris premiere likely picked up on the self-contained nature of the wreckage that manifested a woman’s grief as merely a single example of the mysterious phenomena Agents Beneventi and Jones would be investigating. As the series continues, the task force is likely to encounter many strange effects that will contribute to an overall picture, satisfying both hardcore serial sci-fi fans and those who enjoy a weekly procedural thriller.