Friday, July 24, 2015

It was a small world, after all

So, Wonder Wife and I once again went to the mini-series well for our cancelled-show fix. This time it was Ascension, a 2014 Syfy network six-parter. Note: SPOILERS AHEAD but really, you don't care, because you're not going to watch it.

The style of the show is very much Mad Men meets The Right Stuff.  We're dropped in media res onto a generation ship. Ascension is a spacecraft secretly launched during the Kennedy administration (when everyone was distracted by the Gemini program) in order to preserve the human race in the face of atomic Armageddon. It will take100 years to get to the nearest star-sytem, Proxima Centauri and carries a complement of 600 scheming, bickering, feeding, copulating, reproducing souls -and at least one Lena Horne album. The captain is John Glenn type who's lost his moral compass; his wife is the head of the stewardesses, who trade in sexual favors and secrets like jet-set geishas. We meet the captain's XO, who is a "decker"- someone from the lower-class lower decks, and there's a noble young decker, a faithless wife of the head cop, a plucky young girl, and a weird little girl. All kinds of shenanigans ensue, as you can likely imagine, in sets that look like the spaceship was built from parts of the 1964 New York World's Fair and with styles to match. And that's all in the first episode.

In the second episode (or second half of the first episode, depending on how you count), we get the Big Reveal. (If you really think you're going to watch this, drop down to the last paragraph.) What we find out is that the Ascension spacecraft never left Earth - it is one giant set hidden in a building, with projected star fields outside the windows and hidden cameras all throughout the ship. Some Shadowy Government Outfit operating on a black budget has been running an experiment on the crew for 51 years  - observing them, learning from their innovations, and waiting for Something Extraordinary to happen. Over the next five segments we jump back and forth between the ship and real world, where the folks running the experiment are (of course) Having a Falling Out.

After what amounts to a really long pilot episode has run its course and we have had plenty of sex and double-crossing, we wind up with several murders, both on the ship and within the spooks; a fairly prominent character in a coma; an Ascension crew person loose in the real world; a crewman beginning to suspect everything is not all as it seems; somebody teleported to what appears to be Proxima Centauri, a girl with ESP powers who makes Carrie look like an amateur; and the only character in the whole show to exhibit any moral courage shot dead through the eye, another victim of the Vast Conspiracy. What the what?

Ascension was not picked up as an ongoing series. Syfy said that had "so much high profile development in the works" that there wasn't room at the table for Ascension; I think that really it was the result of the show trying to do too many things too soon and not doing any of them well, along with the lack of any character for the audience to care about. Ascension really failed to get off the ground.

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