Ascension: SyFy’s 3 Night Event Hits the Right Notes
It seemed that after Battlestar Galactica ended, SyFy has been struggling to find its footing once again. It went through a rebranding and began airing content that had very little to do with the science fiction that attracted viewers to the channel in the first place. In the past year they’ve stepped up their game with quality science fiction programming like Dominion and Defiance. Now they’ve done it again with the unique concept mini series Ascension. This series managed to span half a dozen genres in just three nights, crossing from science fiction to murder mystery to thriller with ease. The concept also made it look and feel different than any other show out there at the moment, blending subtle 1960’s fashion and technology with a natural evolution that is completely separate from society as we know it today. Ascension is a show that anyone who likes good science fiction should try, if for nothing else than the shear ingenuity behind the idea.
Ascension takes place in a secret space project that began in the 1960’s. In an attempt to save mankind, the government created a space ship capable of carrying multiple generations for a 100 year mission to another life sustaining planet. But what do you do when a murder happens on board 51 years into the mission and you have no way of contacting the rest of humanity for help? Worse yet, what do you do if that crime was committed with a gun which was never supposed to be on the ship in the first place? How do you solve the crime and maintain peace among this small group of people who are so incredibly isolated? This is where we find ourselves in the first part of the three part series, but by the end of the episode you quickly learn there’s a lot more going on that this. This premise is just what got the ball rolling.
The group of people on board the craft is interesting in and of itself. This is a group of people that started at the same point in 1963 as the rest of us, but went off on their own tangent for 51 years. They missed key moments like the Kennedy assassination, the Internet, and 9/11. These people still watch I Love Lucy and Gidget because that’s all that they have available. In some ways, things clearly haven’t changed much. The class system is very distinct. They have the “lower decks” where people take on the undesirable task with little to no reward. But in other ways, it seems to have pushed forward independently in a positive direction. POC’s are shown to be able to hold the same positions as their white counterparts, showing that there was at least some advancement in this respect than when they started out. Women also tend to take on powerful roles, though they are shown using their sexuality to achieve their success more often than not. This isn’t always a bad thing, but it’s interesting that it seems to be the default aboard the Ascension. It’s a strange comparison to how our own society evolved. It’s similar, but not quite the same. In some ways it’s more progressive, but in other ways it seems to still be stuck in the 60’s.
There are also a group of characters outside of the ship on Earth that play a significant role in the plot. These characters provide an interesting contrast to the characters trapped on the ship. Of particular note is the government agent who reveals she’s a lesbian, leading to an interesting commentary that homosexuals were intentionally left off the ship. She notes that they have a habit of showing up where you least expect them, implying there is most likely a few among the 600 people on Ascension. It’s interesting to note this is the only time her sexuality is mentioned, which could be either a good or bad thing depending on how you look at it. Sometimes it’s good to have it be just a simple aspect of a character without making them “the gay character,” but other times it feels like dialogue is crammed in there just for the sake of making them the token LGBTQ+ representative. In this case, it at least brought about an interesting thought about the people on the ship so I can’t entirely fault it as a purely clunky piece of dialogue. It definitely could have been handled more smoothly, though.
There are some aspects of the show that leave room for improvement. The special effects aren’t nearly as good as what we got with Battlestar Galactica, despite the show sharing several cast members with the hit sci fi drama. The finale doesn’t wrap up as nicely as I feel a mini series should, either, which could be an attempt at creating the type of eager fanbase that BSG had or just a sign of poor planning. I personally hope we get some sort of wrap up to the ending because it didn’t leave me feeling entirely satisfied.
But these are really my only two complaints about the show, and overall, I still feel it’s worth your time. It’s fun, unique, creative, and exciting. I hope SyFy realizes that this is the type of show viewers want and continues to produce more actual science fiction in the future.
Author: Angel Wilson
Angel is the admin of The Geekiary and a geek culture commentator. She earned a BA in Film & Digital Media from UC Santa Cruz. She’s contributed to various podcasts and webcasts including An Englishman in San Diego, Free to Be Radio, and Genre TV for All. She’s written for Friends of Comic Con and is a 2019 Hugo Award winner for contributing fanfic on AO3. She identifies as queer.
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