This post contains spoilers for episode 1 of Ascension. You Have Been Warned.
Ascension is the story, ostensibly, of a secret Kennedy-era generation ship (named, conveniently, Ascension) launched sometime in the 1960s toward Proxima Centauri. As the story opens, the ship has been underway for 51 years, contains 6001 people, and is nearing what the captain and XO refer to as “the Rubicon”, or what normal folks would call the point of no return. While everyone in the upper decks enjoys a dance, the lower-deckers (a lower caste, apparently) drink their illegal (?) whisky (?), and a woman named Lorelei goes for a swim in a pristine blue pool right next to the greenish tanks of the fluid-reclamation systems. (Must smell lovely.) Lorelei ends up dead, the apparent victim of an accident — or is it?
Of course it isn’t.
Meanwhile, on modern-day Earth, the architect of the Ascension project, hospitalized after a stroke that apparently makes him quote something that sounds vaguely like Scripture, is visited in the hospital (or the hospice, maybe?) by his son. The son finds out that someone else has been visiting Daddy‑O, and storms off to catch this interloper. The visitor turns out to be doing his Ph. D. thesis on “the early Space Age”, and tries to talk to the son about Ascension. Sounds like everyone on Earth that’s heard of it (other than Mr. Ph. D.) thinks that Ascension is a myth. NASA’s projects are open, says the student; Ascension was a military project.
Back to the starship. Was it accident, or murder most foul? The discovery of a .22 bullet in the victim’s head seems to point at the latter. The captain orders his XO to investigate — but keep it low-key, right, we don’t want everyone to panic.
Oh, and hey, everyone seems to be shagging someone else’s wife.
I realize I’m sounding a little less than impressed with the show, and that’s probably because I am. This episode had a lot of strikes against it:
- Clunky exposition tumbling from almost everyone’s mouth (“As you know, as XO, you’ll need to learn to play politics.” “As you know, my husband is conveniently working the late shift. Let’s do it here on the table.” “As you know, Ascension was a pipe dream.” (Super-subtle cut to Ascension plodding through space.))
- Apparently they worked out a system of stable and continuous artificial gravity in the 1960s, which makes me wonder why they’re not using it on the ISS. Here I am, thinks Samantha Cristoforetti, floating around like a sucka.2
- I kind of liked the fact that the Captain’s and the XO’s uniforms look like US Navy or US Air Force uniforms, but (and this is nitpicky, I know, but if you’re gonna do it, do it right) the XO either needs a different collar device or a couple more stripes on his epaulets. The silver oak leaves go with the Lt. Commander stripes, not the Lieutenant ones he’s wearing. (Military folks, please feel free to correct me on this. I’m getting my info from Wikipedia. Yes, I know.)
- 600 people isn’t even a small town anymore. It’s a village; a hamlet. Everyone knows everyone’s business in a community that small. But there seems to be plenty of infidelity going on, and the cuckolds don’t seem to realize it’s happening. Odd.
- The stars in the forward observation lounge are awfully red. If they’re traveling fast enough to see a red-shift that extreme (and they might be, if the shipboard gravity is due entirely to constant acceleration3), then you’d expect to see it to the rear of the ship, with the stars up front shifted to the blue end of the spectrum…
- …and oh look, the stars just to the right of the red ones, those guys are all blue. (Also, a child actress tells us that the red stars are “death”, and the blue stars, “those are life”. I… see.)
- Also: What the hell are those dark clouds that stream by the forward observation windows?
- Also also: Next week’s episode apparently features an “ion cloud” (ooh, how Star Trek-y) that sneaks up on them quickly enough that they have only 30 minutes to save the ship and everyone aboard her. You’ve been traveling for 51 years and you only noticed this death-dealing cloud of ions (I guess?) half an hour before you’re going to plow right into it? Fire your forward watch astronomer, then. (Possibly toward the ion cloud, in the hopes that the body might disperse it.)
I guess my major complaints about the show are a) clunky dialogue with waaaay too much exposition happening, and b) a lack of science solid enough for me to suspend my disbelief. (One example: you want me to believe this generation ship has a constant 1g pulling everyone to the floor? Build the habitat like a torus and spin it, then. Have an external shot of the torus spinning. Show me that that gravity is earned.)
You want me to believe in a science fiction show? Then put some science in it. It doesn’t have to be rigorous, dry, this’ll-stand-up-to-peer-review science, either. Just show me you made an effort.
All that said, I have set my DVR to record the rest of the series, for two reasons:
- It’s short — there are six one-hour episodes in the miniseries.
- Despite my complaints, there was enough to keep me interested. I’ll give it another hour. Hopefully now that all the pieces are in place, and the world is established, the dialogue will improve.