When I saw the trailer for this episode, I thought I’d love it. I love a good space story, but from the outset it lost something for me when the astronauts start playing music from their Alexa-esque ship board computer. They realize that, unsurprisingly, the launch control crew is trying to reach them because the end of the world is moments away. This leads to a decision: try to get out of the ship and see what they can do, or go ahead with the launch and possibly be all the remains of mankind. Certainly an interesting opening.
This episode then reminds me why the 30 minute format is best. Over the better part of the hour, we are shown brief interludes of what the 5 person crew is experiencing on the way to Mars and it’s utterly depressing. Having lost contact with Earth, everyone is sad and mourning the potential loss of all life back home. At no point does anyone really recover. On top of that, I did not warm to a single member of the crew. The captain is cold and, in an attempt to seem “no-nonsense”, comes off as just an ice queen. (And not in the Ice Warrior sense!) The most interesting thing about the episode is the discussion about what it takes to, let us say, be considered a success in the universe, and that’s to leave ones home planet and reach another. While interesting, it’s like finding out that the entire run of mankind has a goal post on another planet. As soon as we land elsewhere, we’ve made it. It’s an interesting, if a bit sophomoric, point. Through this, one member of the crew is convinced the entire ordeal is a simulation that has been going on for the best part of a year, and puts that to the test. This will coincide with the debate mentioned but I’ll be decent enough not to ruin the outcome. “Spoilers…”
For me, the episode was too depressing and did not need the now-signature signs of “adulthood” – there had to be a sex scene which comes off initially as eerie and alien and then amounts to nothing. (Ok, I’ll be fair, they do discuss why they cannot have a pregnant woman on board due to food rations, but it really did feel like filler!) We don’t see anything during the sex scene but it fails in the context of the story. Everyone is depressed about the potential loss of life on earth but, hey, let’s have sex in a steamy airlock. I acknowledge that the existential crisis is an interesting one, but bombarding us with claustrophobia and depression for an hour was just cruel. I can accept a tense episode, but let it be a mystery, not all about mourning.
Once again, we see Whipple displayed on multiple screens and on the insignia of the crew, but still are no closer to understanding what that’s all about. One thing that caught my attention was the absence of classic Twilight Zone “merch” in the episode. What we get instead is a model of the Northern Goldstar airplane from episode 2, Nightmare at 20,000 feet. Again, I think we are seeing something that will all come together in a cohesive universe later in the series. Perhaps the very Brain Center at Whipples? (Woe to the creators of Doctor Who if a show like this actually creates something more cohesive than the universe of our favorite Time Lord!)
By no means is this a bad episode, but I was too bummed by the end of it. Maybe I was not on form. I mean, we’re coming to the end of Game of Thrones, and my mind is still blown away by each episode of that, so perhaps I was unfair to this episode. I did love the final scene here but just as they gave me the very thing I wanted most, the episode ended. I felt as cheated as I did when I saw the movie Contact all those years ago. Actually, maybe not that bad, but close!
I still look forward to the next one. Jordan Peele has returned an American treasure to our televisions and I am grateful. We just have to wait and see if they will be honored in the great hall of fame in The Twilight Zone… ML