Review: Syfy’s “Ascension”: Weak science, sexy social commentary

I’m writing this minutes after the Day 1 launch of Ascension, the Syfy Channel’s three-day/six-hour series about an epic, if fictional, early 1960s era attempt to send a multigenerational “lifeboat of humanity”—a huge colony ship with about 600 people—to our nearest interstellar neighbor, the red dwarf star called Proxima Centauri.

At the beginning of the story, the ship, which is comparable in size to the Empire State Building, is 51 years into its 100-year journey. There is something for every viewer in the opener—a murder mystery, a period piece about the early 60s, a government conspiracy, a crew rumbling toward mutiny, a seemingly psychic tweener, a social commentary that crosses 50 years, and, of course, everyone is fucking (or fucking with) everyone, with the nude ass of the aging Tricia Helfer, the sexy Cylon of Battlestar Galactica, thrown in at minute 30-ish for even more fun.

Crappy Science and Engineering
There are a large number of obvious problems with the science and engineering of the Ascension, another fun thing to note while watching the show. I’ll skim through a few of the more blatant concerns to add to the flavor of what we’re being asked to digest.  

  • The interior of the interstellar ship boasts near-normal gravity, which, given the configuration of the ship and the 60s era technology, could only be generated by a sustained acceleration of 1 G—about 10 meters per second per second. A crew woman mentions that the ship is moving at a relativistic (close to light-speed) velocity, something that would happen normally after about one year under that acceleration. So far, so good, but there is a problem—at the titanic speeds produced by 1 G of acceleration, Proxima Centauri, at 4.26 light-years from Earth, would be reached after only about 14 years of Earth time, and even less (11 years) in ship’s time, due to the time-dilation effects of relativistic speeds. This blows apart the scientific accuracy of the proposed mission right away.
  • Of course, the show ignores the time-dilation effect completely and suggests that 51 years have passed on both Earth and the ship.
  • Even worse, at the halfway point in the journey, the ship would have to rotate 180 degrees to begin 1 G of “deceleration” (slowing down), yet the show depicts this maneuver as not having been made 51% into the journey. Oops. Even this slight navigation error means they will fly by Proxima Centauri and waste years trying to get back there.
  • At various times, objects are ejected from the ship—a gun, a dead body, and a living body. When traveling at relativistic velocities, this is a really bad idea because once your ship begins decelerating, those ejected objects will catch back up to you in a hurry and ram you at lethal speeds.
  • Also, failing to recycle dead bodies back into the ship’s tiny ecosystem is a very bad idea.
  • The ship carries livestock such as pigs and chickens, fed by massive amounts of grain, presumably grown somewhere else on the ship. This is horribly inefficient and impractical on such a long mission.
  • The ship’s lighting appears to use large numbers of 1960s era incandescent and fluorescent bulbs. These bulbs have a limited lifespan, and for a 100-year journey the ship would have to store a vast number of these, in addition to the limited-life vacuum tubes needed to run the numerous black and white TV screens scattered around the ship. There is no hint of a manufacturing plant on the ship that could make these items.
  • There are no elderly people on this ship—either they are all dead past about age 55 or they are being systematically exterminated by some protocol we haven’t learned about yet.

But let’s get to the real fun—the society that has grown up on the ship.

The Gender/Caste Struggle
The upper and lower decks of Ascension represent, both figuratively and actually, the upper and lower caste system aboard the ship, and they also represent gender as well.

The clean, comfortable upper decks are populated by large numbers of privileged, highly attractive, and sexually competitive women, along with a handful of high-status male leaders. Denizens of the lower decks are almost exclusively disenchanted and disenfranchised men, mucking away in dirty, difficult livestock and water-processing jobs.

The leadership is a nominal patriarchy in which a few talented men jockey lazily for power, but this patriarchy is dominated covertly by a matriarchy run by the captain’s wife, who controls the sex lives of almost everyone on the ship and doles out her nubile female charges as sexual playthings to the men she is seeking to influence. These meta-whores are called “stewardesses,” and almost every young girl growing up on the ship envies their fine clothing and comfortable, highly sexed lifestyles.

In the boring, little hope, and little-to-do atmosphere of a colony ship, sex is everywhere, and the overpopulation of women displays enormous amounts of both skin and competitive relational aggression toward each other that the high-status men are oblivious to, even when it happens literally in their laps and  beds.

Sufficiently talented men can advance from the lower to the upper decks, but they retain the stigma of their lower-deck origin their entire lives. Lower-deck men live in a state of sexual starvation and can be manipulated into performing any favor, no matter how humiliating, for the mere promise (however forlorn) of attention from the ruling hotties. Not a single woman is depicted as lower-deck in the first part of Ascension, although they are alluded to briefly.

The opening murder of one of the hot young women touches off a halfhearted investigation that seems lackadaisical until one realizes that the vast numbers of sexually available women have made the individual women disposable in a way that would never be tolerated in a gynocentric or feminist-dominated society like ours. The forgotten men on the lower decks are too out-of-touch to even consider “white-knighting” for the murdered meta-whore.

There is a sharp twist at the end of the first episode that I won’t spoil here, but it will rip the whole fabric of the show apart.

The Ascension is a microcosm of the upper educational class in our modern-day society, where 12 million college women compete for the attention of 9 million college men. Loser feminist  college women, who hopelessly outnumber eligible college men, should grow increasingly competitive and then increasingly frustrated by their failure to land an acceptable male partner. We can expect increasingly febrile and desperate measures like rape hoaxes, intra-female violence, relational aggression, and feminist regimentation in this population, much like when too many rats are fighting over too little cheese.

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