Author note: This review of Ascension, Chapter 2 includes spoilers of Chapter 1 as well as a few of Chapter 2. (Heh—the difference between a spoiler alert and a trigger warning: one respects your adult suspension of disbelief and the other treats you like a child.)—AL
Love it or hate it, passions about the December 15 airing of Ascension, Chapter 1 are running hot on Twitter:
— Jerrod Perez (@neatnick9780) December 16, 2014
— Anon Kopimi (@AnonKopimi) December 16, 2014
The closing scene of Ascension, Chapter 1 revealed the overarching truth: the supposed intergalactic mission never left the Earth’s surface and is, primarily, in year 51 of a 100-year sociological experiment in which the onboard participants have, ostensibly, no clue that their space journey is a hoax with ulterior motives.
For the science fiction viewer, this is a wretched letdown, a Wizard of Oz moment when we see behind the curtain and are disabused of any pretense that we are watching an epic of hard science fiction (or in the case of Oz a real wizard).
Luckily for me, studying the plot twists, gender issues, and occasional naked bottom was sustenance enough to keep me interested.
Chapter 2 is in some ways the plot of The Matrix: those inside the good ship Ascension are unaware that they are being monitored, studied, and occasionally manipulated by the Overseers (in essence, slave masters) in charge of the experiment. Mostly.
The Overseers must contend with a government investigation into the onboard murder of Lorelei. There is even a “blue badge,” sort of like the blue pill of The Matrix, which restricts whom you can communicate with.
The outside world is unaware of both the ship and the experiment. Mostly.
Let’s call these separate worlds the onboard Mission Control and the larger world.
In the onboard world, the murder of Lorelei was presumed solved by the spacing of the lower-caste Stokes and the forbidden gun he didn’t know how to use, but Stokes has an unrevealed bastard son intent on using bombs, both to sabotage the mission and avenge his father—shades of Hamlet but closer to the bomb-happy Junior Green Goblin of the Spider-Man franchise, whichever you prefer.
As the ship approaches the putative point of no return, one explosion damages the ship’s cooling system, causing the living quarters to overheat and the bevy of space floozies to shed even more of their clothing. Interestingly, the cheating wives seem to sense the vulnerabilities of their cheating husbands and begin to pull back a bit from their wayward ways. This emboldens the floozies to start making their own sexual power plays to dislodge some of the matriarchal dominance of the wives over their husbands. Yes, there are showgirls and, in fact, plot lines from Showgirls as well.
“Where are you going? Finish the massage, first.” That’s the line the naked fading beauty Viondra (Tricia Helfer) uses in the same breath as she fires a young meta-whore, “Jackie” (no kidding), who had dared to try to poach Viondra’s husband, the captain. Yes, we get to see both women’s issues, relational aggressions—and asses.
The real onboard power and currency among the upper decks is sex, sex, temptation, and more sex. The once mighty group of scientists and leaders has been undermined by boredom and conquered by hot vagina hedonism. Poor bastards.
Meanwhile, tweener Crista Wright, wee sister of the murdered Lorelei, is manifesting more and more seemingly telepathic powers, including remote viewing, mindreading, premonition, and post-cognition. Ah, Syfy, why do you always have to flirt with that pseudo-scientific chickbait bullshit? The plot is in real danger of becoming dominated by Crista’s faux fey powers, wrecking whatever value this story might have had for those who enjoy speculative science or sociological intrigue.
Let’s pull out some Tarot cards and check astrological charts while we are at it, shall we?
Mission Control Drama
The onboard ejection of accused murderer Stokes resulted in Stokes’s traumatic entry into the modern world, a mind-shattering result that leaves him alive but psychotic and violent, yet restrained for the time being. More and more evidence piles up to indicate that Stokes is innocent.
Enter the feminist. In a bit of foreshadowing, an opening scene of Chapter 1 mentioned feminist Betty Friedan by name, and sure enough, in Chapter 2, a newcomer, ex-military Teutonic lipstick lesbian Samantha Krueger (not a feminazi at all, yeah; played with earnest sincerity by actress Lauren Lee Smith), bursts onto the scene, whining that the crew of Ascension has no civil rights.
Uh, that was the point of the 100-year experiment, but whatever.
Feminist Frau Krueger, in the deepest of ironies, is the only cast member not involved in massive conspiracies to hide the truth. She is relentless in seeking to break open the truth about the Ascension experiment (thereby destroying it) to reunite kidnapped children (now in their fifties) with their elderly parents. Frau Krueger lost her military career when she outed her own lesbianism at the end of the “don’t ask/don’t tell” era; she hasn’t deployed her sexual wiles in the current story. Yet.
Very soon, however, she is canoodling with an outside world conspiracy nut who is also an attractive woman. Despite Anita Sarkeesian’s lackluster efforts, Syfy has yet to drink the fat-chick Flavor-Aid, and for that we can be grateful.
Other Details of Interest
Ascension‘s initial crew complement depleted 70 top scientific minds from across the United States, creating a noticeable brain-drain and resulting in new technologies invented onboard to be co-opted by Mission Control for commercialization to further fund the mission. This included implantable birth control like Norplant, which fuels the sexual power struggle in both the ship and real life.
Despite the libertine atmosphere, marriage and reproduction onboard are strictly controlled: no one can give birth unless someone else has died. Four crew members (three men and one woman) have perished or left the ship in the first two chapters, a fact that has been noted but not exploited for reproductive politics—yet. Genetics of both potential parents are compared before legal births are authorized. Unauthorized pregnancies do occur, but the prospects for the offspring are grim.
Women dominate almost every scene—in numbers, they overwhelm the few men. The so-called Bechdel test (two women talking about something other than a man) is passed repeatedly.
Ejecting the dead is routine on the ship; Mission Control stores the cremains of hundreds of the crew.
The MGTOW-sounding phrase “Going Your Own Way” occurs about 49 minutes into the broadcast. The lead character and executive officer’s name, “Aaron Gault,” is suggestive of the Randian “Going Galt,” meaning to abandon civilization in order to watch it burn to the ground.
In one telling scene, matriarch and captain’s wife Viondra feigns annoyance when one of her lovers caresses her ass and then delivers a mildly painful swat as she saunters away. A wry smile would have better betrayed her satisfaction at having secured sexual and, hence, political domination over him. The feminist implications of this oversight are intriguing.
While there is enough intrigue to keep me going, I can forgive science fiction purists for bailing out on this series. The 50 shades of bullshit power struggles and conspiracies are mind-numbing unless you are into that sort of thing. Is Ascension still a “Lifeboat for Humanity”?
Magic Eight-Ball says, “Murky—Try Again.”