Thursday, December 18, 2014

Ascension - SyFy Network's Latest

SyFy has been promoting its three night mini-series Ascension for several weeks.  Produced by some of the same  people who gave us Battlestar Galactica, arguably one of the best science fiction series ever to grace television, it was eagerly anticipated.

Ascension premiered this last Monday with the two subsequent episodes airing Tuesday and Wednesday. An avid fan of science fiction and Battlestar Galactica, I set my dvr and watched it as well.

The basic premise of the story is in 1963 before his death, President Kennedy authorized a deep space mission.  After all they "had the technology" (oh yeah?) so why not do it.  The story goes that they built and launched this enormous spaceship, basically a contained city with 350 people aboard originally.  It is a self-contained society, allowed to grow to no more than 600 citizens at any time.  Adolescents are injected with birth control devices.  Males and females are compared for genetic compatibility.  When someone dies, a new compatible couple is allowed to have a child.  The names of the fortunate parents to be are drawn, lottery style.  Men and women are matched with no consideration of their feelings. The lucky couple(s) get their implants removed and get down to the business of repopulating.

The look of the ship's interior, the clothing styles, even the electronics are all early 1960s styles.  The social strata is also 1960s style with women NOT in positions of authority.  Instead the most prized position for women is that of "stewardess" which involves doing "favors" for highly placed men to gain influence and baubles.

There are two classes of people on the Ascension, those who live in the upper decks and are in power - and then those of the lower decks who are the laborers, the attendants for the livestock, the butchers, etc.  People do rise to the upper decks but only with great effort or great aptitude.

In the first episode, a prominent young woman is found murdered in the water reservoir which has an artificial beach right out of "Beach Blanket Bingo" with sand and tropical plants. The Executive Officer Gault, himself a product of the lower decks, is ordered to investigate.  His investigative techniques are right out of Raymond Chandler books as well as Agatha Christie's.  Their cultural development stopped when they left Earth.  They are mired in the world of the 1960s. This is the third generation on the Ascension and it is 2014 for the rest of us.

The first episode keeps up the fantasy.  But the second drops the first bomb...All is not what it seems on the Ascension.  The reveal makes a lot of sense if you think of the early 1960s technology and society. It is then that the viewer realizes the true nature of this voyage and the inhumane cynicism that fostered it.

I won't reveal the secrets here. To say I was shocked is a bit of an overstatement.  I did shake my head and sigh, though.

That's not to say I quit watching.  I was fascinated to see how it would turn out. As I thought it might, many questions went unanswered and many mysteries unsolved.  I suspect there might be more episodes of Ascension, there were certainly enough cliff hangers to lead to more at the end of the third episode.

This one is more thought-provoking than recent SyFy series such as Z Nation, or Helix, and much less visceral (less gory).  But in its way it is the ugliest to date, at least from my perspective.

I read that the network has hired a new program director to weed out the drek and produce better quality shows, harking back to the Battlestar Galactica days.  Their recent line up has had some good entries between the quirky entries and the "reality" entries such as Face Off.  But for the true science fiction fan, there has been little for which to cheer.

If more episodes of Ascension are made I will watch it.  It is a cut above most recent SyFy series.

Ascension is a step in the right direction, but it is no Battlestar Galactica.

Next time I will post a review of the delightful film, Marvel's The Guardians of the Galaxy. I'm still chuckling over that one.

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