Now that the main mystery at the heart of Ascension has been revealed, the miniseries has to prove that it’s more than a one-trick pony, and might have the legs to serve as the back-door pilot for a proper, ongoing series.
On the evidence of this instalment, though, the show might struggle to justify a continued existence.
The ongoing murder mystery continues to be buried by bigger issues, such as little Christa being possessed by the spirit of the zeitgeist (or something), going into trances and sensing when her milk’s been poisoned, and blurting out knowledge of the Kennedy assassination and 9/11, things she shouldn’t know about. That might have made a good hook, but even that is fighting for air alongside Viondra Derringer’s political machinations, Nora’s love life, Krueger’s investigation into the missing scientists and Gault flash backing to his parents’ deaths.
You can’t help thinking that the show could benefit from ejecting two thirds of its various conspiracy elements and concentrate more how being stuck on a generational ship is affecting the crew. Instead things like the “crisis”, arranged marriage and the place of homosexuals on board are reduced to a few lines. Indeed, the “crisis” currently seems more like a handy plot device than an attempt at character examination.
It’s all happening at a breakneck pace as well. No sooner is Kreuger introduced than she’s made contact with a conspiracy nut with research on the missing scientists. Sure, this is a miniseries so there’s limited time, but with so much going on in the show, each plot strand has limited scenes, and the cumulative effect is a merry-go-round of plots all lurching from revelation to revelation with indecent haste.
Two of the missing scientists are named as Fritz Leiber and Alfred Bester, both famous science fiction authors.
There are also too many moments that simply leave you going, “Huh?” Plot-holing is often a futile exercise, as they only become an issue when you’re not enjoying something (they can usually be written off or explained if you are enjoying something). But with Ascension, you’re left thinking, “Well, presumably there’s a reason…” so often it becomes a problem in itself. Such as how come Enzmann and co have so much trouble keeping track of people on the spaceship when they seem to have cameras everywhere. And if they haven’t got cameras everywhere, why haven’t they got cameras everywhere? This especially becomes an issue when they’re concerned about Gault going to Deck 23 but don’t seem to care that Dwight’s been holed up there. If it’s such a security risk why isn’t it monitored constantly? Or simply made a no-go area? Or soundproofed?
As we said, all of these issues could be explained, but there are so many similar examples that after a while it’s difficult to keep suspending disbelief, and instead you start listing all the other ways in which this mission is seriously flawed and clearly doomed to failure.
Oh, and it doesn’t help when one of the characters says, “Best reality TV show never made,” and you’re reminded once again that you’re watching a Truman Show rip-off.
But as a watchable piece of high-concept action fluff with some impressive production design, excellent effects and actors doing their best to convince you it’s not just a load of old hokum, it's bearable enough. If nothing else, if Ascension doesn’t go to a series, it’ll be a waste of some good sets.
Samantha Krueger: “And people like me?” Harris Enzmann: “Homosexuals? You were left out by design. It’s not a matter of prejudice, you understand. Purely practical. Anyone who intentionally avoids procreation would just be superfluous.” Samantha Krueger: “Superfluous or not, I’m guessing there’s a few in there. We tend to pop up where you least expect us.”
With fewer grandstanding special FX sequences in this middle segment, the most striking moment comes when Christa suddenly stares straight at a security camera and looks like she’s been possessed.
Car Crash Television
The caption may read “Wrapped to a tree” (isn’t the phrase usually "wrapped around”?), but it looks more like the car had been totalled by a twig.
The first half of this middle segment (the series was originally made to be six episodes, but was shown in three parts instead, both in the US and the UK) is directed by Vincenzo Natali, better known for calling the shots on the films Cube, Splice and Haunter. He’s also directed episodes of Hannibal and Hemlock Grove.
Just as in the previous episode, the writers here seem to blow a potential surprise. As soon as Enzmann mentions he has an inside man, a character we’ve never noticed before suddenly has some lines. Guess what…?
Investigator Samantha Kreuger is played by Lauren Lee Smith, best-known to telefantasy fans as tele-empath Emma in Mutant X.
Ascension airs in the UK on Sky1 on Friday nights at 9pm. It aired on Syfy in the US.