Ascension S1.03 Episode Three review

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With no new flashy visuals to reveal (we’ve stopped being impressed by the BIG SHIP! and the MULTI-LEVEL SETS!) this last part of Ascension has to rely on its storytelling to impress. Which is a bit like a sitcom without jokes relying on farting to make it funny.

The first episode had the interesting set-up to snag your interest. By the second episode the plot was sagging a bit, but at least there was some forward momentum and a few surprises.

This final instalment, though, is – as they would have said in the ’60s – the pits. It’s all entry level sexual politics (and nowhere near as rude as that sounds), dodgy sci-fi codswallop, explosions, running and shouting. The revelations are either daft or annoyingly vague; by two thirds of the way through you get the sinking feeling this is more of a back-door pilot than a miniseries and that you’re going to get little in the way of a conclusion.

So there’s no attempt to explain why sticking 600 people in a giant tin can for 50 years will result in “punctuated evolution” (technobabble for “mutant” – in this case one who can apparently teleport people into bad matte paintings). No attempt to clarify the relationship between the project and the TC group. No attempt to explain what Toback thinks of seeing his first episode of ALF. No attempt to explain why Enzmann fantasises about Dr Bryce while shagging his wife. No explanation of where Gault is. We’re just left with a load of questions, most of which, to be honest, you don’t really care if they’re ever answered.

Alien Life Form

Not the first contact scenario the Ascension crew was expecting, but an Alien Life Form nonetheless – that’s ALF from the ’80s sitcom.

To be fair, Krueger’s betrayal is a nicely unexpected twist, though it’s a shame it’s immediately preceded by one of those “slip of the tongue” moments of realisation. Not that the episode is a stranger to hoary old clichés; we also get that good old “patient not swallowing sedatives” bobbins. By the time director Warren stands on the edge of that broken walkway above a yawning cavern (not the only thing that’s yawning) you not only know Enzmann is going to shove her in, you can practically recite his next line: “Tell the TC Group director Warren an accident.” Thank god he didn’t have any railroads to tie her to.

It’s a shame this miniseries so rapidly descended into a run-of-the-mill action TV tropes because there’s a lot of potential here for a tight, character-based show; almost a West Wing or House Of Cards in (pretend) space. Certainly the cast is up to it, but they’re given little more to do than glower and pout. The action is competently enough staged, the FX are decent and the devious Derringers, at least, have a plot worth investing some interest in.

Ironically, the best moments in the episode concern Stokes’s reaction to arriving in “our” world, from his amazement at how bright the sun is to cursing our need to cocoon everything we buy in plastic. A brief scene of him watching Forbidden Planet and ruefully admitting, “I’ve never been in space,” has far more emotional clout than the somewhat silly-looking “indoors rain” finale inside the ship.

TV needs a new ongoing spaceship show, but not this fake.

Ascension aired in the UK on Sky 1 on Friday nights at 9pm. It aired on Syfy in the US.

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WritersMelody Fox, Philip Levens
DirectorsMairzee Almas, Nicholas Copus
The one whereThe TC Group tries to take over the running of the Ascension project just as Christa goes all Carrie

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Available platformsTV
Dave Golder
Freelance Writer

Dave is a TV and film journalist who specializes in the science fiction and fantasy genres. He's written books about film posters and post-apocalypses, alongside writing for SFX Magazine for many years.