Ascension: A young woman’s murder causes the subjects of a century-long mission to populate a new world to question the true nature of the project as they approach the point of no return.
**SPOILER ALERT **
That’s it in a nutshell. Your basic, locked room, murder mystery.
I’d like to say that I found this show to be clever, or groundbreaking, or whathaveyou, but I really can’t. I found it to be not so much a “realistic” look at a prototypical American society after fifty years of isolation, but rather an over-dramatized shell of sex and politics designed to make everyone forget that the central, driving event over all the hubub that make up the six-part mini-series — Lorelei’s murder — is barely acknowledged by the end, and her killer only truly revealed in a quick blurb by the killer in the midst of another, ship-threatening catastrophe.
And anyone paying attention from the beginning was able to figure out the “big” secret right away. Much like the previously attempted, but ultimately aborted pilot for another (Syfy Channel) show called Virtuality (IMDB link HERE) from no less than Battlestar Galactica writer Ronald D. Moore, the conceit of monitoring humanity under false pretenses/conditions is well-worn, and, in the case of Ascension, the “virtual” reality employed in Virtuality has been replaced with a Truman Show-esque version of that same locked room, false star-field window, all designed to isolate and observe without interference, only this time with 600 people.
But we all know the theory on observation and interference, right?
Anyway, perhaps the most unbelievable thing for me about the show has nothing (surprisingly) to do with that grand conceit, but is more a problem with aspects of the society that has developed in fifty short years. The role of Stewardess has become something akin to that of the Companion from Joss Whedon’s Firefly universe. A class of young, attractive, females, whose sole purpose is to entertain (wink-wink) the ship’s officers and ruling class.
And this is looked upon by everyone as a great thing, since Stewardesses get better quarters, finer clothes, good food.
In fifty years, or 2-3 generations, the pinnacle of female achievement is to be successfully pimped out by the head Stewardess, much to your family’s pride.
I understand that the Ascension started its mission in 1963, when the world was a Mad Men parody of today’s society, and some of the ground crew even laments that those within the ship have no idea that the civil rights movement took place, the summer of love, or that the sexual revolution occurred, but damn.
Even in 1963, mother’s didn’t aspire for their daughters to sleep with multiple men for personal advancement; they wanted them to find a “good man” and get married and have kids. On the Ascension, having kids is tightly regulated, of course, and the tradition of arranged marriages (pairings) forms the emotional core of the ship’s society. But like anything too regulated, backlash is sure to come.
An outside observer even notes that there were no homosexuals on the Ascension when they started. It was justified by the simple scientific principal that having homosexuals aboard wouldn’t help the primary mission of rebuilding the human race; i.e. procreation. It wasn’t a discriminatory act, simply a logical exclusion to support the primary mission.
Of course, the Ascension has its own sexual revolution or a sort, as evidenced by the way women are able to ostensibly control their own fates, even if that control is sometimes vested between their legs.
What kind of super-scientists did the government fill Ascension with in the first place, anyway? To not be able to see these things developing, or worse, anticipating and encouraging their development? I’m no hard-core feminist, but damn, that’s messed up.
That’s not to say that there aren’t things to like about Ascension, of course. I thought the effects were very well-done, and the performances were compelling where they needed to be. Any time a show can dig deep into politics and give up a couple of good twists, I’m all for that, and the marriage/partnership of Captain and Head Stewardess Denninger (played by Brian Van Holt and Tricia Helfer) was one that kept me guessing for most of the series. This was mostly due to the way their roles and conversations were written, obviously, with single, double, and even triple layers of meaning in every word they spoke and every action they took. They even pushed one another into sexual relationships in order to garner long-term advantages.
For such a closed society, in so short a time, politics rears its ugly head very quickly. Especially when, on the Ascension more than any traditional social construct, stability and consistency are 100-percent necessary for the survival of the whole. A nice little statement on mankind’s ability to overlook the long-term and focus on immediate gratification.
Overall, I was satisfied with Ascension, but couldn’t help but be somewhat disappointed in their outlook for humanity’s social and spiritual development. In fact, I don’t think I saw one instance of religion — any religion — in the whole show. The closest it might have come was the funeral for Lorelei.
So I suppose I’ll tell you to watch it if you haven’t already, and if they do a second season/series, I’ll check out the previews and probably have go at it.
Ascension is, at time of this writing, available to stream on Netflix.