[This is a review of the Ascension series premiere. There will be SPOILERS.]
SyFy’s ambitious new mini-series event, entitled Ascension, will either leave you with a sense of bewilderment and frustration by the end of its two-hour premiere, or have you salivating at the mouth for a taste of what’s to come. The key here is expectations. So, what kind of science fiction show are you hoping to find?
Creators Adrian Cruz (Splinter) and Phillip Levens’ (Smallville) premise is a lovely mix of AMC’s critically acclaimed series Mad Men, mixed with a hint of SyFy’s beloved re-imagination of Battlestar Galactica. That cocktail alone should be enough to wet your appetite, but do Cruz and Levens have the gusto to deliver such an exquisite concoction?
Well, simply put, that depends on what you like in your “sci-fi drink.” Going back to the premise, a ship launched during the Kennedy administration on a hundred year voyage to find out if there is another habitable planet seems like a great idea for a series. Imagine a group of individuals stuck in the 1960s who missed out on the Civil Rights Movement, or never experienced the rise of computers and the internet. There are so many avenues that could be explored.
The problem Ascension runs into is its surprising twist at the end, which seemingly renders everything null and void. Instead of a 1960s civilization traveling through deep space, we are left with a culture lost in history, but still on present-day earth with a morally ambiguous government organization watching their every move. Again, this is a series that throws the entirety of its galactic weight on an ending that is as divisive as they come. Perhaps that’s the point, with the rise of social media dictating the trending topics of the day, will Ascension’s final trick bring the tweeting masses to their knees? Only time will tell.
The ending aside, Cruz and Levens have created a captivating world inside of this behemoth of a spacecraft. The production values alone are stellar, as director Stephen Williams (Lost) masterfully moves the camera through the large abundance of well-crafted sets. You most assuredly will want to see more of this ship, as the engineers have created a small city within its hull. The music is not as captivating as it should be, lacking the the thematic tones that Mad Men does so effortlessly, or even evoking the emotional undertones that Battlestar excelled in with composer Bear McMreary (The Walking Dead) at the helm. The ship looks spectacular when shown from a wide-shot, even though we now know it never left its docking station. Suffice it to say, from a technical standpoint, Ascension excels.
In terms of casting, the series is a bit of a mixed bag. There are acting veterans that have done better work, like Al Sapineza (The Sopranos) who plays the ambitious Councilmen Rose. To spice things up, he’s having an affair with BSG alum Tricia Helfer. She plays the strikingly beautiful Viondra who also happens to be the Captain’s wife. Helfer provides the best performance of any of the cast in this premiere, showcasing her abilities even beyond what she has done in previous shows. Her husband, William, played by Brian Van Holt (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) does his best to give a commanding performance, but much of his dialogue is cringe worthy. Holt’s resume proves he’s an actor with talent, but the writers need to give him something better to work with.
The rest of crew is easily forgettable, save for a young lady named Christa (Ellie O’Brien) who might be the key to humanity’s future. Is she a mutant, or something more? There are characters we still have yet to meet from the government organization controlling this experiment. Surely their purpose for creating the Ascension Project will be the mystery you choose to ignore, or stay with the series to find out why all of this is happening. Is this a mystery worth uncovering?
Ascension has lot of potential to be something unique, as showcased in the first half of its premiere, but there is also a danger in it falling into tropes we’ve seen all too much of. If the writers choose to focus on the socioeconomic, political, and racial turmoil that exist inside the spacecraft, then that would be a series this reviewer would find worth viewing.
As stated earlier, this is a show highly dictated on what kind of science fiction you were expecting to see. Did the ending provide enough interest for a viewing of part two? If so, keep watching to see what happens next.
Ascension continues with Part 2 tonight @9pm on SyFy. Check out a preview below: