Ellen Ripley. Sarah Connor. Maureen Robinson. It's the last thing fans expected from Netflix's reboot of Lost in Space, but there's no denying how quickly and completely the matriarch of the Robinson family cemented her legacy among the great heroines of science fiction. And based on her brilliance, bruises, and blind ambition, may have proven far more formidable than other 'badass' feminst icons--especially to viewers who know that being 'strong' doesn't mean the same thing as being 'perfect.'
With Lost in Space: The Complete First Season now available on DVD and Blu-ray, a new generation of families can see how the reboot flips the classic gender archetypes, with actress Molly Parker portraying the head of the family, and co-star Toby Stephens confirming that this time around it's Maureen who's "wearing the pants" in the marriage. That's what attracted them to the parts, and the finished product makes that clear: it's Maureen Robinson who is dragging her family into the stars in search of humanity's future. And if they all get killed or lost in the process... well, that will be her fault, too.
Screen Rant had the chance to speak with 'Maureen' herself, Molly Parker, who after years spent facing off against dangerous, calculating, and reckless men in shows like Deadwood and House of Cards, is finally leading that charge. Parker may not boast that Maureen Robinson is a new kind of heroine, shaped by the last two decades and looking forward towards the next ten. But if the next season picks up where Lost in Space's season 1 ending left off, science fiction fans will soon have another icon to honor. One flawed enough to make it hard for future females to be measured against her--which, in the end, is kind of the point.
A lot of families, especially multi-generational ones with fondness for the original series didn't know what to expect from this re-imagining of Lost in Space and the Robinsons. What has the reception been like for you?
It's the first time I have done anything [laughs] really, in 27 years that has that kind of 'fan.' I mean I have a 12 year old, so he and his friends love the show. That's made me really, really popular on the schoolyard, which is cool. But then I meet older people all the time who watch the show who loved the original, and remember Maureen when she was a woman in space who made sandwiches. And used the awesome clothes-cleaner, where they all came out folded and packaged magically. So it's really wonderful like that. I'm really proud of it.
It goes without saying that this is a show about family. But I distinctly remember watching the first episode and wondering, "Why does this feel like the most real, authentic marriage, and family, that I've seen on television?" Is that as unique to find as an actor as it seems to be as a viewer?
That's a good question. I think in a way the writers were interested in re-imagining this family genre, you know? I think that's partly what Netflix was looking for, and what they wanted from the show. Which was: beyond the fact that it happens in space, and it's science fiction, and it's a remake of this beloved show from the '60s, all of us wanted this family to feel like people we recognized. When we meet them the parents are separated, they barely talk to eachother. The children have all of their own difficulties, all of these characters are flawed. That's who we are. We just wanted them to be real people. One of the things that was difficult, I think, before the first season came out was trying to explain how the show was a family show, but it's not for little kids. Like it's scary, the first episode is frightening.
Part of what Toby Stephens and I were trying to do all the time, every scene we had together, was to layer it in a way that it works storywise, but then also adults, parents, grown-ups who are watching it would recognize themselves in it and see, 'Okay they might be talking about this, but just underneath that is this sort of boiling amount of resentment, or hurt.' So we did try really hard to create something that... not just would speak to multiple generations, but be something you could watch together at a time when a lot of families--I know this happens in my family--my son's watching something on his screen, I'm watching something in another room... it's not happening together. I love this show for that, and I will say that this coming season, although I can't say much about what happens storywise, it is better. It is so good. It's deeper, and richer, and as the kids grow older the story gets a little bit more mature. I'm really excited about it.
Maureen Robinson might be one of the most underrated science fiction heroines of the last decade or longer. The coolest Space Mom, without a doubt. Not only because she is so clearly the head of the family, but it almost feels patronizing to say that she's "strong" because... she's not doing what she's doing to BE strong. She is very much who she is from the first time we see her, and never really stops to question that. Was that always a part of this version of Maureen?
Yeah. Yes. It was their intention, it was the way it was presented to me when they approached me about doing the show. And it is absolutely one of the things that made me really excited to do it. On the face of it, doing a remake of Lost in Space wasn't what I was looking for, but as I started to understand what they wanted to do, it was more and more exciting to me. And thank you so much for understanding that to talk about this particular character, or even at this point most female characters in film as 'strong women' is reductive. Because at the very least, my ambition is to try to create not 'strong' people, but complicated people. Human people, people who are conflicted so that we see the range of humanity in them.
Certainly Maureen is strong, but she's also flawed, and she's also full of secrets, and she's also insensitive, and she's also brilliant. She is all of those things. That's what I want her to be. These writers are so wonderful, and they really just think of her as this... One woman today said, 'She's an American hero!' And I'm Canadian, so it made me laugh... But I am always trying to shine a light into the corners of the antihero in her as well, you know? So it's really fun.
And you touched on something that I feel is really important, one of the things that I love about this show is that--it's set now in another slightly different reality, or 30 years into the future, basically. But my ambition, all of our ambition on this show is to present a situation where, for the women and the girls on the show, it's never a question that they are capable, that they can do what the men can do. Or they do what they do, and the men do what they do. In the same way, we don't really even get very far into discussing why we have a daughter who's mixed race. Families look all kinds of ways now. I love being in a place where we are at least trying to create something where... we don't have to talk about it. Anyway. That was a rant.
The best compliment that you can pay John Robinson is saying he was smart enough to marry Maureen. I suppose female roles today are what they are, depending on the genre, but were you just reading these scripts as the season develops, and Maureen tackles one thing after another, thinking 'I get to do THIS too? Are you kidding me?!
[Laughs] Yeah! I mean, there's a bunch of levels on which that operates. One of them is this show is much more physical than I had anticipated it to be, and I've never done anything quite like... they didn't really tell me until we were well into shooting the first couple of episodes that they were like, 'No no, she's an action hero.' Like, 'What are you talking about? I thought we were going to be in a studio, and we're up on these mountains, in space suits.' It's fairly intense.
There's all of that, and she is that, but what I see now when I look back at the first season as a whole, this is a character who again and again is coming from this... they really inverted the archetypal male/female roles in John and Maureen. So Maureen is coming from this scientific, logical place first. That's her first go-to, and has this kind of mantra that every problem has a solution and if she can just figure it out, you know. And yet she has put them in this situation, and it's her lack of emotional intelligence that always gets in her way. She finally does get to a place at the end of the season where there is no answer to the problem, and she has created the problem.
I think she ends up having to face this part of herself that she doesn't really want to even admit exists. Which is that she's ambitious. On the face of it she's told everyone that she's taken her family into space to give them a better life. Yet what she's done is--again and again and again--put them into situations where they almost die. They're not where she thought they would be but... she is the one who wanted to go to space her whole life, not the other four. In some ways she's one step ahead of everyone in terms of knowing what their future would be if they stayed on Earth, but in another way it comes at a massive cost for all of them. I really appreciate that these writers have allowed her to have those flaws.
When you look around at what's happening in the world right now, does working on something like Lost in Space have a therapeutic aspect to it? To be part of a story that looks to the future, at what's possible?
Right. I think that it's aspirational in the sense that, even if we're following this family that happens to be an American family, it's really an international effort. It's aspirational in the sense that it's hopeful. There's a lot of hope in this show, which I think we are desperately in need of right now. Without hope we can't really affect meaningful change, even in the way things are here at this moment. There are definitely aspects of the show that, to me, reflect a kind of migrant story, and refugee story.
It's a really good time to have to watch a privileged, Western family have to struggle with survival. Because it's not something a lot of us in the West really have to do, and so much of the rest of the world is doing it on daily basis. But I think there's all kind of different things, like just between classes, and who gets to go? These are really privileged people who get to go. You have to be the best of the best, and the smartest of the smartest, and pass all these things. So there's so much to unpack there, and luckily we have at least one more season to do it in.
Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us, we really appreciate it.
Bye Andrew! Fellow Canadian!
Lost in Space: The Complete First Season is now available for pre-order and will be released on Blu-ray and DVD on June 4th from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. Be sure to check out our our interview with Lost in Space's Toby Stephens, as well.