tek's rating: ½

Ascension, on Syfy
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This was originally announced as a 6-week limited series, to debut in late November 2014. However, it was instead rescheduled as a miniseries to air over three nights in mid-December. Which is fine by me, because that means I can consider it a December miniseries event, and Syfy hasn't done one of those since 2011. So I'm happy about that, but also sorry that I don't get Syfy these days, so I figured I'd have to wait to see it on DVD or something. Luckily, it was made available online, so I got around to watching it in January 2015. (Though in December 2015 I found that it's no longer on Hulu.) Um... but before I saw it myself, a friend said he was not impressed by it. So I was a bit apprehensive. But I seem to have liked it a bit more than he did. It definitely had some flaws, but I found it reasonably interesting. And while the plot didn't do a whole lot of sense-making, it didn't seem to me to be terribly much more nonsensical than a lot of the things I like (and considerably less nonsensical than most of the things I dislike). My biggest problem with it (other than the sometimes disjointed and confusing editing) is the end, which clearly sets up the story to be continued. I'm not going to say how exactly it does end, but I do feel that it's a mistake to leave things so totally unresolved, unless you're sure the story is going to get picked up for another season. And I suspect that's unlikely to happen with this. But if it does, I'll probably watch the continuation. I liked it enough to want to know what happens next, but not enough to care that much if I don't get the chance to find out. (And I'd rather not be forced to watch more of the story, anyway; I really would have preferred for the miniseries to wrap it up.)

Anyway... most of the story is set aboard a generational spaceship called Ascension, which the U.S. had secretly launched in 1963. But it's set in the present, 51 years into the ship's 100-year mission, which is to travel to another star system, to colonize a new planet just in case Earth blows itself up, or whatever. (This means they've recently passed the point of no return; none of these people were born on Earth, and probably few will be alive when the ship reaches its destination. Knowing that can put quite a strain on a person's psyche.) Meanwhile, a parallel story is going on back on Earth, with people who are involved in a top secret project that involves Ascension. The exact nature of that involvement is a twist that's revealed at the end of the first episode (or the second episode, as per the original structure of the series). I pretty much suspected the twist all along, but I still found it interesting, and I'm not going to spoil what it was. However, avoiding that spoiler means there's really not much I can say about the part of the story set on Earth. Except that the project is run by a man named Harris Enzmann (played by Gil Bellows, whom I mainly know from Ally McBeal), whose father had been the founder of the Ascension mission, back in the 60s. And there's a woman named Director Katherine Warren, who is looking into the project and wants to remove Enzmann as its head. To do so, she sends in an investigator named Samantha Krueger, to find evidence that the project has run into problems that Enzmann is unable to handle. Katherine is part of something called the TC Group, which I have no idea what that is, but it sounds vaguely like one of those secret organizations that has a lot of pull in the government. I'm guessing.

Meanwhile, on the ship... well, it's a small community of 600 people, which needs to stay right about at that population level, to avoid exhausting limited resources. Of course, just as on Earth, there are different social strata, so some people have access to more than others. But they're all governed by strict rules, such as being paired by computer with one another's most genetically compatible partners for marriage, rather than getting to choose partners based on love. And it's also a computer that gets to choose which couples will be allowed to have children, and then only when someone else has died. (There is a plot point about "unclaimed" children who have been born illegally, which makes me wonder why they don't get counted whenever someone dies, rather than allowing for a new "legal" birth, but whatever.) Also, since the people on the ship no nothing of cultural developments on Earth after the launch, there are some similarities to early 1960s culture, particularly in regard to women's role in society. Not that women can't have important jobs: for example, the main doctor on Ascension is a woman named Juliet Bryce. But the most important woman on the ship is Viondra Denninger (played by Tricia Helfer, whom I know best from Battlestar Galactica), who is not only the wife of the ship's captain, William Denninger, but also the chief steward. That means she is in charge of all the stewardesses... whose actual function seems to be prostitution. And Viondra has been sleeping with her husband's main political rival, Councilman Rose. It's often unclear whether she's with him to hedge her bets in case William loses his position, or in order to manipulate Rose to help William keep his position.

Anyway, the story actually gets underway with the murder of a young woman named Lorelai Wright. This is the first murder in the ship's 51-year history. Captain Denninger assigns his XO, Aaron Gault, to investigate. This is somewhat complicated by the fact that the investigation would normally be run by the chief Safety Officer, Duke Vanderhaus, who is married to Lorelai's older sister, Emily... who has been having an affair with Gault. And there will be other problems on the ship that Gault will have to investigate, in addition to the murder. And um... there are lots of other characters whom I couldn't always keep straight, and lots of things going on. Lorelai was romantically involved with James Toback, a lower decks maintenance worker who doesn't have much faith in the ship's mission. After Lorelai's murder, he soon becomes involved with Nora Bryce (the daughter of Dr. Juliet Bryce and her husband, Robert... who is also a doctor). Robert (played by John Ralston, whom I mainly know from Life with Derek) has a pretty major secret of his own, which I won't spoil. Anyway, in order to impress Nora, James becomes a cadet, in training to become an officer. And Nora is studying terraforming, though that's of minimal importance, considering they're still 49 years from their destination.

There are lots of characters of different levels of importance whom I'm not even going to bother mentioning, but the most important character is Christa Valis, a young girl (around 13) who was friends with Lorelai. She seems like basically a sweet kid, but she has some oddities about her which are obviously going to play into the story in a big way. And throughout the course of the miniseries, we gradually learn more about just what makes her so special and important, but I don't want to spoil the exact nature of that.

Well, I have barely scratched the surface of all the plot threads. There's so much I haven't touched on at all, and really... as I said before, a lot of stuff is left unresolved, in the end. Which is annoying. I never managed to particularly care about any of the characters, except maybe Christa. But I do think most of them had the potential to be interesting, if this were an ongoing series with plenty of time devoted to character development. As it is, there was little time for that, considering the story was almost entirely about plot development, and there was too much plot for even that to be fully developed. But at least I didn't consider the show a complete waste of time. It definitely had some interesting ideas. And of course, the women were easy on the eyes. And I guess that's all I can think to say.

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Syfy December Miniseries Events