Take Me Now, Robotic Overlords
Another Life: Season 2
It's been two years since the first season of Another Life came out -- I had to check this fact as when this second season showed up in my NetflixOriginally started as a disc-by-mail service, Netflix has grown to be one of the largest media companies in the world (and one of the most valued internet companies as well). With a constant slate of new internet streaming-based programming that updates all the time, Netflix has redefined what it means to watch TV and films (as well as how to do it). queue -- and the only question I had was: how did this show get a second season. The first season was so bad that, at the time, I felt compelled to rip it to shreds in my previous review. Other, better shows have lived and died on Netflix in the last two years but, somehow, this crappy sci-fi space opera managed to squeak out a second season. How did that happen?
Any thought that the show might have actually improved in the last two years is quickly dispelled as the show goes right back into having all its characters make the dumbest decisions for the dumbest reasons, constantly churning through characters and motivations like they don't matter. Which, frankly, they don't because so little of what goes on in the show actually has any consequence on the overarching plot or what finally ties up (I hope) the series. This show continues to be a mind-boggling mess, the kind of series you would have thought Netflix would dump and run, never to mention again (see: Warrior Nun, Cursed, Teenage Bounty Hunters), and yet it came back... and I can't think of any good reason why.
The second season picks up right where the previous season left off (although Netflix didn't prompt me to watch a recap of season one, either because they didn't want to spend the money making a recap or because the Netflix people couldn't even figure out what happened in the previous season that actually mattered), and we're still caught in the issue of the Earth's only FTL ship, the Salvare, stuck out in the farthest reaches of space, hunted by aliens. Those aliens, the Achaians, literally just blew up a planet in front of the Terrans, an aggressive move meant to show the Earthers that they shouldn't go messing around in business they don't understand. The Earth crew, though, heartily disagrees.
While the Salvare crew deal with the Achaians in space, learning about this race that, apparently, is composed of hyper-intelligent nano-bots, there are brewings on Earth as well. The Salvare's mission on Earth kicked off when an Achaian obelisk landed on Earth and that obelisk is communicating now. The Achaians want an "emissary", someone that will speak for the Achaians on Earth. IN exchange for an emissary, and a promise from the Terrans that they'll scrap all FTL activities, the Achaians will help them fix their dying planet. It's a tough choice, made even harder when some of the crew of the Salvare make it home and talk about all they'd seen. Can the Achaians be trusted. Were they provoked out in space or are they really the aggressors? Is this an invasion or an attempt at peace?
There are many problems with this season, and the show as a whole, but the biggest problem is that the show simply doesn't know when to slow down. There is so much plot in this season, and frankly in the previous season, that the show can never sit still long enough to let us actually get settled into events. Each episode has to push and push and push, introducing new characters, no concepts, killing people, throwing away ideas, and rushing forward again. Things happen, people, die, and the show moves on, but nothing sticks because the show lacks any kind of natural pace.
Consider: two crew members (I think August and Oliver were their names) are sent out in the first episode to repair the ship due to a blast the ship took during the planetary explosion. They die almost instantly when the Achaians immediately attack. The Achaians attack for... reasons? And then the crew are barely mourned before two new crew-members are unfrozen and pulled out of cryo-sleep, the show moving on as if nothing happened. We lost two characters that had been on the show all through last season and they're barely a blip at all, nor do they die for any real reason.
Consider: the ship's A.I., William, makes a second A.I. so he can work through his "issues" with the captain. This A.I., apparently, has Achaian tech in her, changes her looks for... reasons, goes homicidal, turns not homicidal, goes homicidal again, becomes infected with further Achaian... stuff, has to be sealed away in her own "simulation" to keep her safe, and then somehow merges with William, all in the span of, like, six episodes. Also, a different, previous version of William, Gabriel, shows up, tries to take over, and is wiped away, all in his own episode. That's just too much.
And consider: at some point the crew discovers the ability to open up worm holes through space (via unearned technobabble). They are able to send most of the ship through, but the captain (and her first mate) end up staying behind without their FTL engines, effectively dead in space. Then they try to build solar sails, go crazy from nitrogen poisoning, get snatched up by different aliens (not the Achaians, but also aliens that we hadn't seen before and don't see after), put through a labyrinth, then sent on a missions to aid said aliens, all before these two defeat the aliens and steal their ship... in two episodes.
Mind you, there are moments where the show actually works. That part where the captain, Nico, and her first mate, Richard, are trapped on the other side of the wormhole does lead to a pretty solid episode of the two just hanging out, slowly going mad together on the remains of their ship. The pace is perfect and it gives us a chance to actually settle in with the characters and not rush. This moment is everything the show had the potential to be if it could have just slowed down for any length of time and actually focused on situations and characters.
The problem is that even after 20 episodes across two seasons we don't really know or understand anything that happens in the show. We don't really have a better understanding of Nico now than we did 20 episodes ago, in large part because she's always forced to deal with the next tragedy, the next encounter, the next action, so that we don't actually get to view her as a person. The rest of the cast are largely interchangeable, defined by a single characteristic but never given time to grow depth. The alien races aren't any better, treated either as cool sci-fi backdrops or slathering villains with little in the way of characteristics that actually makes you interested in them as villains. The show has to speed through plot so quickly that it ends up keeping everything important at a reserve. It's all flash but no substance.
Although the thought of sitting through more episodes of this show is something I don't even want to suggest, I do think that it actually would have helped this series. Another Life feels like it has five seasons worth of story, at least, crammed into two scant episodes. I don't know what the production deal was or how this series came to be, but I have to think it was a matter of, "you can tell your story but you have to do it on this timetable: two seasons, no more." They did it, but at the cost of actually caring about anything that happened.
In the right hands, on the right time table, this show could have had a chance to breathe, to explore its characters, its settings, and its actions so that everything had impact, so that it stuck. The version of the show we got can't do that and it rushes towards a horribly pat ending that makes Independence Day seems like a deep and nuanced thriller (not for nothing, this also involves an alien virus infecting the bad guys). The creators got 20 episodes to make their show and they did it, but at what cost?