If my television series viewing experiences have taught me anything, it’s not to allow the quality of a series premiere to affect my expectations for a show too far in either direction. After “Across the Universe”, my hopes for Another Life were slightly tempered by the uneven pacing and array of unlikeable characters. This second offering—“Through the Valley of Shadows”—adds a few more ticks in the positive column that, God willing and the creek don’t rise, will help overshadow some of those unequivocal negatives that don’t seem as if they’ll be going anywhere.
Despite her ability to take control, Niko could really work on her explanations. She buries the lede during her conversation with the crew about killing Yerxa, only mentioning the fact that he was most likely going to kill her after the petulant bunch are up in arms, and still underselling her actions of self-defense. Even then though, it’s doubtful Yerxa’s two cronies—Michelle (Jessica Camacho, The Flash, Taken) and Oliver (Alex Ozerov, The Americans, Orphan Black)—would take Niko’s word for it. Coupled with the incessant bickering between the crew, their behavior really puts into question the qualifications required to make it on this starship. Hell, it took losing an entire ship before Bruce Willis and his Armageddon drillers achieved this level of unprofessionalism. But as things stand, this is going to be something I’ll need to get used to and not relentlessly chastise if I want to achieve maximum enjoyment of the show.
Though there are characters that leave something to be desired, the story-driven narrative, especially in the last half of the episode, picks up the slack. Early 2000’s Syfy effects aside, the Salvare’s system issues created a tension that made the sense of urgency the crew felt tangible. The timer in the back of my head as they mined the unknown planet for resource—all very Mass Effect-y—kept blinking in the red as the seismic activity and arrival of the previously unseen moon made for the pulse-pounding adrenalin rush “Through the Valley of Shadows” thoroughly needed. This resource stopover culminated in Niko’s daring and wholly ridiculous rescue—why didn’t she send Cas, who was already suited up, back out??—of the two junior members, Oliver and August, was the perfect action escape, though Petra’s (Chanelle Peloso, Sacred Lies, The Bletchly Circle: San Francisco) Alien-like seizures produced the same whiskey-tango-foxtrot from me that a panicked Niko ended the show with.
Unfortunately, as captivating as the Salvare and all its dysfunction has been, the same can’t be said for the goings-on back on Earth. Though he’s doing the best he can, Justin Chatwick’s Erik just isn’t strong enough to carry that particular story line. Even with Selma Blair (Hellboy, Cruel Intentions) riding shotgun As Harper Glass, reporter/social media personality, the surrounding cast nor the structure of the ‘finding the aliens’ message’ story warrants anything more than a B-side arc, there to break up the tension of the Salvare and all its trouble. It’s not bad, per se, but will weigh down the overall quality of the show.
Two episodes in and Another Life continues its promising move forward. The warts evident in “Across the Universe” are still around here but thanks to more harrowing events, they can be overlooked for the time being. There are still a number of unanswered questions but, if effectively done, these will be addressed organically as the story soldiers ahead to its final destination.
- The scattered tidbits of information about the world has, thus far, become one of the better aspects of the show. Though a timeline has yet to be given, we do know the Earth is 2 billion people richer and St. Petersburg (I’m assuming Russia, considering Oliver’s nationality) has been flooded. Harper Glass’s dig at Erik about a mission that killed “ten bright, young things” and his rejoinder on how she screwed Niko over bears more attention and most likely the primary factor in Niko’s flashes of anxiety.
- The dumb-ass award for the episode goes to Oliver and August in a landslide. Taking your helmets off on a mystery planet, oxygen readings be damned, was completely irresponsible and objectively stupid. They have no clue what type of particulates are floating around, what could seem innocuous until it’s introduced to human biology. Though Petra seems to be the one affected by some sort of foreign organism, it would have served these two dingbats right if they’d been the ones seizing on the floor.
- The introduction of Cas (Elizabeth Faith Ludlow, The Walking Dead, Satisfaction) was a welcome addition to the crew. Her initial professionalism rose significantly when we discover that she and Yerxa were lovers. Whether or not that changes down the road remains to be seen but, similar to Niko, she’s a character I instantly liked and respected. Maybe with her around, this ungainly crew will channel their inner professionalism.