“The biggest sacrifice each of us made is signing up for this mission.”
If one thing is clear after nearly three hours of watching Another Life, it’s that with some damning flaws marring an otherwise captivating story, it shouldn’t work. More than any episode to date, “Nervous Breakdown” is a shining example of this as the Salvare crew combat the ship’s infestation by the first non-carbon based life ever discovered.
Instead of leading with Petra’s inexplicable seizures that ended last episode, “Nervous Breakdown takes us back to Niko sharing some quality time with her family prior to the Artifact’s arrival. This plot thread is effectively used throughout the episode, highlighting the pain and stress tolls this mission has taken on Niko, particularly when the alien infection robs Niko of her sight. The longing displayed when a holo-vid from her daughter comes through, one Niko’s unable to see for herself, emphasizes her isolation from her family and her crew, while also showing the camaraderie she’s developed with William as he describes the video for her.
In the end, after they’ve beaten back the alien life form and Niko prepares for soma sleep, we’re privy to her final goodbye to Erik and Jana. Overly dramatic it may be, the moment acts as a peaceful capstone to the episode…which is then turned on its head when Niko awakens in the dark and oppressive ship, a bloodied August warning her that something’s onboard the ship, hunting them.
As things go though, the crown jewel of “Nervous Breakdown” is undoubtedly the discovery of the alien visitor. They wake astrobiologist Julian (Edward Ruttle, Jigsaw, Good Witch) who identifies Bernie (AJ Rivera, Grandfathered, Goliath) as patient zero, the original carrier the beastie hitched a ride with to get on board.
Though Niko’s symptoms of blindness and Michelle’s mania (she attacks and is subsequently KO’d by Niko) are tamer examples of how the life form affects different people, Petra’s demise after seemingly recovering from her initial seizures gives us one of the most unique and fascinatingly disgusting deaths I’ve seen onscreen. I’m not easily shocked or disgusted but watching Petra’s nervous system chew its way out her back was spellbindingly appalling. The monster punches through John Hurt’s gut in Alien is one of the most iconic onscreen deaths in movie history and, despite the forty years of television and film that has desensitized me to the particulars of onscreen violence and character deaths, Petra’s demise will stay with me for years to come.
Engaging though the drama on the Salvare is, that there has yet to be anything to match that on the Earth front. The more screen time Erik gets sans Niko, the more certain I am he’s just not up to the task of carrying his own story line. It doesn’t help that his supporting Earth-based cast is the weaker of the two, with the plot itself failing to produce a captivating narrative beat. The race to discover the aliens’ hidden message create some sort of anticipation but all it really does is make me check the clock, wondering how long it’s going to be before we get back to the Salvare. Erik’s uneasy deal with Harper Glass better pay dividends as this has been three straight episodes where I could have done without an Earth-story check-in.
As the best and most consistent of the first three episodes, “Nervous Breakdown” highlights exactly why this series should be nothing more than a forgettable venture. The disappointment of the Earth story line has been mentioned ad nauseum, as well as some of the curious character moments. And though oftentimes the dialogue is stiff and ungainly, I’ve realized that just as often it’s the acting itself—with some notable exceptions (Sackhoff’s Niko, Ludlow’s Cas, and JayR Tinaco’s (Always Be My Maybe, Rake) Zayn are the only three that have been consistent in every scene they’ve been featured )—that provides some cringy moments.
A perfect example of this is Jessica Comacho’s Michelle. In her state of anxiety, her character is unlikable, while she herself comes across as acting and not being that character. Yet, in her quieter, less snarky moments, Camacho is exceedingly capable (one of the reasons I loved her on The Flash). The same limitation affects Rivera’s Bernie. His bouts of explosive emotion come across as juvenile but, like Camacho, he does just fine those moments that require a bit more self-reflection. Whether these bumps would have been smoothed out with a bit more time, more stringent directing, or actors with a greater range is a curious yet wholly useless debate. As is, Another Life’s flaws should truly make it a mediocre Netflix original…and yet, it’s completely captured my attention.
Towards the Stars
- The discovery by Bernie to use the gamma radiation from Sirius B to purge all traces of the life form from the ship and crew was ingenious and a wonderful example of how actions have consequences. While no one will be morphing into an Incredible Hulk (a bummer, really), the gamma rays have made everyone infertile. It’s a big blow to some—especially since August spoke earlier of wanting a big family—but a small price to pay for survival and, more importantly, finishing the mission.
- With the mysterious nature of the alien Artifact, coupled with the series title, I can’t help but wonder if we’re going to get one of those “holy s#!t” moments when the message is finally decoded. As this aspect of the story shares some parallels with Arrival, how much of a hit would it be for said message to actually be from the Salvare crew itself? The 4400, a series that aired on USA in the early 2000’s (and introduced us to a young Mahershala Ali) had a similar kind of reveal. This ability to theorize and ‘what if’ is just another reason I am all-in on this show. With the majority of the season remaining, Another Life still has many opportunities to wow us. Here’s hoping it delivers and we can look back on its struggles with an indifferent shrug and be satisfied that, for the most part, it delivered in spades.