“Everyone said I was a hero. But I never felt like one. I still don’t.”
Niko is caught in her own Purgatory as a malfunction of the ‘soma’ systems traps her in an endless cycle of sleep where all her deep-seated issues of guilt play.
The first few minutes of “Guilt Trip” provide both a wonderfully crafted atmosphere of tension and an unexpected jolt of disappointment. The former aspect is clear: with very little light and zero explanation, the crew roams the Salvare’s corridors, in fear for their lives as some unknown alien creatures hunt them with impunity. This segment has both that claustrophobic Alien feel as well as the utter confusion of Pandorum, a strong combination that unfortunately gives way to frustrating truth that it’s nothing more than a dream, where the unconscious Niko, still connected to the soma, lays while the rest of the crew fret over how to safely wake her.
Finding out that such a promising opening is just a dream for a series that has, thus far, been light on the action, comes across like a failed opportunity. Then again, with more than half the season left to play out, who knows how much of the good old-fashioned physical conflict we have waiting. Instead, “Guilt Trip” is a psychological exploration of Niko’s guilt-ridden mind. This is by no means a bad thing; after all, with Niko front and center for the majority of the episode, it means Another Life’s greatest asset has the largest amount of screen time.
Viewers finally get the history of the Pilgrim, Niko’s last command that, to this point, had only been mentioned in brief snippets. This time, the entire truth plays out as Niko experiences the heartbreaking decision to sacrifice half the crew plays out over and over again. Though she harbors guilt for leaving Erik and Jana on Earth, the real albatross weighing her down is that fateful decision.
From a logical standpoint, she knows that had she not done it, then instead of ten people dying—including her lover, James Hudson—the entire ship would have perished. But logic can only go so far when you’re the commanding officer that loses those in your charge. The questions will always be there, wondering if there was something, anything, you could have done to change the outcome.
When William ports into Niko’s mind to try and wake her, she tells him “I’m drowning in guilt. I don’t let myself move on”. It seems such a simple thing to let go but our minds tend to latch on to our responsibilities and those painful decisions where others suffer. It’s only when Niko consciously allows herself to say goodbye to those she lost, that she’s able to break free from her Purgatory and move on. It’s a bittersweet moment but she finally gains the closure that had eluded her for the past nine years.
With Niko out of commission, Cas finds herself in charge of the Salvare and its land of misfit toys. The childish bickering is thankfully kept to a minimum though much of that is due to the scant time on screen the crew are given. Though the writers try to flesh out some of the characters, there’s still not much in the way of interest here save for one potentially massive problem: a major reason for the soma systems is to limit the food stores. The longer the crew has to remain awake, the more food they go through. Bernie’s done the calculations and gives Cas the bad news: there will be a food shortage. But as it just so happens, Michelle finally proves herself useful, identifying a small moon four light years away located in the Goldilocks zone—that perfect mishmash of atmosphere, temperature, etc to facilitate life.
It’s a risk Cas takes while Niko’s under though the latter isn’t too happy about it when she receives the news. Her anger at Cas is forgotten when William detects a signal coming from the surface identical to the Artifact on Earth. What does it mean for the Salvare? Stepping foot on a second heavenly body…let’s just hope nothing on the surface aims to kill them this time around.
Though “Guilt Trip” is a fascinating peek into Niko’s tumultuous psyche, it suffers from the same lack of commanding non-Niko characters, or at least those that warrant further exploration. There was a missed opportunity here to have Cas shine; instead, they gave her very little to work with. Despite that, she was still the most charismatic outside the unconscious Niko. Still, so long as Niko continues delivering genuine moments of tangible emotion, and the alien narrative maintains a degree of mystery (and gives us at least a little bit of action), Another Life still has enough to power through to a satisfying conclusion.
- Character study episodes are always fascinating expeditions, especially when said character has such an interesting backstory. Like Niko’s own guilt, the flack she got from those who lost loved ones has no real stance in logic. But we’re humans and when we lose those we care about, logic rarely enters into the equation. Niko finally accepting her decision is a turning point for her and an apt lesson. Everyone has a decision or two in their lives that fill them with regret. The only way to move on is to accept what’s been done; like Rafiki says, “it’s in the past”. Unfortunately, such resolutions are easier said than done.
- The more I watch William’s interactions with Niko, the more he seems to have developed an emotional connection with her that goes beyond a professional respect. We know next to nothing about him or his emotional capabilities (though last episode, he mentions the ability to feel lonely) so the idea that he can experience romantic feelings is certainly plausible. There is more to his story than we’re privy to though I’m not sure just how far they’ll go in exploring his character outside of his interactions with the crew.
- The discovery of a second Artifact on this unnamed moon adds another layer of intrigue to this unknown race of aliens. Have they sent these Artifacts out only to planets that can sustain life to make peaceful contact with other alien races? Or are the motivations a bit more on the nefarious side? For now, it’s all speculation but trying to figure out the truth is the fun part. Especially when you force yourself not to binge.