In 2015, Matt Damon reigned in solitary majesty on Mars, stranded after an accident and with little chance of surviving or returning home. Five years later, it’s Hilary Swank and her crew’s turn.
Life on Mars?
Scientists have been searching for life on the Red Planet for many decades, and in June 2018, NASA informed about discoveries of varying methane gas levels on Mars – which may indicate microbiological life (or permafrost…).
The latest plans from NASA suggest a manned mission to the barren planet by 2037, while their European counterpart (ESA) is planning a mission in 2033.
In the new Netflix series Away, Captain Emma Green (Hilary Swank) and her multinational crew are the first manned expedition to Mars. Together they must fight technical problems, exhaustion, human frictions and the longing of the laaangt back home.
Breaking time and uncertainty
“Yes, it certainly hurts when buds burst,” wrote the Swedish author Karin Boye as early as 1935, for the teenage daughter, Lexi (a brilliant Talitha E. Bateman), to Emma and Matt (Josh Charles), this is exactly how everyday life is experienced.
Emma is 15 years old, an only child, in the middle of puberty, her mother has just embarked on a 3-year journey to Mars, her father is suffering from a serious illness, and she is unsure whether she herself has inherited the disease.
She feels confused, despairing and insecure, and seeks comfort from her stand-in mum, as well as the budding love with the motocross rider Isaac.
Meanwhile, her father tries to keep the small family together, missing at a distance, as well as assist the crew on board the spaceship in surviving the perilous journey towards Mars.
Matt works as a prominent engineer at NASA, and sits in the control room during trips to distant planets.
His wife, Emma, is the superwoman who has to deal with everything – and that in the middle of a powerful male-dominated world. She was one of the foremost pilots in her litter, always focused on becoming an astronaut and insists that she should be able to combine family life with her job as an astronaut – even when she has to travel from that family for 3 years.
Emma grits her teeth, and does not even interrupt the journey at the first stop, the Moon, when her husband feels unwell. A man would possibly get a pat on the back for such a choice, but Emma knows that she must perform better and sharper – until the loss becomes all-consuming.
A trip to Mars is astronomically expensive, which is why the Americans have also joined Russia, China, India and the UK to finance the pioneer trip; with subsequent astronauts from respective countries.
The astronauts are probably skilled professionals, but they do not have any impressive collaboration skills, nor do great humanists.
From the first moment, triggered by a fire, there are frictions and mistrust between the crew. In particular, the Russian Misha (Mark Ivanir) and icy Lu (Vivian Wu) are critical of Emma’s leadership skills and mental strength.
On the long journey towards the unknown, Emma, and the crew, are also put to many trials; with life at stake.
The script is written by Jessica Goldberg and Andrew Hinderaker, and it is a captivating drama with consistently solid and credible dialogue, interesting characters and a captivating narrative they have created.
Unfortunately, they occasionally fall into a well-pompous and contrived dialogue, where it becomes Drama with a capital D. It is often painted with a broad brush accompanied by obscure piano music and forced tears.
That said, the story is really strong on the emotional level, where one can often nod in recognition of family relationships and problems; just wish it was a little more subtle.
Swank is excellent, and credible, as the most humane commander, while her Russian and Chinese colleagues appear stereotypical and artificial. The almost continuous small quarrel between the crew is not for believers. We are often surprised that professional astronauts would behave in this way, and with such a great degree of disrespect for rank.
Away is basically not a series about the “impossible” journey to the distant planet Mars, it is “only” a scaffold around the real story. A story about interpersonal relationships, family ties, longing, closeness and the many possible and difficult choices we are constantly faced with as human beings.
The drama among the families and their many hurtful relationships comes out well and is strengthened by flashbacks from the time before the launch. There is a lot that is unsaid and many who miss a forgiveness.
The drama between the people is strengthened by the intense drama on board the claustrophobic spaceship out in the dark space. The mentally pressured astronauts are constantly put to great trials, with fire, technical failure and loss of water supply. All this while they have to keep the psyche and pay attention to those at home.
The special effects are mighty impressive, not on a par with Gravity, but not light years away. Some of the episodes tread the water a little too much, the series as a whole could probably benefit from being cut down to 8 episodes. 5 faint stars for a series that is guaranteed to fascinate both mother and father.
The review is based on all 10 episodes. The whole Season 1 can be streamed from Netflix from September 4th.