Review: Ascension

Ellie O'Brien in Ascension

Ascension, a three night event on SyFy was emphatically uneven. It was utterly boring at times, and edge-of-the-seat exciting at others. It was predictable while being unpredictable. It was disgustingly sexist but a paean to women by the end.

Major spoilers ahead!

Tricia Helfer as Viondra Denniger, the captain's wife
Tricia Helfer as Viondra Denniger, the captain’s wife

The situation was a set-up. The previews showed a space ship launched from Earth in the 1960s, with some tracking still going on back on earth.

The people on the space ship were actually lab rats in a lengthy and elaborate high tech experiment right here on earth. They thought they were in space to save the human race but they were not. Their every fight, sexual act, library check out and weight gain were monitored from mere feet outside their metal cocoon.

This Petri dish with 600 lives on board was headed by Captain Denninger (Brian Van Holt) who ran the ship, and his wife Viondra (Tricia Helfer) who ran the social life of the ship with the help of a crew of prostitutes. Everyone was striving to improve their lot in the world on board the ship, from the workers on the lower decks to the elites at the top.

Al Sapienza as Counsilman Rose
Al Sapienza as Counsilman Rose

The Captain’s opposition came from Councilman Rose (Al Sapienza) who was the smarmiest lech from the 1960s you’ve ever seen. Lord, did he need a dose of women’s liberation enlightenment.

Tricia Helfer and Jessica Sipos as Jackie
Tricia Helfer and Jessica Sipos as Jackie

Speaking of women’s liberation, the women spent most of their time nearly naked or completely naked, as you see in this photo of a massage from a semi-dressed woman. The men weren’t the only ones in sexist parts.

Okay, enough complaining about the state of women’s lib in the 1960s. There were some good parts to Ascension.

The action scenes were exciting, the special effects looked great, the ship itself was fabulous. Great sets. There was attention grabbing excitement at moments.

The characters and parts that Gil Bellows and Lauren Lee Smith played were my favorites. However, if this show makes it to series, which seems to have been the aim of this 3 part opening, these two may not even be there. Sigh.

Cliffhangers Everywhere You Look

Might as well talk about the possibility of going to series. There were many so cliffhangers at the end of the 6 hours, that SyFy must be thinking of keeping on with the show as a series. Teenager Crista (Ellie O’Brien) has some sort of powers that can transport people to other places with mental effort only. The man in charge of the experiment on Earth, Harris Enzmann (Gil Bellows), keeps saying Crista is the purpose of the whole social experiment. There is one small issue – her mental powers put everyone in danger because her brain blows up just about everything on the ship.

Samantha (the Lauren Lee Smith character) gets one of the men from the ship, Stokes (Brad Carter) off the ship and out into the wilds of 21st Century America with its seedy motels, quick stop liquor stores, and a full moon. We don’t know how he’s going to fare.

By the end of various disasters on the ship, Viondra is in charge, not her husband. If the show does become an ongoing series, I could certainly applaud the idea of a female captain.

Brandon P Bell as Aaron Gault
Brandon P Bell as Aaron Gault

A security officer who is smarter than your average cop, Aaron Gault (Brandon P Bell), is somewhere undisclosed – sent there by Crista and her superbrain.

We don’t know if Harris will still be in charge, if Crista will fly them all to Alpha Centauri on brain waves, or if Stokes will spill the story of this elaborate experiment to the world.

In short, the six hours we saw in 3 nights on SyFy were basically season 1.

Although I was a bit put off by some of the early parts of Ascension, I liked it better and better as it went along. If it does become a series, I’ll watch. Bring on season 2.

4 thoughts on “Review: Ascension”

  1. Just wanted to point out that the “Sexism” in the show is in this case part of the genre – it illustrates how because of Ascension being a sort of time capsule the ship never experienced woman’s liberation or the civil rights movement – thus such issues remain as they were fifty years ago. You seem to be thinking that the sexism is unconscious, put there by clueless writers/directors who don’t respect women, when in fact it’s there precisely because it’s a theme the miniseries is meant to cover. Being able to deal dramatically with such issues is just one of the reasons why a follow up series looks so promising.

    I otherwise agree with your general assessment – for instance, the characters you pick out as being both the most interesting and, on the other extreme, underdeveloped fit my opinion as well. But, if they go to series I expect to see everyone get more character development – and here’s hoping that the good actor/character fits already present can continue.

    1. Hi Alan, Thanks for your comment. About the sexism, I understand that the behavior of both the men and women on the ship was a reflection of the world they came from in the the 1960s. As a theme, it’s there and ripe for the picking. It will be interesting to see where they go with it. What would happen to movements for equality without the Gloria Steinems or the Martin Luther Kings that we had outside the ship as leaders? Will similar character evolve inside? They did already put the Tricia Helfer character in as Captain. Who knows if she will last in that position, but she’s had a taste of it now. Of course, the one lesbian in the cast – although outside the ship – already got killed off. Are there going to be others inside?

  2. I kinda feel like the whole “Oh it’s the 60s or 50s that’s just how it was” was more of an excuse rather than a reason to put the women in that type of position. Every single one of them acted, except the main lady at times, acted like they were happy to be flirting with old ugly guys and there wasn’t even really any talk about their feelings about it afterwords.

    I think they could have talked about alot of stuff that dealt with sex related issues like the obligation of women to want give birth to children in such a fragile situation, without deducing them to basically political prostitutes. I liked the show, but it seemed needlessly sexist in situations that were obviously good for TV. For example, there are plenty of professionals working as the top dogs in their particular fields and there are no “women” jobs like you would expect from the 60s and such. The women as sex pawns is pretty much the only sexist relic they kept in.

    Like I said, I liked the show but that continually annoyed me, even the unnecessary rape attempt. I feel like that the end there may have been something about to happen with women’s rights, since the main stewardess froze the chain of command and it seemed there were several scenes focusing on the treatment of women rather suddenly. But I guess we will never know.

    But I still think it was needlessly sexist and used the era as an excuse rather than a reason. I would hate to think that the world’s smartest people would devolve into such a society.

    1. It’s like Mad Men, right? I lived through all that crap in the 50s and I don’t need to experience it again, so I understand what you’re saying. I really thought the show would go to series after this. I’m surprised it didn’t. I certainly would like to see how it would change with a woman in charge.

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