As I watched Another Life, the latest Netflix sci-fi attempt, I thought I had it all figured out.
I wasn’t expecting much but was hopeful. I originally started watching out of respect for Katee Sackhoff and morbid curiosity. Anything Starbuck is in I will watch. Netflix has a messy history with science fiction. In the past year alone they have seen extreme highs and lows. Bandersnatch and all its crazy endings had an interesting if flawed conceit. Titan and ambiguous IO were passable, and Tau and How it Ends were all but unwatchable. I was expecting something passable, but hoping for something great. What I got was………unexpected.
After blowing through the entire season, I realized despite its missteps, I liked it and wanted more. Yes, the writers seemed to take way to seriously the old adage that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. The last sixty years of science fiction offer a lot to pay homage to. Another Life attempts to cover them all. Arrival, 2001 A Space Odyssey, Interstellar, Stargate, V, Alien, Event Horizon, and Star Trek are all referenced. Some more successfully than others. Sometimes the call backs are charming and others feel like cheap knockoffs. There is a lot for genre fans to focus on. Even more for them to scoff at.
There are some standouts in the cast that offset some of the more stereotypical characters and performances. Sackhoff is good enough to hold down the show all by herself. No one stares with pensive defiance like her. If there are scream queens there are also sci-fi sovereigns, and she is royalty. Her work on Battlestar Galactica cemented her place at the top of the mountain. Last year’s trippy 2036 Origin Unknown was a micro-budget space film that was basically a one-woman show, and she held that film together with nothing but her signature grit and duct tape. Sackhoff’s Niko is a guilt-ridden hard ass that plays to the actress’s strengths. She is forced to contend with millennial twits who for the most part defy her authority at every turn or fight ruthlessly with each other. Niko’s number two Cas played by Elizabeth Faith Ludlow is more complex than she initially appears. Her relationship with Niko is complicated and shapes the kind of officer she is on the ship. Ludlow plays her with equal parts defensive toughness and vulnerability. She replaces the hyper-aggressive Ian(Tyler Hoechlin) who stirs up trouble for no reason other than his own enjoyment.
Sasha(Jake Abel) is the quintessential bland, passively entitled white dude. His transition from benign rich boy to commanding and very dangerous entity is well done, right down to the timber change in his voice. The poly-amorous trio of August(Blu Hunt), Javier(Alexander Eling), and Oliver(Alex Ozerov) are youthful earnestness at its best. Sweet but bumbling microbiologist Bernie(A.J. Rivera) is likable, and he is made more interesting by his burgeoning love affair with gender nonbinary ship doctor Zayn(JayR Tinaco). Trans actor Tinaco is not given a ton of story line to sink hir(the performer’s preferred pronoun) teeth into but manages to make the most of what is given. Zayn is a sensitive, intelligent soul that is the calm heart to a turbulent crew. Tinaco’s subtle approach to Zayn is a perfect foil for some of the more over the top performances. William(Samuel Anderson) borrows heavily from sympathetic A.I.’s Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Data and Aliens’ Bishop to develop an empathetic computer program that is supposed to be part therapist, part fail-safe that turns out predictably to be all too human. Anderson is another actor that does a lot with what he is given. He imbues his A.I. with frailty which makes Niko’s betrayal even more heartbreaking. The last standout, Selma Blair as Harper Glass is snarky and ice-cold exactly as a self-absorbed social media maven would be.
Sex and love in its many forms has a lot of surprising significance in Another Life.
This is a future world so it stands to reason that archaic concepts of love and humanity would be replaced by more fluid ideas. There is the group love affair between August, Javier, and Oliver that results in what should have been an impossible pregnancy. Procreation is very important to both Achaics and humans. The Achaia need replication and control, anyone opposing them needs the number advantage. As many as they can get. On Zakir the planet’s inhabitants were eradicated long before it was destroyed courtesy of the Achaia. An ill-advised affair between Niko and lovelorn William proves women are more than capable of taking advantage of subordinate men. It is a rare misstep from the rigidly moral Captain. She is lonely and under the influence. Just as that should not excuse an executive taking advantage of an underling, her behavior, that almost killed the crew and destroyed the ship should not be excused either. It was selfish and mean. Unfortunately, it spurs William to make his own poor choices to fill a void in his heart. We also are privy to a brewing romance between Zayn and Bernie that hopefully continues the dialogue about what love should be.
The Achaia care only about domination and destruction. This is why the choice between answers and his daughter was presented to Erik in the Artifact. They wanted to know if he could be manipulated by power or knowledge. He chose his child and in doing so the Achaia knew he would not be the best choice to begin world control. With August now expecting a child and William having made one of his own the love of a parent will continue to be in the forefront. Niko is constantly riddled with guilt over leaving her child. As much as she would like to further her career she regrets leaving her child for her husband to raise. It is something Mom’s struggle with. Even in the future, it is an intricate balancing act that takes its toll.
There is plenty of story left for the next season.
Plenty of questions left unanswered. How Javier’s de-eviled brain bug will affect him moving forward and whether Harper will become the perfect vehicle for the Achaia? Will Harper be the big bad we think she will be? Who’s baby is August having and how did that happen? Will Janna be healed by the Artifact and at what price? Why blow up Zakir? How will Niko deal with her infidelity along with the guilt she already feels about Janna? With a slow-paced apocalypse looming and a clown car’s worth of extra crew waiting in cryosleep to replace any character at a moment’s notice the showrunners can call a mulligan at any moment.
At the end of the day, Another Life is a fun romp through alien invading space. Its meant to be sudsy not serious. There are a few fascinating moments with the treatment of love and Niko’s female authority that make it worth a binge. Earth’s most advanced ship the Salvare from Latin means to save, rescue or defend. I’m here to do just that. A lot of critics panned this series as derivative and ridiculous. It is, but it is meant to be. Lean in and enjoy the intergalactic ride.
As the Managing Editor for Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre entertainment. I grew up with old-school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. My work can be found here and Travel Weird, where I am the Editor in Chief.