{Television} Nightflyers Explained- More Questions than Answers

George R.R. Martin and Syfy’s ten-part mini-series threw everything including the kitchen sink into Nightflyers, and the series suffered for it.

Courtesy of Syfy

So many questions remain after watching the limited SYFY series created from the novella by George R.R. Martin of the same name.  First among those, of course, is what just happened?  There were so many unexplained plot points with so much ambiguity it could have been a David Lynch film.  The next question, of course, was whether or not I liked it?  I know I shouldn’t have because it was over the top and aimless and oddly self indulgent, but weirdly enough yes I enjoyed it.  The individual parts were better than the sum of those parts. 

“mistakes blended with occasional strokes of genius”-

Lommie from Nightflyers

The Characters of Nightflyers
Nightflyers was not terrible, it just had way too much going on.  So lets run down some of the characters.There were amorphous bio-luminescence massive alien blobs that communicate with brain waves or some such nonsense. Those aliens may or may not be evil and messing with our crew’s heads ala Event Horizon.  Also do not forgot the diabolically twisted multiple personality AI with massive daddy issues that eventually takes over the body of the predictably androgynous and quirky computer person.  Early on a robot/clone/mutant(?) ship captain that first projects himself in the form of a hologram peeps on our crewmen.  Another sentient life by way of mold spore that blooms and destroy their human hosts and of course some creepy kids that even when they were trying to help are just plain seem to dwell in the uncanny valley. The main crew contains not one but two telepaths who start out morally questionable and later become sympathetic and helpful and also a genetically modified human with super abilities who dresses and acts like Barbarella instead of using her powers most of the time.  A grief stricken ax-wielding mad-man slides effortlessly from crazed to perfectly sane in moments after trying to kill and successfully killing several crew members but is forgiven in like a hot second.  The entire remaining crew simply act as if the ax slayings never took place.  It is bizarre to say the least.  Even a sad star-crossed love incest storyline makes an appearance. 

If it sounds like a lot, it was.  It’s like the Christmas song Partridge In A Pear Tree.  On the tenth episode of Nightflyers Martin gave to me ten mold spores blooming, nine alien tentacles swirling, eight bees a buzzing, seven sweeping space shots, six surviving crewmen, five horror movie tropes, four hacked up humans, three incestuous genetically modified siblings, two scorned lovers, and an evil AI in a spaceship (I am impressed with this Christmas parody even if no one else is).

Influences of Nightflyers
The references come hard and fast as 2001: A Space Odessy co-mingles with Event Horizon, The Shining, 2036 Origin Unknown, Stargate, The Abyss, Scanners, Lawnmower Man, X-Men, The Arrival, Aliens Resurrection, and the aforementioned Barbarella(although I’m assuming that was unintentional).  When done right homages are clever, but when overdone they just create a cheapened experience that is muddy, bombastic and derivative.  Nightflyers was saved from falling that far into the abyss by having really outstanding performances from Sam Strike, Gretchen Moll, David Ajala, and Angus Sampson.  In particular, Strike is incredible as telepath Thale.  He is strong and vulnerable at the same time and is a standout.  A killer set design that genuinely brought the spaceship to life brought authenticity and atmosphere to the haunted house in space tale and even though trite, the movie had good quality scares.  The intro music composed by Will Bates was also a real highlight.  It was everything that was right about the show.  It was big, unexpectedly creepy, very odd and weirdly hypnotic.  I found I could not get the synth-heavy theme out of my head.

The Story of Nightflyers
Unfortunately, as a result of all that was going on many of the story beats were ill-defined and confusing.  Whole pieces of character development and plot points were abandoned, and instead of being thought-provoking the end result is at best a mild shoulder shrug. Take for example Cynthia’s two clone, genetically enhanced children.  Why does she hate them so much when they are literally the fruit of her loins?  Martin seems to love brother sister romances so was the incestous relationship thrown in just as a nasty reveal that I could have done without or there a history of abuse that we just didn’t see?  Additional questions remain about just how much control Mommy Dearest had on Roy?  It’s bad enough that she kept him locked away in the tube but did she also control some of his actions?  Did he know he was related to his lover?  How did Rowan flip the switch between homicidal maniac and helpful crew member in mere minutes?  I think we were to assume when Agatha killed herself it brought the telepathic feedback back to acceptable ranges allowing Rowan to return to his normal self but that is just a wild guess.  What was the deal with the spores?  Are they gone for good?  Is that nifty astral projection thing going to come into play at some point?  Has D’Branin abandoned his quest to find a cure for the disease that killed his daughter in his timeline now that he has been given a possible second chance?

With obvious questions left unanswered leaving the possibility of a season two open like the Volcryn’s intentions and abilities, where or when did D’Branin go, and the very survival of the Nightflyer many of the deliberate mysteries will remain.  The only thing we know for sure is that D’Branin is gone from the escape pod, Lommie shut the ship down, the remaining crew may freeze to death, and the Volcryn have some abilities that may or may not include time and universe jumping.  With such a jumbled mess of riddles remaining it’s hard to explain Nightflyers.  The best definition of the series comes from Lommie/Cynthia when speaking about her genetically modified children, there were “mistakes blended with occasional strokes of genius”  That sums up the show in general.  If there is a season two, hopefully things are a little more focused.

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