From the opening salvo that included a “The Shining”-esque vibe to the closing moments of EP. 1 of Syfy’s “Nightflyers,” this new sci-fi drama delivered a tense vibe that I have to admit got me hooked pretty quickly.
Based on a novella from the pen of George R.R.Martin, “Nightflyers” got its season off to quite an interesting start, giving us the end game in the first few minutes, then taking us back to how it all began to unfold. It was quite a story.
The start was intensely satisfying an axe-wielding crew member hunts a scientist as debris and rubble rush past the good spacecraft Nightflyer. There’s panic, fear and an air of desperate inevitability as she manages to stave off her wide-eyed attacker, and dispose of unknown materials, and send off a signal that she makes clear is not a call for help, but a warning – don’t bring the Nightflyer back to earth. Obviously, the mission has been comprised by someone or something — human or alien — we don’t know yet.
And that’s just the opener. From there we are hurled back in time six months to a sci-fi trope we’re well acquainted with — an earth on the brink of starvation, stagnation and eventual destruction. And to fix it, the plan to take the Nightflyer to the stars and attempt first contact with an alien race our group of scientists and soldiers call the “Vulcrom (Sp?).”
And that’s where our story of the future begins — in the year 2093 — as we meet the diverse group of scientists, soldiers and flyers that make up the the good ship Nightflyer as it attempts to intercept an unknown race and, hopefully, acquire technology that will allow for a successful resuscitation of Earth and its people. In the sci-fi realm, we’ve seen this kind of storyline before in various forms, and it’s one that allows for plenty of adventure.
Karl D’Branin, an astrophysicist is the leader of this expedition, hoping to find a new way forward for humanity on Earth in the vastness of space. Around him is an array of interesting folk all involved for their own reasons — some selfless, some cynical, some we’re just not sure of yet. Jodie Turner-Smith as Melantha Jhirl, who feels like she’s going to be a key cog in all this since she’s been genetically modified specifically to work in space.
Then there’s Thale, a telepath with powers that seem to be more than his L1 designation would suggest. (I admit to a Babylon 5 flashback here. Wonder if an L1 is equal to a P10?).
Angus Sampson plays Rowan a xenobiologist with a skeptics mindset inside a curious shell. He offers perhaps one of the more interesting points when he talks about making first contact and that the humans, once they bump up against a far superior alien race, might be considered a virus that’s simply killing its world. Gretchan Mol stars as Agatha, a psychologist entrusted with keeping Thale in check. It also appears she and D’Branin have a little history. Again, trust issues seem likely to ensue.
And hovering over all of this is Roy Eris, captain of the Nightflyer and so far just a holographic projection. There’s still plenty of mystery to Captain Roy as we don’t know if there’s a physical Roy somewhere in the ship and the projection is his preferred way of communicating with everyone.
One thing’s for certain, Roy has a certain Hal-like vibe to him as his integration into the ship’s system allows him to “watch” and “listen” to all that’s going on. It’s effective on one front, but creepy on the other.
With just the opening episode out and the next four to come in the next four days, “Nightflyers” will deliver a rapid-fire response to those who want more, and I count myself among those right now. Right out of the box I”m intrigued with Roy Eris and Thale. Eris is a confident, calculating, yet empathetic figure and it’s easy to forget that he’s (thus far) simply a projection. David Ajala delivers a nice turn as our mystery captain, one that, judging by the first episode, will have some twists and turns along the way.
Thale the telepath is another intriguing character early on. Sam Strike plays the character with equal parts malice, sadness and wonder at the things he’s seeing and feeling for the first time mixed with a natural suspicion and malice towards a crew and that is fearful of him, and the officers and scientists who essentially want to use him as a conduit between themselves and the aliens.
Every time he’s on the screen I kind of lean forward curious how each situation will be resolved and just how dangerous, crazy or manipulative he truly is.
Obviously, there’s a ton to explore here, but the initial episode really gave us a lot to think about right out of the box. From the first misfiring thrust of the Nightflyer as it tried to break Earth’s orbit to the myriad of malfunctions and issues that arrived in the first episode, it’s clear that the path to those first few moments we witnessed in the season premiere will not be smooth. There’s a lot going on aboard the Nightflyer and plenty of suspicion and mistrust already building up.
Humanity is on a destructive course and the best hope (at least in the minds of some) is off to a very rocky start. It’s obvious not everyone is “on board” with this mission and the various other members of the crew we’ve met make you wonder if this mission is doomed from the outset. Of course, thanks to the opening minutes, we know where this is all headed. How we get there promises to be intriguing. I was caught in the web of Ep. 1 and am on board for the next four. The pieces are in place, let’s see how they are played moving forward.
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