The youngsters on The Ark work to grow food aboard the ship.

Review: Unpleasant Hits Keep Coming Aboard Ark 1 – Ep. 1.2

Well, one thing you can say for Dean Devlin and the creators of “The Ark,” they sure know how to open a show. Well, at least the first two episodes of this new outer space gem on the SYFY network. The show’s first two episodes featured death, destruction and tension within the first 2-3 minutes, which I think sets a tone of uneasiness that permeates the rest of the episode.

A simple walk outside the spaceship turns into tragedy when debris knocks one member of the crew out and impales another. It’s quite a start to The Ark’s second episode (Like it Touched the Sun) and, as with the first episode, reminds you that things will be tension-filled moving forward. Truthfully, it’s good stuff and gets you loaded into the proper frame of mine as the episode rolls along. And believe me, you need a good frame of mind to wade through the bad decisions, unfortunate accidents, and personal gripes and agendas that are already heating up. It’s fun, it’s fast and I’m hooked already.

SPOILER ALERT – there will be SPOILERS ahead, so be aware.

There are some personalities emerging early and you wonder where they are headed. Lt. Sharon Garnet has assumed command after the death of the entire upper command structure in episode 1, but her ascension to that spot isn’t without controversy and, dare we say, a bit of jealousy. But we also discover a bit of mystery to her. She was a last minute add to the mission and no one seems to know why. She’s also pretty adept in a good old-fashioned dining room brawl. As she tries to navigate the issues and personalities still percolating aboard The Ark, we are confronted with the very real fact that there’s more to her being there than simply as a crewman. What’s her game?

Christie Burke does a nice job of giving us a character forced to lead even though she’s not sure she can, or should. Someone had to step into the vacuum of leadership and she, for better or worse, has done it. Even as the ship has an emergency with its oxygen, sees its water resources drained due to a pipe issue, must deal with a murder aboard, an impending food shortage and more issues than can be listed, she’s trying to lead this rag-tag band of space travelers to the promised land. Makes for some interesting storytelling already.

She also has to deal with two other lieutenants who aren’t sure she should be leading, either. James Brice (Richard Fleeshman) and Spencer Lane (Reece Ritchie) haven’t fully embraced the current situation and spend a good deal of time undermining Garnet’s position. Why? We see it again in this episode when a space walk they promised they wouldn’t undertake ends in yet another unpleasant event. Not to mention some under-the-breath pithiness from Lane a time or two.

Note: When investigating what hit your ship to cause this catastrophe, maybe don’t pick up a foreign object in your hand. Brice did and found that space offers plenty of surprises, some of which can be quite painful, if not deadly.

So, two episodes in and we have a new command group that doesn’t seem all that interested in working cohesively together, something that Garnet notes isn’t good for the rest of the survivors to see. I agree, but don’t think we’ll see the other two ease off their own agendas anytime soon. Both Fleeshman and Ritchie do a great job of trying to be their own men in a situation that calls for more unity. Given that, there is a natural push-pull between the three, something I wonder about moving forward. If they can’t co-exist, what happens aboard ship? Add in the dynamics of a new leadership council and you have the makings of plenty of conflict. Juicy, isn’t it?

This is all to say that aboard Ark 1, there are plenty of problems brewing. The grow area that was created had a major water leak when the Jasper Dades murder weapon is found to have caused the trouble. Someone tried to hide it in the water system. Classic blunder. That leads to a brawl in the dining hall when some disgruntled folks take their water rationing frustrations out on Angus Medford, the young nerd who brought along the super soil they are trying to grow food in.

Medford, as you might expect, is useless in this donnybrook, but our security guy, Felix Strickland, wades in nicely. As does Garnet a few seconds later. There’s punches thrown and a bit of tasering for good measure (I always enjoy a good tasering). Unfortunately, the fight is simply a symptom of a bigger problem – the question of hope. Is there any?

At this point it’s hard to see hope given that things just keep going from bad to worse. The water reclamation project finally gets up and running, but in doing so they kill the ship’s engines, leaving her adrift as the episode ends. The truth is, Ark 1 just seems to pile up problems – mechanical, logistical and personal, – one on top of another. This helps the show build and maintain a tension that lasts from start to finish. When the episode concluded, I could feel myself finally start to relax a bit. That’s a pretty nice build and hold the good creators of The Ark have created. I appreciate it.

Strickland has become a fav of mine already. He’s played with this calmly confident demeanor by Pavle Jerinic, who slays in this role. The murder of Jasper Dades has Strickland on the hunt for the murderer and he’s, again, calm and collected as he works his way through the investigation. Only four people could wipe the access logs to the room Dades was in and, once that’s confirmed, he’s on it.

What do we learn? That there’s a small group that could have gained access, that the murder weapon was flushed into the water system, that Brice somehow knew that without anyone saying anything. Oops, an unguarded moment from Brice, something it seems he has a habit of doing, certainly put him on Strickland’s radar – until another major issue arises that puts it on a backburner. But be assured, Strickland will remember.

It’s funny, because there’s so much pressure and struggle going on aboard Ark 1 that it’s easy to think no one is winning. But that’s not true. Let us note the lovely Cat Brandice as this episode’s true lone winner. Brandice (Played with lovely self-absorbed delight by Christina Wolfe), who is aboard simply for her ability to be charming and a lovely face in social media realms, seems to be immune to the stresses of the impending disaster on the ship. She tried to get a quick shower while the water rationing was underway (Strickland was unfazed by her offer of naked viewing), seems completely about herself to the point of annoyance, and would appear to have the ability to take care of herself no matter the situation.

In the end, a bit of fake empathy in the presence of Garnet gets her assigned the duties of, essentially, the ship counselor. And with that, she is given Brice and Lane’s simple quarters as her own. The look on their faces when they enter the room and she’s already got it decorated and claimed is quite priceless. Despite the chaos surrounding every inch of this story, Cat comes up smelling like a rose, something I suspect she’s very used to. She’s manipulative, smart, and clearly focused on her own self-interest. And in episode 2, it works very well for her.

There are a lot of really good performances going on here and two episodes in, I find myself excited to see “what’s next,” which is kind of how I measure a show. I noted on Twitter that I thought “The Ark” had a “The Expanse” feel to it, which is good because I think the latter show is one of sci-fi’s best. I also get a “Nightflyers” vibe as well. That Katie Sackoff sci-fi vehicle was an underrated gem, in my opinion, and The Ark has some of those same tensions running through it. I think it’s a good vibe and a good start to a show I hope sticks around a while.

I think Syfy and Dean Devlin have a winner on their hands and judging by the social media talk, there’s a lot of others who do, too. I like where it’s headed.

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