Two episodes of “Ascension” were provided for review purposes prior to broadcast.
The setup behind Syfy’s Ascension might take a minute to get your head around. What if, the three-night limited series posits, at the height of the Cold War, and with the space race still dominating public thought, President Kennedy signed off on the launch of a spaceship carrying 600 people into the far reaches of space? That starship, the Ascension, would act as an ark for humanity and, in the event of nuclear Armageddon, keep the species alive.
Ascension takes that admittedly preposterous idea and runs with it, opening halfway into the ship’s century-long mission to repopulate a new world. Completely cut off from Earth, the crew and passengers of the Ascension have created their own society, complete with a class system that dictates everything from occupation to with whom particular passengers are permitted to breed. It all feels rather Titanic, an ambiance aided by the period fashion (no one here ever experienced the beginning of hippie culture). All the passengers struggle with the understanding that their sole purpose is to procreate so that their descendants can populate a new world upon the completion of the Ascension’s voyage but, for the most part, the leadership of Captain William Denninger (Brian Van Holt, unfortunately still resembling Cougar Town‘s Bobby too closely to be taken seriously) has ensured lasting peace.
That calm is shattered, however, by the mysterious murder of a young girl. The skilled First Officer Aaron Gault (Brandon P. Bell, sturdy in the main role) is tasked with investigating the death, only to discover that nothing is as it seems. Everyone on board the Ascension – including Gault – have secrets that they’d rather never saw the light of day, and some are willing to kill to make sure that the ghosts of the past stay buried.
There’s a refreshingly retro vibe not only to the ’60s-era costuming in Ascension but also to the storytelling. To be sure, there are shades of Battlestar Galactica, another ambitious and mythology-laden series that starred the lovely Tricia Helfer (the former Cylon shows up here as Viondra Denninger, the Captain’s manipulative wife), but Ascension also takes its cues from weirder shows like Twin Peaks, especially in the pilot’s enigmatic first third.