Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Lost In Space S1 E3: Infestation

"DANGER, Will Robinson."

As the new Lost In Space Netflix series moves along on its planet bound journey in space one can't help but notice the approach is more properly serialized than the original. Despite those cliffhangers in the 1960s classic there was a sense of uniquely crafted and composed story along with location and identity to each and every episode. There seemed to be a more defined beginning, middle and end despite those final seconds that attempted to bridge one episode to the next.

Lost In Space, Season One, Episode 3, Infestation continues to steadily multi-task its story and assorted characters on the alien planet in its own gradual, dramatic fashion.

There's a sense of creative play on this planet too with its colors and terrain variations creating dramatic shifts in color tone and temperature for the various characters. The use of color and the cinematography for the series is certainly notable.

After Earth (2013) and Avatar (2009) both had a commitment to their world-building and a similar planetary approach in look and scope. Somehow this Lost In Space doesn't feel the least bit like an SG-1 team walking through a stargate to another forest in Vancouver, British Columbia. There are a number of nice post-production touches that amplify the otherness of this world. Like the original Lost In Space (1965-1968) series, which also paid great attention to production value and its sense of alienness (achieved so fantastically on sound stages), or the adventurous Farscape (1999-2003), the new Lost In Space generally seems to care about the details making for a more immersive visual experience.

Apocalyptic events aside, the episode opens with a sense of exploration along with historical images of humanity moving out into space and yearning to discover and push out into the stars. Vintage images once again pay tribute to the 1960s and our space heritage. As noted previous, composer Christopher Lennerz complements lending a beautiful interpretation to John Williams classic theme. And we are transported.

So one of the things I found interesting at the start of Infestation was that the writer/creators were making some attempt at psychological complexity with the characters.

There are things bubbling under the surface for a lot of these individuals. Judy Robinson is traumatized following her claustrophobic, submerged ice incident and her response to that event seemed completely logical in the face of those dire events. Her attempts at coping with it felt authentic particularly since we are led to believe early on things come easy for Judy. Clearly, just like most of us, she doesn't have it all together completely and her response to trauma and adversity is perfectly natural and human.

Robot too is a complete enigma, but for the moment seems attached to Will Robinson who originally discovered it in Impact (S1,E1), echoing the connection established in the classic series between the two characters. But clearly there is an underlying violence and chaos to the Robot creation here which remains a mystery.

I had read one critic's overall positive assessment of the series as having a villain problem, but I don't see it. How is the new series any different in this way from the original? Between the unpredictability of Robot and the wild card of Dr. Smith there is always potential for trouble. In fact, with that hair, Parker Posey brings a great deal of concern to the proceedings as the series' resident sociopath. Not only do we know there is something dark about her, it's clear the creators have a certain look for the character that suggests something is wrong in the head with her as well. Visually she looks literally crazy at times like an escape from One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest (1975). This coupled with the fact the family is unaware of her intentions places the group in even greater jeopardy for the viewer. All of this combined with the unknown of space seems to suggest there is more than enough to worry about on Lost In Space.

For fans of the old series some things never change and this new one appears to be moving in the right direction as far as establishing a general framework within from which to operate. Subtle touches to the characters so far make them all generally interesting, but the verdict is out on many of them including Posey's version of Smith.

One other thing about Infestation that worked for me. As a kid this fan of science fiction loved the Jupiter 2. It was a place of safety. It was home. As the episodes went on you grew to love it and know it intimately. Like that game you played as a kid when you ran back to a safe spot from the other children, the family here can take safety in the Jupiter 2 as if it were a safe base and there was comfort in that. In this series, at the very least, some care and attention has gone into the production design of the interior of the Jupiter 2. It's fairly large but it's well lit and has character all its own. Infestation is the first episode to really spend a good deal of time inside of her. It's hard not to like what the series has done with her. And the ladders are there to move between the two levels to boot.

Infestation carries a number of meanings as it establishes the subtext of the characters. There is a physical infestation here by alien eel creatures, but the Jupiter 2 is also infested with psychological trauma that is affecting Judy and Will. There is the infestation by an unknown intelligence known as Robot. And I like John Robinson's unease and distrust of Robot because that remains true to the original dynamic from the old series, despite John's relationship with Maureen being markedly different from the classic. There is the infestation of the unpredictable and unknown variable that is Dr. Smith. There is indeed danger infesting and infecting the ship and the Robinson family and how the series copes with these elements keeps us uneasy and on edge.

And about those alien eels with a taste for Earth fuel. Nothing too exciting really in the originality department, but the visual effects are credible. There must be something about a good alien creature story in every sci-fi series. Defiance (2013-2015) delivered hellbugs for The Devil In The Dark (S1, E3) its own episode three in the first season. But it was the original Lost In Space series that got a little more interesting, creative and daring with its approach to an alien encounter in the episode The Derelict (S1, E2). And of course that original first season was indeed more challenging in tone and sound and atmosphere, its alien contacts included.

Lost In Space has my full attention with the trilogy of opening episodes, but I am not completely sold by what I've experienced regarding its future potential as a science fiction. It looks good on the surface, but like Dr. Smith the writing is suspect. Stay tuned.

Writer: Zack Estrin (Prison Break). Director: Tim Southam.


Richard Bellush said...

Writers always like continuous story arcs that let them develop characters and plots in complex ways. Prior to 90s they weren’t allowed to do this much except in soap operas. Instead, TV show producers commonly insisted on stand-alone episodes in primetime shows, so that it doesn’t matter in what order you watch Star Trek: The Original Series, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, or Columbo. We can see where the producers were coming from: they didn’t want to alienate new viewers who arrived in the middle of a complex story they didn’t understand and would never tune in again. By the late 1990s recording technology and the net made it easy for new viewers to catch up on previous episodes and the commercial considerations changed. Since then it almost always matters in what order you watch episodes. For the viewer this is a mixed bag, of course.

SFF said...

Thanks for your thoughts Richard. It's funny. We certainly don't have any issues with access today and the sky is the limit regarding boundaries today.

Can you imagine a science fiction series with little to no arc today? That might feel refreshing even.