Away is now streaming on Netflix.
By Greg Wheeler
The mission to Mars is going to be very different to any other space-bound project. Instead of physical prowess and strength, traveling to Mars demands incredible mental resiliency and the ability to be isolated for a large period of time. It’s somewhat ironic then that Netflix’s Away brings five emotional astronauts onboard for this flight. With lots of interpersonal drama and syrupy speeches, Away plays out like a soap opera in space.
The basic premise is pretty simple and revolves around five astronauts from different backgrounds coming together to embark on man’s greatest mission. Commander Emma Green teams up with a Russian named Misha, Chinese national Lu, newbie Kwesi and the second-in-command Indian, Ram.
Together these five set off for the Moon before restocking, refueling and progressing on to Mars. Only, a big incident on the Moon-bound ship causes a rift to grow between the crew and jeopardizes the entire mission. To make matters worse, Emma learns her husband has had a stroke back home and wants to abandon the whole project.
To say this show gets off to a bumpy start would be an understatement. Before Away has even left the atmosphere of the streaming platform it’s in danger of crashing back down with a bang. Only, there’s something endearing about this one that keeps you sticking around.
Just to quickly preface, those looking for a scientifically realistic series about space will almost certainly be disappointed. Video messages to Earth play out in real-time, none of the crew exercise and Mission Control feels like it’s run by a bunch of squabbling, secretive executives. It’s all very dramatic and inconsistent, feeling much more geared toward a casual audience than the sci-fi faithful.
The structure of this series is split into two halves. The first plays out with episodic problems-of-the-week with different issues on the ship. These are given an equal amount of weight to problems on Earth, reinforcing that melodramatic, soapy feel to the show.
The second half however, really comes into its own. A big problem onboard the ship sees the water supply start to run out and this causes a constant sense of dread to hang over our crew. This, of course, also plays heavy on our guys back home.
Emma’s daughter Lex completely rebels upon meeting fellow student Isaac. She starts motorbiking, sneaking out at night and generally acting like a teenager. Matt meanwhile struggles with the gravity of his situation, coming to terms with being wheelchair-bound and teasing a possible romance with friend Melissa.
However, the strength with these characters comes when they all team up together. Seeing everyone trying to find a solution to the problems on the ship is ultimately the big highlight and reinforces the best part of this show. The characters.
For all the wobbly science, heavy religious tones and squabbling, the people are what keep this ship from hurtling out of control. Personally though I found Emma to be the worst of the bunch. Given she’s the Commander, her emotional instability threatens the mission constantly.
Instead, most of the best scenes are reserved for the rest of the crew whom we learn more about through flashbacks and personal issues affecting them. Lu in particular is a fascinating character and it baffles me how she wasn’t picked to lead the mission. An impassioned speech by her late in the game only serves to reinforce this idea as she rallies a hopeless crew around her.
Misha too is another strong player and the way his character mellows out into someone you really care about is great to see. Kwesi’s heavy emphasis on botany is explored too while Ram’s touching history with his brother serves as fuel to guide him on this mission.
All of this crescendos beautifully into the final episode. The way this series ends really demands a second season and for all its faults, I hope this one is green-lit. The final 15 minutes of episode 10 are, by far, the best part of the entire experience. There’s a real sense of dread clinging to these scenes and you feel yourself rooting for the mission to be a success.
Much like any space-bound project, it’s not all smooth sailing. There’s numerous problems that require quick thinking, there’s some outright disasters and the ride is anything but smooth. When you break through the outer-layer and shake off the fiery embers however, the beauty is there to see.
It won’t be for everyone but Away does just enough to shake off its early season hangover to make it something worth sticking with for the long haul.