Promotional poster for the show Another Life showing lead actress Katee Sackhoff over a scene of space and her ship

Another Life (2019-2021)

Another Life is a 2019 science-fiction series starring Katee Sackhoff, Justin Chatwin, Samuel Anderson and a moderately sized ensemble cast mostly comprising the crew of the spaceship Salvare (Latin for ‘to save’) on a mission to find what they believe to be the source of a strange alien artifact that was created by a UFO and whose purpose remains a mystery beyond the discovery that it is sending signals towards a specific star. At time of writing, it’s available in its entirety on Netflix.

So their ship sets out, with a small crew awake and running the ship, and a larger crew of experts in various specialities in ‘soma sleep’ which seems to just be a form of medically induced coma, to be woken up as needed, to cut down on the amount of supplies and living space required by the ship.

Led by Niko Breckenridge (Sackhoff), the ship is largely run by William (Anderson), an AI that appears to have been created to basically be Niko’s dream co-worker? This show falls into the category that I’m sure has a snappier genre name, but that I basically characterize as “Humans go into space, space kicks their shit in.” Meanwhile, Niko’s husband Erik (Chatwin) is back on Earth as the lead researcher of the alien artifact, and from both sides of the story they start to uncover more about the artifact, and the aliens, with predictable (bad for humans) results.

Indeed, the show is 2 seasons long with 10 episodes per season, and it was like Mr. Burns’ baseball team in the future. Three misfortunes, that’s possible, seven misfortunes, there’s an outside chance, but nine misfortunes, I’d like to see that! And Another Life is only too happy to provide. If you don’t handle stress, and basically zero downtime between one crisis and the next, this is probably not the show for you. Also advanced warning for some really creepy bug-like things that are sort of like if you built a spider out of centipedes. They don’t come up often, but as somebody who doesn’t handle bugs well, it was a little rough.

In general I think the show is worth watching. As part of cramming as much disaster into 20 episodes as they could, they sort of run the gamut of sci-fi tropes. Moralizing about AI, sacrificing people for the greater good, are we actually mad at each other or just fundamentally different lifeforms who can’t communicate, oh no the crew of the spaceship are all drunk/stoned, wacky space disease, you name it, it crops up in here somewhere. But it does a decently passable job with all of them. Not much in the main storyline was -bad- it was just…acceptable. But the lack of filler actually helped make that more forgivable, because nothing was dragged out long enough for the fact that it was all solid 6 or 7/10 storytelling to get annoying. 

One thing it did do pretty well was give us a surprisingly large amount of queer romance given how small the crew was. And it was handled pretty well too, which you’d hope would be standard for a show as recent as 2019-2021 but there are definitely a LOT of recent shows still casting cis men as trans women, and otherwise bungling it. So that was a bright spot!

Altogether as the non-spoiler portion of this review goes, it’s a bunch of decent-if-tropey storytelling but so fast paced you don’t have time to be annoyed that it’s only mediocre. Solid acting, some great characterizations, and interesting enough, if not stellar. Worth a watch, if you’re in a sci-fi mood, and want something that isn’t going to take weeks to get through. But before I end the article, I need to say some things about the ending.

WARNING FOR COMPLETE SPOILERS FOR THE SHOW INCLUDING THE ENDING AFTER THIS POINT

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There’s a thing that happens in sci-fi, usually only older sci-fi, where a powerful enemy is overcome by something frankly ridiculous. Whether it’s the aliens in War of the Worlds dying of the common cold, or the aliens in Signs who hate water, coming to a planet made mostly of water, full of people made mostly of water, being overcome by water, you just sort of ask yourself why bother telling a story that ends this way? 

But the most irritating of all is the “Artificial life form is overcome by basic computer programming” trope. The idea that a powerful, space-faring intelligence is going to be done in by a ‘10 print “hello world” 20 GOTO 10’ is just so very silly. Trapping an android or robot in a logic loop by saying ‘The next thing I say is a lie. That sentence was true.’ While that might work on a home computer from 1980, an actual intelligence is going to do one of two things, it’s going to think about it for a minute and go “Oh, a structural paradox, how clever” or it’s going to go “This person is either lying or doesn’t know what truth and lies are” and it’s going to stop.

So to do the whole “Oh they’re artificial, we’ll just infect them with a computer virus!” as the big finish for overcoming this species so powerful that it enslaved or exterminated hundreds of alien worlds was such a let down even in the context of an otherwise pretty unimpressive show. They just…don’t have any kind of equally advanced and powerful firewalls, or data sanitization, or ability to cut a portion of the intelligence off from another part once it realizes it’s infected? That makes absolutely no sense, and makes the victory super cheap.

This also does another thing that I get but find annoying: The trope where humans are, for whichever reason, somehow uniquely positioned of all the species in the universe to overcome a powerful enemy that has been running roughshod over the galaxy for centuries or millennia. Sometimes it’s that humans are super aggressive, sometimes it’s that we advance super quickly, sometimes it’s that we’re just so gosh-darned stubborn and won’t give in. The human exceptionality trope is almost never able to be carried off well.

After humans win, Earth gets bombarded with wormhole portals opening all over the place, and at first they’re afraid there’s some kind of invasion happening, but then they realize that it’s all the other species in the universe sending their thanks and praise to humans for freeing the whole entire galaxy from this threat that overcame every single other one of those species, but who were defeated by a species so not advanced, that we still had to muck around with putting people in cryosleep to take long space trips, against an alien intelligence that could basically teleport, do mind control, take people’s bodies over, and create extremely accurate artificial environments, because…we were the only species in their history who thought ‘let’s make a computer virus’? Come on.

It’s hard to know if that ending was rushed because the show was canceled after the second season, or if the overall ending, involving the sending of a new ship out to go meet all the aliens they now know existed, was going to be the continuation, but either way it was such a trite ‘rah rah human free will wins again!’ story that it really did diminish the series for me.

I still stand by my conclusion in the non-spoiler portion of the article: It’s a decent show and it’s neat to watch, and if you’re looking around for some sci-fi to pick up, it’ll just take you a couple days of binge to blast through it and there are enough good bits to make it worth doing, but I just really need sci-fi shows to think harder about how they end things, and how they place humanity in the galactic milieu without defaulting to “We’re so stubborn and fighty that nothing can stop us.”

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Author: Dan Ruffolo

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