As­cen­sion Death Star

The space show is back! Showrun­ner talks in­ter­stel­lar mur­der mys­tery

SFX - - Red alert -

If you’re feel­ing a bit of post- apoc­a­lyp­tic malaise with sci- fi dra­mas of late, Syfy might have your al­ter­na­tive with As­cen­sion, a retro six- episode event se­ries that feels a bit like Mad Men meets BSG. Cre­ated by Philip Levens ( Smal­lville), As­cen­sion uses Project Orion, Pres­i­dent John F Kennedy’s real- life, clas­si­fied pop­u­la­tion sur­vival pro­gramme that planned to send hu­mans into space in case the Cold War went nu­clear, as its premise. The se­ries poses that in 1963 the pro­gramme ac­tu­ally launched 600 men, women and chil­dren into space on a self- sus­tain­ing space­ship for 100 years.

“I’ve al­ways loved ‘ what if ’ nar­ra­tives,” ex­plains Levens, when asked what in­spired the se­ries. “It’s an in­ter­est­ing thing be­cause there’s al­ways talk of golden ages, in par­tic­u­lar Kennedy’s Camelot. It felt like a high point in the 20th cen­tury for Amer­ica, so what if we’d con­tin­ued down that path? Would it all be sweet­ness and light, or would there be darker things be­neath the sur­face, which is what I sus­pected be­cause that’s hu­man na­ture and we al­ways man­age to fuck things up roy­ally!”

Recre­at­ing their own quasi John and Jackie Kennedy of the ship are power cou­ple Cap­tain Wil­liam Den­niger ( Brian Van Holt) and his wife, Vion­dra ( BSG’s Tri­cia Helfer). When the first mur­der to ever hap­pen on­board oc­curs 50 years into the mis­sion, the pair dis­cover that the foun­da­tions of their time- cap­sule com­mu­nity are not as strong as they thought.

“In my mind they rep­re­sent a Dar­winian king and queen of the prom,” Levens says of the cou­ple at the cen­tre of the story. “They’re beau­ti­ful, smart, pow­er­ful and am­bi­tious. They rose to the top but now they find be­ing there isn’t as easy as they thought. Peo­ple al­ways want to knock them off their perch and, over time, they be­gin to won­der if they made the right choices be­cause it brought some com­pro­mises.”

First Of­fi­cer Oren Gault ( Bran­don P Bell) is tasked with solv­ing the mur­der which al­lows the au­di­ence to get to know the eclec­tic cit­i­zens. “They are all very in­ter­est­ing in their own ways,” Levens teases. “Tri­cia’s character

“We start peel­ing back the onion… the ques­tion is, will it all un­ravel?”

Vion­dra is al­ways right there and has an in­ter­est­ing per­spec­tive on things. Devil’s ad­vo­cate Coun­cil­man Rose ( Al Sapienza) was a sur­prise in how fun to write he was. Gault is our eyes and ears into this world – our per­spec­tive. As he’s learn­ing things, we as an au­di­ence are learn­ing things. There’s lots of ques­tions and doubts that will be more deeply ex­plored in the fu­ture.”

Part mur­der- mys­tery, sci- fi pe­riod piece, so­ci­ol­ogy ex­per­i­ment and character drama, Levens says the mix makes As­cen­sion un­like any­thing you would ex­pect. “The mur­der is solved fairly soon, to a de­gree, but the mur­der is more about the un­rav­el­ling. There’s that say­ing, ‘ Things fall apart, the cen­tre can­not hold,’ and that’s what’s hap­pened here. We

The As­cen­sion crew get that sink­ing feel­ing.

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