Ascension Death Star
The space show is back! Showrunner talks interstellar murder mystery
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.