Nightflyers
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Nightflyers

When an author has a major work migrated to a popular film or cable series it is natural for fans to experience a growing interest in their entire body of work. It is rare that an author can capture lightning in a bottle twice and achieve a similar level of success again.it is an irrefutable fact that George R. R. Martin created a cultural phenomenon with his series of novel, launched with ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’. The books had already gained notoriety, particularly among the fantasy aficionados. This intricate, masterly crafted story rose to redefine the water cooler Monday when HBO transformed it into ‘Game of Thrones’. HBO has earned a reputation for creating shows that capture the imagination of the audience and redefine the viewing experience. That is an exceptionally high bar for other products of Mr. Martin’s narrative craftsmanship to live up to. With his series, ‘Nightflyers, to his credit he made a complete break from the Medieval setting of ‘Game of Thrones launches it into the depths of outer space. it was a natural fit as an original series on the SyFy cable network. Ever since their reboot of the campy science fiction cult hit of the seventies, ‘Battlestar Galactica’ into an intensely gripping dramatic tour de force that altered television’s presentation of this genre. Had the series been created by anyone other than Mr. Martin, the impossible comparison to such a mega-hit would not have been a significant factor. Of course, the other side of the coin is the fact that it is often a means for a talented person to exploring other genres expanding the scope of their abilities. For Mr. Martian, he traded an expansive Medieval epic to a taut, thriller set in the void of outer space, ‘Nightflyers’.

There is a saying among science fiction writers. "never destroy the Earth in the first chapter, it might come in handy later on.", the opening scene of this limited series breaks this rule in a horrifying fashion. Employing the narrative technique of in medias res, the audience is introduced to the space ship, Nightfler and her crew in the middle of a crisis. Dr. Agatha Matheson (Gretchen Mol), is in a desperate fight for survival, pursued by the clearly insane xenobiologist, Rowan (Angus Sampson). Dr, Matheson is trying to accomplish a crucial task, more important than a living, warning earth that the ship is under hustle control and under no circumstance should anything on it be salvaged. After barley ejecting a container with the warning, she picks up a medial saw slitting her own throat. What is particularly disturbing about this plot device is Ms. Mol is the most recognizable cast member with a well-established career in film. Killing off her character so extremely early in the story would seem to defeat any hope of building dramatic tension. Fortunately, Mr. Martin is quite well versed in, red herrings and narrative misdirection.

Generally, the series holds together rather well albeit with several reasonable caveats. The central plot is derived from pieces cobbled together from an number of classic science fiction stories. The source of the fundamental setting and primary motivational device is notably like the classic series of novels by Arthur C. Clarke, ‘Rendezvous with Rama’. The premise was concerned with the appearance of an extraterrestrial vehicle passing through the solar system. An exploratory mission is dispatched to investigate the visitor before its trajectory takes it out into deep space forever. The primary point of view character is Karl D’Branin, Ph.D. (Eoin Macken), an astrophysicist and leader of the Nightflyer expedition. The driving force and financial backing of the project is the reclusive billionaire genius, Roy Eris (David Ajala), the de facto captain of the mission. The Nightflyer utilizes technology considerably more advanced than used by the rest of humanity. Chief among his eccentricities is his obsessive penchant for guarding his privacy. Initially, the only interaction with any of the crew is through highly advanced holograms, projected through an elaborate web of surveillance equipment and projectors, his second in command is Auggie (Brían F. O'Byrne), the well-seasoned chief engineer charged with oversight of the complex systems. The most advanced element of this research vessel is its control system, an artificial intelligence eventually disclosed to be modeled after the Captain’s deceased mother, Cynthia Eris (Josette Simon). As a result of advances in genetic and biometric science, the crew includes several enhanced humans. The first officer Melantha Jhirl (Jodie Turner-Smit), a genetically enhanced cadet from the Genetic Space Program. Her mind and body at preternaturally developed to just beyond the peak of humanity.

Mr. Martin placed the technological level just beyond what is currently feasible, spreading the advances between the mechanical wonders exemplified by the huge ship capable of exploring the solar system and the relatively new sciences unfolding the very essence of life on the most fundamental level. This is seen through the genetically enhanced like Melantha and the hybridization of human and technology saw through the resident computer technician, Lommie (Maya Eshet). In order to expedite interfacing with the Nightflyer’s complex computer system, an access port has been grafted into her forearm connecting her nervous system directly to the system. From her perspective, Lommie is literally inside the programs. Although the author successfully placed a properly crafted assortment of characters within an interesting setting, the story failed to properly gel. It is a form of ‘anti-synergy. The overwhelmingly negative response to the series might have begun with inflated expectations but ultimately Mr. Martin’s story didn’t receive sufficient time to fully develop the characters and permit the narrative to achieve its full potential.

In any thriller, its success depends heavily on the source of impending danger. With a mere ten 45-minute episodes it would have been best to streamline the story, focusing on the emergence of the ‘big bad’. Instead, the series diffused the tension with the inclusion of several undercard opponents. The opening made it abundantly clear that Rowan was doomed to go homicidally insane, killing everyone on board. The question was the mechanism to change a laid-back scientist into a space fairing Jack Torrance. Initially, the most likely suspect was a young man possessing dangerously potent meta psychic abilities, Thale (Sam Strike). This rather unassuming young man has been designated an ‘L-1’, a classification denoting the strongest mental abilities. This includes but is not limited to invading the mind of others, controlling their minds and drudging up memories to assault the minds of their victims. He is isolated in a special containment chamber for the safety of the crew. He was brought along since his mental signature is like the aliens, potentially permitting him to communicate with them. He can drive people insane, but his abilities cannot directly explain the series of system malfunctions plaguing the mission. When it turns out the ship’s AI is malevolent, it is possible she is sabotaging the mission. Complicating things further, or, it might be the alien influence behind the problems. The absence of a tighter focus undermines the ultimate success of the story. The inclusion of the L-1 comes across as a preemptive Deus ex machina, generating conflict rather than assisting in its organic development. The slight-built young man is a boogeyman, his kind universally fears and despise. Despite the ample potential for telling a gripping story, the audience is left with a sense of contrivance.

Posted 03/12/2019

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