Salvation: Season 1
The end of the world has been a staple of entertainment for many years and has gotten to the point where such a terrible outcome has become routine. In recent years many entries in the genre have been produced by the SyFy Channel with the apocalyptic sources running the gamut from environmental collapse to the extraterrestrial invasion with the ever-popular planet-killing asteroid. This last summer CBS has entered the fray with their new series, ‘Salvation.’ Superficially it is another variation of space ends all life on earth. The major difference between this series and the plethora of SyFy Saturday night flicks is not with the inclusion of any startling new plot device or novel twist. The success of this summer replacement series is based on how the standard ingredients are blended. In a fashion similar to how a master chef can utilize basic foods, seasonings and culinary techniques to craft something special, showrunners Elizabeth Kruger and Craig Shapiro have presented the familiar themes in such a way that all but the most jaded aficionados of disaster movies will be pleasantly surprised. The team of Ms. Kruger and Mr. Sharpie previously collaborated on another global doomsday series for CBS, ‘Extant.’ In that vehicle, the threat came from a race from deep in space. The source location remains the same, but now it is a large piece of rock careening towards our little blue planet. There is a definite advantage to extending a story beyond the typical running time of about 100 minutes or a four-night miniseries to a full 13-hour-long episode. This affords the storyteller to elaborate on character development and properly integrate properly formed subplots. This allowed the show to become one of the brighter spots on the programming lineup.
Liam Cole (Charlie Rowe), is the prototypical brilliant postgraduate physics major. Somewhat disheveled in appearance a prone to some eccentric behavior. This is efficiently shown during his first appearance has him late for an important guest lecturer at MIT he enters the hall barefoot. While the guest speaker, Darius Tanz (Santiago Cabrera), embarrassed him in front of the entire assembly. Such potential humiliation proves to be well worth it when afterward he picks up an attractive young woman, Jillian Hayes (Jacqueline Byers), in a bar. She found the incident adorable, and soon they fall into bed together. The first episode did come across as rushed, wasting no time to establish the main protagonist and associate him with a love interest. He’s a scientist, and she is a nascent science fiction writer, so their relationship can proceed on some common personality traits and interest making the pickup into a believable long-term relationship. We also learn that Darius is one of MIT’s most successful alumnus who is a technological genius a billionaire. The main plot point of the story is gratefully not prolonged but introduce almost immediately; this draws the audience into the story quickly permitting the character development to begin in earnest. Liam’s research has been using an algorithm he developed to locate asteroids with the potential to intersect the Earth’s orbit. He has just conclusively proven that an asteroid will crash into the Earth in 186 days. The object is of sufficient size to produce an extinction level event.
Liam initially contacts his faculty advisor, Malcolm Croft (Ian Anthony Dale), who suddenly disappears without a trace later that night. He manages to contact Darius who already knew about the object and the countdown to extinction. He has been making his plans to save the species if it proves impossible to save the world. This fact was also known to the government who has been concealing the facts to avoid panic. Soon after meeting Darius hires Liam as a special assistance giving the young man access to TESS, his company’s proprietary artificial intelligence. The government has known about the looming annihilation for awhile but as Darius I quick to note they had the vast resources of NASA at their disposal, Liam had a laptop. The main contact in the Department of Defense is Assistant Secretary of Defense Harris Edwards (Ian Anthony Dale), and his Press secretary/lover Grace Barrows (Jennifer Finnigan). She becomes caught between Harris and Darius when it becomes evident that her boss has been lying to her about a lot more than just the asteroid. She begins to uncover a serious conspiracy. A stylistic standard for this series is to present the threat from various vantage points. They differ not only as a result of the person’s function or motivations but, in many ways more importantly, by the depth of their understanding. For example, an investigative reporter for an online news source, Amanda Neel (Shazi Raja), who initially concentrates on a potential story about government withholding important information and a possible collusion between the Department of Defense and Tanz Industries. She is unaware of a much larger story involving the people she is investigating. She targets Liam at first because he is a doctoral candidate who suddenly received unfettered access to the normally unapproachable Darius Tanz.
Other stories with a similar premise have infused political threads into the mix such as the 1979 ‘Meteor,’ which reflected the Cold War tensions of the time. The use of politics in this series is textured, akin to an espionage movie. The evidence is found that the United States misappropriated Tanz Industry technology to weaponize a small asteroid guiding to hit a target in Russia. By the time a potential solution is found the animosity with Russia precludes launching without incurring a hostile response from the Russians. For once the preposterous idea of using a nuclear to destroy the object is summarily rejected. That would only turn one object into hundreds each with the velocity and retain much of combined mass. The solution proposed by Darius is one that is under actual consideration, a gravity tractor. Send a spaceship to move close to the target, and although the effect is small, the gravitational pull will slightly alter the trajectory eventually causing a miss. The only problem is a means of propulsion with sufficient thrust to arrive in time. Darius has plans for an electromagnetic (EM) drive which is considered impossible. With Liam’s help the construct a working engine.
Naturally, what goes wrong with the plan is not the technology but political and corporate machinations with their sinister motives. Darius’ uncle, Nicholas Tanz (John Noble), wants to leverage Darius’ recent secrecy to assume control of the company. A former mentor of Liam’s is a deep cover Russian agent and Vice President Bennett (Sasha Roiz), is plotting to kill President Pauline Mackenzie (Tovah Feldshuh) in a coup to take over the country. He also wants to fragment the asteroid in such a way as to decimate Russia and China leaving the United States intact. The ludicrous science pervading the series is a turn off for many viewers, but this is not the type of entertainment where you should have a reasonable expectation of accuracy. As a combination apocalyptic/ political thriller the series should be given a substantial degree of leeway, even Darius’ alternate plan of saving 160 human beings in an ark aptly named ‘Salvation’ is unrealistic. He tells Liam that this minuscule number of people is sufficient to regrow humanity on another planet. Jillian is placed in charge of the selection because she felt it necessary to artist individuals to preserve human culture. I agree that very little of the science is feasible, there is sufficient fodder for a season of Myth Busters, but keep in mind the difference between didactic and entertaining.