Away’s pilot can be a tad underwhelming and follows the usual initial series-opening pitfalls, but it’s an engrossing setup that’s a solid liftoff to a brand new Netflix series.
This recap of Netflix’s Away season 1, episode 1, “Go”, contains spoilers.
Darlene Cole (The Sweet Hereafter’s Gabrielle Rose), a leader at Mission Command in Nasa Headquarters, completes her interviews and investigation after reviewing the team’s stories on the first mission to Mars. There was a fire on the ship with some discrepancies in their stories. Half the team thinks the ship’s commander was a hero; the other half’s thoughts can be broken down into the simple fact that she is a coward, unfit to lead this team. Now, these issues and animosities didn’t happen overnight, and you’ll have to go back a day to look at the complete picture in Away episode 1, which juggles various storylines in flashback form.
It’s just a typical day in America — a middle-aged couple, Matt Logan and Emma Green (played by Josh Charles and Hilary Swank), cheer on their teenaged daughter Alexis (Love, Simon‘s Talitha Bateman) run down the field and is about to score the game-tying goal. They encourage her, hell, practically beg her to take the shot, but she passes it to someone else. No matter, they tell her to take the shot next time, but they need to hurry because Emma has a press conference at NASA to get to.
Emma is the commander of a world effort on the first mission to Mars (sorry Paul Rubio). The United States is bringing most of the cost of this mission and is hand-picked over Misha (Mark Ivanir of Barry fame), a Russian cosmonaut with the most experience in apace in the world (assuming George Clooney’s Matt Kowalski from Gravity isn’t still alive and floating around up there). There is also a Chinese chemist, Dr. Lu Wang (The Last Emperor’s Vivian Wu), who is a stone-cold ***** behind the scenes, but shy in front of cameras. Kwesi (Copper’s Ato Essandoh) is the aforementioned expert in Botany from England with virtually no experience in the great void. Finally, Ram (Official Secrets‘ Ray Panthaki) is an Indian engineer and pilot who is the glue that holds the group together. While she has every confidence in her team, the odds as of “Go” are 50/50 if they make it out alive.
After spending one last night with her family, the team flies into orbit in Away episode 1, and ten hours in, they are alerted to a chemical leak in the ship. Kwesi, showing his inexperience, unlocks a panel where the leak was, injuring him, but Emma pulls him to safety. She is worried because “fire is the sum of all fears in space.” Emma doesn’t wait for help, over Lu and Misha’s objections. So, she does what any good American hero would do — she pulls a Brandy Chastain. She pulls off her shirt, dives for the loose chemicals that gravity is providing for her, and attempts to reign the acid in with her shirt when suddenly her shirt explodes into flames. The fire shoots upwards after causing Emma to do a 360 (the fire was ignited by the sweat in her shorts), but Lu and Misha put it out with an upside bucket of water (try doing that, Kurt Russell). Misha and Lu knew the water would do the trick while Emma did not, and now they don’t trust her for it.
If that wasn’t enough, Matt has a stroke while cooking his daughter dinner, and Alexis wants her mother to come home. She comes to that decision over the objections of Darlene warning her of the political implications of a woman quitting a mission, something that a male commander has never done in its history (again, Kowalski did, but we can deal with that when he gets back). Well, that’s until Matt wakes up from his slumber to tell her she needs to do her job (leave it to a guy to mansplain the situation to his wife when she is commanding a mission to Mars). She makes the call to stay, over Misha and Wang’s long faces, and they make like Alice and fly over the moon straight to Mars to make history.
Away episode 1 is like any typical season 1 pilot as it spends too much time setting up characters with backstories and contentions that will drive the story. You may think the bad blood is cliché, between America, Russia, and China, which it is, but any race in space has politically motivated implications and outcomes — human achievement or not. One thing is for certain, “Go” can be underwhelming, but it establishes a narrative that has us hooked with some burning questions. Will Matt survive Emma’s three-year mission to Mars? Will Alexis resent her mother’s choice, even if she came around, for not coming back to her family? Will Misha continue his assault on Emma’s character? Will we ever find out who Dr. Wang’s necklace is from and the nature of their relationship?
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M.N. Miller has been a film and television writer for Ready Steady Cut since August of 2018 and is patiently waiting for the next Pearl Jam album to come out.