Another Life season 2, episode 2 recap – “Smoke and Mirrors”

By Jonathon Wilson
Published: October 14, 2021 (Last updated: January 3, 2024)
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Another Life season 2, episode 2 recap - "Smoke and Mirrors"


“Smoke and Mirrors” is undercut by rash and puzzling decision-making that builds more frustration than tension.

This recap of Another Life season 2, episode 2, “Smoke and Mirrors”, contains spoilers.

Nobody ever talks about it, but a video game called The Station is one of the best examples I can think of when it comes to recasting humanity’s role in science-fiction as a generally dangerous and meddling presence. I raise this because Another Life toys with the idea – aliens rarely want to negotiate because killing them is so much more exciting – and doesn’t do much with it, though admittedly because the characters can’t seem to get out of each other’s way. This show has plenty of drawbacks, but the most crucial one is that it hasn’t quite realized that you can hand-wave away all the wonky science in the universe, but only if the story is rooted in actual drama. Having weak characters and flaky science only highlights both all the more.

Another Life season 2, episode 2 recap

But anyway, “Smoke and Mirrors” resumes where things left off, with Niko going to negotiate with the Achaians, leaving Cas behind and in charge (contact with the Salvare is cut off). The first season was largely about Niko’s leadership, and here we get a sense of how that same theme relates to Cas. Of course, it’s spelled out to us anyway, but the idea is that Cas’s closeness to Niko undermines her objectivity as a leader. The mission must come first, and the mission is, clearly, more important than any one individual, but this is an idea that everyone reliably fails to grasp all throughout, as we’ll see.

Case in point: Cas, frustrated by the inability to communicate with Niko, sends Iara aboard to retrieve her, and once aboard Iara starts rifling through computers. I don’t want to say I told you so, but I damn well told you so.

We mustn’t get hung up on the tropes, though. So here are some things that I liked. Niko being able to meet with and physically interact with Jana, who has been transported from the Artifact, is intriguing (she bequeaths her daughter her ring and promises to see her again). The Achaians taking the form of Niko’s mother to negotiate peace is smart – it totally stands to reason they’d adopt a recognizable and fond persona to make their message more amenable. And their message seems to be unambiguously peaceful. If Jana can be transported back to Earth – and she is, galloping straight into Eric’s arms – then so can everyone else, neatly circumventing the logistical issue of them being stuck in space. Passing on the message that the Achaians come in peace seems a small price to pay.

And maybe they do come in peace. Maybe their claims of retaliating against Zakir, and then against the Salvare, are true. It stands to reason. It fits thematically. Unfortunately, though, thanks at first to Iara’s snooping and then to Cas’s ludicrous “heroics”, the negotiations break down. And here’s where a lot of the show’s problems begin to crystallize.

This whole thing is too forced and predictable. Yeah, peace talks never work out in TV shows anyway, but there has to be a way to make the whole thing seem more organic. See did it better only recently. Here, you could see what was going to go wrong from the jump, and things went almost exactly as advertised. Iara’s general bad-idea nature manifested itself. Cas’s loyalty to Niko – which was discussed explicitly just to clue us in to the development – led to difficulties. By the end of “Smoke and Mirrors”, Cas and Niko are both trapped aboard an Achaian vessel that is now actively hostile, and entirely through their own doing.

I could care less about scientific implausibilities – this isn’t that kind of show. But in the absence of scientific logic there has to be some emotional logic, and thus far the Achaians – note how the setting and avatar they use changes to match the tone of the negotiations – seem to have more of that than the humans do. Perhaps that’s the point. But isn’t a point that’s being made very organically.

You can stream Another Life season 2, episode 2, “Smoke and Mirrors”, exclusively on Netflix.

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