I knew I’d seen Captain Niko Brekinridge somewhere before. Her feistiness reminded me a little of Claire Danes as Carrie Mathison in Homeland. Even when the end credits rolled after the first episode I couldn’t place Katee Sackhoff, despite knowing the name: it’s been almost 15 years since I farewelled the Battlestar Galactica and Starbuck.
As Captain of intergalactic exploratory vessel Salvare, Brekinridge needs flexible leadership skills to keep her spirited crew in line. And they are spirited in more ways than one. Hungry for adventure and high on hormones, what else is there to do in the deep reaches of space than … you know, thingy.
I don’t want to claim there’s such a thing as feminist science fiction. But perhaps this 10-part series, created by Aaron Martin and produced by Omar Madha, is a candidate. Of course, nothing can beat the Alien movie series. Ripley’s leadership and survival skills were peerless. But Brekinridge’s fearless command certainly falls into the Ripley mould.
The other great female commander in science-fiction would be the Voyager’s Captain Kathryn Janeway. Brekinridge isn’t level-headed like Janeway, and her abrasiveness leads to conflict with her crew. But she has an ally, Cas Isakovic (Elizabeth Faith Ludlow), recruited from a gang of extortionists.
Another Life presents quite a multicultural cast. Manila-born Australian actor JayR Tinaco features as medic Zayn Petrossian. Zayn identifies as non-binary, and so does Tinaco.
Cas Isakovic looks mixed race, while the Earthen side of the story features Parveen Dosanjh as Dr. Nani Singh, an Indian female doctor. Unsurprisingly there are no East or South Asian men, so this series presents the standard white male, ethnic girl racial pairing in two of its relationship dynamics (Cas and her mutineer boyfriend being the other one), although Petrossian being non-binary complicates matters.
However, Brekinridge does have an affair with the ship’s computer, who is of African-British heritage. This is a step-forward for brown-men-racial-sexual-relations. If we incarnate as a computer we stand a chance! Actually, with his mixture of pragmatism, warmth and mental instability, the ship’s computer is the most interesting and charming character.
Fifty years from now the United States are still the leading power, and their generals still have a propensity to be overbearing. The military dude just wants to blast the crystal artifact to smithereens. Or investigate the crystal then blast it to smithereens. The parallel plot on Earth is a big weakness of the show and feels redundant. The most interesting character in the Earthen sub-plot is the alien crystal itself.
Final verdict: 6.5
Another Life received mostly unfavourable reviews, with an average rating of 33% on Metacritic and 4.9% on IMDb. A lot of critics seem overly harsh, nitpicking about things like political correctness.
Is it too ‘politically correct’? A black holographic computer with an English accent. A non-binary medic of Filipino background. Many reviewers complained about the latter. I suspect they aren’t the most well-travelled of folk – transgender culture is not uncommon in South East Asia (eg in Thailand, Philippines, Cambodia and Laos), and even while it’s gaining acceptance in the West, it faces a backlash from both conservatives and liberals.
As our world changes and becomes more open, the spectrum of sexuality increases its expressible boundaries. But this does not sit comfortably with everyone. One reviewer complains (a little patronisingly) that reasons for Petrossian’s transgender identification are not explored: “The show does get some credit among the “woke” generation for having a gender non-binary.” I guess I’m of the “woke” generation. Although I’m feeling a little sleepy.
Interestingly, a commenter by the name of Razakius on that review pointed out that “Modern casual critics seem to see the world with no gradation. it’s either amazing or terrible with no middle. This was a middle of the pack show.” It looks like many critics jumped at the chance to leave a bad review, knowing they would have full-back up from their conservative sci-fi ideologues. As for those who complain about bad science in science-fiction, maybe you should be watching documentaries.