'Away': A journey to the depths of outer space—and the human heart
Courtesy of Netflix
Earlier this year, Netflix released Steve Carell’s Space Force, a lighthearted comedy featuring the United States setting its sights on returning to the moon in hilarious fashion. Now, the streaming giant looks to up the ante both in space travel and emotionally with Away, a new drama series with aspirations to set foot on Mars.
The series revolves around American astronaut Emma Green (two-time Academy Award winner Hilary Swank), who is chosen to command an international crew—an Indian medical officer, a Chinese chemist, a rookie British-Ghanaian botanist, and a veteran Russian engineer—as they depart on a three-year joint global mission to send the first humans to the red planet. Of course, a project as lofty as this is destined to have complications. Before taking off from the moon, an incident on the base causes Emma’s ability to command to come into question. As the mission ensues, the astronauts struggle to come together and deal with feelings of isolation and separation from their loved ones—in particular Emma, whose focus is also on the well-being of her husband and teenage daughter.
Courtesy of Netflix
Those themes of isolation hit a little harder in the age of COVID-19, and the show benefits from it. With its depictions of the space mission, Away hits a bullseye. The series is visually stunning: The imagery of the galaxy is breathtaking, and watching the crew float around in zero gravity throughout the ten episodes never gets tiring. More than just looks, though, the story of the crew themselves is where the show particularly shines. Early on, Emma’s fellow crew members are essentially each given an episode that explores their background, giving those characters satisfying depth and emotional weight. As the show progresses and the crew begins to gel, the writing and acting becomes incredibly solid, to the point where the supporting players at times outshine Swank.
Of course, this has nothing to do with Swank’s own ability; this is partly due to the story back on Earth. When it comes to Emma’s family, the show slightly wavers. Her husband, Matt (Josh Charles), is a NASA engineer who assists mission control center. With Emma away, he must both deal with his own health issues and try to raise their daughter Alexis (Talitha Bateman) on his own. Charles and Bateman put on great performances, and their interactions with Emma are touching. Their individual stories, however, are slightly too familiar, especially as Alexis becomes a bit rebellious in the absence of her mother. It’s nothing to roll your eyes at, but those stories pale in comparison to the increasingly tense perils of the space mission. By the time you reach the conclusion of the season—just like the characters back on Earth—all you care about is the mission to Mars and the safety of Emma and her amazing crew.