Away – Season 1


Getting Away From It All

Main Cast: Hilary Swank, Josh Charles

Creator: Andrew Hinderaker

Away is not a typical science fiction space adventure. If that’s what you’re looking for, you’re probably going to be disappointed in the series. If you’re looking for something different, stick around and see if this Netflix original is for you.

Hilary Swank stars as Emma Green, astronaut and commander of the Atlas. The Atlas is going to Mars. This very first manned mission to the red planet has a multi-national crew and is seen as a shining hope for the future of mankind – a future of cooperation, peace, and adventure. The five members of the crew will spend a total of three years on this mission – the months it takes to travel and plenty of time for exploration.

The series begins before the Atlas leaves Earth. We get to know Emma and her family – husband Matt (Josh Charles) and teenage daughter Alexis (Talitha Bateman). Away is as much about them as it is about the mission. Every episode focuses on both the ship and what’s happening at home, combining science fiction with family drama, and adding a modest dose of romance.

I’m not going to tell you a lot about the specific plotlines running though Away – that would spoil it. I will say that the whole package – space adventure, family and psychological drama, even the liberal sprinkles of teen angst – works for me. In particular, the dynamics aboard the Atlas are both well-conceived and beautifully filmed.  We get the claustrophobic feel of flying through space in a tin can, and the interpersonal tension that comes with a situation inherently fraught with danger. We also get some amazing visuals of space, the moon, and Mars.

A lot of credit for the success of the mission element of Away belongs to the chemistry between the actors. Hilary Swank is a little stiff, but it works with the situation her character is given. More interesting are her crew mates – Misha (Mark Ivanir), Russian cosmonaut and repentant father; Lu (Vivian Wu), Chinese astronaut and chemist under pressure to be someone she is not; Kwesi (Ato Essandoh), British-Ghanaian botanist on his first space mission; and Ram (Ray Panthaki), Indian pilot, medical officer, and second-in-command. Throughout this first season, as the crew is tested by their mission, allegiances form and shift, relationships grow and break, and personal matters become crew matters. The interpersonal drama on the ship is very well done.

Connecting the ship to the ground are Emma and Matt. Matt is a NASA engineer, and part of the mission ground crew. They communicate both personally and professionally as the ship navigates the unknown and Matt tries out single fatherhood with an adolescent. In a nod to the fiction part of science fiction, it appears that the ship can communicate with home by text and cell phone for a really long time after leaving Earth. That conveniently allows Emma to communicate with Alexis as she deals with her mother’s absence.

Some of the family drama is pretty sappy, but I’m okay with it (that is so unlike me). Emma and Matt are soul mates apparently and their love is what will get them through this journey. Barf. But somehow, blended in with the rest of the elements it doesn’t grate (too much). I do think they could tone down this particular part of the series and everyone would be just fine and still understand that Matt and Emma are in love. It would save me a few dozen eye rolls. The adolescent angst is actually not overtly gag-worthy. Talitha Bateman is a good actress and carries what could have become some pretty odious material with a delicate touch that helps us look past some of the clichéd situations.

Overall, I enjoyed this first season of Away more with each passing episode. I felt invested in the characters, and in the mission, with a hint of the same energy and suspense you get when you watch Apollo 13. Unless you’ve never seen a TV show before you know how a lot of things are going to resolve, but there is real tension in the proceedings nonetheless. The actors are very good, the space visuals are stunning, and I like the combination of action, drama, and a look at the psychological price the crew pays for making history. Netflix has not officially renewed Away as of October 15, 2020, but I definitely hope to see a season 2.  

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