The texture of “Another Life” as a series revels in a structure of both existentialism but also a progression of what life or the essence of what it means to an individual person really is. Katee Sackhoff, in the most dynamic and essential character she has played since Starbuck in “Battlestar Galactica” is a commander who is brought in to lead a mission with a crew who undeniably is stacked against her. The dynamic and the subsequent ideal of perhaps a one way trip is personified in the intentions and perceptions of the crew. The one aspect that truly comes through, whether by design or organically, is the diversity of the characters and the personal interrelations. Some seem forced while others seem very fluid in the very sense of the word. The most interesting of the secondary cast is Blu Hunt as August and Jessica Camacho as Michelle simply because of their dynamic opposite personalities which shows the extremes of what space travel can do because of psychological resilience or as a coping mechanism.
The motivation of the first season (as seen in full but not revealing spoilers) involves finding the source of an alien probe which has made it’s way to Earth. Sackhoff as Captain Niko goes on the voyage as a modulation of protecting her daughter while her husband stays on Earth as a analyst trying to decode what the alien is about. The backdrop is perhaps similar to “Annihilation” which is vastly superior in terms of its texture and philosophy but more esoteric in terms of its character development. Reflexivity and what we think of ourselves play a big part as well as the hierarchy of command but also the curiosity of exploring the unknown.
The interesting structure that some episodes take on is the aspects of say a “Star Trek” episode with angles of the unknown (with a slightly darker tinge) while others can have the dread of say “Alien” or “Event Horizon” with differing levels of success.
Returning to the character work, the writers are not afraid of showing the different facets of human fallibility but also sexuality and insecurity. Some of these interactions and relationships work organically while others require a little more angling in the narrative to work. The most interesting by far but also the one that reflects Niko’s psychology even more is her interaction with William, the onboard AI who controls the ship. Like a variation of The Doctor on “Star Trek: Voyager” melding with that of Bishop in “Aliens” the context of what dictates emotions or the simulation of emotions comes to bare along with elements of the unconscious. This culminates in certain ways as the season progresses.
Back on Earth, the different paradigms reflect in the people on earth reacting to certain stimuli of the alien presence. Selma Blair as a would-be social media maven seems a little too specifically geared to the modern sensibility but her delivery especially in context of what can be perceived actually works in the long run while Tyler Hoechlin as Niko’s left behind husband reacts in understandable ways. The Earthbound story is not as engaging as the one taking place on the ship but, by extension, the stakes seem much higher up in space.
The special effects are effectively done with a certain veracity (much like the recent “Lost In Space”) and take into account some of the ideas that “Interstellar” played into with but sans the elite grandeur vying for the more practical. The design inside Niko’s ship balances between the claustrophobic but the technical much like a blend between The Nostromo in “Alien” and The Sulaco in “Aliens”. There is a dank humid element to the technology inside the ship like a submarine but with the idea that pressure or the lack of it lurks just beyond the walls.
“Another Life” is an interesting perspective into the sci-fi genre with a character worthy of Katee Sackhoff whose career choices will always be compared to her groundbreaking Starbuck on “Battlestar Galactica”. The assemblage of the crew and their dynamic plus a hidden foe which will not be named in various forms keeps the tension in play while exploring different ideas of psychology, sociology and space travel.
By Tim Wassberg
The aspect of loyalty is a concept that unbalances itself many times with “Star Trek: Discovery”. The idea of trust and the greater good can be mired by thoughts and perceptions of selfishness and the intricate values of altruism. In ”Perpetual Infinity”, the idea of what is for the greater good and what simply necessitates survival is what is the key in capturing The Red Angel. Without revealing any plot points, the texture of who we pretend to be always reveals itself in essence who we truly are. Michael Burnham hides her emotions to protect herself from the loss of her mother. Spock hides his emotions because of emotional pain Michael inflicted on him as a child. While the mythic is not as much in play here as the previous episode, the aspect of loss of choice and the resulting idea of consequence takes over the episode in many ways. The fluid dynamics of time have to figure in with what is happening. But the stubborn aspect of Michael’s bloodline in the feeling that every problem can be fixed is undeniable. But as Spock references two aspects of literature in the episode including one to Macbeth, the proof is in between the lines. The texture of tragedy is only a short time away. The future is fluid and is always changing but every possible outcome has a foreboding nature, as evidenced in Christopher Pike, possibly Michael and eventually and most heartbreakingly Spock. It is just in what lays ahead…come what may.
By Tim Wassberg
Stepping into the shoes of “Captain” is not an easy job, especially when the names that have come before as Kirk, Picard and Janeway, especially for a fan who has watched the original show. After conducting a panel with his fellow actors at the CBS All Access TCA Press Day for the new season of “Star Trek – Discovery”, Anson Mount, aka Captain Christopher Pike, spoke exclusively with The Inside Reel about process, texture of character and the sometimes trickiness of canon.
Could you talk a little bit about finding Pike physically? And then mentally, on that note?
Anson Mount: Well, the physical demands is to keep those uniforms fitting (laughing). Not fun for a 45-year-old man. Combined with amazing catering…it’s like torture. (laughing) I loved how Chris Pine sort of perfectly mimics the way that Kirk crossed the bridge and sat on the chair. I wanted to see if I could do it as well as him (laughing) even though it’s a different character, I didn’t really care.
Is that the essence of confidence? Or is it bringing out certain elements of that?
AM: No. It was just an outside-in way of getting comfortable in the captain’s chair because Pike and Kirk are very, very different captains. Kirk leads from the gut. Pike leads from the Star Fleet code of conduct, you know? Very, very different characters.
When you get an established character, can you in a certain way wipe it clean and then writing your own version?
AM: No. It’s a matter of having the first act and the third act, but no second act. You’re being asked to step in and fill out the second act. And first-act Pike and third-act Pike are different Pikes. They say that we literally regenerate every cell in our body every 7 years, so we’re literally different people. So I didn’t really feel constrained at all. I felt the freedom to make Pike my version of Pike.
Kirk always almost had, I think, a jealousy of Pike because of how much Spock loved him. You saw that in “The Cage” (and by extension the TOS episode “The Menagerie”). You being very familiar with canon….there’s so much probably that Pike does not say that we’ll see later in the season. Could you talk about that white space?
AM: About the relationship with Spock?
AM: It was really a matter of feeling it out as the writers figured it out. Really, I got lucky to be handed an actor as incredible as Ethan Peck (as Spock). That guy right there is going to be a big, fat movie star. He’s got it all. Wait until you see him. And he’s a really, really, really good actor. We kind of also took some of the cues from our own friendship that we gained on set. He’s such a lovely guy and, sort of, getting his feet wet in this world for the first time. He was sort of leaning on me perhaps for a few answers to some of the questions that plague us as younger actors.
What questions? About fame? Or walking into this universe?
AM: Just, in general, am I screwing this up? Or just nervous stuff. Because it’s not going to help you. He’d [also] never done TCA before so I was like, “We’re working.” It’s like watching a NFL game from the pressbox. (laughing) Just know that.
But it is daunting kind of walking into this universe, given its history and the fandom for it.
AM: If I sit around and think about it. Yah. Thankfully this role came to me late enough that I’ve learned that when I find myself daunted, it means I’m usually not doing my homework. And I need to put down the mirror and, you know, the internet, and all the bullshit that surrounds what we do. And get to work. Because it just doesn’t help you.
Is it easy to get caught up in though? Because no one is immune to the aspect of expectation…
AM: A little bit. I mean look. We all have a media machine in our pocket. So it’s hard to miss. Your friends are texting you things. You can’t avoid it. But you get better at just filtering it and putting it aside.
Right. But before that happened, what was your impression because you’re such a fan of Star Trek… just stepping in.
AM: Oh my god, it was completely surreal. I mean the first time, I sat in the chair I got quite emotional. And then every day on set – literally every day there’s a moment that you look around and you go, “Wow. I’m in Star Trek. Me. I. Me. I’m the Star Trek. I’m in the captain’s chair. I’m the captain. How did that happen?” Like, I was doing this for free as a kid and now they want to pay me.
I know. I heard a little bit of Shatner right there.
AM: Yeah right.
What was your favorite episode then. You said you grew up with the Kirk. What was your favorite episode?
AM: I always– I can’t remember the title of it, but it’s the episod where he battled the Gorn.
AM: I can not turn that episode off when it’s on. I have to see the slow-motion fight choreography. And the double ax handle from the back of the neck.
Did you want to find a bit of that logic and physicality in Pike?
AM: What I like about Pike is that he’s egoless. He knows that when his bridge crew is working together, [that]is a bigger brain than he will ever have. And that’s what he does– and you’ve seen it already…he’s very good about saying, “I’m lost. Anybody got a better idea?” And he does that throughout the season. I think it makes for great television.
Can you speak to the emotional challenges that he’ll go through?
AM: He goes through some major emotional challenges in this season. I can’t talk about any of them. (laughing) But, you know, I was challenged as an actor on this job as much as I’ve ever been challenged.
The one thing I liked about –obviously we had only seen a couple episodes so far — is the aspect that there’s a feeling a little bit more of the old Star Trek. They’re going and doing problem-solving on our planet. The second episode does that. Could you talk about looking at these scripts and seeing this kind of elements of the character come out?
AM: It’s funny establishing a character on television. You have to be very very very careful about the footprints you’re putting down. Because they’re going to be there forever. They’re going in cement. And particularly with a character that’s as celebrated as this one has been in the past. But you have to remember that it’s not all in your hands. The writers are trying to figure it out at the same time. And so as long as you have a good communication with your writers and he’s [pointing to Alex Kurtzman] an incredible leader, then you’re probably going to be okay. And it was great to learn about this man, this character I’ve come to respect, even more. You’re playing him as we continue through the season. There were moments I was surprised. “So yeah okay. I’ll go with that.'”
Does it make it harder because you know all the intricacies of Star Trek? I mean, you were talking how your favorite character is Data. I’d love for you to talk a little bit more about that.
AM: Say again.
Well, it’s a two-part question. Why did you love Data as a character so much? And how come that appealed to you? You were talking about him, this is your favorite character.
AM: I’m actually jealous that another actor got to play that role. I mean — I can’t think of a better role than a machine trying to figure out what it means to have true sentience. It’s just a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful character. And Brent Spiner did such an amazing job.
My question is also the aspects of canon. When you read the script, you’re probably like, “I see that. I see that. I see that. I see that.” Can you talk about the joy of that? Reading the scripts as a fan and getting to play them.
AM: In terms of my character?
AM: Overall…I mean there’s some things that I honestly I didn’t know. I mean there some really esoteric stuff and easter eggs in our show. Like the Saurians. I didn’t know the Saurians had been established in “Wrath of Khan” for like a second. Okay. That was cool. But yeah we will be referencing canon associate with Pike. But probably not in the way that most are imagining it. I’ll leave you with that.
By Tim Wassberg