There is one entirely coincidental plot in Netflix’s Hilary Swank starrer interstellar drama Away that will either connect or repel a viewer from watching the 10 hour-long episodes– the parallels the plot unknowingly draws with the current COVID-19 era. While the crew aboard the space-bound Atlas is busy mourning the fact that they are apart from their loved ones, missing out on so much, the real world is having a similar face-off with the pandemic.
Away, on this point, will appeal to those who are looking for some emotional catharsis as the sentimental character arcs will do the task. But if you sought a story that would have taken you “away” to another planet, allowing you to stop thinking about the pandemic and stifle the morbidity that the never-ending lockdown is accompanied by, then you are in for a nasty surprise. While Away pitches space exploration paired with powerful characters, it sometimes gets borderline sappy to the point that it seemingly forgets its overarching theme– landing the first humans on Mars.
Created by Andrew Hinderaker and executive-produced by Jason Katims, Matt Reeves, Adam Kassan and Ed Zwick, Away follows the journey of a diverse crew of space explorers brought together for the erstwhile Mars mission. The group is led by American astronaut Emma Green (Hilary Swank), who goes from seriously believing in her lifelong dream of going to Mars to spending the remaining episodes on a guilt trip, thinking she is a bad mom, not a good wife, and not capable of being a good leader.
Her crew is made up of Russian engineer Misha (Mark Ivanir)– a critic of Emma and an ally of the Chinese taikonaut Lu (an admirable Vivian Wu), Indian medical officer and second-in-command Ram (Ray Panthaki), and the endearing Ghanaian-British botanist Kwesi (amazingly endearing Ato Essandoh). While they are to live onboard the Atlas for the next three years, on Earth, the story focuses on Emma’s husband, fellow NASA worker Matt Logan (Josh Charles), and their teenage daughter Lex (Talitha Bateman) as they face both emotional and health hurdles, giving Emma the ever-constant frown on her face.
But apart from the team on the Atlas and their occasional peeks outside revealing a pitch-black space, Away feels less like a sci-fi show more of a soap-opera. Though there are powerful characters and their moving backstories that you will definitely root for– like that of Lu and Kwesi– sadly the series’ protagonist, Hilary Swank’s Emma is not one of them. Had it not been the prime arc, it would have been easily forgotten.
The creators of Away, in their mission to put forward a woman who can follow her dreams and also be worried sick for her family, added too much melodrama to the character. It is overdone to the extent that while watching Emma spiralling into self-pity during her countless moments of emotional distress you will actually wish for the film to suddenly go all Alien and produce a monster to gobble her up, ending her often frustratingly overstretched misery.
But apart from her, every crew member is more interesting and have far more compelling backstories that are only boosted by the exceptional production design, by David Sandefur who captures the majesty and grandeur of space.
The life on-board the Atlas is initially the crew bumping into each other, unused to the stuffy moving space and walking being switched to floating while battling some actual in-space issue (like losing eyesight, peeling skin). It evokes a sense of reality and authenticity, something which the prime character of Away is unable to achieve. But its remaining characters have been beyond promising in their dynamic stories, which Away would be better off exploring in its next season.