The future will be fairly heteronormative if this series is anything to go by. The two silver-suited androids crash-landing on a desolate planet are easily recognisable as binary male and female, in a nipple-less Barbie-and-Ken kind of way.
After dispassionately checking their ship for damage, they begin their mission, the rearing of scarce human embryos in gloopy sacs. Up to this point, rigid robot enunciation is indistinguishable from bad acting, but things are going to get more animated for Mother (Amanda Collin) and Father (Abubakar Salim) when the adorable moppets start staggering around. The spot on Kepler-22b’s surface where they have elected to camp is fissured by gigantic sinkholes. Whoops, there goes one of the kids!
Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, with its gorgeously flawed and strangely soulful replicants running amok in a rain-splashed neon cityscape, remains the reference point for androids on film, so it’s no surprise that he helmed the first two episodes and also serves as an executive producer on the show. Here, everything looks clean, even the dirt. The honed and shrink-wrapped torsos of Mother and Father betray little hint of respiration, but the pulses and tendons in their necks, and the way they seem to speak by expelling air, is no doubt designed to make them appear less creepy. One of them is “a generic service model” and one of them . . . isn’t.
The androids, fugitives from an Earth destroyed by a war of science versus religion, are bringing the children up in atheistic defiance of the Mithraic, who worship a deity called Sol. The child-rearing, land-cultivating business makes for a slow start, before Aaron Guzikowski’s script starts folding and expanding and cutting back and forth. Effects happen before causes, and a narrative where people’s faces can transform into others is bound to make you dizzy.
There are also other surprises lurking on Kepler-22b. How quickly you become something you pretend to be is one aspect of the philosophical game of reality and appearance that runs through the series. Mother’s comment to Father, “The Mithraic are just as vicious and terrible as our creator programmed us to believe!” sets off an epistemological vortex.
Science might as well be magic with the amount of inexplicable flying around, morphing, and killing with a glance that goes on. There’s some horrid business with stolen eyes. More routine is the prophecy about an orphan boy which leads Campion, a survivor of the original embryo batch, to be told: “You are special.” Loaded with conundrums, freighted with portent, no doubt designed to spur endless fanbase commentary, it’s enough to make you fall back in love with linearity.
On Sky Atlantic/Now TV on December 5 at 9pm
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