I should be honest and admit that I only watched Syfy’s “Nightflyers” (now streaming on Netflix) because I was curious to see George R.R. Martin’s sci fi creation. I am such a fan of Game of Thrones that I wanted to see how he would bring an epic series to outer space. Unfortunately though, Nightflyers didn’t blow me away with its brilliance and I felt that the better part of 440 minutes I devoted to watching the series could have been better used to watch something else.
Synopsis: Professor Karl D’Branin (Eoin Macken) has always been fascinated with communicating with the Volcryn, an alien life form believed to be far more advanced than the human race. He gets the chance to fulfill his dream when the legendary Roy Eris (David Ajala), offers to take him to the void to make contact with the aliens. However, as the ship nears its goal, strange things begin to happen and the crew begin to realize that the success of their their mission might come at the cost of their lives.
“Nightflyers” starts out pretty strong, opening with the scene where psychologist Dr. Agatha Matheson (Gretchen Mol) flees the wrath of the team’s xenobiologist Rowan (Angus Sampson), who was clearly suffering from a violent psychotic break. This isn’t really a spoiler because the trailer basically uses this scene to promote the series. In the scene, Agatha sends out a message to Earth about their situation at the Nightflyer and warns them against boarding the ship or bringing it back to Earth. This was undoubtably the best scene in the entire series, and unfortunately, the momentum it built was not sustained overall. I will expound further as I review the series.
Nightflyers was not entirely horrible, not by a long stretch. Technically, it had great scoring and cinematography, and there were also some strong episodes that helped build up to the climax.
I also liked that apart from the threat of the Volcryn, the series added an additional complication that the team had to deal with on board the Nightflyer, as well. Apart from people going nuts on board, it was a nice touch to have that extra challenge to deal with to make things more interesting. While it wasn’t an entirely original idea, it gave the crew something to do in the first five episodes of the series, at least.
Unfortunately, a big budget production can’t always define the end product because the series’ biggest problem was in its character building. It really sunk the quality of the series from the beginning and it steadily grows worse as it progresses.
Lets start off with lead character Karl D’Branin, who for the lack of a kinder term was a selfish jerk. As leader of the science team, one would think that he might feel some sort of responsibility for the people he brought on board the mission and see to their well being at least, but no — good ol’ Karl spent the better part of the series obsessessing over his deceased daughter, even in the face of a life and death situation that could have possibly saved the life of Rowan’s partner. This very same obsession also made him oblivious to the suffering of Agatha, whom he claimed to love. That’s leadership for you.
Should we get started with Roy Eris, then, who appears to be confident and in command of his ship and its people, only to be revealed as a spineless lilly livered wimp who felt that his life goal was that he had to measure up to the expectations of a woman, not to mention his helplessness against his mother’s consciousness. Its really too bad that the two weakest people in the series were the two who wielded the most power on board. The two people who were controlled by their irrational connections with the past were the ones who made the key decisions that everyone else needed to follow. The ship was doomed from the start.
I know Melantha was supposed to be the badass leader chick like Danai Gurira’s Michonne or Okoye, but while Jodie Turner-Smith was saying all the right things, her acting lacked conviction and therefore failed to produce the impact needed to come through as a strong female character. All that posturing really lost steam with the fact that her character used her sexuality to get what she wanted, without regard for the feelings of others.
The only three characters who counted were actually the L-1 telepath Thale (Sam Strike), Rowan (Angus Sampson) and Lommie (Maya Eshet). Unfortunately though, they were relegated to pawn positions, used at will by Karl and Eris to advance their own agenda.
Acting wise, these three actors also delivered superbly on their roles. Angus Sampson did especially well with his Jack Torrance moment. His shift from chill and jolly scientist to distraught, murderous griever was testament to his good acting. I also felt for Thale, who, while ostracized, connected more as a human than Karl ever did. Lommie was badass, plain and simple. A definite MVP in at least four episodes. She has weird hair though, that always distracted me from her heroics.
All in all, I think Nightflyers could have fared better as a six episode series or even a movie. There was too much time devoted to a buildup that didn’t really pay off in the end, in a justifiable way at least. There was just too much fluff disguised in cool alien jargon. Unfortunately, these were only distractions from the truth that Nightflyers was a sub-par sci fi series despite the hype that surrounded it.