NIGHTFLYERS is a SYFY series based on a novella by George R.R. Martin originally published in 1980, long before Martin became the Games Master of Thrones. It is an entirely different thing than what you are likely to be expecting from a Martin based show, but don’t let that put you off from watching it. It has merit of it’s own and is a fascinating story that reveals itself to the viewer in an unconventional way.
The block of the first five episodes starts at what seems like an ending and works back from a specific point and uses people’s memories to bring forth the secrets and truths that the crew are both hiding and desperately trying to find. The time is 2093, the not too distant future where Earth is failing and the Nightflyer is on a mission to contact an alien eidolon to save humanity.
Starring Jodie Turner-Smith as Melanthia Jhirl, Eoin Macken as Karl D’Branin, David Ajala as Roy Eris, Maya Eshet as Lommie, Sam Strike as Thale, Gretchen Mol as Dr. Agatha Matheson, Brian F. O’Byrne as Auggie, and Angus Sampson as Rowan the show is very well cast with actors who are sympathetic and not the standard crew that one is used to seeing.
The story is a familiar one to science fiction fans, the race to save our people against a ticking clock of destruction brought on by our own neglect of the world and our hubris, but it is different in some of the human abilities and concepts brought to the table. In NIGHTFLYERS world, human telepathy is a very real and somewhat dangerous talent that has manifested in a small part of the population that is being studied and controlled by doctors, like Agatha Matheson, with mixed results and an eye to using these talents, like Thale’s, as a tool to help the Nightflyer accomplish its mission. The telepaths or L1s are treated much like one would treat a weapon or dangerous substance. As the story begins, the crew treats Thale with distrust and fear which does nothing to improve his state of mind. Strange things begin to happen and gruesome deaths begin to occur. The ship itself seems to be trying to control and dispose of the people inhabiting it for reasons that are not readily apparent. Roy Eris, the captain, only appears as a hologram among the crew which is a mystery and a concern to Karl D’Branin, the leader of the mission and makes him a person who it is difficult to trust. Angus, a xenobiologist and another distant member of the crew, is drawn in closer to the central mystery by his and D’Branin’s attempts to understand why the ship is malfunctioning or deliberately trying to sabotage the mission.
The ship itself, much like a L1, seems to be able to read the minds of the crew and find their weak spots and fears to use them against the individuals it wishes to manipulate.
In the first five episodes, All That We Left Behind, Torches and Pitchforks, The Abyss Stares Back, White Rabbit, and The Sacred Gift, the story and the motivations of the characters are allowed to surface as the story rolls backwards and forwards in a fractured narrative that lends much to a fascinating viewing experience. The show draws the viewers in by giving you the story and information as the characters and relationships develop in a natural way. Much like the memories of humans themselves, you only see what the show wants you to see as your brain might organically let those memories surface and start connecting the points that lead you to the moment of full understanding.
Human emotions are central to understanding the story. How we repress painful feelings and avoid dealing with issues that are difficult drive the narrative. How we keep to ourselves and do not trust others and how that impedes our ability to live our lives and do our work.
The show is a co-production of SYFY and NBC Universal and is produced by Andrew McCarthy, who also directed some of the episodes. Yes, that Andrew McCarthy. The showrunner is Jeff Buhler, who also wrote the remake of Pet Sematary and the adaptation of The Midnight Meat Train, so it’s thriller and horror credits are definitely present and accounted for. The show should definitely be given credit in casting people of color in leading roles and casting actors in general with sensitivity and gifted with strong and special qualities of presence.
The tension and fear radiate off the screen and the show is both thrilling and violent right from its beginning moments. The ship’s set is really quite beautiful and is a practical effect as it was built to give a sense of reality to the Nightflyer’s crew and thus to the viewers. It really works. You can see the level of work put into making the show’s setting that pays off in the set of your mind’s reality. This is not a cheap jack space show built for a hour’s entertainment and quickly thrown away. It is meant to linger in the mind and nestle up against your brain in perhaps a not so comforting way. In this, it succeeds. It is a show that you do not want to miss.
NIGHTFLYERS will debut on Dec. 2nd on SYFY