Season 1, Episode 1: “All That We Left Behind”
Directed by Mike Cahill
Written by Jeff Buhler
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Torches and Pitchforks” – click here
In the midst of outer space, where there are trees and other debris floating around, a ship – the Nightflyer – is experiencing problems. We see Dr. Agatha Matheson (Gretchen Mol) struggling to look for something, just as the gravity returns to normal, slamming her to the floor. She starts recording a message, trying to keep quiet. A whistling man, Rowan (Angus Sampson), soon arrives with an axe in hand while the doc hides away. She records a warning: “Do not board the ship. Do not bring the Nightflyer back to Earth.” Then Rowan attacks her. Dr. Matheson manages to get her warning message out. Once the message is on its way the doc cuts her own throat open.
But let’s jump back in time a little.
A man named Karl D’Branin (Eoin Macken) is scanned for viruses at a checkpoint. There are “quarantine zones” setup all over the place. Karl’s been chosen to go on an important mission into space. Others chosen to go are part of his team: Melantha Jhirl (Jodie Turner-Smith), and Lommie (Maya Eshet), whose “neural implant” allows them to communicate with ship. Their mission involves “the Volcryn,” which are a mythical race of interstellar beings that traipse around the universe like nomads. There’s a security team along with the crew, as well. And there’s another addition, unwanted by some of the crew members: an “L1,” a possibly dangerous, unstable telepath. When the L1 – Thale (Sam Strike) – is brought in it’s done with caution, transporting him inside a metal pipe. He’s still able to toss one of the security team like a rag doll. Already things are uneasy amongst the crew members, and many are disturbed by Thale’s presence.
Karl tries to keep things cool, but nobody is happy about the L1 being on board the Nightflyer. There was some kind of awful event or massacre involving these telepaths, which makes people leery. On top of the mission is a mysterious captain, Roy Eris (David Ajala) who never leaves his quarters and appears as “just a projection” to those on deck with him, and then there’s Chief Engineer Auggie (Brian F. O’Byrne), seemingly keeping people in line.
In flight, things begin to go very wrong. The ship’s out of control, then one of the pilots tries to correct things only to be tossed around through the air, smashed into the consoles, and nearly killed by an unseen force— and it ain’t gravity! This has the security guys believing it’s Thale’s doing. When they start fucking with the L1, they piss the telepath off and get fucked with in return. Later, Dr. Matheson goes to see Thale, asking if he saw anything when the ship malfunctioned, hoping it wasn’t him. At the same time, Lommie communicates with the ship and finds no results, either.
D’Branin sees frost appear on the inside of one of the ship’s windows before he hears the voice of a little girl teasing: “Try and catch me.” He believes this is a result of the telepath on board. He asks Agatha if she’s having trouble controlling the L1 under her care. There’s a history between these two characters. Is it professional? Romantic? Or, perhaps, both?
Well, Karl’s not the only one experiencing strangeness on the Nightflyer. Melantha chats with Captain Eris, as he watches through one of his security cameras. She sees him appear to her as a holograph. He’s interested in her, seeing as how she’s merely a cadet and “genetically engineered” for space travel.
Rowan doesn’t believe much in the mission. He sees humanity as a virus that “has killed its host,” moving on from the Earth we’ve destroyed trying to find a new one that we’ll surely just destroy eventually, too. He doesn’t think the Volcryn, or any aliens, want to be in contact with us.
“We are the disease”
Melantha winds up near drowned in an oxygen tank after the ship malfunctions again, seeing visions of herself exploding into a red mist of limbs and organs in the adjacent tank. Is this the ship’s doing, manipulated by the Volcryn? Is it the telepath, sketching away a vision of horrific death? Lommie manages to get Melantha out of the tank before she dies, but there’s a serious problem on the Nightflyer.
Karl and the others are sure the L1’s responsible. He comes with security to take Thale to see Captain Eris. This makes the telepath feel threatened, which isn’t good for anybody. Although Agatha tries to keep him at bay, she can’t control his every move. Thale brings a couple people to their knees and gets tranquillised by D’Branin.
When Thale wakes he’s sedated, unable to use his telepathy. Yet he already knows some things, revealing the thoughts of D’Branin to the others, such as the mission’s going to take nearly another half a year. Captain Eris wants to take the telepath “offline” so they can examine the ship without interference. Agatha doesn’t want to, but she has to— will this cause damage to their relationship in the long run? Yeah, probably.
Karl continually revisits memories of his dead daughter Skye. An excellent visual nod – between the atmospheric location and the red raincoat – to Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now while D’Branin goes back to his past. Suddenly he’s having terrifying memories, as his daughter’s face becomes zombie-like, and everything’s surreal. He sees his daughter emerge from his memory, calling to him. He, naturally, believes it’s Thale, even with the telepath unconscious.
Except when Agatha goes back to see her patient she sees he’s gone. Who could’ve let him out? Somebody “breached the system.” Everyone assumes it’s the L1 trying to get free, causing carnage. Dr. Matheson attempts to keep them from tunnel vision. This forces Karl and his team to search for Thale, before Eris’s men start killing. When Lommie tries to communicate with the ship there’s only an unsettling response from her mouth in another’s voice: “Get out” (channelling some Amityville Horror). Unfortunately one of the pilots gets burned to a crisp when he runs into Thale below deck, only serving to make people more afraid.
But is he the one causing the rest of the horror?
Father Gore digs this first episode! Nightflyers holds a lot of promise in terms of juxtaposing extraterrestrial life and superhuman characters with humanity, asking questions about whether we’re worthy of being saved, being contacted by aliens, and more. Let’s see where this spacey road takes us.
“Torches and Pitchforks” is next time.