Away is one of Netflix’s latest releases and one of their most ambitious ones yet. Set in the near future the series follows a team of astronauts as they attempt the impossible; a voyage to Mars.
With stunning visuals, an ambitious concept, and top tear acting talent, Away promises their audience so much but somehow delivers more.
The series follows Commander Emma Green (Hilary Swank) and her team as they venture across space to set foot where no man has stood before; Mars. Along with the constant threat of death, the team must conquer their differences to reach their mutual goal.
The series has a long list of cinematic, storytelling achievements. The most prominent and impactful one being the exploration and deliverance of its themes. They are embedded in the world, the characters, the dialogue, the plot, and most importantly, in the conflict. They are weaved so intricately into every thread of the story that every emotion felt feels authentic and personal. The three main themes that are going to be discussed is the cost of pursuing dreams, the impact of unity, and the power of emotion.
One of the ways that this impressive result is accomplished is the construction of the premise. Five astronauts from five different nations board a space ship to Mars. They all bring with them their own specialist skillset, which works in harmony with the other four. If one were to be missing the crew wouldn’t be able to survive. They are on a three year round trip through space. Cooperation is essential.
Aboard the Atlas, the astronauts are put through their paces. Not only is death constantly knocking at the door, but cultural, egocentric, religious conflicts are constantly rearing their heads and forcing the astronauts to change as a result. One idea is explained very well through the narrative. It’s that conflict and difference aren’t the same things. One of the astronauts, Kwesi, is the newest to the field and the world-leading botanist. He is of the Jewish faith and continues to practice it regularly.
Usually, it’s thought that science and religion don’t mix so having a character with these particular traits is already interesting. But this is taken one step further, as Kwesi is on a ship with other scientists that can only be assumed to be atheist. There’s conflict in regards to belief systems, obviously, but never disrespect. In a pivotal moment Lu, a more reserved logical astronaut asks Kwesi to pray for them as they land on Mars.
This isn’t Lu stating that her belief system has changed and now she believes in more than science. It’s her reaching out to Kwesi and acknowledging their difference and accepting it. It’s her sharing her space with someone different than her. This is an act of unity. It’s shown to the audience that difference and conflict aren’t the same thing. Difference allows for peace, conflict doesn’t.
The show follows five people risking their lives, their futures, in pursuit of their dreams. They have to compete against the most insane odds to even be considered to go on the mission to Mars. Then they have to pass vigorous mental and physical testing to be approved which requires consistent effort and maintenance and a whole dollop of luck and after all this they have every chance of failing. The odds are continuously stacked against them and the margin of error is almost negligible. They must travel where no man has travelled before, exposing them to extreme mental stress as all their comforts are miles away on Earth. All of this to step foot on Mars, to accomplish their dreams. This theme is weaved throughout the central conflict in the series. But what’s more than that it highlights the power that hope can withhold.
Towards the end of the series an obstacle arises. As a supply rocket, Pegasus attempts to land on Mars in anticipation of the crew’s arrival, it loses connection with the control centre. There’s no guarantee that it’s landed intact. If the rocket hasn’t landed the crew wouldn’t have the supplies needed to survive the mission. They begin to lose hope and plot their course back to Earth. However, one of the astronauts, Lu, discovers a way to use one of the probes from a robotic lander already on Mars to see if it picked up the sonic boom of Pegasus entering the atmosphere, determining whether the supply is ready and waiting for them.
The crew rally together to convince Commander Green to access the rover and sure enough, the sonic boom is detected. Their hope is reignited and it’s decided. The crew is now ready to take a chance and land on Mars with nothing but the hope that Pegasus has landed save and sound. They are willing to risk their lives for the hope that they will stand on Mars and have the materials needed to get them back home.
This is to add to the exploration of the human condition. There’s no logical reason to dream. From a scientific standpoint, the main biologically programmed point of living is to survive. This very mission defies that objective. Humans dream of doing great big things and in the face of obstacles we employ hope. Hope that we will succeed. There are a million things that could have gone wrong. Years of preparation failed in some places and succeeded in others. But in the moments that they didn’t have any answers, they had hope.
This is something that adds to the exploration of what it means to be human that the show delves into. There’s no logical reason to dream, though there are logical dreams. From a scientific standpoint, the main biologically programmed point of living is to survive. This very mission defies that objective. Humans dream of doing great big things and in the face of obstacles we employ hope. There are a million things that could have gone wrong. Years of preparation failed in some places and succeeded in others. But in the moments that they didn’t have any answers, they had hope.
The character of Lu is particularly interesting. She displays qualities that have been expected of her due to her cultural upbringing as stated in the show; honour, discipline and, duty. This has caused her to follow her head and the facts rather than her heart and desires. This experience warms her. She begins to feel and therefore show the audience the power of emotion, the power of being human. She’s in love with a woman on Earth but doesn’t feel comfortable expressing it due to what’s expected of her by her country. She approached everything with a strong logical mindset but by the end, she begins to fight for what she wants regardless of logic. She takes her emotions that are seen as weaknesses and uses them to accomplish what her oppressors never will.
Delivering these all these themes and allowing them to intertwine while remaining clear and resonant is no easy feat. There are areas in which the show stumbles, but the exploration of themes isn’t one of them. The audience is shown the distinction between difference and conflict, the power and strength that can be harnessed from humanity and emotion, and the cost, but more importantly, the reward of pursuing your dreams.