Thoughts on Lost in Space (Netflix, 2018)

(image courtesy IMP Awards)


Buckle up folks! This is not your childhood’s Lost in Space.

Not that that’s a bad thing – after all for all its kooky loveliness, idiosyncratic appeal and sufficient beloved catchphrases to power a thousand comic-cons for millennia, Irwin Allen’s 1960s journey into the stars was not without its flaws, and the 1998 cinema iteration aside, it’s fascinated this long time fan for many years to see what could be done with bright-and-shiny CGI and some modern storytelling sensibilities.

Wonder no more, good people, for the answer is here in the form of ten new episodes that give a decidedly grittier, ensemble-oriented, and might I say, far more grounded and human take on things, recasting the Robinsons as a fractured, struggling family who make it into space barely intact only to find circumstances propelling them far away, not only from their destination of Alpha Centauri but all kinds of existential wishes and goals.

It’s dark, brooding, action-packed and knowing, a marked departure from the previous series campness and engagingly fey melodrama, that turns everything you know about being lost in space on its head and then some.



EPS 1-3: “Impacts” / “Diamonds in the Sky” / “Infestation” (MINOR SPOILERS)

You first thing you notice, of course, are the state of the art visuals.

Everything from the spinning wonder of the Resolute, the giant mothership of the 24th Colonial Mission (it’s unclear if these are all to the same planet or different ones), zooming through space with a myriad of colonists’ Jupiter spaceships securely attached boldly indicate that this is not your grandmothers’ Lost in Space.

That’s to be expected, of course, since special effects have come a long, long way since the 1960s, and in common with modern takes on Star Trek and Star Wars, everything is brand spanking new and pretty while alluding to the look and feel of the old show.

Sensibly, and correcting one of the oddities of the first series, there are multiple Jupiter colony ships, and this multiple colonists, which makes a great deal of sense if you want to ensure the viability of a colony.

We first see all this technological wonder though when the Resolute, which survives the encounter, but you suspect, only just, is attacked by an unknown alien force in the form of a maniacal killer robot which lays waste to the Mothership itself and many of the colonists.

The Robinsons escape, naturally enough, since it wouldn’t be much of a show without them, but there are some significant differences, with both the family and the overall crew bearing only a passing resemblance to the 1960s interation.

The names at least are the same – John and Maureen Robinson (Toby Stephens and Molly Parker) are the estranged parents (yep, no more happy family; well at least not at first with same major CW-level existential angst in play) head the family with kids, overachiever Judy (Taylor Russell), wisecracking Penny (mina Sundwall) and prodigious but vulnerable Will (Maxwell Jenkins) along for the ride. (The Chariot is also present and accounted for, playing a major role in saving the Robinsons from death-by-freakish-storm at one point.)

Absent are Don West, the Robot, Debbie and good old Zachary Smith, but they appear via some clever plotting which sees everyone, well everyone who survives at least, crashland on the same planet, with only Dr Smith (Parker Posey), who is as conniving and self-preservational as ever, meeting up with the Robinsons by the end of episode 3 (this is after killing at least a couple of people, abandoning others to die and plotting to leave the Robinsons themselves in the lurch; yep same old same old but with way less camp affectation and Posey’s fabulously vulnerable charisma at full throttle.)

We do meet Don West (Ignacio Serricchio), a scrappy engineer who saves Debbie, a chicken (way less bizarre that the chimpanzee in a headdress of old) and an unconscious survivor off the Jupiter 18, Angela Goddard played by Sibongile Mlambo (her name is, of course, a tribute to (a tribute to Angela Cartwright and Mark Goddard, Penny Robinson and Don West respectively in the ’60s iteration) but at the end of these episodes he and Debbie are still out in the arid scrubland of the planet, which by the way, is way off known charts, the end of a very long journey through a rip in space and time.


(image courtesy Netflix)


The Robot (voiced by Brian Steele) makes his grand entrance in episode 1, saving and bonding with Will in a creepily-obsessed way, and becoming a part of the crew, despite the misgivings of father John who is perturbed, more so than Maureen, than the alien AI will only listen to their son, and utters just one phrase – but trust me, it’s a biggie! – “Danger Will Robinson”.

Essentially whenever Will is in danger, and only Will, the Robot’s imperative is to protect him at all costs; what makes this all the more interesting is that he is the same robot, now wiped off his earlier memories (or is he? One scene makes you wonder just how buried they really are), who attacked and killed all the colonists fleeing an Earth, environmentally-compromised by the rather prettily-named “The Christmas Star/Meteor”.

Only Will, via some freaky metal at the Robot’s ship that briefly connects him and his protector to memories of the attack, and “Dr Smith” aka June Harris who witnessed everything and stole her identity from the real Dr Smith (played, ta-dah! by the old Will, Billy Mumy) know the truth and neither are telling for various reasons.

Thing is that along with crushing glaciers, relational fractures within the family – Maureen was effectively a single mother while John, a US Marine, went off on secret missions and no one feels particularly close to him nor he to them, though you can tell they all crave that intimacy – alien eels eating all the methane-based fuel, and sundry other threats to their survival, the Robot is a ticking timebomb.

It’s all part of a much darker look and feel to Lost in Space, which, while it suffers from some of the dreaded so-called “Netflix bloat” (padded narrative), grounds itself in a far more knowing, bleaker milieu, one that is only occasionally leavened by Penny’s wisecracks and appearances by an oblivious Debbie, that reflects much more accurately what a major colonising effort like this one, especially when it goes wrong, would look like.

Neatly and economically-inserted flashbacks to life on earth for the Robinsons and for June Harris (a nod to June Lockhurt who played the first Maureen) fill in and elucidate much of the current argy-bargy and angst, and you’re left satisfied by a show that while it is a little too dark at times, channels much of the spirit of the original show, particularly its focus on family and the challenges they face, on Earth or far off on an unknown planet.

(The Robinsons, despite hearing broadcasts from the Resolute, which has miraculously survived, may be doomed to stay on the planet – which looks much like Earth rather handily – awhile since “Dr Smith”, who, as in the old series, has bonded unsettlingly with Will, has no interest in going back to the Mothership where her ruse will be discovered in all its messy selfishness, meaning she is going to sabotage the hell out of any efforts to return to the Resolute).


Once again, Maureen Robinson regretted letting husband John buy the cheapest GPS on the market (image courtesy Netflix)


EPS 4-6: “The Robinsons Were Here” / “Transmission” / “Eulogy” (MINOR SPOILERS)

Connection seems to be the name of the game in these three episodes.

Specifically the widening of the survivor community with 13 Jupiters discovered by the Watanabes on the Jupiter 11 who have taken everyone’s favourite grafting smuggler Don West (Ignacio Serricchio) onboard after rescuing him from the storm which also took out the Robinsons and Dr Smith (Parker Posey) aka June Harris (tribute to June Lockhart, the old Mrs Robinson) and Jonathan Harris, the old far more campy Dr Smith) and the severely-injured survivor West rescued Angela Goddard (Sibongile Mlambo).

Close friends of the Robinsons as it turns out, Hiroki Watanabe (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) and his wife Naoko (Yukari Komatsu) and their daughter Aiko (Kiki Sukezane) are part of the increasing ensemble nature of the all-new Lost in Space, which isn’t just giving each of the Robinsons their moment to shine – this is no longer the Dr Smith/Will/Robot show and is all the better for it – but a diverse cast of colonists, all of whom have their own agendas for going to Alpha Centauri.

In fact, so diverse and fractured are their motivations – John and Maureen Robinson (Toby Stephens and Molly Parker) can’t even agree they’ll stay together once they reach their destination; if, of course, they reach their destination – that Don West’s observation that you never escape what you’re running away from, it just follows you and nothing really changes looks bang-on accurate.

Certainly as the colonists work together to build a light tower to visually let the Resolute know they’re alive – they can hear the mothership but can’t make it hear them, the result, alas, of the receiving satellite dish crashing to the ground on the planet they are (hopefully temporarily) calling home – a task that should join everyone together in happy, jolly, worker bee-dom (“Hi ho, it’s off to work …”) but which, well, doesn’t.

Not helping matters is the fact that the elected leader, which it seems no one on the ground voted for, a delicious commentary on the divisive nature of current political dynamics, Victor Dhar (Raza Jaffrey) is a poncey, obnoxious dictator-wannabe who appears to think he knows better than anyone else (I smell rampant insecurity just below the surface), and the identifying of the Robot by Angela as the killer machine that killed her husband and 26 others during the attack on the Resolute.

People do work together, and they get the job done – well, almost, some rather large dragon-like indigenous creatures lay waste to the tower, triggering, at Will’s encouragement, the Robot’s red-eyed killer mode which unsettles everyone as you might expect – but it’s a rocky collaboration and makes you wonder how things will go if and when they reach Alpha Centauri.

You can throw Dr Smith’s Machiavellian moves into the complicating mix with Parker Posey once again giving nuanced, superbly-detailed expression to the fake therapist’s singular will to live, no matter what, an intent that sees her pollute the relationship, incipient though it is, between West and Judy (Taylor Russell), turns Angela into what is effectively an assassin (of the Robot), play mind games with Will (Maxwell Jenkins) and lie her proverbial to anyone who’ll listen. (The truth is about to out though with West rescuing proof of the Jupiter he crashed on, the one with the fuel they all need to leave the planet, that Dr Smith is not, in fact, Dr Smith. Seeing that leads in the next few eps should be delicious since you can argue with words but not flesh-and-blood physical proof of identity and duplicity.


Liar, liar perpetual pants on fire Dr Smith manipulates another life for her own end (image courtesy Netflix)


On the more positive side of the connection equation, John and Will are slowly reconnecting, although in not as warm-and-fuzzy a way as you might expect; sure they have their lovely, touching moments, as do Maureen and Will connected by flashbacks which give you some idea why, beyond motherhood alone, that mum did so much to save her son and get onto the 24th Mission, but once dad finds out his son has lied about the Robot’s origins, some tough love comes into play.

Specifically the building of a cairn, high atop a mountain, to the 27 survivors who died on the Resolute, a profoundly-moving act which is lent even more resonance when, after the Robot has gone red-eye rager one more time in the service of saving one of the Robinsons, Will decides he has no choice but to order him off that same cliff (to his supposed destruction but I suspect this is not the end of the Robot), placing a 28th rock on the cairn.

It’s yet another example of the emotional profundity that the newest iteration of Lost in Space is bringing to the table, which although not perfectly-realised, goes a long way to adding some grit and substance to the 2018 version (which continues to dazzle with some fine-ass landscape cinematography, world-building and technological marvels.)

Particularly it’s willingness to balance the best of humanity – peoples’ willingness to join together, the ever-closer(ish) family bonds of the Robinsons (and that of the Watanabes who look tight af), the endless expectation of bigger, better and brighter – with the darkest exemplified by the ructions caused by Victor, dissension over the fate of the Robot, relational fractures across families and the wider colonisation group.

Realistic it may be but unbearably bleak it is not – though the scene where DR Smith fake-therapies Angela and leaves her a murderous mess comes awfully close – with some sweetly cheesy moments such as the CW-esque young love between Penny (Mina Sundwall, who keeps nailing the quippy oneliners) and Victor’s son Vijay (Ajay Friese), and the miraculous survival of Don West at one point (which is followed by some funny, inspired back-and-forth between he and Judy) leavening the serious mix, a po-faced narrative dynamic made all the more grim by Maureen discovering that the planet is edging close to a black hole on its orbit which will fry all life on the surface.

In some ways, the narrative twists and turns, and commentary in Lost in Space are nothing you haven’t seen before, but the show’s willingness to tell it like it is, to take the gloss of the noble idea of saving humanity and underscore that it’s just as flawed and corrupted as anything we attempt, adds a healthy dose of grounded humanity to proceedings.

Breaking Bad it most clearly is not, with relations between the Robinsons and the wider community given moments to decay, heal and fray as needed, and more than a little narrative coincidence and postmodern angst writ melodramatically large but it works as an updating of a much-loved old idea, reminding us once again the more things change, and you could say that things have changed a lot (we’re given some insight into how violent and decayed earth has become), the more they, and humanity in all its flawed glory, stays the same.


It was immediately obvious to everyone that Will needed to work on his parking if he was going to get his spaceship driving license anytime soon (image courtesy Netflix)


EPS 7-8: “Pressurized” / “Trajectory” (MINOR SPOILERS)

If you ever needed proof that the brand-new Lost in Space is a creature of our modern, ratings-driven, golden age of television, consider the fact that the eighth episode, “Trajectory”, which sees a stripped-down Jupiter 4 piloted by John Robinson and Don West attempting to escape the planet’s atmosphere to reach the mothership The Resolute and get help, seemingly ends with the pilots’ deaths.

I say “seemingly” because though there is a great bright, flaming boom in the sky, leaving Judy and Penny bereft and weeping in shock, Lost in Space has proven itself, thus far at least, to be less Game of Thrones / The Walking Dead casually brutal, and more network-friendly family drama; and yet in an age when one of the main characters can die in This is Us and leave their family devastated, there is no such thing as a safe place for a character.

So perhaps John and Don are gone – certainly the focus on John and Maureen rekindling their love via Tar Pit Therapy (not an optimum marriage counselling technique, what with imminent death looming and all that) and Judy falling for Don as he becomes less mercenary, realising that humanity might possible be its own reward is a worrying sign that their end is nigh – but then Lost in Space, while dark and gritty, is not, again so far at least, Game of Thrones, Joffrey-dying-at-his-own-wedding dark.

I suspect that’s not going to change anytime soon and we will spend episode 9 finding out just how the two most loved men of the show managed to avoid joining the Jupiter 4 in the planet’s atmospheric debris field?

What was heartwarmingly “fun” about these two episodes, if such a word can be used when two main characters may’ve died, when the leader of the team Victor decides to use what little fuel is less to get his family and no one else’s off the planet (thanks to son Vijay spilling Penny’s secret about the planet’s fiery end; goodbye nascent teen relationship, we barely knew you) and when Dr Smith gets even more nastily manipulative (yes, that is possible), is that the Robinsons got to spend some quality time bonding with each other.

Granted, it was not under the best of circumstances with John and Maureen almost dying in a tar pit they backed into when fleeing some gas explosions – the same ones that put Judy under pressure when the fuel tank fell on someone mid-dash through the erupting gas field – and Will, barely diverted by Penny (who gave up a date with Vijay; no great loss there really), still mourning the Robot’s cliff-falling “death” but family is the cornerstone of Lost in Space and it was nice to those bonds get a little stronger.


So laughing in the spacesuit helmet is probably not the best idea Don West has ever had (Image courtesy Netflix)


Of course that was not without few hulking great big bits of narrative contrivance but frankly, you expect that in a show like this that is more about getting the Robinsons to be a cohesive unit and staying that way than anything else.

Even so, the scene where the tank fell onto the brave previously nameless Hero now known as Evan (Iain Belcher) who barely got to speak fondly of his love of surfing and flirt with Doctor Judy (in front of Don West no less!) was a little too CW for my liking, all angsty-angst and obvious villainry – that Victor is a Bad Man who makes Heartless Decisions! (yes it sounds like a Trump tweet but kinda played that obviously too) – but it gave Don a chance to humanise and Judy a chance to actually connect with someone other than family and look like she was happy about it, so it had its pluses.

Of course, the big impetus for Judy and Don at this point is exposing Dr Smith as an impostor; while they expect a Scooby Doo-esque ending where the baddy is shown for the fraudulent no-dogooder that they are, what they expect is Maureen Dr Smith up in the Jupiter 2’s garage, only to have her manipulate the hell out of the lot of them.

Have they learnt nothing? She left a man to die, and still they debate her and entertain her honey-coated lies which are tailor-made for whoever she’s seeking to deceive – in this case Maureen, who didn’t challenge Dr Smith’s claim to be Jessica Harris, a physicist, John who almost seems to buy the fact that his wife is a lying lair (even after their helium-fueled kiss-and-gigglefest and Will who buys the lies hook, line and proverbial and sets in train a series of events that lead to the have they/haven’t they died big kaboom in the sky.

In a show that is impressively entertaining, even if it is overly fond of diabolically dire life-threatening situations – to be fair, they are trapped on a dying planet so ramping up the stakes make sense – the examination of what one damaged, narcissistic person will do to survive adds an extra layer of layered darkness to the family-oriented proceedings.

Humanity comes out looking both good and bad from these two episodes, but the real driver is getting us to the point in episodes 9 and 10 where stakes are sky-high (quite literally) and the Robinsons and their survivor community face a real risk of being Lost in Space for a while yet.

On the edge of your seat yet? Episodes seven and eight suggest you should be getting ready to perch on the front edge of your cushions (although I have a feeling that the Robinsons will be just fine; trust me on this) …



EPS 9-10: “Resurrection” / “Danger, Will Robinson” (MINOR SPOILERS)

“I bet everything looks pretty from far enough away.” (Dr Smith)

Wise words, their sage impact lessened considerably by the fact that it’s well nigh impossible to trust Dr Smith in any way shape or form. Especially when you’re Maureen Robinson and you’re being held captive by your lying, identity-cheating spaceship-guest who is determined to re-animate Will’s “dead” Robot so she can feel safe and in control, all while husband John and co-pilot Don West may be floating (and they are!) up in a fragment of a Jupiter in orbit.

Yes, at that point, trust may be a hard thing to come by, with any honesty that appears to be forthcoming, and any bonds, tenuous as they are, forged between captor and captive rendered dull and void, when just as you’re escaping with plucky daughter Judy, the Robot comes alive, sides with Dr Smith – bit of an imprinted baby bird thing going on here with Will now well out of the game – and takes them both captive once again.

It won’t surprise you to learn that all this trust-breaking and Dr Smith-preserving is taking place as the planet’s tremors are getting worse, the black hole is pushing the sun closer to scorching the surface, and The Resolute is getting ready to head off into the wild galactic beyond.

Tension! Worry! Yikes! Danger, Will Robinson! (Oh wait the Robot isn’t saying that anymore but no mind, it still fits.)

Fear not though because Will has found a fuel source – giant guano-pillars in a cave filled with pterodactyl-bat hybrids around whom you need to be very A Quiet Place-y lest you wake the beasties – and he and sister Penny have sneaked off the Watanabes’ ship so the family can live out that famous Annie Lennox song “Robinsons are Doing it For Themselves” (OK, not the title but close enough, paraphrasing-wise) and John and Don are alive and all is well-ish.


“Hurrah kids we’re about to leave the planet, Dr Smith is trapped, Dad and Don are safe and we’ll join the Resolute and … oh wait that’d kill off any prospect of season 2 right? As you were then” (image courtesy Netflix)


All these machinations aside, and it’s a bust couple of episodes as we race towards season 1’s end, things do get a little bit ridiculousness or a lot as things build to a possibly literally fiery close.

There are a tad too many narrative contrivances all piled upon atop the other, and while the revelation that “the Christmas Star” meteor was actually a crashing alien spaceship from the Robots’ race, sent to retrieve an engine stolen by Earth (yay, stuffed-up First Contact!) is pretty damn cool, the neat plot devices start to look all a little bit too OTT.

Still, having said that, the sheer love of the Robinsons for each other – largely newly re-discovered, proof that crashing on an alien planet can be good for you; it’ll be the next big therapy trend, trust me – and the bravura way they go about solving problems, and the neat manner in which the episode ends with the original team present and accounted for – Robinsons + Don and Dr Smith; the Robot is out in space somewhere but I doubt we’ve seen the last of him – and the Jupiter 2 is stolen away by alien tech taking them on a wormhole trek to the Robot’s dangerous home planet just as the Resolute is about to rescue them (Victor’s kinda nice after all! Hurrah!) pretty much saves the lot of it!

That’s been the case with all-new Lost in Space all along. Yes, some of the narrative contrivances have been crazily overdone and flimsy as the sets on the old 1960s iteration, and the characters have acted dumb as sticks to make some parts of the storytelling work, lordy, the sheer fun of it all, and family togetherness that is the Robinsons have kept things nicely humming along.

Honestly, one thing that people seem to have forgotten is that good old-fashioned storytelling isn’t inherently logical; there will be big messy premise breaks and strange departures from the way characters act – on that note, we humans are a contradictory lot so acting out of character isn’t that big a leap – but if the story is a good one, and the all-new, singing and dancing (OK that didn’t happen but man it should have!) Lost in Space has been, then it’s all good, especially if it leads to a “Danger, Will Robinson” humdinger of a cliffhanger!

Oh and makes them really lost all over again, and ready for season 2 which you can only hope get greenlit any second now … after all, they can only hang in space for so long you know …


Related Post