At the end of night one of SyFy’s miniseries “Ascension” it turns out the crew pioneering to a new world aren’t actually in outer space — they are the center of sociological experiment and only think they’ve spent their entire lives amongst the stars. The ship is actually stationary and just made to feel like they are in space, but really they are being observed by scientists on the Earth as they live out the 100 year experiment.
Showrunner Philip Levens (“Smallville”) cites the NASA’s original Orion project, which sought to send humans into deep space — and was recently relaunched — as the inspiration for the series. While “Ascension” also did not manage to get its crew into the great beyond, Levens reveals to Zap2it that it’s still the eventual goal.
“It’s not just like you can take a person and put them in a spaceship,” Levens says, “What you’ll learn is that [Ascension] is possibly designing, or influencing on a genetic level, what we’d need to get to other worlds. Before we can get there we have to build the type of person that can live there.”
What type of person is that exactly? When viewers enter the world of “Ascension” a murder has just been committed on board and as Officer Oren Gault (Brandon Bell) investigates, the ship’s secrets begin to leak out. It becomes clear early on that no one is exactly who they say they are.
Part of what determines a person’s personality is an “Ascension” phenomenon called “the crisis.” As each person born on the ship reaches their tween years they have to come to terms with the fact that they will never know life or people outside of the ship they were born on.
“How people survive the crisis tells you a lot about what they are going to do on board the ship. They are very clearly faced with that stark realization and it can be overwhelming for some people,” Levens says. “It can create an existential crisis. Dealing with that is what makes them adult. It makes someone like Gault a strong successful person. Or someone else might go another way and end up a Stokes type.”
The development of character also happens in a culture of people that never experienced historical landmarks like the Civil Rights Movement or the Cold War, or any of their ramifications. In many ways, Lorelai’s (Amanda Thomson) murder is the crew’s cultural turning point, and they’ll have to grapple with the idea that one of their own is a killer.
“This ship bypassed everything. [The launch] was right before the [Kennedy’s] assassination. [The murder] is their Kennedy in Dallas,” Levens explains. “This is the thing that really starts peeling away the layers of the onion where they realize the world that they’ve been presented may not be 100 percent accurate. It’s their fall, really.”
The “Ascension” journey continues Dec. 16 and 17 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on SyFy.