Nightflyers S1– Episode 1: “All That We Left Behind”
Starring: Gretchen Mol, Angus Sampson, Jodie Turner-Smith, Eoin Macken, David Ajala, Sam Strike, and Maya Eshet
Written by: Jeff Buhler
Directed by: Mike Cahill
In Space, No One Can Hear Your [SPOILERS AHEAD.]
“This is not a distress call. This is a warning.”
Horror and hard science fiction meld really, really freaking well in the macabre and engrossing first episode of Nightflyers! Based on a novella that sprang from GRRM’s choo-choo hat covered brain back in the Eighties, the writer of the criminally underrated Midnight Meat Train Jeff Buhler translates the claustrophobic, gimmicky tone of the breezy novella into a slick, instantly arresting pilot episode. Given a sleek, Ridley Scott-esque look by director Mike Cahill, of The Path and The Magicians fame, this pilot episode grabs viewers by the throat with a blood-soaked cold open but keeps them as it starts to unfold a dozen or so interesting adventure hooks and spook-house thrills.
All that plus the added novelty of it all taking place on a goddamn spaceship. Back when Martin wrote this thing, he was responding to a challenge. A colleague told him that horror and science fiction were incompatible in prose. Well, if this first episode is any indication, Nightflyers more than rose to that challenge.
It is kind of impossible not to talk about this opening episode without discussing it’s truly brava opening. The first image we’re greeted with is deep space. But slowly what looks like pine needles start to float into frame. Then a full Douglas Fir, roots and all, free-floating in the expanse, along with large wooden crates, banging across the hull of a large capital ship. Our first true look at the Nightlfyer, our titular ship and “haunted house.” Automatically, just as a viewer, I was instantly engaged, just on an imagery level. It reminded me a lot of the opening moments of SyFy’s, now Amazon’s, The Expanse and literally anything that reminds me of The Expanse gets a large amount of slack.
But then this bloody thing did me one better. Suddenly we are inside the ship seeing a panicked woman (the brilliant Gretchen Mol, who should have been a megastar four times over a DECADE ago), attempting to navigate the ship in zero-G, stalked by a whistling, ax-wielding psychopath. The rest of the cold open is a violent, bloody-knuckled slasher movie, in which Mol’s Dr. Agatha Matheson (I see you, GRRM) desperately attempts to send off a warning back to Earth presumably, telling them not to allow the ship back. It is brutal, admittedly gimmicky stuff, especially the scene’s bloody final note BUT, what is horror without some level of gimmickry? And it kept me on the hook! I think it will (hopefully) hook a lot of viewers.
And then the episode just blooms outworld as it fleshes out it’s dire, very-Event Horizon world. In oppressive title cards, we are told it is 2093. The rest of the worldbuilding is thankfully a bit more subtle than that thanks to Buhler’s script.
As he is introducing the rest of the crew, I’m guessing a few days or even months before the gory opening. He is slyly snaking through threads of the story about this world. A world beset by some sort of super plague and one where we discovered an alien spacecraft, called the Volcryn, in an area of dense space known as The Void. Oh, there is also a super rich guy (who may or may not be a vampire? Details as they come.) named Roy Eris, played with icy corporate steel by David Ajala, who wants to make first contact to save the Earth. AND telepaths exist and are apparently superpowered serial killers like Thale (Mindhunter’s Sam Strike, who brings another level of creepy to the proceedings).
It is a lot. I know. This opening episode really grounds it all in haunted house theatrics. Paranoia rises throughout the ship due to malfunctions, visions projected from Thale, and just the overall creepiness of space travel. The science fiction trappings of the concept really lend themselves well to horror. Though I sincerely have no idea where it is going (and what we have seen so far is even real, given the narrative complication of a freaking telepath), I am really on board with this so far. It watches like a really fun Call of Cthulhu module plays. I think that may be the best possible way I could articulate it.
Verdict: Watch it!
Bottom line, we should be supporting Gretchen Mol just whenever we can. Just on that level, this show is worth your eyes. But my stan-dom aside, Nightflyers episode 1 really builds an intriguing world. One that packs it full of mystery and murder, and then starts about the business of building a perfect pressure cooker of sci-fi/horror tension. I am debating doing this episode by episode (mainly because SyFy’s current accelerated releases of TV shows is…exhausting). I really think this one could be a worth a look, you guys. For BOTH our sakes! It is Event Horizon: The Series! Who wouldn’t love that? Until next time, be seeing you.