Lost in Space - Season Two

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Tuesday December 24, 2019

'Losrt in Space,' Season Two, on Netflix
'Losrt in Space,' Season Two, on Netflix  

There's more danger ahead for Will Robinson and his family in Season Two of the Netflix original sci-fi drama "Lost in Space."

The original "Lost in Space" was created by Irwin Allen and ran for three seasons from 1965 - 1968, becoming famous for its campy stories and the over-the-top performance of resident bad guy, Dr. Smith (Jonathan Harris). Bill Mumy played Will Robinson, a young genius whose friendship with the ship's Robot (Bob May) was defined by frequent warnings from the mechanical crew member of, "Danger, Will Robinson!" The line became a catch phrase for fans.

That iconic line found its way into the new series as well, in which the Robot is an alien artificial intelligence — one of an invading horde that storms the Resolute, a colony ship on its way to Alpha Centauri, in the new show's premiere episode, in 2018.

Season One set up its general story arc with brisk efficiency: The were among dozens of families selected to leave an envrionmentally-damaged Earth for a new beginning. As such, they were aboard the Resolute. But the attack on the colony ship — which bristles with self-contained housing units capable of doubling as independent space craft — sent the Robinsons, among others, crash-landing onto an unknown alien world. Also sent down: The Robot, which Will discovered and repaired, earning the mechanical behemoth's gratitude and loyalty. The Robinsons, ensconced in their "Jupiter 2" ship, escaped from that alien planet at the end of Season One, using an alien engine to open a wormhole to a distant solar system even as the alien AIs renewed their hostilities.

As Season Two commences, we see how the alien Robot, locked in combat with one of its former compatriots, tumbles through space until both AIs crash through the hull of the Resolute — no doubt a dangerous development for the humans remaining on the colony ship — even as the Jupiter 2 plunges through the wormhole and disappears.

Seven months later — and halfway across the universe — the Robinsons are well established on the surface of yet another strange alien world, their ship having landed on a tiny island in the middle of a toxic ocean. The atmosphere contains too much methane to be breathable, but with the use of solar panels and some plastic sheeting the Robinsons have managed to set up a sizable garden and power their ship — through not to such an extent that they can lift off and rejoin the Resolute.

New episodes were not provided in advance for review purposes, so even though all ten Season Two episodes are streaming now this review is limited to the first half of the season. Suffice it to say that Dr. Smith — now played by Perker Posey, and with a considerably more homicidal edge than Jonathan Harris' flamboyant take — is still up to her scheming ways. The Robinsons have kept her locked up, but Smith is devious and manipulative and it's not long before she's managed to maneuver herself once more into a position that benefits herself, though always at the expense of others.

The original series' Dr. Smith, Robot, and Will Robinson made for a fun trinity in which Smith's schemes — sometimes wicked, sometimes merely selfish - played against Will's upright moral fiber, with the Robot acting as a foil and buffer. Here, Dr. Smith and Will are at odds: Smith wants the missing Robot for her own uses, while to Will the alien AI is as much a friend as protector. (The Robot is also, oddly, an object of near-worship; Will narrates his day's experiences to a fetish made to roughly resemble the huge, presumably sentient machine.) Not that they have any reason to think their rivalry will ever lead to anything; we know, of course, that the Robot will be back, but how could they? Even so, Will holds tight to the hope of reuniting with his mechanical best friend.

Will's sisters have other concerns. Judy (Taylor Russell) serves as the ship's doctor; it's a role she embraces with all the precocious, brittle energy characteristic of a youth who's been pushed into a caregiver role too early. As the season progresses, flashbacks reveal the source of her ambivalence toward her adoptive father (Judy is her mom's daughter by a previous marriage).

Sister Penny (in a Sundial), younger than Judy, unlike Judy, has no clearly-defined role, and she sulks about feeling underused and undervalued. When she writes a book about the family's adventure so far, her author's pride - injured because Mom hasn't had time to read the tome - becomes just the sort of crack in the family's unity that Smith can exploit. Thus is born a creepy, effective dynamic between the two characters in which Penny is revolted by Smith - indeed, as she says at one point, "terrified" of turning into someone like Smith - and yet drawn to her, too.

The other member of the clan is Don West, who was a pilot and a steely All-American sort in the old show, but he's a smuggler and lazy, self-interested semi-rascal here. Don is played by Ignacio Serricchio with the sort of winking self-abnegation and dry humor that's needed to keep the character from sliding into vaporous (and useless) comic relief; Don talks to his pet chicken and the ship's air scrubber, and seems to be perfectly fine knowing that he's far from heroic.

The second season repeats the first year's formula, using a hybrid approach that combines an over-arcing story with endless episodic perils. In one installment, the family scheme to restart their engines by sailing the ship across the alien ocean to a spot where fighting storms periodically strike; in the next, they face the prospect of destruction while waiting for that lighting strike but facing down unexpected dangers that include killer kelp and a "Star Wars"-like example of engineering on a planetary scale. It's not unlike watching "Star Wars," actually, in that the episodes, which are designed to be rousing (and boast extraordinary visual effects to that end), are disjointed and tend to feel like chapters in some sort of unending Saturday morning serial.

Not that that's necessarily a bad thing, and indeed that was pretty much the model for shows of this sort in the 1960s. With modern effects technology and a big budget, the new "Lost in Space" can be everything its predecessor might have been with similar resources. Then too, after the first couple of episodes events take a drastic turn and promise to open the show up from the narrow "danger of the week" template into something a little more sweeping.

But Season Two, like Season One, features another — rather strange — element: The kids, who are sharp and sarcastic, have the best lines and, as characters, enjoy better writing than the adults. Well, discounting Penny's interactions with another teen - not her brother, but a long man named Vijay (Ajay Friese). The two have a slow burning attraction that ignites damp dialogue. Maybe it's true what they say about adolescence: Kids are smart until the hormones hit, and after that, as adults, they become an eternal mess of bad choices and volatile feelings.

Speaking of adults, Mom and Dad — a.k.a. Maureen (Milly Parker) and John (Toby Stephens) — often feel like accessories to the plot lines, rather than fleshed-out characters, cliched marital problems and all. The needle moves a little in the first few episode of the new season, but Maureen and John don't have the flashes of dimensionality and spirit that the writers give the kids. Eventually, other adults join the mix - most of them just as cardboard - including an ambivalent, slightly mysterious fellow named Ben Adler (JJ Field) who seems to be in charge of some key aspect of the mission... but maybe not the most above-board aspect.

Having seen half the new season, I can tell you this: The show is on an upward trajectory, both in terms of story and action, and with five more installments there's plenty of space for the series to improve its lingering weaknesses.

Now if only the show doesn't get lost in all that space.

"Lost in Space," Season Two, is streaming now on Netflix.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.