mars madness

Everything That Goes Wrong on Away

Sure, the first manned mission to Mars was going to be difficult no matter what, but this hard? Photo: Diyah Pera/Netflix

“Every mission has a screwup, Darlene, they just got theirs out of the way early.” That’s Matt Logan (Josh Charles), chief rocket engineer of the Atlas, the ship carrying the first manned mission to Mars, and husband to its commander Emma Green (Hilary Swank), assuring his flight commander (Gabrielle Rose) that the chemical leak that turned into fireballs during the first leg of a very long journey was just one little hiccup. It would be smooth sailing after that. Matt Logan is so wrong. So very, very wrong.

Netflix’s space drama Away is about five astronauts — Emma, who represents the U.S., is joined by medical officer, pilot, and second-in-command Ram (Ray Panthaki), who hails from India, Russian engineer Misha (Mark Ivanir), Lu (Vivian Wu), a chemist from China, and English botanist Kwesi (Ato Essandoh) — who are part of a global initiative to attempt the impossible on a three-year mission to the Red Planet. The show is mostly about hope in the face of hardships (and also crying in zero gravity), so you know they aren’t going to dangle Mars in front of us and have the astronauts fail, but holy hell do they make their journey there a nightmare.

Sure, the first manned mission to Mars was going to be difficult no matter what — it’s a three-year trip further into space than any human has gone before — but this hard? Something goes wrong at every turn, both in space and back on Earth. Away is the type of show where after a huge catastrophe you simply cannot ask, “Well, what else could go wrong?” because something else will go wrong. Just in case you can’t keep track of all the mishaps, both minor and major, both technical and emotional, that the Atlas crew and their loved ones face in the name of discovery, here’s a full chronological list.

• There’s a chemical leak on the ship and Kwesi, the most inexperienced of the bunch, is the first to reach it. He removes the panel at the location of the leak, releasing it into the ship. Emma wants to keep her crew safe and so reacts without fully thinking and uses her T-shirt to smother the chemical, but it only acts as an accelerant and turns the chemical into floating fireballs. Lu and Misha put out the fire, but lose all faith in their commander. They want her replaced. It’s a possible mutiny! Okay, that’s one blurb but a whole host of things that went wrong — a portent for how things will go on this mission.

• Mere hours before the Atlas is supposed to launch off the moon and toward Mars, Matt has a stroke due to complications with his CCM (cerebral cavernous malformation). He’s rushed into surgery and Emma decides she is abandoning her mission and returning home on the next ride off the moon. This is just the first episode and already we’re abandoning the mission! (Emma doesn’t actually quit, but only because Matt wakes up and is like, “Go, do your job!” and also, “I love you!” It’s nice, I guess.)

• The crew, now headed to Mars, goes to deploy the giant solar panels from which their ship will derive all of its power — and one of those panels doesn’t deploy. The ship will never get to Mars without it, so Misha and Emma have to do a space walk and try to fix the problem. A space walk is one of the most dangerous space activities an astronaut can do! Also, Misha hates Emma right now!

• When Misha and Emma are out on the side of the ship, they can’t reach the solar panel because of an electrical mess right below it that would burn them right up. Very cool! So Emma has Misha throw her and her tether over it. Not cool!

• Hey, guess what? We’re still on the space walk thing! The problem with the panel is on the back of it and Emma can only reach it by untethering herself from the ship and sliding around to the other side. She could very easily just float off into space! Honestly, fuck this space walk.

• Ugh, more space walk problems! After Emma fixes the problem on the back of the solar panel, she is propelled backward (don’t worry, she’s tethered to the ship again by this point) and maybe goes unconscious a little from the force. Either that or she takes a quick space nap, which no one would blame her for at this point.

• Matt learns he’ll most likely never walk again due to complications from his stroke. His wife is only three weeks into her three-year-long mission!

• The secret great love of Lu’s life and capcom for the Atlas, Mei (Nadia Hatta), gets kicked off the mission and sent away after the Chinese government discovers her and Lu’s affair. Lu and Mei will not be able to talk to one another for … years? Forever? It’s devastating.

• Ram gets mono!! Mono, you guys. In space! It’s highly contagious and his extreme fever is making him hallucinate. He hallucinates so bad he almost opens the air lock. You know, the air lock, otherwise known as The Door to Outer Space. He’s very sick and could infect everyone else on board. Oh, did I mention that Ram is the medical officer on board?

• During a hallucination in his room, Ram falls and slices his back open. The rest of the crew risks exposure to help him. And then Ram sort of confesses feelings for Emma, maybe. Even if it wasn’t his intention, it makes her feel very awkward.

• Emma’s teen daughter Lex (Talitha Eliana Bateman) gets a C on a science test. Sure, in the grand scheme of things that’s not really a problem, but it does cause Emma to spiral a little, so it must be included on this list. The daughter of two astronauts failing science? Come on!

• On Misha’s last video call with his daughter (they’re getting too far out into space for visual communication), she tells him she can never forgive him for abandoning her after her mother died so he could go into space. Poor Misha!

• Lex sneaks out with her new boyfriend, Isaac (Adam Irigoyen). Sure, it’s to go to Christmas Eve midnight Mass, but Matt does not appreciate the lying!

• Dear lord, a huge chunk of Kwesi’s heel just falls off his foot and floats around the ship. I am giving you zero context for this, it’s better that way.

• We’re halfway through the season and now it is time for the engineer on board to! get! space blindness!

• The water system on board breaks and the person who can fix it is going blind. Misha lies about how bad his eyes are getting and so continues to work to try and fix the system by pulling parts from the backup system. They eventually discover his lie and realize their only option is to put everything back into the backup system and use that for their water. It only works at 50 percent capacity, so the crew will have to go on water rations and hope the backup system doesn’t crap out.

• Water rations means there’s not enough water to keep Kwesi’s plants that were supposed to grow on Mars alive. All of his work will have to die. The human stuff is pretty tragic but the plant stuff? The plant stuff will really get your tear ducts going.

• Water rations seem to be hitting Emma harder than anyone and the commander of the mission is straight-up losing it and the crew must contemplate putting Ram in charge. We learn it’s because Emma’s been giving a small part of her rations to one plant in hopes of keeping at least one thing alive, and in turn has become severely dehydrated. It’s noble but dangerous! And it certainly doesn’t make it okay when she tells her crew that she should’ve gone home. None of this instills confidence in one’s leader.

• Lex disobeys her dad’s strict orders and starts getting into Isaac’s motocross hobby, which of course ends with her crashing and going to the hospital. She’s fine, but this especially makes Emma wish she were home and not hurtling through space. Again, confidence in command is way down, folks.

• NASA loses all contact with Pegasus — the freighter ship with all the crew’s supplies for Mars, including the handy-dandy new water supply system they desperately need — as soon as it enters Mars’s atmosphere. It could’ve bounced off the atmosphere, it could’ve burned up during entry, it could’ve exploded upon impact with the surface, no one knows. Plus, this was aired live on television, so now the whole world knows this mission is straight-up fucked.

• Since the crew of the Atlas will die of thirst without the water supply on the Pegasus (the back up on Atlas could last maybe ten weeks, if a miracle occurred), the heads of the joint initiative want to turn this ship around. Well, specifically Matt wants to turn that ship around because he loves his wife so gosh dang much. Everyone but Emma is devastated! They would die for this mission! Don’t worry, the crew goes behind Emma’s back to confirm Pegasus at least broke the atmosphere on Mars, and then with Emma on their side, decide to continue to Mars. So hey, who knows, maybe they could die for this mission!

• Hey! Hey! Remember how it would be a miracle if the backup water system lasted even ten weeks? Well, the Atlas isn’t allowed to have miracles and the system breaks two weeks ahead of the Mars landing. Time to worry about dying of thirst again!

• The first plan to stop the astronauts dying from dehydration is to drill in the walls of the ship and take the water from the water bladders installed to protect them from radiation. The only problem is that the wall is about one inch thick, and if they puncture it they’ll be drilling a hole through the wall of the ship into space, and the vacuum of space will begin to suck all the oxygen out and their brains will explode. They puncture the wall.

• They survive that mishap by sealing off that part of the ship, but it means they are forced to attempt the much more dangerous plan B: a space walk to drill for water from outside the ship.

• Ram and Emma do not kiss after their successful space walk and ice crystal gathering mission!! I do not support cheating but I do support hot people making out after surviving near-death experiences!!

• Ram confesses his feelings for Emma but she shuts them down big time, making things super awkward as the crew prepares for the most dangerous part of their journey yet, the actual landing on Mars. Kwesi has to step in and remind Ram that (1), Emma wouldn’t be upset if she didn’t have some feelings for him and (2), it’s not great to have your two pilots not speaking to each other before attempting something that has a high probability of death.

And that’s enough crises for one season! I am happy and surprised to report that everything during the actual landing goes smoothly, a true blessing. Our Atlas crew deserved a win after everything, and it gets a big ol’ red one: They make it to Mars in one piece. But for those of you into the dramatic tension of mishaps and disastrous outcomes in space, don’t worry, the crew has two more years to go in its mission. Although really, what else could go wrong?

Everything That Goes Wrong on Away