Salvation, a US science fiction thriller TV series filmed in Canada, is a surprisingly enjoyable yet odd show. It starts with Liam Cole (played by Charlie Rowe), an MIT student who discovers an asteroid that is due to collide with the earth, creating an extinction-level event that will destroy all of humanity.
Unable to contact NASA or the Pentagon directly, he turns to Darius Tanz (Santiago Cabrera, perhaps known to many of us as Artimas from the 2014 BBC adaptation of The Musketeers). Tanz is a charismatic billionaire and scientist who runs a private
business – someone not unlike Elon Musk, perhaps. Tanz approaches NASA, who state they already knew about the asteroid, had a plan in place, and don’t want to reveal the impending disaster to the public.
So far it is a typical disaster series, not entirely unlike 1997’s Asteroid or the slightly more realistic movie Armageddon, and some of the show runs along these lines. Obviously NASA’s solution will fail, causing Tanz and Cole to come up with an alternative plan, which may or may not save humanity just before we all die, and may or may not involve a lot of nukes. However, the series isn’t interested in limiting itself to a simple race to develop an anti-asteroid solution. Thus it also includes political intrigue, internal conspiracies, international espionage, and, (as far as I can tell), anything else that the writers can toss in. Which makes the serious more chaotic than what I was expecting, lacking focus, but does keep things churning at a fast pace. There’s always a minimum of two to three plot lines happening at any given time, so while it may be hard to keep up, it is also hard to be bored. Except in the sense that, every so often, you just wish they’d go and fix the asteroid problem instead.
It is an enjoyable series, even if over the top. The characters have appropriate depth – Cole is a believable student, stressed and having difficulty coping with relationships while secretly knowing that they could all be dead in a few months; Tanz is charismatic, eccentric, and clearly does what it takes to be at his level of success; and the other characters, such as the Pentagon press secretary (Grace Barrows, played by Jennifer Finnigan) and Harris Edwards (Ian Anthony Dale) – the Secretary of Defense – are appropriately more than two dimensional. Which works. This isn’t going to be remembered as the West Wing of asteroid disasters, but it certainly provides a ride.
Where it is let down, for me at least, is with the international and domestic politics. The US is presented as conservative and terrified of Russia and China. There’s no possibility of even sharing the information about the Asteroid with other countries, much less working alongside them. At one point they realise that they need to work with another space agency, yet Russia and China are both immediately dropped from consideration, as NASA couldn’t possibly work with the enemies of the US. Instead they approach India, but carefully and without letting them know why. I’m not of the opinion that we could ever make a perfect federation, or even that self preservation could make all of the countries of the world could work together without significant issues, but surely, when faced with an impending disaster of this magnitude, someone would think that it might be a good idea to work with foreign space agencies – even those who are not allied with the United States. Throughout the series the conservative, opportunistic, overly guarded and at times blatantly evil nature of their depiction of the US seems far too artificial and unrealistic. This is a US not that far removed from a cold war dystopia, and while it does add tension, it also makes it harder to accept the scenario being depicted.
Still, the cliff hanger at the end is entertaining, and we’ll see where season 2 (which just started in the US) will take us. For those interested it is available to binge watch on Netflix. I’m looking forward the second season.