Certainly, one of the most familiar faces in the series is that of the attractive Christopher Gorham (Harrison Jon in Popular, Henry Grubstick in Ugly Betty, Auggie Anderson in Covert Affairs) as Neil Taggart (source of pictures):
Gender and Racial Politics
Unfortunately, if there is one thing the show wasn’t particularly great at, it’s the general depiction of women, and people of color, is much to be desired.
To begin, there are many scenes throughout several episodes showing Dr. Kurt Mendel engaging in sexual activity with other women (sometimes in three-ways). These scenes show a complacency of objectifying women that was only cringe-worthy to watch. Notably, after Mendel rekindles the relationship between him and Angela Perry in the series, when she gets abducted in Fossil, Mendel says in frustration, “What is it with women and their impulse to put me through fucking hell?!”
Chuck’s wife, and Neil Taggart’s mother, Paige, is only shown in the show as those social roles: wife, and mother. No other role is given to her character, no other dimensions. The only real time we see any agency comes from her, is after she gets possessed by the Synthetic in Skin.
Holly Culverson, a love interest of Neil, is also only shown within the context as a love interest, with no other characteristics. During the episode, Kitten, when the computer program tries to break them up, Neil effectively lies to her about what actually happened between him and Kit-10, on as far as things went.
The two most prominent female characters in the show, Sarah Forbes and Angela Perry, both have major story arcs centered around other male characters. Forbes, the news anchor, has an arc relative to the health of her son, the relationship with her son’s father, Paul, and the potential love interest in Troy Johnson. Perry, on the other hand, has a story around the difficult relationship between her and her father, Senator Brian Perry. Additionally, another subplot involves a rekindling romance between her Dr. Kurt Mendel. During Half-Life, when Lt. Gus Hagan returns intermittently through voyeuristic means that negatively effect for Perry, before he eventually gets stabbed by her, he says, “If I can’t have you, no one will.”
Most alarmingly though, is the gender norms present in the series (as seen with objectifying women, indicated earlier) with Astronaut Commander Chuck Taggart, who in L.D.U.-7 gets compared to John Wayne, complains to who he thinks is his wife that the living room is unusually a “mess” in Vanishing Point, while being shown to be particularly interested in the outdoors.
According to Retro Phase Shift‘s article, “A Subjectively Obscure SciFi Primer: Odyssey 5“:
This month, the Obscure Sci-Fi Primer returns to take on the little known series Odyssey 5. It’s kind of a generically vague sci-fi title, something that sounds like it’s referring to some space outpost (or maybe it just reminds me of Babylon 5). The truth of the series is actually quite different, keeping a fairly grounded approach to its time travel-based subject matter. Odyssey 5 first premiered on Showtime in 2002, the same channel that hosted our earlier subject Total Recall 2070. The show was created by Manny Coto, who went on to run the final season of Star Trek: Enterprise, right when it started to get good. With that in mind, let’s take a look at this forgotten series and decide if it’s worth digging into.
The series starts out with 6 astronauts aboard the space shuttle Odyssey, orbiting the Earth. Then the Earth is enveloped in fire and implodes, leaving the crew aboard the Odyssey as the last few humans alive. Or most of them, anyway, as one of the astronauts is killed in the turbulence afterwards and another suffers a concussion that will leave her to soon follow. Of course, the space shuttle isn’t exactly designed for deep space, long duration missions anyway, so the crew themselves basically have just a few days left to enjoy being the last humans before they’re all dead. But lucky for them, a weird being called the Seeker comes along. He’s seen this before, but never encountered survivors. He offers them a second chance, and with time ticking, they take it. So, having been sent back in time by a hyperdimensional snowflake without any instructions, the five surviving crew members have just 5 years to stop it all from happening again.
The show follows Chuck Taggart, the hardened mission commander played by Peter Weller (most famously of Robocop, but most recently seen in Star Trek Into Darkness). Also on the mission is Chuck’s son, Neil, the youngest astronaut who has quite a bit of friction with his father initially. Resident scientist Kurt Mendel is the immature straw atheist who initially takes it as 5 years to engage in consequence-free debauchery before the end. Angela Perry, another astronaut, is the daughter of a senator and finds herself dealing with a situation she barely had any awareness of due to the concussion. Lastly, there’s Sarah Forbes, a reporter who was sent on the mission and constantly struggles with the urge to avert the many disasters she’d reported on over the last 5 years. The characters as a whole are actually pretty well developed and believable, although it takes a while to build them up to that point; Kurt in particular starts off as highly annoying before becoming more likeable.
- What with this being a time travel show that’s effectively landed them in the present (or what was the present at the time the show was made), it could very easily have devolved into a soap opera with little more than the barest sci-fi trappings. Instead, Odyssey 5 manages to address the personal challenges of being sent back in time while keeping its sights firmly set on the story arc of saving the Earth. Every episode is involved in advancing that arc, although not every character is involved in it each week. It strikes a good balance between the two needs.
- The show also does a good job ensuring the protagonists’ actions have repercussions. People get fed up with the characters acting like they know the future. Sending other people off to do things they didn’t do the first time may get them killed. And given that practically none of them knew each other 5 years ago, their sudden and radical shift in routine draws a lot of negative attention (from friends and enemies alike). All this is on top of the suspicious behavior that results from attempting to change the future, which gets them in trouble with law enforcement. The kind of things that would ordinarily end up forgotten at the episode’s end on most shows will come back to bite them–HARD.
- The diverse predicaments that the characters end up in by being sent back leads to a number of interesting circumstances. Neil, being so young at the time of the incident, is thrust back into high school with the experience and knowledge of a 22-year-old astronaut. While having both Neil and Chuck in the same family seems like it’d make it easier to convince people of the truth, it actually splits the family in half. Sarah’s sent back to her first marriage, and to her still-living child, while having to work with the man who she’d been dating at the time of the Earth’s destruction. Angela, having missed out due to the concussion, wakes up to find herself on a spacewalk with no clue about the Seeker, and her momentary freakout ends up costing her big on her career. Kurt swings between indulging in vices as if nothing matters and desperately trying to save the world because he’s afraid not to. All of it makes for great TV drama, and the actors do a good job bringing it to life.
- Without divulging too many spoilers, the threat that they face is powerful and fascinating, if still a bit unclear in terms of its origins and goals at the series’ conclusion. Their capabilities are pretty extreme and they’re proven to be a top-tier threat compared to our heroes. There’s also a bit of complexity to the situation as to whether or not they’re actually the bad guys. On the other hand, it can also seem a bit cheesy when the ominous nature fails to come across.
- As usual for these shows, it ended on a cliffhanger. Unlike a lot of them, like last month’s VR.5, there’s absolutely no resolution. Period. Because your enjoyment of this show is so hinged on being invested in the characters, that’s particularly problematic. If the prospect of leaving characters you care about mid-story is a difficult one for you, then you may as well pass on this one now.
- Since Odyssey 5 is set in the present, it had to keep a pretty good grasp on its science and making things seem reasonable, for the most part. And while there are some (fairly major) exceptions, the main point where it fails in its plausibility is its depiction of the Internet. One episode hinges on a portal to cyberspace through which a being can physically emerge into our world, which is just… no. There are other instances of Internet misunderstandings that stand out more from today’s perspective, but that’s by far the worst.
- There’s a not-insignificant amount of nudity in the show. I didn’t count the episodes or anything, but I’d say about a third of them, particularly those near the beginning, feature it. As we saw with TR 2070, this is typical for something on Showtime, and they do at least manage to make it somewhat relevant by incorporating most scenes into Kurt’s arc of pleasure-seeking nihilism. Still, it frequently feels like it’s more about viewer titillation than necessity or believability. Tolerance for gratuitous nudity is something that’s going to vary from person to person, and since it might turn some people off the show, I feel like I need to mention it here.
Finally, according to Retro Phase Shift‘s article, “What Could Have Been: Odyssey 5 Season 2“:
This month’s “What Could Have Been” is brought to you by special request (a while ago, actually, but I wanted to cover Odyssey 5 in a Primer first). As it turns out, Odyssey 5 doesn’t have a whole lot of information out there on how it would’ve progressed; Manny Coto, the show’s creator, has been fairly tight-lipped about his plans and still has a fervent belief that he may be able to resurrect or remake the show some day. It’s hard to argue with the idea that the show would likely be far more successful if it were made today than it was at the time, although ratings weren’t behind its cancellation. Almost everything I’ve found comes from one source: the DVD commentary for episode 1. However, there’s still enough tantalizing tidbits here that we can reconstruct some of the series’ plot and eventual resolution.
This is kind of hearsay because I’m having trouble getting my hands on the DVD commentary directly. As soon as I can, I’ll adjust anything here that I can get more info on. Now, the first thing to establish is that earlier interviews with Coto indicate he’d planned for the show to have at least 5 seasons worth of material, and a loose arc and plan to fill that time frame. Obviously, some things would have to be adjusted on the fly, and it seems like even the length was on the table–later interviews suggest he was prepared to wrap it up in as little as 3 seasons. Whether that’s an evolution of storytelling or an attempt at reducing the amount of time and money needed to tell it is unknown, but being sent back 5 years seems like it sets up for 5 seasons quite nicely.
- One of the key points for season 2 specifically would be reappearances of the Seeker. Exactly how that’s possible is unclear, given the nature of their time travel and the fact that he was explicitly not allowed to, but it’s suggested that he included aspects of himself in the five of them as part of sending them back. He may have held information that would help the crew to determine whether the humans or Synthetics were the ones responsible for the destruction of the Earth.
- As it was becoming clear in the final moments of season 1, the Sentients/Synthetics don’t seem to be the bad guys. They’re certainly not all Terminator SkyNet or anything. The conflict was becoming a lot grayer, and part of that would mean convincing Chuck and the others that the AI don’t necessarily mean them any harm. To prove they mean it, one of the possibilities being considered was the resurrection of Chuck’s wife, Paige. How the Sentients would be capable of that isn’t exactly clear; presumably it involves the nanobots.
- Coto kept a lot of the details for what would happen directly after the season finale to himself, but he did elaborate on the larger goals of the series, to an extent. The first step towards that would be the revelation that neither of the groups we’d seen so far were responsible for the destruction of the Earth–not a huge surprise, given that the Seeker had found other worlds destroyed in the same manner. Instead, an outside group was responsible: dubbed the “exterminators,” at least for production purposes, they’d have been a group determined to wipe out AIs anywhere that they emerge, presumably out of a fear that they’d go crazy and destroy all life or something.
- Faced with this external threat in the form of the Exterminators, the Humans and Sentients would have to cooperate to save the Earth–a cooperation that would grow and lead to better understanding and interdependence between the two groups. Ultimately, humans and AI would merge together, Singularity-style, to become a single hybrid. This is a pretty radical idea for television, and definitely not something I’d have guessed going into the show. It’d be nice to see a show where the AIs aren’t evil or second class citizens.
- One last detail: it’s said that in spite of the fact that other planets have fallen to this same fate prior to Earth, the threat does originate there. How, then, did it happen elsewhere first? Well… can’t answer that one. We do have one possible answer, though: time travel already exists in the world of Odyssey 5. It’s possible whatever the Exterminators were, they were created from Earth and sent back. But that’s just speculation.
Unfortunately, that’s about it as far as info on the resolution of Odyssey 5. We still don’t know what would become of the individual characters, and there are plenty of plot questions that the above doesn’t cover (like what the deal was with the viruses and the Martian rock). But it does answer some of the big ones that were left, and might help to bring a little closure to the story. If I learn anything else about Odyssey 5 or how it might have continued, I’ll update this post immediately. But until then, we’re left to ponder What Could Have Been.
Pilot, Shatterer, Symbiosis, Time Out of Mind, The Choices We Make, Kitten, The Trouble With Harry, Half-Life, and Fossil
- The Pilot introduces the entire premise, but notably, very quickly addresses the question if there is other life in the universe;
- Shatterer features the first appearance of the Synthetics;
- Symbiosis features the first mention of the Sentients;
- Time Out of Mind may look like one thing, but actually is caused by something else;
- The Choices We Make is certainly one of the more interesting episodes that the show produced;
- Kitten features a computer program functioning as an Evil Demon Seductress (see Feminist Frequency‘s #4);
- The Trouble with Harry features actor Ted Raimi (Xena: Warrior Princess, Wishmaster) as Harry Mudd, but more importantly, shows us that Astronaut Chuck Taggart doesn’t have any understanding of physics, much to my dismay;
- Half-Life features Angela very much a Damsel in Distress (see Feminist Frequency‘s Damsel in Distress series) until she decides to take matters into her own hands; and,
- Fossil finally begins to brings things together in lieu of answering questions I have had regarding many episodes.
[Note: No episode reviews are available for Odyssey 5]
Astronaut Dreams, Rapture, L.D.U.-7, Dark at the End of the Tunnel, Vanishing Point, and Follow the Leader
In brief pieces:
- Astronaut Dreams just totally sucked, period;
- Rapture was way, way, way over-the-top;
- L.D.U.-7 was in a lot of ways quite ridiculous. An entire government building in operation actually being a massive synthetic? That’s too silly to be true;
- Dark at the End of the Tunnel was lost to me;
- Vanishing Point is centered on a very popular television trope; and,
- Follow the Leader deals with some plot involving children.
[Note: No episode reviews are available for Odyssey 5]