In a plot that will force you to question both your sense of reality and humanity, new SyFy miniseries Ascension explores two of this century’s wildest ideas: the ‘Simulation Hypothesis’ and ‘Post-Humanity’.
In the last year cable and satellite television channel SyFy has been attempting to reincarnate itself with sci-fi shows worth watching and worth talking about. It started with their hit series Helix, which I highly recommended before here on Cyberlife. And now, with its new show Ascension, they’ve attempted once again to prove themselves to the loyal fans they lost with nonsensical trash like Sharknado.
Despite what the trailer of Ascension might’ve led you on, the miniseries takes place in a modern day Earth. But I’m getting ahead of myself here. It starts within the ship, USS Ascension, where a crew member unfortunately meets her demise by some unknown assailant, resulting in a coordinated hunt for her killer by the upper deck officers. Given that Ascension, based on the real-life Project Orion that existed under the administration of President John F. Kennedy, is a spaceship that supposedly launched in the ‘60s, using ‘60s technology, resources were limited in capturing the killer.
As the hunt continues, led by Executive Officer Aaron Gault (starring Brandon P. Bell), several anomalies begin occurring that puts the mission of Ascension in question. For example, the weapon used to kill the crew member was a gun. How a gun got into the ship, and then remain hidden for 50 years, became a question no one on board could officially answer. Another is the young Christa Valis (starring Ellie O’Brien) who is appearing to be rapidly declining in mental health, but is instead beginning to acquire powers beyond anything any normal human being possesses, let alone understands.
According to Christa, nothing about Ascension is real and there’s someone outside of the ship watching her and the entire crew, shaping the events taking place inside. By the end of Part One of Ascension, Christa’s concerns are revealed to be true: the USS Ascension was never launched into space in the ‘60s, but instead was constructed as a sociological experiment inside a secret base. The ship exists, and it certainly contains over 600 crew members who truly believe they’re in deep space, but what they don’t know is that the ship never left Earth, and have instead been monitored for the last 50 years.
Monitoring from the outside is Harris Enzmann (starring Gil Bellows), son of Abraham Enzmann, the founder of the Ascension mission. While his claim to those in ‘the know’ of what is going on is nothing more than a sociological experiment, Enzmann is secretly keeping tabs on Christa as her powers continue growing. The killings and bombings that occur inside Ascension, however, are merely contingency plans to anyone who either gets in the way of Enzmann’s plan to exploit Christa or those who are too close to finding out that the USS Ascension is in fact a very well-funded hoax.
As chaos continues to ensue, Christa’s ability to know things other people shouldn’t possibly know – for example, mentioning of towers falling to the ground and never-ending wars taking place in the Middle East – remains the focus of Ascension. The chaos, however, isn’t taken well by those funding the project, forcing them to come in and relieve Enzmann from his position, hoping to start anew and officially end what they started.
Before Enzmann is ejected out of the building, who is to be assumed will be killed to ensure no one finds out about either him nor Ascension, Christa inside unleashes her strongest act of power yet, releasing an incredibly strong force of electricity throughout the ship and the entire secret base. With Christa’s powers now exposed, and Enzmann explaining that her powers are the result of years of covert genetic engineering, the secret organization initiates a mission to retrieve her without the ship knowing what’s happening.
As one of the armed commandoes sent in to retrieve Christa reaches her, she attempts to fight back as she’s dragged out of the ship. But before they reach the door, Aaron Gault comes to the rescue. Scared of Aaron losing the fight, only to then become some secret lab rat for an unknown corporate entity, Christa uses her power once more. Only this time she obliterates the armed commando and transports Aaron to another world, to what appears to be a barren alien planet. The miniseries ends on this cliffhanger – Ascension becoming operational again, still not knowing they’re part of a carefully orchestrated experiment; Christa still having her powers, but safe for the time being from the unknown corporate entity; and Aaron now alone in a barren alien desert.
Ascension is a story that consists of ideas that is widely discussed within Transhumanist circles. First and foremost, Christa’s superhuman abilities, as designed through gradual, selective genetic engineering, is a goal of many Transhumanists – the ability to reach post-humanity via advanced science and technologies. Transhumanism is, after all, not just a movement but an evolutionary transitional stage from human to post-human. What that exactly means, to become post-human, isn’t all that clear, given the fact that such a feat would be something we couldn’t possibly fathom due to our currently limited biological means of predicting the future – linear, rather than exponential. But it’s safe to assume that, if you can think of an amazing superhuman ability, post-humans will likely posses it, plus much more.
Secondly, there are many Transhumanists, though not all, who’ve joined the ranks of philosophers and scientists who are increasingly believing that Earth and the entire universe is nothing more than a simulation, i.e. the ‘Simulation Hypothesis’. In other words, we’re all pawns of a well-engineered “Matrix” that was programmed by ancient post-humans billions of years ago. This matches well the setting of Ascension, where an entire crew truly believes they’ve been in deep space for over 50 years, despite actually being inside a carefully constructed simulation experiment.
Whether the ‘Simulation Hypothesis’ pans out to be true or not is still up for debate, not to mention a lot more research and evidence needed to officially support such a radical idea. But the idea is intriguing enough to be given slight consideration – at least from a philosophical point-of-view.
“In the future, humans will be able to simulate entire universes quite easily. And given the vastness of time ahead, the number of these simulations is likely to be huge. So if you ask the question: ‘do we live in the one true reality or in one of the many simulations?’, the answer, statistically speaking, is that we’re more likely to be living in a simulation.”
– Silas Beane, Physicist at University of New Hampshire
Given the fact that Ascension was merely a three-part miniseries, the acting and character development wasn’t at its best, but it certainly dominated every other crappy TV show aired by SyFy over the last few years (Helix not included). However, the story line was very entertaining, with several plots that enticed me enough to frequently pause the show and contemplate for a while the ideas expressed throughout.
I truly do hope the producers decide to create a full-length series off Ascension, because I want to see more of Christa’s post-human powers and what more chaotic goodies will arise within the USS Ascension simulation. If you ever have the chance to watch all three parts of the miniseries, please do!