It seems that some time has passed on the USS Saratoga. The members of the 58th Squadron – also known as the Wildcards – Nathan West (Morgan Weisser), Shane Vansen (Kristen Cloke), Cooper Hawkes (Rodney Rowland), Paul Wang (Joel de la Fuente), and Vanessa Damphousse (Lanei Chapman), seem at ease with one another, each accustomed to their place within the group dynamic. There is a sense of camaraderie and loyalty between them.
And this is important for one of the questions posed by this episode: as a soldier, how far would you go to save a loved one or colleague? Would you disobey orders and abandon your mission? It’s an age-old dilemma in stories about war: obey orders and complete your mission for the greater good, but abandon your beloved or brother in arms to certain death; or risk your life and career, and jeopardise the mission – and therefore your side’s chance of winning – in order to save just one person. The needs of the many, or the needs of the few or the one? Tricky.
For Nathan West it’s not a difficult decision. When he hears that a survivor has been found on Tellus, the planet that his girlfriend, Kylen Celina (Amanda Douge), was heading to, and that has been devastated by Chig attack, he barely has to stop and think before locking the rest of the crew out of the launch bay and stealing a Hammerhead jet to fly off in search of her. In this way, ‘The Farthest Man From Home’ picks up the love story thread established in the pilot episode, and also begins to explore the relationship between the Wildcards and their commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel McQueen (James Morrison).
There is a touching moment where West, fearing the worst, discovers Kylen’s locker and personal items, and the viewer sees his emotional reaction to finding her hairbrush, with her hair still in it: a physical piece of his missing beloved that only further tantalises. He also finds the ID tags of several humans taken prisoner by the Chigs, Kylen apparently amongst them. A later, more disturbing discovery: two human survivors, hiding in a cave that appears to be a Chig burial ground. The viewer is shown a skeletal hand with scales and claws, teasing as to what the Chigs look like under those armoured suits.
West, stuck on Tellus and under Chig attack, doesn’t believe that anyone will come for him. And this is where Glen Morgan and James Wong set the precedent for their show by answering the question that they posed earlier: the Wildcards will stand by one another, even when it means disobeying orders. The 58th Squadron head towards Tellus, and when they come under enemy fire McQueen sends backup. And when it comes to being disciplined by the newly introduced Commodore Ross (Tucker Smallwood), they all take responsibility for each other’s actions.
The other questions raised in this episode are about the Chigs. Is Tellus their sacred place, their planet, that humans mistakenly colonised? If, as one of the survivors says, ‘These things kill, that’s all they do,’ then why have they taken prisoners? And why did they give these prisoners the chance to record a message on their ID tags, and leave them to be found? What is the intention behind this?
The pilot episode revealed the aliens, but only in their armoured suits. The one that was captured dissolved into green goo, and so the human race, and the viewer, has no idea what they actually look like. ‘Chig’ is obviously not what the aliens call themselves, and Vansen reveals that it refers to the Chigoe flea, a parasitic insect that resembles the aliens’ battle suits. Yes, they are the enemy, but by referring to them as parasites, something that should be eradicated without thought, humanity degrades this alien race without knowing anything about it. The names that we give others dictates our behaviour towards them rather more than their behaviour dictates the names that we give them.
French Stewart makes quite an impression as the rescued survivor of the Tellus attack, now being held for interrogation by mysterious men who are sure that he knows secrets that he’s not telling. His performance is somewhat disturbing, viewed through a window in the half-light, with his pale tear-stained face, fearful and slightly crazed. ‘I did nothing but live,’ he says, and this sounds like a man suffering from survivor’s guilt, or PTSD.
‘The Farthest Man From Home’ is an interesting choice for a second episode, as it feels rather fragmented in terms of storytelling. The focus is on West, but barely, and although other characters are shown it is for just moments at a time, and we catch nothing more than glimpses of Wildcards Wang and Damphousse. Individual character growth is small, and sacrificed for overall plot development.
But on the whole, it works. It is memorable, and it advances the story. And it looks gorgeous. Directed by David Nutter, with Production Design by Bernard Hides, it is a visual feast of orange and blue lighting, industrial metal, flaking paint, smoke, and darkness. Nothing is shiny or pristine: even the incredibly attractive actors are appropriately grimy. And it’s all held together by the strength of Shirley Walker’s epic music, walking that line between thrill and fear.
Twenty-three years on and two episodes in, it’s still hard to believe that Space: Above and Beyond got cancelled after just one season. And it’s still unfair.