TV Review: KILLJOYS (Season 1)
With its companion Dark Matter, this show is part of SyFy’s summer “offering” to a science-fiction-starved audience, and in my opinion it was a success: with main ingredients as fast-paced action, politics, secrets and conspiracies and a fascinating, well thought-out background it could not be otherwise.
One of the most attractive features in Killjoys is the quick delivery of information with little or no explanation, a choice that requires the viewers’ total attention: I must confess that I watched the first episode when I was particularly tired (and also nodding in front of the TV) so that I missed several details and the show did non make a significant impact on me. On re-watching it, though, I understood that this is the kind of story that makes your brain work, doing its best not to offer you easy answers: exactly the kind of story I enjoy. Once I recognized this, I was hooked.
The show rests quite firmly on background and characterization: let’s examine the former first.
The Quad is a four-body planetary system: the main planet, Qresh, was the first to be colonized and then expansion led the inhabitants to place footholds on the planet’s three moons. The first attempt was made on Arkyn, the smallest one, but something went horribly wrong and the fate of the colony and its inhabitants is shrouded in mystery. The colonization of Westerly went far better, so that the largest moon in the system is also the most densely inhabited: unfortunately, the thoughtless harvesting of resources has played havoc with environment and general living conditions. With Leith, the Company – the shady entity running everything in the Quad – used more cautious methods, so that it’s a sort of agricultural paradise – that is, for the middle class inhabiting it, not for the indentured workers slaving in its fields.
With these premises it’s not surprising that the Quad is administered through a rigid class system that leads to social injustice: the elite lives on Qresh, and the lesser nobility rules on Leith, while Westerly is the refuge for those without means and for the workforce in the planet’s many industries. It’s even less surprising that such overcrowding and generally poor living conditions would lead to high levels of crime, hence the creation of an organization of bounty hunters, or Reclamation Agents – the titular Killjoys. They owe allegiance to no one, simply offering their contracted services: the Killjoys motto is “The Warrant is All”.
And here characterization comes into play: the team formed by Dutch (an ass-kicking lady with a shady past) and John Jaqobi (wingman and tech expert) is quite a successful one, although at some point the winning dynamic is altered by the appearance of John’s brother, D’avin, a former soldier with something worse than PTSD. What I love about these characters is the strong bond between Dutch and John, a collaboration born of shared dangers and humor, an intense sense of family that does not need any romantic overtones to work. The best moments are those when the two exchange rapid-fire quips, usually during hairy situations: the beauty of these exchanges is that they feel very natural, not at all contrived or cheesy. If you add into this mix the personality of Lucy, their ship’s A.I., and one with a temper, you get an intriguing package.
For this reason the appearance of D’avin and the unavoidable romantic entanglement with Dutch felt as unnecessary as the apostrophe in the man’s name: even though the situation takes a different route quite soon, the disturbance was there, placing the wonderful interaction between Dutch and John on the back burner, so to speak. There is enough on the table to keep a viewer’s attention riveted: the frequent flash-backs into Dutch’s past and her training as an assassin, the re-appearance of her mentor and the shady goals he’s pursuing, the political currents moving underneath and involving both the Company and the Qresh nobility, give enough material to carry this story forward on its own power. But that’s just a very personal point of view, of course…
What really matters here is that Killjoys seems to mark a return to a Firefly-like kind of space opera: the well detailed world-building hints at layers on layers of information and depth – social commentary and political maneuvering or the dangers of expansion and terraforming being among the most explored ones, but also more personal topics like freedom of choice against conditioning or the role of hope when there is nothing else to cling to. The beauty of it all is that it’s built in increments: even in the episodes that look like stand-alones, there is always some small piece of information that will come to the fore in later segments. I’ve always been partial to story-arc shows, and Killjoys delivered an intriguing progression in its too-brief run of 10 episodes, ending with a cliffhanger that I can only hope will find a satisfactory solution in the next season.
Something I definitely look forward to…