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Outcasts, “Episode 1” (1.01)

Mitchell (Jamie Bamber) reassures his son at the side of the lake on Carpathia.

Outcasts is a new sci-fi series from the BBC, telling the story of a number of settlers on the planet Carpathia after our own planet was devastated by nuclear war. A review of the pilot for this intriguing drama, written by Ben Richards and directed by Bharat Nalluri , after the jump..

The first thing you need to know is that Outcasts is bleak.

The second thing you need to know is that Outcasts is bleak.

In the series premiere, we’re introduced to a smattering of folks, all with their trials and tribulations. The head of security struggles with the family she left behind, their leader is haunted by the family he lost, and the leader of their expeditionary crew is becoming more erratic and violent. There don’t seem to be issues with supply or the costs of living, but there are very few newcomers making the 5-year trip from Earth, and those that do make it tend to burn up in the atmosphere. There are no happy endings in this pilot, save one or two glimmers of hope.

It was shot in South Africa, and it shows. This pilot is beautiful. The cast runs from solid to quite solid, with the members most making an impression Daniel Mays as Cass, Amy Manson as Fleur, Liam Cunningham as President Richard Tate, and Jamie Bamber destroying his good-boy image built by his Battlestar Galactica as the very dangerous Mitchell. The rest of the cast, barring one member who is mercifully killed off partway through, all build at least mildly interesting chracters, if not terribly engaging. In a pilot as slow-paced as this one, that’s a mercy. Bad casting (or directing) could have killed this, in terms of keeping the audience’s attention.

But I think the effort to follow it, like so many difficult shows before it, is worth it. The creators have imagined a fleshed-out civilisation with very real issues and great stakes. Earth is gone, and Carpathia may or may not be the only ‘Goldilocks planet’ (not too close or far from a sun, ‘just right’) that’s currently sustaining human life. The two key plots, about a new group of settlers attempting to land and Mitchell kidnapping his own son to escape onto the planet, are both engaging enough to keep us hanging around while they build a framework for the settlement we’re watching. And, generally, it feels pretty realistic.

My one big complaint, though it feeds into the hopelessness of the piece very well, is the death of Jamie Bamber‘s Mitchell near the end of the pilot. While fearing for the life of his son, and convinced he was a danger to both she and Cass, Fleur shot him in cold blood as he mocked her idealism. Mitchell was the episode’s most engaging character, unpredictable and charismatic even as you feared for the lives of anyone who encountered him, and it would have been great to see more of him. Not to mention he’d no longer be wasted on the boring-as-hell Law and Order: UK, which does its predecessor proud.

The hopelessness here is practically overwhelming. Mitchell’s son escapes the premiere alive, but as an orphan. There are potentially survivors of the new settlers, but the bulk of them burn to death in the atmosphere. There are no happy endings, no moments of joy. Your mileage on this show may vary if you find, like Durham County, that a deluge of sadness is too much or not what you’re looking for. Me, I’m intrigued to see what comes next, especially as I’m not entirely sure if this is intended as a long-running series or a miniseries.

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