Explainers

Netflix’s Another Life, Explained

July 25, 2019
15 min read

If you love sci-fi shows, then there is one thing you have in common with Netflix. In the plethora of content that it releases every month, the streaming service seems especially invested in the sci-fi genre. In its latest offering, ‘Another Life’, it has ‘Battlestar Galactica’ star, Katee Sackhoff, play the role of a woman who leads a team of astronauts into deep space to discover the origins of a strange alien tech that has made its home on Earth. If you haven’t yet seen the series, you can catch all its episodes on Netflix. SPOILERs AHEAD.

Summary of the Plot

As Harper Glass, a media personality, prepares to address her audience, a strange alien spacecraft appears in the sky. It travels a long way before settling down in a field and making a crystal-like cocoon around itself. For six months, Erik Wallace and his team of scientists try to figure out its configuration and a way to crack it. When they discover that the artefact has been sending signals to another point in the universe, identified as Pi Canis Majoris, a team of astronauts is called upon to go in search of that source.

The team is lead by Erik’s wife, Niko Breckenridge. The mission is supposed to take only six months, if all goes well. She leaves behind her husband and child for the sake of the mission. She is to take over the command of Salvare, their ship, from Ian Yerxa, an astronaut she had once trained. Even though they have to rely on each in space, her crew of young people who might not bow down to her authority so easily.

What the Future Looks Like?

The story of ‘Another Life’ takes place in two settings. While the crew of Salvare is floating in space, people on Earth are trying to figure out what a strange artefact is doing on their planet. Most scenes on Earth take place on the site of the alien object. We do get glimpses of regular places, like cafés and Niko and Erik’s house. The future doesn’t look so different from the time we live in. Trees are in abundance; the air is not as polluted that people can’t properly breathe. If the future is to be like this, then the environmentalists are really fretting over nothing! Humans have taken a significant leap in science, and the fact that they are ready to launch an interstellar mission as soon as aliens come knocking at their door shows that they are prepared for anything.

The exact year, or even the decade, is not specified, but we can take a solid guess from a hint dropped by Erik. In one of the scenes, when he talks about the various messages that humans have sent into space in order to make contact with alien life, he mentions the Mozart recording sent on October 24, 2026. Considering the context and the way he speaks of the past, it feels like they are at least fifty years ahead, if not a whole century altogether. We haven’t even sent humans to Mars yet, and it has been fifty years since the Moon landing. Niko, on the other hand, has been to Jupiter, and beyond. And wearing uniforms became redundant for astronauts a decade ago!

‘Another Life’ shows humans using the tech that we will need a long time to catch up with. From spaceships that can travel at the speed of light to creating AIs who are capable of love and feelings, from the mining of asteroids becoming a family business to using deportation to Moon as a joke, humankind has come a very long way. But this is just the pretty part of the picture.

While we get to see new and beautiful worlds with the Salvare, through lines and phrases in odd conversations, we get to know about the hard truths of the future. When the Salvare crew lands on a moon that shows signs of life along with the presence of another artefact, Sasha sends out a message on the behalf of his country. He mentions that there are 215 nations now. Currently, there are 195. This increase in number means that a lot of dissolutions are in the store and at least twenty countries will claim their freedom.

As history teaches us, no partition has ever been preceded or immediately followed by peace. This means that by now, humans have fought some more, shed more blood and survived strong political upheavals. There is also a mention of United Korea and New China, and America still feels competitive with Russia. But a shift in regimes is not the only thing that humans have survived. The laws are stricter now. Or had been, at some point in time. When Niko kills Ian, she is more haunted by her guilt than the fear of justice. The ease with which some crew members accept her actions shows that it is acceptable for a commander to execute their crew member if they sense any danger, especially regarding the mission.

Moreover, there is also the reference of freedom of the press having suspended at some point. The online presence of Harper Glass and her connections and influence might make it look like the media has only gained more power, but there is a reference of the time when they had to face strict regulations, with the government deciding what they could tell the public and what they couldn’t.

Another interesting thing that comes up quite often is the floods. Oliver mentions that his hometown didn’t survive the floods; Dubois reminisces about her house in Washington DC, all of which is underwater now; there is also the reference to Old Seattle. In one scene, Javier asks August if she knows “how much clean water costs?”. So, yeah. Prepare for the glaciers to melt and the groundwater to dry up. Climate change is real!

What do the Achaia Want?

The chain of events in ‘Another Life’ starts with the coming of an alien object that cocoons itself and sends strange signals to a planet several light-years from Earth. Everything that happens after is to find out who sent it and what do they want from humankind? Slowly, the mystery uncovers and we get a proper name for them. The Achaia.

The inquiry into their nature takes place on two fronts. Niko leads the team that wants to get to the source of their signal and is the representation of the section that believes that the aliens are a threat. She doesn’t entirely scrape off the possibility of them being just another kind of explorers in space, but she is still suspicious of their intentions and wants to be ready in case they take the aggressive stance. She will not hesitate to take the guns blazing approach if it comes to that.

Erik, on the other hand, is a curious scientist who wants to befriend these aliens. From the beginning, he entertains the idea that they have come in peace, and until humans attack them, they won’t fire back. He is awed by their technology, and even when they try to manipulate him by taking Niko’s form, he isn’t alarmed or offended. He knows it is not his wife, and this makes him even more curious about how they know about him and why they chose that particular moment in his life to talk to him. While the government and Niko are concerned that the artefact might be the camp that they are setting up to build their offence, Erik believes that it is nothing more than a probe.

The aliens are as curious as humans, and they found us before we could find them just because they are technologically advanced than us. He not only marvels at their creations but also believes that they want to share their knowledge with humans. To him, the cocoon is a puzzle that humans need to solve to prove that they are worthy of making contact with the Achaia. In his defence, he hasn’t really seen their worst side yet. The one time they did fire back was when humans decided to attack the artefact. However, Niko has seen exactly what they are capable of. Despite what Erik wants to believe, they don’t have good plans for Earth.

What Happened to Zakir?

The mystery of what the Achaia actually want isn’t fully resolved in the first season. We do see that they can be pretty destructive. But then, if they wanted to destroy the Earth, why didn’t they just do it. As Jana says, “a bully doesn’t take time to pick on you.” Also, we see that they have placed similar artefacts on other planets as well, the count of which jumps to 300 after Niko and Cas find out more about it on Zakir. Their own planet is 400 light-years away. So, what brings them all the way to Earth? And if they don’t want destruction, what are they looking for?

In the final scene, Harper, whose mind has been taken over by the same tech that led Sasha to his death, tells the world that the Achaia want to be friends with humans. We would have accepted this proposal, but we know what happens when they get angry.

In order to understand their motives, let’s analyse their actions. On Zakir, Niko and Cas come across an alien that they believe to be Achaia. An interaction shows them that the alien is actually afraid of them. The AI present there informs them that they are actually on a different planet.

More than five years ago, the artefact had landed there and everything changed. The scared Zakiran is actually hiding and wants Niko and Cas to help them. While making their way towards the city, they discover a burial ground that gives them an estimate of the genocide that has happened on the planet. In one skull, Niko finds the same thing that had taken over Sasha, which convinces her that the same fate awaits humans if they don’t fight back.

Had it been just one planet, we could have thought about the possibility that perhaps the Zakirans were bad and the Achaia did this protect the rest of the galaxy from them. But then there is the case of the moon on which the crew had previously landed. They found another artefact there, and it must have been there for a very long time because it had begun to erode and was covered in vines.

Another strange thing was that despite having the environment that supports life, there was no life-form to be seen, except the plants. It wasn’t occupied by aliens or even animals of some sort. This means that Achaia had sent their artefact there a long time ago and decimated all life-form by the time the Salvare reached there. It only took five years for them to destroy Zakir. Who knows how long they had been on that moon! There is only one animal they encounter, and it shows up on both places. So, we can conclude that it is not a native of that moon.

What the Achaia have been doing is this. They send probes to various planets, and not just any random one. All these planets are inhabited by some intelligent lifeform. As Erik guessed, their probes are a way to test whether other lifeforms have what the Achaia are looking for. In order to understand the creatures of new planets, they invite them to have a chip implanted in their brain. Some (like Harper) agree to it, others (like Sasha) are forced upon.

While the creature is initially in control of their brain, the chip slowly takes over, until they are completely subservient to Achaia. Those who fight have no other way but to die. Because these chips are so highly advanced, they can also cure untreatable problems. For example, Javier was brain-dead but the insertion of the chip revived him. This makes another favourable argument in its favour. We are sure Erik will resort to something similar in order to save his daughter. They don’t want to get off on a wrong foot which is why they extend their friendship. But, from what happened with Zakir, we know they are not the ones to treat someone as their equal. Maybe they are just run-of-the-mill conquerors who are ready for bloodshed but want to avoid it for as long as possible. There is something they want that only a habitable planet can get them. Maybe their own planet is on the brink of destruction and they want a cure for that.

The Ending

After taking a long route through space, surviving each other and a couple of other planets, the Salvare finally reach Pi Canis Majoris. They land on a planet where the signal from the artefact is the strongest and discover the sorry state the Achaia have left it in. Before leaving for Earth, Niko decides to help destroy the artefact on Zakir. However, they face a fleet of ships that resemble the artefact that had landed on Earth. At first, they think the aliens have come for them. But then they surround Zakir and annihilate the planet as the humans watch in horror.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, Erik wants to find a way to save his daughter. Harper, who spent some time inside the artefact, returns with the chip embedded in her brain, which she says she consented to. Before running out of the facility, she tells the helpless Erik to take Jana to the aliens if he wants them to save her. Apart from this, Sasha succumbs to the horror of another voice inside his head, which is them reprogrammed by William to revive a brain-dead Javier.

Speaking of whom, August, who had indulged in sex with both Javier and Oliver is now pregnant, despite the exposure to gamma radiation. Bernie and Zayn are in a relationship, and Cas has made her peace with Niko. William, who went through a breakdown after having his heart-broken by Niko, learns that humans face such situations every day and live through it, which means so can he. In order to help himself through the heartbreak, he had created a simulation of Niko. When he couldn’t get it to behave the same way she would, he breathes emotions into it. When his work is done, he tries to wipe it clean but fails. The simulation has now evolved into something else and addresses William as its mother.

Another Life Season 2: What to Expect?

After building a solid foundation in its first season, ‘Another Life’ ended with major cliff-hangers. The exact nature of Achaia and what they have been doing with those probes remains to be seen. In the second season, we might get to know their side of the world, see what they look like and understand their motivations. The crew of Salvare knows what they are up against and have to reach the Earth before it meets the same fate as Zakir’s. Will they be able to reach on time? It did take them a whole season to make that journey. What other dangers await them on the way back?

With two other members (Michelle and Sasha) dead, who will wake up from soma to fill their place and what chemistry will the current crew share with them? Also, now that August is pregnant, how will the crew deal with this situation? And what does this mean for her relationship with Javier and Oliver? Also, now that Javier has Sasha’s chip in his brain, should he prepare himself for the same thing to plague him too? Another thing that the crew will have to deal with is William’s daughter. Another AI on the crew, and one who doesn’t answer to humans because it isn’t created by them certainly spells trouble. While planning to fight the Achaia, Niko mentions teaming up with other planets that have been terrorised by them. We have already seen one alien lifeform in this season. The next should expand on that, and we might see an intergalactic society forming up.

Meanwhile, the Achaia will continue to strengthen their stronghold with the help of Harper. Will she recognise their true nature and fight back as Sasha did? Or will she completely surrender and encourage others to join her, which will push the Earth towards the end that Zakir met with? And how does Erik fit into this picture? He has resorted to the help of the aliens, who might save Jana with the chip. What price will he have to pay for it? What is on the other end of the bargain? His understanding with the aliens might pit him against his own wife.

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