by ETHAN PETERSON
creators Liz Kruger, Matt Wheeler and Craig Shapiro
In one episode of Salvation, Liam Cole (Charlie Rowe) escorts his girlfriend Jillian Hayes (Jacqueline Byers) to her first day of work. As she approaches the entrance, she asks him for a pep talk, since she is very nervous about working for Darius Tanz (Santiago Cabrera). He shows her Darius’ collection of meteorites, and adds that she is completely unique like each of them. Undeterred by the fact her sexual partner compared her to a rock, she responds, “Damn, you’re good.”
Jillian is the author of a science fiction novel called Shadowside, which she self-published. She has been hired to serve on a committee that will select 160 people to colonize Mars. Her first input to the group is that they will need a fair number of poets, artists and musicians. Everyone looks at her like she is batshit, so she runs to her boyfriend to complain.
Liam is evidently working on something very important — some kind of electromagnetic shield that enables interstellar travel — but he has to go to the snack bar at Tanz headquarters to order to console this increasingly fragile woman. “Don’t beat yourself up about it,” he says. “The guy sounds like a total jerk.” This is how people at MIT talk, you see. Working with a government agent named Grace (Jennifer Finnigan), Liam figures out that Tanz plans to abandon the Earth because it will shortly become uninhabitable as a result of an asteroid strike.
Mr. Tanz is quite the man. He is basically like if Mark Zuckerberg absorbed Arnold Schwarzenegger within his body. At one point he is waterboarded for over an hour and he only looks mildly discomfited. He has this weird workstation where he has to lean over and use an extremely loud mouse in order to operate the OS. In the days that follow his waterboarding, he is extremely cranky, even more so than usual, in a manner reminiscent of when Elon Musk enters his menstrual cycle.
On her second day of work, self-published Jillian is forced to endure the indignity of a security check at the entrance to the workplace. She snaps at one of the security guards, letting him know how displeased she is when it comes to the working environment of Tanz industries. I don’t think she will be lasting long in this job, but who cares? Her boyfriend wears a Joy Division shirt for, like, hours.
When Jillian and Liam have sex, which is virtually every evening and every night despite their busy schedule, he still wears a t-shirt. She is nude, but only from the waist up. In the morning he gets this quizzical look on this face, a combination of not quite knowing where he is, and the fear of being gripped from behind by someone you met in a bar. In response or in repose, Jillian constantly smiles with her teeth.
Salvation is an incredibly cheap-looking show, maybe the worst to ever appear on a major network. The entire thing looks like it takes place in one square mile of Canada. I realize that sometimes Canada has to stand in for the U.S., but in the case of Salvation, there is a lot of foliage and streets that just do not reliably represent the United States.
Things are not all bad. Except for the dolt who plays Liam’s girlfriend, the rest of the cast is top-notch quality. Jennifer Finnigan looks exactly what you would expect a spectral ghost to resemble, and her romance with the head of a government task force on the asteroid, a fellow named Harris (Ian Anthony Dale), is quite implausible. Amazingly, she also has time to be a single mom. Will wonders never cease?
Conventional wisdom would say that Charlie Rowe really missed out by losing to Tom Holland for the role of Spider-Man, but since Spider-Man: Homecoming was such total shit, this outcome probably did his career a favor. He is an exciting young actor, unique both in his t-shirt-wearing modesty and his staggering assembly of reaction faces to whatever is going on. Watching his cheekbones is like being told a very broad and general bedtime story.
Despite these exciting, nay, groundbreaking performances, nothing can feasibly alleviate the mental dustbowl required to sit through Salvation. It is not even that things are exactly boring, since the show keeps a brisk pace. It is more that nothing makes any sense whatsoever — like, how many murder subplots are necessary before Earth is obliterated by a large rock?
Ethan Peterson is the reviews editor of This Recording.