Asala and Niko have made it to Hypatia – but can they survive the death-cold and find out what happened to The Vela?
This week’s episode of The Vela felt a little flat after the emotional rollercoaster of The Third Passenger, but it certainly moved the plot along.
We join Asala and Niko disembarking at Hypatia, and it’s obvious from the beginning that this is a world on its last legs in every respect. After all, what’s the point in looking after your infrastructure when you know the only way you’ll survive is by getting off-planet? The illustrations hit me hard: the tragicomical PA system on the transit that calls out what to do a good thirty seconds after our travellers have done it (I grew up reading Douglas Adams; I couldn’t help but imagine the quiet depression of the poor ignored computer); the dispenser that can only make fabrics that aren’t actually warm enough for the climate.
Asala struggles to come to terms with being on her home world in more ways than one. One moment she’s running exuberantly through the snow or feeling a deep connection to the landscape; the next she’s wrestling with an unshakeable sense of imposter syndrome as the nuances of her native tongue escape her. She’s haunted by childhood memories, but she struggles to make any human connection on Hypatia. I really felt for her; I understand the deep disconnect between a longing for home and the feeling of belonging. Being Asala, she doesn’t let any of this distract her from her mission.
And the task in hand – finding out what happened to The Vela – is far from easy. The Hypatians have no time for pampered innards who stole their water and the heat of their sun; and Niko stands out like the rich foreigner they are. A combination of luck and contacts eventually gets the odd couple the break they need, even as it manufactures more obstacles: an inworlder has been locked up in Hypatia’s Gandesian-designed high security prison for trying to trade fuel on the black market – fuel of a quality that can only have come from The Vela.
There’s a deep and explicit irony in the fact that the only aid Gan-De has rendered Hypatia is a complex designed to keep Hypatians on-planet. But it’s a chance to see Asala and Niko do what they do best – and work together, which is a joy, Niko hacking the security systems while Asala does the run of the prison. Everybody loves a Mission Impossible infiltration sequence, right?
Still, it’s fair to say that Hypatia wasn’t quite what I was expecting. The world itself is – rundown, deserted, plagued with social issues – but the emotional beats were a little deliberate; the drama a little transactional. The action sequence climax is as entertaining (if less explosive) as that of the opening episode, but I guess I was hoping for a bit more soul-searching in Asala’s homecoming.
Those who haven’t read the episode should pause here, because I do want to talk briefly about the end of the episode – so spoilers ahoy!
I think the thing that left me most flummoxed was that we didn’t see Asala go in search of Dayo at all – and then they left Hypatia at the end of the episode. The whole ending felt engineered rather than organic for me: I’m still not quite clear how the security forces identified Niko rather than Asala (…since surely security footage at the prison would have shown her? Just how badly did Niko botch setting off their EMP) or why Niko’s contacts couldn’t have hidden them. There were a lot of sudden left-hand turns in as many paragraphs.
Consequently, I ended the episode feeling fairly dissatisfied. There are elements I liked here – the early world-building of the tattered planet; the hints of Hypatian society implicit in Asala’s memories of home mother and clan mothers – but overall the episode left me a little cold. Of course, it’s also left me on a cliffhanger for Asala/Niko and desperate to know exactly what Uzochi Ryouta is up to, so I shall be steaming on to episode 4 to find out what happens!
I was sent an advance copy of The Vela in exchange for honest reviews ahead of release, but I’d already subscribed to it because oh my goodness this is so clearly my jam. Not sure where that leaves me with the new UK laws on declaring interests? No, me either.
The Vela is now available at https://www.serialbox.com/serials/the-vela