The premise of Armageddon is fused to the West Wing-meets-Dallas vibe of Designated Survivor and the schlocky technobabble of Timeless to produce Netflix’s Salvation, an enjoyable slab of speculative sci-fi underpinned with political intrigue. Implausibly hip MIT genius Liam (Charlie Rowe) discovers that a Near Earth Object (scientist-speak for an asteroid) is on collision course with the planet, big enough to cause an extinction-level event. He’s taken under the wing of tech billionaire and fellow genius Darius Tanz (Santiago Cabrera), who’s basically Elon Musk, only with (again implausibly) movie-star good looks and great hair. Really great hair. Tanz Industries is tasked by the US Government to find a way to stop the rock, all the while trying to keep the asteroid a secret to prevent panic.
Salvation’s very basic premise is delivered with infectious energy and the best twisty-turny plotting a modern day writers’ room can provide. The ‘science’ is joyously ridiculous, with our heroes knocking up new forms of space propulsion simply by pulling an all-nighter, and the story pivoting at one point on the techies’ unlikely ability to predict where precisely on Earth the fragments of the asteroid will strike, should they opt to blow it apart with a few nukes. Dumb doesn’t quite cover it. But fun? Absolutely.
Mixed in with the technobabble is a scarily less preposterous storyline that sees America taken over by rightwing nutjobs. You don’t have to be a political analyst to spot the not-so-subtle comparisons. Here, we have a decent, hardworking female president usurped by murderous and undemocratic self-styled American patriots. Like Designated Survivor, Salvation isn’t interested in realism – this is an airport paperback brought to life, and God bless it for that.
Implausibly – that word again – the politico who gets centre-stage is the White House press secretary Grace (played with great warmth by Jennifer Finnigan). She is, of course, in a relationship with the Deputy Secretary of Defense, Harris (Ian Anthony Dale), allowing her convenient access to big chunks of plot. Being a woman in a trashy drama, she is also, of course, divorced, juggling motherhood with a demanding career and – most importantly – can’t choose between her boyfriend or the new hot bad boy – in this case, a guy called Darius.
Relationship woes figure prominently in the arcs of all, with Liam spending an inordinate amount of time moping over self-published sci-fi author Jillian (Jacqueline Byers). She’s brought into Tanz Corp by Darius, where she joins a team selecting the 160 humans who’ll be chosen to leave Earth on the titular spacecraft Salvation in the event that the asteroid smacks into Earth. It’s as silly as the rest of the show, yes, but its exploration of which people represent the best of humanity is nevertheless compelling.
With lots of story still to tell, Salvation sets itself up brilliantly for Season 2. With that now greenlit, there’s still time to fall for the show’s dubious but not inconsiderable charms. It’s trashy, ridiculous, laughably unscientific and there’s a monster asteroid heading for Earth – how can you not watch?
Salvation: Season 1 is available on Netflix UK, as part of £7.49 monthly subscription.