By the end of this first season, you’ll come to very much enjoy the five as a complex crew that often struggles under the weight of their enormously risky endeavor. Whether it be physical or emotional, they all have their limits and breaking points, and because the crew experiences each other at their most vulnerable, they bond in unexpected ways that make for some pretty good TV. And As the months aboard the spacecraft stretch on, Emma’s pain and longing feel real and palpable.
In the first episode, Emma is already on her ship, docked at the moon, and coping with a couple of crew members who feel she’s unfit to lead them. Back at home, Emma’s husband Matt (Josh Charles), dealing with the stress of not only raising their teen daughter Lex (Talitha Bateman) alone but also being the chief brain at NASA in charge of his wife’s mission, suffers a stroke that leaves him in a wheelchair. At this point, the series asks us to invest heavily in Emma and Matt as she considers returning home while he insists she keeps going.It’s a crucial moment because the rest of the season (and series presumedly) will live or die based on how much we care about Emma and Matt’s bond. Can it withstand the vast expanse of space? Can it endure loneliness and hardship and feelings of abandonment and guilt? At the midpoint of the season, the Atlas crew reaches their own mission’s halfway mark. After this, the astronauts can no longer connect to their loved ones via video call and it’s when things start to get dark for Emma. Whereas the other crew members either have no family or are simply resigned to the fact that their family hates them because of their devotion to space, Emma, unable to fully compartmentalize, is emotionally torn and it makes for some good, grounded drama.
The story back on Earth feels best when it’s tethered to Emma’s experiences up in the Atlas. On its own, however, it slouches under a touch of tedium, as Matt crumbles more and more, sidelining his own recovery, and his acceptance of possibly never walking again, by investing in Emma’s technical conundrums in space. And the series even – ugh – teases possible romantic betrayals on both sides of the cosmos.
Away, though much better, shares a few elements with fellow Netflix sci-fi series Another Life. Both involve a wife and mother leaving their family for space (and being doubted by their crew) while the husband/father stays behind to solve space problems. In both cases though, the homefront storyline, which takes up a good 50% of the runtime, is the weakest link.