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  • Writer's pictureS.J.

'Beacon 23' Season 1 Review: Lena Headey & Stephan James Shine A Light On MGM+ Sci-Fi Thriller

Stephan James and Lena Headey next to each other in a hall

Two people trapped in a lighthouse, going slightly mental with their strange visions, but this time in colour. Exploring the edges of the Milky Way is the first season of Beacon 23, a sci-fi thriller that's adapting a book of the same name by Hugh Howey as it sends its characters into the mysterious and unpredictable territories of the galaxy. One of those main characters is Halan (Stephan James) who's a beacon keeper at a remote lighthouse, shining a light on those travelling the universe. His solitary life with the beacon's AI ''Bart'' (voiced by Wade Bogert-O'Brien) is soon disturbed as Aster (Lena Headey), a government agent accompanied by her holographic AI assistant Harmony (Natasha Mumba), boards the lighthouse. Expressing suspicion from both sides, the two of them begin to investigate each other's motives and reasons to be there, later also delving into the lighthouse's history and loyalties of their AIs.

Most of the series' twists and turns rely heavily on Halan and Aster standing on opposite sides, carrying their own pasts and secrets before their personalities finally begin to clash as both of them are seemingly at the point of no return. This first season's showrunner Zak Penn and his writers' room (including Ira Steven Behr) manage to do a lot of flexible and inspired manoeuvres with their structure of the piece, though inside that there are also struggles when it comes to keeping up the momentum and tension.

First few episodes establish the main duo's back-and-forth with ease while the season's more standalone episodes offer nice breaks from it when necessary; episodes four and six specifically feature some of the show's best moments and sequences. Halan and Aster's storyline is often bogged down by terribly dull and toothless dialogue, which is an issue because in order for Beacon 23 to reach its potential, those conversations should have a bit more personality to them.

Whenever a TV series stumbles with what's on the page, it's not a surprise that your leads also have a hard time in bringing a deeper reading. James and Headey are never the problem or even underwhelming as performers, they're just mostly missing some of the shades and finer details that would make the journey to the galaxy's edge inviting, further amplified when a few character actors (Stephen Root as Solomon, Eric Lange as Milan) deliver a bigger impact as guest stars.

The series expresses sensible introspection about the role of AI, loneliness, trust and desperation, and it always looks great thanks to smartly utilised VFX as well as suitably suffocating set designs (by Todd Fjelsted and Evan Webber), but constant lack of danger makes it hard to recommend that journey wholeheartedly to anyone without knowing their preferences. As sci-fi and as an adaptation of short stories, it stands on its own but as a thriller it's never able to turn up the heat as much as it should. The early confidence in a second season at least shows someone trusting that those deficiencies can be corrected. Trust is sacred, though, especially when you're on Beacon 23 and everyone has baggage.

Smileys: Structure, VFX

Frowneys: Dialogue

When Bart gets an update, it evolves into a Bartholo-mewtwo.


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