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‘Moonhaven’ review: AMC Plus Sci-Fi Mystery with Dominic Monaghan

‘Moonhaven’ review: AMC Plus Sci-Fi Mystery with Dominic Monaghan

Science fiction (and speculative fiction, its bespectacled cousin) has always been a unique breeding ground for political allegory. And the metaphorical potential of sci-fi only becomes stronger when the politics and culture of real society begin to resemble the surreality of a dark parallel universe or an alternative story.

That topicality is what made Hulus’ “The Handmaid’s Tale” a critical and commercial success in the first seasons. “Handmaid’s” recognition and ratings have anecdotally ticked down in the following seasons, but when the US Supreme Court voted to revoke half a century of reproductive freedom, dozens of women showed up to protest in “Handmaid’s” sadly iconic red cape-and-white -blind ensemble. It is essentially evidence that Margaret Atwood’s narrative, as vividly reproduced in the images of the creator Bruce Miller, has become more popular as a political ideology than it ever was as a story.

Into the entangled battle comes AMC +’s “Moonhaven”, a sci-fi drama that highlights its gnarled ideas about humanity as aggressively as anything Gene Roddenberry or Rod Serling has ever conceived. Specifically, “Moonhaven” explores the question of whether the basic nature of the human condition is precisely what makes humanity itself unsustainable. The show takes place a century ago, when the earth has been laid low by overpopulation, dwindling resources, a poisoned environment, and of course the bloody wars that would inevitably result from such circumstances.

Mankind’s only hope lies in Moonhaven, a lush, 500 square kilometer municipality built on the moon and populated with space pilgrims entrusted with solving the problems the Earth faces – and one day importing these solutions home. It’s a quixotic goal, but 30 years into the experiment, Mooners (their official demonym) honestly kills it. Guided by a presumably post-singularity artificial intelligence called IO, Moonhaven has figured out how to make turbid water drinkable, create a healthy and sustainable food source, and sniff out tribal conflicts before they begin. (They may not be far from developing vegan mozzarella that can trick a soil out of the field.)

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When the series begins, Mooners is equally enthusiastic and terrified of “The Bridge,” the long-awaited gradual migration back to Earth, and Moonhaven’s reason for existence. It’s the worst possible time for Moonhaven’s first murder, but it’s the unfortunate task given to Paul Sarno (Dominic Monaghan) and his partner Arlo (Kadeem Hardison), similar detectives in a society that should not demand them.

While working to solve the murder, Indira Mare (Amara Karan), the Earth’s envoy to Moonhaven, travels to the colony with bodyguard Tomm (Joe Manganiello). Bella Sway (Emma McDonald) mans the controls of Indira’s space shuttle, a world-weary future war veteran with skeptical views on the promise of Moonhaven. Bella’s mission is meant to be a quick jump across space and back, but she is quickly sucked into the homicide investigation and the political intrigue swirling around the bridge.

Creator Peter Ocko, who previously helped develop the disappearing “Lodge 49”, has once again built a show with a deep and potentially frightening mythology. The first half of the pilot borders on alienation, which is not unusual for the genre, but “Moonhaven” accumulates early and often. The Mooner culture is no different from a hippie community with a barely hidden dark side. They have their own clumsy way of speaking, full of arbitrary abbreviations and invented compound words, which make the passionate monologues more fun than touching. Everyone at Moonhaven wears colorful burlap loungewear and communicates their emotions through modern dance. They are also terribly complacent, as if they solved humanity’s problems just for the sake of boasting.

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Bella acts as an audience assistant, overwhelmed by all cultural differences and resistant to joining a community that views her as a helpless, unenlightened earth dweller. It’s hard to blame her given how much Moonhaven looks like an earthly doomsday cult. Despite all the IO’s advanced intelligence, it has apparently learned nothing about folk horror or sex cult documentaries, otherwise it would not have made utopia so difficult to distinguish from “Midsummer” or “Wild Wild Country.”

Although “Moonhaven” initially feels limited by the large amount of information it has to tell, the show at the end of the pilot has taken hold. Despite the genre formalism and weight of ideas, “Moonhaven” never feels trapped. under its own weight. It’s a surprisingly funny show with a tight, lively story that gives each of the six episodes an electrifying cliffhanger. It looks forward to introducing IO’s technology and pulling it out in cool, satisfying ways. The dialogue may be crowded with nonsense, but the plot and the visuals are certainly not.

Monaghan gets top marks on “Moonhaven”, but the show belongs to McDonald, whose ability to convey the well of grief behind Bella’s tough exterior rivals performances by Juliette Lewis and Michelle Rodriguez. It’s not to take anything from Monaghan, whose scenes with Hardison create the buddy-cops-in-space dynamics the world never knew it needed. The cast of Hardison and Monaghan, both known for playing characters whose most deadly weapons are their jokes, tells how “Moonhaven” prioritizes frivolity as the story gets darker.

And boy, is that a dark side of Moonhaven. It should come as no surprise that society’s first killings are far from the last, and the dreaded compositions that various factions reveal themselves. In fact, do Mooners intend to share resources and advanced technology with the earth, or are they determined to amass their wealth while countless others suffer? Is the family structure the basis of society, or just the ignition of sectarian violence? When does a freedom fighter become a terrorist, and who gets to decide? “Moonhaven” plays with all these ideas, as strong as it is as a sci-fi romp, its true potential may come several years from now when the premise begins to resemble science more than fiction.

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The first two episodes of “Moonhaven” premiere on AMC + July 7, and then they come weekly.

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