Abandoned lunar station appeases global thirst with moon water.
In a manner, less like a sci-fi thriller but more like a horror film with a hint of Contagion, in a not so distant future and Earth is, sadly, dying. Food is scarce but water is scarcer. A “water grade” based on social class now controls how much water citizens are allowed access to. In a last-ditch attempt to save humanity, South Korea’s “National Committee for Human Survival Measures” sends a team to the moon to retrieve a water sample from Balhae Station. Upon arrival, the team are swept up in a mystery of the true nature of their mission that will threaten the fate of mankind and theirs.
Here be spoilers…
What we like
Since this eight-part series was based on director Choi Hang Yong's own notable 2014 short film The Sea of Tranquility, it is safe to expect a deepening of the story since there is a lot more time (and yes, space) for writer Park Eun Kyo to play the breadcrumb game with viewers. Some might find this expansion unnecessary, but the additional time gives a good amount of suspense to each revelation, leaving us with time to work through frustration and stay hooked for the next discovery or explanation.
In other words, thanks to good writing, the pacing of the show makes it dangerously bingeable.
It's also been 50 years since we made our first landing on the Moon so there's only so much you can do to make space travel to our closest celestial neighbour novel again. The Silent Sea didn't go overboard on glamourising futurism, but kept it grounded with a digestible amount of practical VFX. Things like the moon canyons were well-rendered and the dusty Dune-reminiscent Earth scenes were as realistically barren as it gets.
But a plausible plot factored into the believability of the series; with billionaires making headway into the ubiquity of space travel, it won't be long before looking to the outside for answers becomes more common and accessible to all of us. Until then, the show makes known one thing for sure—few things are more disturbing than biological samples behaving way differently than you’d expect them to.
With versatile thespian Bae Doona as the leading biochemist Dr Song Ji An, the personal narrative that viewers get to delve into is not hard-sold or jarring, even though most of the show contains minimal but effective emoting. Dr Song's story gets the most screen time since her role as lead biochemist and the younger sister of Balhae's lead researcher makes her doubly significant, and assuringly so (with the actresses' masterful portrayal of grit in grief).
Where other sci-fi stories get their strength from watching eager adventurers get worn down by the job, The Silent Sea takes the opposite tack, allowing Dr Song to start off as someone almost completely defeated, before becoming a more hopeful person as she uncovers more truths about her work. It also helps that her backstory develops along with each episode, so we aren't bogged down by its disruptive weight.
Overall, this is another instance of the Koreans proving their niche at deftly handling the power play of emotion, overcoming the particularly challenging balance of sentiment and science in fiction.
What we didn't like
While it's pretty impressive on the rough extraterrestrial terrain, it is much less so inside. While it is interesting to note that The Silent Sea doesn't employ the popular sci-fi trope of claustrophobia, the extra spacious and lacklustre moon-wheel halls were too repetitive, especially when there is essentially only one setting in this show.
While it is in line with how the area was left to disintegrate after a mass death, it wouldn't have hurt to add a little more from the art department to pique our visual interest as the primary storyline trudges on. Granted, this gave way to the classic but ingenious use of colour (specifically red and green in man-made sterile environments), it still would have been better if the sleek and detailed cabin had a little more character and hue.
Speaking of which, casting was a let down. Apart from Captain Han and Dr Song, the rest of characters were largely bland and hard to distinguish. Despite having a very capable cast not limited to the Squid Game and Train to Busan's Gong Yoo, ex-idol-turned-actor Lee Joon, Lee Moon Saeng from The World of the Married, and all-rounder actress Kim Sun Young, the dialogue of the supporting roles were so wooden and unimpressive that it took half of the show to make apparent that Lee Joon's character, Captain Ryoo Tae Seok, is a conniving double agent.
What to look out for
Veteran actor Jung Woo Sung, who is the executive producer of this series, has a brief voice cameo in one of the episodes.
The Silent Sea is now streaming on Netflix.