(Note: This post contains spoilers for the first season of Netflix’s “Lost in Space.”)
Netflix’s reboot of “Lost in Space,” like its 1960s predecessor, is all about a family who left Earth and got lost in, well, outer space. In this version, the Robinson family are passengers on a colony space ship headed for Alpha Centauri who crash on an alien planet and must struggle to survive.
But why were they making the trip in the first place? Yes, Alpha Centauri is the closest star system to ours. And a technological breakthrough has cut the trip there from a hundred thousand year-journey to short enough some people go there and back regularly. But it’s still more than 4 light years, and infinite unknown dangers, away from home.
The answer appears to be that things aren’t going great on Earth, and humans are migrating to the stars to escape.
It’s not particularly clear why Earth is in such bad shape, though. “Lost in Space” is cagey about what exactly is wrong, and most of the first season takes places well after the Robinson family has left. But occasionally, “Lost in Space” flashes back to the time before, giving us clues about just what led Maureen Robinson (Molly Parker) to pack up her family and turn them into astronauts.
The first clue is the Christmas Star, a meteor strike that happened years before the show takes place. Falling to Earth on Christmas, the “super bolide” — a very big, bright meteor — makes news after it strikes the Earth.
As Maureen puts it, the meteor’s presence is strange, given that a “Near Earth Object” of that size should have been detected by astronomers. Later in the show, Maureen and Dr. Smith (Parker Posey) discover the truth of the Christmas Star — we’ll let you watch that for yourself — but early on it’s implied there is some kind of connection between it and the sorry state of planet Earth.
A second clue comes via flashback, in a scene in which Maureen and Penny (Mina Sundwall) go Christmas shopping. Outside, something resembling dirty snow is falling, but both of them wear gas masks until they walk inside a store. There’s even a rack for people to store their masks while shopping, the implication being that this is a regular practice.
But it’s not clear what the cause of the low air quality actually is. It seems likely that pollution, climate change or some other environmental disaster is to blame. It’s also worth noting that Maureen and Penny’s dialogue makes it sound like several years have passed since the Christmas Star event. In any case, as Maureen later notes, Earth is doing badly and not getting any better.
Subsequent clues come from direct and implied references to serious geopolitical problems. In one flashback, Maureen talks about how governments on Earth “have stabilized” sometime close to when she starts to consider leaving for Alpha Centauri. And dialogue further suggests that war and strife were an issue over the previous 30 years.
But just how “stabilized” remains to be seen. Other flashback reveal that before their departure, Maureen’s husband John Robinson (Toby Stephens) was a U.S. Marine, frequently deployed to classified locations that are clearly war zones. One such war zone even appears to be in the Middle East, hinting at the possibility of still-simmering conflict over oil or other crucial resources.
But, you guessed it, the cause of that strife isn’t actually revealed. Whether the global strife is related to the ever-worsening environment, or if one or both are connected to the Christmas Star event (the truth about the Christmas Star event suggests that’s possible) remains to be seen.
Luckily for mankind in the Netflix series, things could be a lot worse. In the 1998 movie reboot of “Lost in Space,” in which William Hurt’s version of John Robinson warns that environmental catastrophe dooms humanity to extinction, Earth is still keeping on keeping on, even if it’s in bad shape. Humans aren’t abandoning their home planet for a new one en masse. Instead, the Alpha Centauri colony is still very young, and only the best of the best applicants (or maybe those who can afford it) are able to move to the new world.
Given all the flashbacks in the first season of “Lost in Space,” it seems pretty likely that we’ll be getting even more information about what’s happening with the future of Earth in future episodes, should Netflix renew it.