The Silent Sea – A compelling sci-fi thriller

Must watch for sci-fi lovers!

Trailer – The Silent Sea

Climate change, state-sponsored controversial and secret research and space exploration have intrigued the human mind for a long time. From questions and activism to conspiracy theories and some inspired fiction, we have tried to make sense of our world. Science-fiction as a genre has flourished on intrigues and extreme imagination and has sometimes become prophetic.

When I watched The Silent Sea on Netflix, I wondered if some of this was true. What if years of space explorations have led to some discoveries that are privy to the high and mighty? With the sudden spurt in space-related activities, as we battle a pandemic, nothing seems improbable!

The Silent Sea, a 2021 South Korean sci-fi mystery thriller, is an adaptation of the 2014 short film, The Sea of Tranquility. IMBD trivia says this is the first sci-fi space drama to be attempted in Korea. This Korean drama or K-drama starts at a slow pace, which is the hallmark of most space-bound series. I believe it’s a deliberate attempt to chip away at the romantic imagery of space travel. Space is dark, uninviting, boring, and dangerous. The thrill is not because things move fast, but the disenchantment is that time stands still in closed confines. In this series, the eerie corridors of an artificially lit space station are abuzz with adrenaline-soaked action.

A brooding astrobiologist joins a team of cherry-picked professionals to go to the Moon and recover a mysterious sample from the abandoned Balhae lunar research station in a 24-hour secret mission. The Earth is already barren, and water is more precious than any commodity. In a dystopian future of rationing and misery, we start with the stark realities of climate change, hitting us with tawny and pale dust. In contrast, the grayish and detailed lunar surface is intimidating and inviting.

The 8-episodes series packs in a lot of punch and strikes nearly all the boxes. We get regular doses of adventure, excitement, mystery, conflict, confusion, secrets, thrill, fear, suspense, human dynamics and emotions, and the eternal question of ethics. The element that binds the series together is that of trust. The fabric of trust is often ripped apart as the story progresses – from trusting your government, your colleagues, family members to your instincts.

At some places, the scenes linger on, but there is always a twist that leaves you thinking. They do not show the crew sleeping or eating, and I found it an interesting detail. The cinematography is excellent. Production has gone into details, from lighting to gadgets, and it all ties up well together. The unique storyline is a big draw and a win because it stretches the imagination, yet it is not implausible. I would have loved to delve into so many aspects, but none can be without a spoiler. An interested viewer has to take undertake this journey to draw their conclusions.

On the lunar landscape, the crew discovers anomalies and surprising elements. The series-makers give an exciting revelation, even at the end. As with most series, the pertinent question to ask is will there be a season 2? A work of art is successful when it leaves you contemplative and not craving for more, though I can see scope for a prelude series. I opine some things are best left to the imagination for a lasting impact. The Silent Sea leaves you pondering and with a powerful impression, and that should remain untampered.

Midnight Mass – An intense limited series

Poster – Source: Buzzfeed

The opening shot of Midnight Mass limited series on Netflix India is of a car crash with a policeman lifting a liquor bottle from the smashed vehicle. Shift to the court and prison scene we presume this to be a horror series in an urban setting. When an apparition appears to the accused, Riley, we have our first jump scare moment. These moments of modernity and scare are far and few. This is neither a haunting nor a prison narrative. This is an altogether different drama peppered with deep philosophy and enigma.

The plot soon shifts to Crockett island, a sleepy fishing village. It has a dwindling population reeling under the aftermath of an oil spill and disenchantment of youngsters, who are fast heading to the cities. The despondent and resigned-to-fate villagers are suddenly woken from slumber by the arrival of a young priest, Father Paul, who has replaced their old and ailing village priest. He bestows energy with enigmatic sermons and compassion, getting in touch with people, offering an ear and advice, and the Holy Communion.

Revelations in the middle of the series are preceded by a miracle, accompanied by confession, setting into motion a bizarre set of occurrences. A lot of time and attention goes into building up the primary characters. From anger to apathy, forgiveness, and sympathy, through trials and tribulations, and homecomings, we see an entire gamut of emotions build up a profound narrative. There is suspense, horror but mostly sadness and questions as people navigate their lives. Father Paul’s sermons can be heavy on those not acquainted with the Holy Bible.

Conversations between people are the most impactful. My favorite is in Episode 4, between Riley and Erin, where they take turns to describe What happens when you die?” It is a discourse to be revisited and applauded, as one tackles the physical connotations of death, and the other expresses it at a metaphysical level. Both are achingly beautiful. Even if you do not watch the series, watch this discourse starting at 27:50 minutes. The discussions in the AA meetings between Riley and Father Paul are also insightful.

Another conversation that stands out is between the village doctor and the sheriff, a practicing Muslim. He tells the doctor how 9/11 transformed the lives of men like him and brought them down from positions of importance to men clinging to their endangered dignity. It is poignant – nothing that we do not know of – but necessary to remind us of the injustice and discrimination. The wheat and chaff are not always separated and end up with the same crushing fate.

Poster – Source: Heaven of Horror

Midnight Mass is heavy-duty and not binge-watch material. The shadow of life and beyond life falls heavy on Crockett island. Demons are lurking in the dark with ghosts from the past, but the most dangerous are the secrets and desires that hide within us. This limited series will engage viewers in a meaningful discussion on community, sacrifice, suffering, and of course the good and diabolic. It is a serious watch with the mysterious and mystic thrown into the human cauldron. It touches upon science and religion, atheism and faith, and even nonconforming relationships.

Dramatized by extremely talented artists, this series brings out the beauty of the Church and its rituals and the truly devout, who try not to yield to temptation till the end. It also invokes the ugly and ruthless. Not all who pray are free of malice, not all who profess the Holy Word interpret it in the best interest of the masses. This is a story of lust, faith, fanaticism, spirituality, metaphysics, and of some flawed, forsaken men and women.

Not all angels are divine and not all faithful are without evil. There is, however, goodness and divinity in most people, irrespective of religious leanings or life philosophies. The most devout can treat someone as a pariah and harbor hatred for others. While the simple-minded can cradle compassion. For me, this is the deeper meaning that the bold series attempts to explore. 

It is one of the best series I have watched in a long time, worth the effort and patience, especially as it all makes sense in the last episode. I understand the series will have a limited audience. Not all can appreciate and comprehend the Biblical reference and the Catholic church rituals. It could have culminated in one episode less had it not been for the long passage recitations and monologues calling upon the faithful. I do see how these scenes help to build the passion and justify the flawed and seemingly faithful, as they drive the islanders to penultimate misery. Midnight Mass is not for mass entertainment but for a chosen few looking for an intelligent series that stays with them long after.

Trigger warning: Blood and gory scenes.


For Riley’s description of death read this Elephant Journal article.

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