A man wakes up abruptly, gasping in shock. He’s alone in an unexpected place. Something has clearly gone wrong with the trip he was on, but he won’t know just how wrong until he finds his fellow passengers. They’ll have to work together to manage their basic needs and unravel the mystery of why they didn’t arrive safely at their destination. But can they trust each other, given their various unsavory backgrounds, which will largely be revealed by a series of flashbacks? On Lost, this man’s name is Jack Shephard. But in YouTube Premium’s new space series Origin, it’s Shun Kenzaki (Sen Mitsuji).
In Origin, the passengers wake up from stasis, en route to the distant planet Thea. They were supposed to reach the planet before being revived, but they’re still on board their transport ship, Origin. The Siren Corporation, which put them on the ship, offers its colonists a clean slate. Signing on for a colony means having all records of their history on Earth sealed — which gives the writers a perfect excuse to create crew members with particularly colorful pasts. “We’re five light-years from Earth. Who’s going to stop us?” one Siren spokesperson says in a promotional VR experience, channeling the sort of corporate hubris that always goes so well in science fiction stories.
The first two episodes of the show’s 10-episode debut season are devoted to former yakuza enforcer Shun and traumatized bodyguard Lana Pierce (Natalia Tena, known as Osha on Game of Thrones and Nymphadora Tonks in multiple Harry Potter films). But it’s clear the rest of the primary characters will be getting similar treatments. They include cowardly jerk Logan Maine (Tena’s fellow Harry Potter alum Tom Felton, proving his mastery at playing a particular type of human weasel), super-hacker Agnes Lebachi (Adelayo Adedayo), and Henri Gasana (Fraser James), a man with extensive medical knowledge and shaky hands.
As with Lost, frequent flashbacks connect the audience with the characters’ pasts, even as they’re keeping their baggage to themselves in the present. But all the origin stories also are meant to slow down the pace of discovery on board the Origin. The protagonists have been left behind following a collision that damaged their ship and let something on board that started killing people. This is classic space-horror, with visuals and a story that feel like a mix of Prometheus and the Dead Space video game series. The passengers explore their sleek colony ship looking for answers, and finding plenty of opportunities for jump-scares and classic terrible horror-character logic. It’s the kind of story where people die from impulsive decisions they wouldn’t have been made if they’d waited just a few more minutes for further information.
Film director Paul W.S. Anderson helmed Origin’s first two episodes, and he and show creator Mika Watkins seem to want to make his credentials obvious. They’re presented coyly in the first episode, when two characters wonder whether they’re being punished for their crimes on Earth and are actually in hell, as a nod to the plot of Anderson’s space-horror classic Event Horizon.
It’s much less subtle in the second episode, where the daughter of the US senator that Lana is protecting has decorated her room with posters celebrating Resident Evil, the game franchise turned movie franchise, and Anderson’s longest-running film credit. The girl is apparently an old soul, devoted to 21st-century pop culture, as further emphasized by a scene where she reads a passage from The Hunger Games to Lana. The segment is supposed to be full of pathos and foreshadowing, but it just sounds ridiculous.
Origin isn’t original, but it’s undeniably stylish. The scenes of Tokyo in Shun’s flashbacks beautifully demonstrate the show’s impressive visual effects by evoking Blade Runner’s tech-noir sensibilities. The sprawling spacecraft combines elements from Interstellar and Sunshine, but it works particularly well as a haunted house where the passengers are as likely to find a farm or state-of-the-art infirmary around the bend as they are a bleeding-out crew member or a room packed with grotesquely contorted corpses. The powers and motives of the alien entity on board remain shrouded in mystery, but the passengers’ brief interactions with it show it’s an appropriately menacing threat.