******JUPITER-2 SIZED SPOILERS AHEAD!!*******
The final season of Netflix’s rebooted “Lost in Space” has successfully landed, and I’m pleased to say that the series’ third and final season is easily on a par with the confident storytelling of the second, and more importantly, the series ends well. On the whole, Netflix took a gamble with “Lost in Space”; the series 1960s parent series was a campy take on “Swiss Family Robinson” that doesn’t translate well into our century, unlike say, “Star Trek.” As I’ve said before in this column, “Lost in Space” has always been a problematic property to modernize. Until now.
After the cancellation of the first series in 1968, there was a 1973 animated cartoon version that essentially chucked any last vestiges of family ensemble drama the original attempted in favor of kiddie adventure. In 1998, there was the rebooted feature film starring William Hurt, Mimi Rogers, Gary Oldman, Matt LeBlanc and Heather Graham, which landed with a thud. In 2002, director/producer John Woo attempted another TV revival that was heavily skewed towards family drama (ditching the popular character of Dr. Smith), and which never made it past the pilot stage. What was so challenging about reworking this family-friendly bit of 1960s kitsch for modern audiences?
Note: Interesting that the animated version of “Lost in Space” (which only featured Jonathan Harris as Dr. Smith returning from the original series) debuted the same year as “the animated version of “Star Trek.” The two series were always competitive with each other in the 1960s and 1970s, with “Star Trek” on the NBC network, and “Lost in Space” on CBS (ironically, CBS/Paramount+ has been Star Trek’s new home since 2017).
Netflix finally hammered it out in 2018 when producers/developers Matt Shazama and Burk Sharpless unveiled their reboot. By taking the characters and situations seriously while keeping the adventure family-friendly, they gave Irwin Allen’s original concept legitimacy–much in the way the late Richard Donner made us believe a man could fly with 1978’s “Superman,” or when writer/producer Ron Moore took Glen Larson’s equally kitschy “Battlestar Galactica” (also 1978) and turned it into a serious, hard-hitting Peabody-Award winning drama. The 1998 “Lost in Space,” movie in particular felt like a cynical cash grab which walked a blurred line between camp and sophistication, never quite finding the balance. The Netflix version found the correct approach; commit to the core concept, and the rest will follow. Three seasons later, “Lost in Space” is finally found, ending on its own terms, and entering a stable orbit in that rarest of pantheons known as the successful reboot.
For this overview, I’m not going to get into full reviews of all eight episodes; just a look at the characters, their arcs, and where they finally landed after three years of getting ‘lost.’ I’m going to assume the reader is familiar with the events of this final season. If not? This is your second and final spoiler warning…
John Robinson (Toby Stephens)
Toby Stephens (“Black Sail” “Die Another Day”) took the role of “Professor” John Robinson as he was changed into an ex-military man trying to settle back into family life after too many tours of duty. Seasons 1 & 2 saw him reconnecting with his two daughters and young son, as his own marriage teetered on the brink. Season 3 sees he and his wife Maureen fully together again…but separated from their kids, who were forced to flee aboard a Jupiter with the other children of their mothership Resolute, while the Robinsons and the other parents provided cover.
Now it’s been a year. John and Maureen (Molly Parker), along with all the other adults, are forced to repair their ship (using parts scavenged from the Resolute’s remains) after fending off a robot apocalypse last season. They throw themselves into their work to avoid worrying too much about their stranded children, who are placed under the command of Judy, the eldest daughter of the Robinson family. Judy is technically John’s stepdaughter, as her father was Grant Kelly (Russell Hornsby), a legendary space pioneer and first man to leave the solar system aboard the spaceship Fortuna. This season, Penny finds her father in stasis aboard the stranded Fortuna and revives him (“Contact”). Typically in a dramatic series, the return of a presumed dead ex-husband/lover would throw the family into a turmoil, as the ex-widow’s feelings would oscillate between the two men in her life. Fortunately, the characters on “Lost in Space” behave like adults in a crisis–even the children.
Molly accepts the return of Grant Kelly, despite the mixed feelings she’s no doubt experiencing, while John even befriends the father of his beloved daughter Penny (with whom John shares a particularly strong bond). “Lost in Space” is family drama, yes, but it never descends into maudlin soap opera theatrics, and for that, I salute the writers and showrunners for keeping the series honest and true to itself. Sure, the characters have moments where they behave irrationally, just as everyday people often do, but the handwringing and melodrama are kept to a minimum as they smartly deal with the crises at hand. John Robinson shows how a man should react in this situation; without jealousy, and confident in his love for his daughter–the young woman he raised since infancy. Toby Stephens nails the grit, tenacity and maturity of John Robinson without ever seeming dull, overly macho or one-note.
Maureen Robinson (Molly Parker)
Molly Parker once again gives it her all as Maureen Robinson, a far stronger incarnation of the character than June Lockhart was ever allowed to be in the 1960s. She and her husband are co-captains of the ship, with Maureen the brains of the operation, while her military husband tends to be the will to get things done–though brains and willpower are not exclusive to either character, of course. While it had rough spots early on in the show, Maureen and John’s marriage is solid now, united in their desire to reunite with their kids, whom they’ve been separated from for over a year when the 3rd season begins.
While Maureen’s tiger-mom aggression has been dialed down slightly from previous years, she still takes no s#!t from anyone or anything that stands between her and her family. Even when faced with the return of her presumed dead ex, Grant Kelly, she’s still firmly committed to John and her family life in the present. Once again, I salute the maturity of the series’ characters; a welcome respite from typical soap opera shenanigans. This season also afforded Maureen a look back at her own past, as we her as a stargazing teenager (Trinity King), and as a young single mom with baby Judy, following the presumed death of Grant (“Stuck”) during his mission aboard the Fortuna. Maureen is nearly killed this year when two of the ejection seats aboard the overtaxed Jupiter 2 fail during a dangerous crash landing, stranding Maureen and Judy, as the others parachute to safety. Things go from bad to worse when the pyrotechnics of Maureen’s seat are still armed–meaning they will detonate if she tries to exit her seat. Her genius daughter saves her life, as their bond is reaffirmed. Oh, and the crashed Jupiter 2 is almost swallowed by a giant slug-like creature…. *sigh*… Mondays, am I right?
As if all of that wasn’t quite enough, Maureen’s youngest son Will (Maxwell Jenkins) is impaled by the killer robot SAR (first encountered last season, and returning as this year’s big bad). Will’s life is saved as the family puts him into immediate cryo-stasis as they rocket onward to rendezvous with the other Resolute survivors on Alpha Centauri–the only place with medical facilities to save Will’s life. Extra kudos to Molly Parker (“House of Cards” “Dexter”) who never loses her head in these various dilemmas, while still allowing us to feel Maureen’s inner anguish through wide-eyed fear and occasional breaking in her voice. Maureen feels things, and we feel them, too; but she always manages to keep a cool head, even when she’s dying inside.
Judy Robinson (Taylor Russell)
Penny Robinson, played by Taylor Russell (“Falling Skies”) is really tested in season 3. Placed in command of a Jupiter with all the Resolute’s children aboard (along with the Robot & Zoe Smith) at the end of last season, Judy is forced to be commander, as well as doctor, military strategist and nearly everything else in-between. She is also faced with the return of her biological father, astronaut Grant Kelly (Russell Hornsby) whom she discovers in stasis aboard his crashed spaceship Fortuna, during a scouting mission.
While it may seem a bit too on-the-nose for Judy to be the actual member of the expedition who just happens to locate her biological dad’s ship, it’s in keeping with Judy’s solitary need to put herself before others and do the scouting alone. This self-reliance is a trait she clearly gleaned from being raised in the Robinson household–a virtual family of martyr complexes. Judy’s reawakened father makes it clear that he went into space fully accepting the sacrifices it forced him to make with his personal life, not realizing that included a daughter he’d unwittingly left behind; a daughter who was now rescuing him. Judy makes it clear she is still John Robinson’s daughter, but also healthily acknowledges the lineage of Grant in her DNA–particularly their shared love of Rocky Road ice cream (“Contact”).
As mentioned above in the recap of Maureen’s story, Judy is forced to save her mother after she and the Resolute children are finally reunited with their families when the Jupiter-2’s crew are forced to eject following a dangerous reentry with the resurrected spaceship Fortuna. Judy’s own arm is broken, yet she manages to rescue her mother and figure out a way for a giant space slug to spit out their swallowed Jupiter (“Stuck”). Yeah, it’s been a busy year for Judy, and Taylor Russell plays the strong young leader while always allowing us to experience her own self-doubts and insecurities. She brings an understated vulnerability to the role with her soft spoken presence.
If there’s any regrets with Judy’s role this season, it’s that we didn’t see a little more of the budding flirtation between Judy and Don West (Ignacio Serricchio) that was hinted at last season; that may have to remain a topic for future fanfic exploration…
Penny Robinson (Mina Sundwall)
It’s both ironic and welcome that one of the least interesting characters of the 1960s “Lost in Space” has almost effortlessly become one of the most interesting characters in the Netflix reboot. Penny Robinson, the middle child of the Robinson family, is brought to vivid life by Mina Sundwall (“DC’s Legends of Tomorrow”). In her new incarnation, Penny is still the family chronicler (as we saw in the 1998 reboot movie with her personal recording device), but she’s no longer a self-centered brat–mainly because she doesn’t have time to be one. Make no mistake, Penny’s still a teenager, and prone to all the angst and hormonal drives of that age, but she is also the audience avatar of the series; the only one of her alpha family who isn’t a technical genius, doctor, or born scientist.
Penny is very resourceful, yes, and she thinks on her feet in an emergency, but she also loves books, poetry and is torn between two boys she really likes; the athletic Liam (Charles Vadervaart) and the more sensitive Vijay (Ajay Friese). Being a sensitive soul herself, she eventually gravitates towards Vijay, who came this ( ) close to being friend-zoned, even after the Robinsons successfully arrived at Alpha Centauri in the final two episodes (“Contingencies on Contingencies” “Trust”). While some may see Penny’s love triangle as an attempt to “Twilight” the show, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Penny doesn’t sacrifice herself or her integrity in pursuit of her crushes; she’s strong enough and willful enough to fall in love on her terms. Vijay comes clean with his feelings for Penny, and admits he’d like to be more than friends. But that admission alone doesn’t seal the deal–Penny has to want Vijay as well, and she comes to that feeling on her own; this is very refreshing to see in a teen romance story, where too often one character’s feelings for another are woefully lopsided.
Penny’s book, a chronicle of her time “lost in space” with her family (first mentioned last season) now serves as the framing device for the entire three-year saga, automatically giving this audience avatar character a far more meaningful role than she’d had previously. For a character who could’ve easily become the ‘Jan Brady’ of this series, Penny Robinson is arguably one of the most popular, and she’s popular not simply for her good looks or other superficialities; she’s popular because she is the soul of the series. The other Robinson family members represent the how of this mission–she represents the why. When Jodie Foster’s “Ellie Arroway” finally arrives at the edge of the galaxy in the 1997 movie “Contact,” she sobs with absolute profundity, “They should’ve sent a poet.” With Penny Robinson, someone finally seems to have received Ellie’s memo.
The final words of Penny’s book/framing device, which are read aloud by the character onscreen, tells of her family settling into their new life and home at Alpha Centauri, with Will following in his parents’ footsteps, exploring new frontiers as an astronaut. Penny’s story, and her family’s, has a happy ending.
Will Robinson (Maxwell Jenkins)
In the long hiatus between seasons 2 and 3, actor Maxwell Jenkins, who plays Will Robinson, has had quite a growth spurt. In fact, he’s now taller than his onscreen sisters, mother and almost as tall as his father (!). The actor’s character of Will has experienced some dramatic arcs that rival the actor’s newfound height. Last season saw a doubting Will Robinson learning that his mother fudged his test scores to get her academically disqualified son aboard the Jupiter mission, along with the rest of the Robinson family. After narrowly escaping from SAR and the other killer robots aboard a Jupiter with the Resolute‘s other children, the final season sees a more confident Will and the Robot (Brian Steele) living with the Resolute‘s children for the past year.
When the season begins, Will is hard at work trying to repair their Jupiter so that they might rendezvous with their parents, who are repairing their own ships at the “danger system.” Despite his age, Will’s competence as an engineer is never questioned; even when his need for raw materials puts the other kids at risk, forcing them to scale a dangerous mountain. Will realizes the deadly race of killer AIs senses the almost-psychic bond he shares with the Robot, and can home in on it. To that end, Will decides that he and the Robot will remain behind so that the others might escape to rendezvous at Alpha Centauri. To prevent harm to Will and the others, the Robot has been secretly dumping the collected raw materials into a nearby river in order to sabotage Will’s progress; the Robot’s first priority is the well-being of Will, and he senses “danger” with Will’s plan. However, the greatest danger comes at the hands of the Robot’s evil twin, SAR (“Second Alien Robot”, who was discovered last year), who impales Will in the chest, nearly killing him.
Note: Once again, that Robinson family martyr complex is alive and well, folks…
The Robinson family’s long-delayed flight to the human colony at Alpha Centauri is finally achieved in the final two episodes of the show, but not exactly in the stately hero’s welcome way that we might’ve imagined. The injured Will is placed in one of the cry-tubes used to preserve the crew aboard the Fortuna, as the hastily repaired Jupiter-2 rushes to its new home in order to save Will’s life by giving him an artificial heart. Even while healing, Will steps up to act as peace-broker between the Robot’s race and the humans on Alpha Centauri, who are under attack from the rampaging robots. Realizing that the Robots are acting on outdated programming to protect their long-extinct master race, Will convinces half of them (with the aid of amplified sounds of their biological masters’ voices) to turn against SAR and his terminator-like compatriots. The coda sees a fully recovered, slightly older Will Robinson now embarking into the unknown once again, on a new mission of space exploration.
Maxwell Jenkins gives Will Robinson an earnestness and a lack of precociousness that makes this version of the character much more grounded than his predecessors. Jenkins’ Will Robinson is not the typical, obnoxious boy genius seen in so many sci-fi movies and TV shows.
Dr. Zoe Smith/June Harris (Parker Posey)
This season also closes the book on the character of “Dr. Zoe Smith”, a name and title stolen by one June Harris (Parker Posey) who escaped aboard the Jupiter-2 in season 1 by stealing both a dying man’s name and her psychiatrist sister’s credentials. While she’s not quite as prominent this year as we saw in the first two seasons, there is still plenty for Parker Posey’s June to do, including flying a Jupiter spacecraft, blackmailing Will Robinson, and even teaching French to the other children of the Resolute, with whom she’s been stranded for the past year under Judy’s command.
Note: The character’s real name of “June Harris” is, of course, a nod to actors June Lockhart and Jonathan Harris, who played the original series’ Maureen and Dr. Smith, respectively. The new series tries every so often to give nods/references to its parent show, despite their radically different executions. For example, original series costar Bill Mumy played the ‘real’ Dr. Smith whose identity June steals in season one. And Oscar-winning composer John Williams’ title track, which was first composed for the original series 3rd season, has been given a grand symphonic treatment by new series’ composer Christopher Lennertz, and has been serving as the new series’ theme since its launch in 2018.
June’s morality is put to the test at the end of the series when she is given the opportunity to kill the infirm Commander Radic (Shaun Parkes) who is now hospitalized on Alpha Centauri. Radic is the only survivor of the Resolute tragedy who can prove that June stole her sister’s credentials to flee Earth (allowing her sister to remain behind and die). Radic’s continued survival threatens June’s attempt at a new life. At one point, she enters Radic’s hospital room and toys with the idea of pulling his plug–but doesn’t. Her experiences with the Robinsons have rubbed off on her, and she confesses to the authorities. For her honesty, June is sentenced to prison. The final episode (“Trust”) sees Maureen, once June’s bitter foe, visiting her in prison, even promising to keep in touch once she’s free. Given her (admittedly reluctant) heroism with the Robinsons throughout the show, it’s easy to imagine the character getting a lighter sentence.
Once again, Parker Posey (“Superman Returns,” “The House of Yes”) sinks her teeth into the role of June Harris. Unlike Jonathan Harris’ broadly comical Dr. Smith, Posey’s “Smith” is far more subtle, and more fitting in this age of Karens–the new slang term for those entitled types who always insist on “speaking with your manager” when faced with any temporary inconvenience. June Harris is the epitome of this artificially entitled new species, and Posey plays her to perfection. Such delightfully ambiguous villainy makes me glad the powers-that-be didn’t simply kill her character off. In the end, June ultimately atones for her misdeeds, which feels appropriate to her situation. While the series has conclusively ended, I’d still be curious to see what happens with June after she’s released…
Don West (Ignacio Serricchio)
If one character was shortchanged this year, it would be former smuggler-with-a-heart-of-gold, Don West, played by the charismatic Ignacio Serricchio. The last couple of years have seen Don scrape through many close calls, his closest being his near-death experience in season 2, where he needed a infusion of Smith’s blood to survive. While the final season’s storylines didn’t center around Don very much, he was usually in the thick of the action, at the very least.
This final season sees the reformed smuggler, who’s been reimagined as a lighthearted Han Solo-type, sticking with John and Maureen as they try to reunite with their kids. He was also on the frontlines as the Robot’s race invaded Alpha Centauri. Don still has his beloved pet chicken, Debbie, as well. Like his counterpart in the TV series, he’s an unofficial member of the Robinson family, through thick and thin. The character also gets the series’ funniest lines, whether it’s a colorful story from his days as a smuggler, or delivering an earthy metaphor for a given situation. One minor casualty of the final season was a seeming end to his earlier flirtations with Judy Robinson (one of the character carryovers from the original TV series and the 1998 movie). Judy certainly had enough on her own plate this year (acting commander over the Resolute’s kids, and reuniting with her biological father) but it’s missed all the same, even if some thought the worldly ex-smuggler Don was perhaps too old for Judy, who is in her early 20s.
Note: The age gap between actors Ignacio Serricchio and Taylor Russell is roughly the same as the age gap between the original series’ versions of their characters. Don’s pet chicken Debbie was named for Penny’s pet “Bloop” (a chimpanzee with an alien wig) in the original “Lost in Space” series.
I still remember seeing Ignacio Serricchio (“Bones” “Family Guy”) in person at WonderCon in Anaheim back in 2018, and he was the clear cutup of the group, always throwing out some funny bits of risqué humor to entertain the audience. I can only imagine what the Argentinian actor was like on set.
Robot (Brian Steele)
Robot, played by veteran makeup/suit actor Brian Steele (“Harry and the Hendersons” TV series, “Terminator Salvation”) had quite a journey this year as well, as he discovered the remains of the dead race which created his species to protect them, as well as a final face-off between SAR and the other members of his kind who seek to destroy humans for stealing their faster-than-light engine technology to escape a dying Earth, the deadly conflict which led to the abandonment of the Resolute space station in season one.
Initially bonded to young Will Robinson in the first year of the show for saving his life, the limited-vocabulary robot only learns a few human phrases during his time with the Robinsons. This limited vocabulary helps to keep the machine-being’s intentions somewhat ambiguous, except to Will, who shares a unique, almost psychic bond with the Robot. When trying to warn the children of a threat to their parents, the Robot simply says, “family,” which Penny erroneously interprets as the Robot’s desire to rejoin his people. Later in the season, Penny meets another ‘good’ robot, whom she decides to name “Sally” because reasons.
Note: Among the Robot’s few acquired human phrases, “Danger, Will Robinson” is his most-used; that phrase was also the catchphrase of the original, more loquacious robot of the TV series. That robot, created by humans for the Robinson’s mission, was played by former Elvis dancer Bob May and voiced by Dick Tufeld, and was named B-9 (Get it? B-9? Benign...?)
The final episode sees the Robot sacrificing itself for Will Robinson, as it ‘revives’ Will’s new artificial heart with a jolt of blue energy from its own body. Later, as SAR treacherously tries once again to stab Will in the chest (a predicted move on SAR’s part), it is infused with this mysterious blue glowing energy, and its own killer programming is rewritten with that of the late Robot’s–whose surviving essence was being stored in Will’s artificial heart (a la Spock’s ‘katra’ in “Star Trek III: 35 years of “The Search For Spock”). Using the body of its enemy, SAR, Will’s Robot lives again. There is a deeper poignancy given to their friendship, as Will and the Robot realize they both share artificial hearts, and that Will’s artificial heart allowed the Robot’s ‘soul’ to survive.
For his part, actor Brian Steele manages to deliver much personality through body language to the character. With a curious tilt of the head, or a slump of the shoulders to indicate sadness, he makes the complex Robot suit really come to life, much as the late Bob May did with the original.
Summing It Up.
Well, after a planned three year run, the show has ended on its own terms, unlike previous attempts. At the conclusion, the Robinsons are no longer “lost in space”, having arrived at the now thriving colony on Alpha Centauri, which was the desired destination of both the original series and the 1998 movie (neither of those versions ever got there).
What’s more interesting is that the former “space pioneers” are no longer the “first” group to arrive at the colony, but rather, one of the last. Unlike the heady days of the 1960s Space Race, the goals today aren’t so much about being first, but rather finding a safe, habitable haven instead. One of the subtle reminders of the differences between 1965 and 2021.
“Lost in Space” is one of the rarest of rare properties; a virtual unicorn in the streaming entertainment landscape–a family-friendly series that doesn’t pander to kids, and is not boring or juvenile for adults. This is how you update a family show; by remembering that kids don’t need cake and ice cream for dinner, and that adults needn’t be bored by a show that doesn’t feature sex or R-rated language. All demographics can relate to a family forced to make hard choices for their survival. That’s the key to this show’s broader appeal.
While I appreciate the series ending gracefully and with dignity on its own terms, I could’ve easily imagined one more year with the Robinsons settling into their new lives on Alpha Centauri, but Penny’s final narrative gives us just enough closure. The series ends at its goal, with a well-earned happy ending for the characters, and its loyal viewers.
“Lost in Space” makes a graceful exit by not overstaying its welcome.
Posts on Previous Seasons:
Where To Watch.
All three seasons of Netflix’s “Lost In Space” are available to stream/binge on Netflix (of course).. Seasons 1-2 are also available to own on DVD/BluRay as well (prices vary). To my readers, I once again wish you and all of your loved ones good health and strength during the current coronavirus pandemic. The current number of COVID-19 related deaths in the United States is over 785,000 (and over 5 million worldwide) as of this writing, so please wear masks and get vaccinated as soon as possible to prevent infections and protect your loved ones (booster shots are available as well). There is also the new Omicron variant to safeguard for as well. Please continue to mask up in crowded public spaces. I just attended a funeral this past weekend for a good friend of mine lost to COVID, so yes, the danger is still very real.
Take care and be safe!