While Netflix has been turning out blockbusters like Stranger Things – the streaming equivalent of a summer movie, and Disney+ is working on a similar formula, with its own add-ons to the respective Marvel and Star Wars universes, Amazon Prime has been steadily creating its own brand – quietly mastering the meditative sci-fi story. It took some time to perfect, with your mileage varying in its episodes of Electric Dreams (an anthology show based on the works of Philip K. Dick), and shining through the fairly understated Tales From the Loop, based on the artwork of the futurist Simon Stalenhag and his vision of a future where humans and androids co-exist in a mysterious company town.
Night Sky almost feels like it could exist just a few miles out from Mercer, Ohio – that fictional town seen on the Loop that houses the top secret Center for Experimental Physics. The only difference is that while that facility is controlled by researchers who live in the town and try not to bring home too much of their work, the ability to travel across not just continents but other planets in a matter of seconds is controlled by a small and esoteric secret society – that even their own member Jude (Chai Hansen) describes as a cult. The inner workings of the society and this string of teleports are secrets carefully guarded – until the day Jude decides to make his escape by leaping through a doorway and abruptly entering the lives of an unsuspecting couple living in rural Illinois.
Irene and Franklin York, married for 50 years, have a nightly ritual: looking at the stars in the sky. Rather than simply standing out in their backyard, however, they go downward – into the remnants of an old bomb shelter hidden below their farm that allow them to travel to a remote planet. They’ve known about it for at least the past two decades, coinciding with the tragic death of their son. At first, it’s exciting, as they wonder how far they’ve gone from home and stare in amazement at the asteroids and strange planets floating above them in the starry sky. After a few years, it gets boring, as they can’t venture beyond the shelter without space suits and breathing apparatus, and it doesn’t appear that the surface of this cosmic giant has any signs of life. There’s no one to talk to and Franklin (JK Simmons) is missing his football game on TV.
Dealing with her own failing health, Irene (Sissy Spacek) ultimately makes the decision to leave Franklin and return to the portal – deciding to take her chances in a remote world – but her plans are uprooted by an injured Jude entering their portal who seeks his missing father. This, of course, puts further strain on things with Franklin who already distrusts Jude. Perhaps this is the most surprising element of the show – that rather than the pervasive alien forces we’ve seen in Marvel or Stranger Things, the suspense on this show is built by slowly introducing the dynamics between each character as they find where they fit or becoming the people they’ve hoped to be. It’s a refreshing change in the genre – as the characters come to rely on each other to make sense of their loss.