Netflix’s The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance has arrived, and people have been raving about this groundbreaking series—both for its technical prowess and the powerful fantasy story. This includes io9's own James Whitbrook and Beth Elderkin, who decided to dig into everything they loved about the series so far and where they hope things go from here, should the show get another season (knock on crystal).
Beth Elderkin: Another world, another time, in the age of wonder...we watched a kickass television show. James, you and I have been privately getting psyched about The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance for weeks now, but now we’re talking about it for real. How are you feeling after finally finishing the first season?
James Whitbrook: Well, after the wild wait of seeing the first five episodes in advance, I only really had half the season to binge this past weekend—but it just made the wait all that more worth it, because I loved it to pieces. It’s such a...fun is perhaps not the most apt word to describe Age of Resistance, but it soothed my soul.
Beth: I was fortunate that I got to watch the full season before writing my review, which isn’t something that always happens. Of course, since no one else at io9 had yet, that made me downright antsy, so eager to dive into every facet of this beautiful 10-episode debut season. I practically devoured this show, like a gluttonous Skeksis, bones and all. Which is amazing, considering I knew very little about The Dark Crystal as a franchise before prepping for the new series. I didn’t grow up with the movie at all, watched it for the first time a few months ago. What was your history with The Dark Crystal before coming into the prequel show?
James: I loved puppet shows growing up as a child, everything from the Muppet movies to proper old school Gerry Anderson Supermarionation shows like Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet, so The Dark Crystal was part of all that, too. Except, unlike all those other puppet shows, it was the one that just FREAKED ME THE HELL OUT. I think I was maybe 5-ish years old when I’d first seen it, which is both the perfect time to have seen it and also the worst! I love the movie, but it’d had been a while since I’d seen it, so I rewatched it waiting for the new show. I really thought it held up, despite it being a very measured film, paced in a way that’s very unfamiliar to the movies of today—I’m interested to see what you thought of it as a first-time viewer!
Beth: So, I enjoyed the film, but more for what wasn’t there than what was. The film itself is beautiful, but a little outdated. However, I was intrigued by the larger mystery of Aughra, the Gelfling, and the big wide world of Thra. What happened to the Gelfling? Why were the UrSkeks separated? Why was Aughra missing an eye? All of these questions, and a lot more, were brought to life in the expanded lore. I’m not much of an Expanded Universe person, but I found myself digging into this world and falling in love with all of its promise. Which made the show feel all-the-sweeter, because of how it honored the canon and vision.
For those who haven’t watched yet (why haven’t you watched yet?!), The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance—which takes place “some time” before the events of the film—centers around three young Gelfling who uncover a shocking secret that the Skeksis are draining Gelfling for their life essence. They find the courage to rise up against them, inspiring their friends and family to do the same. One thing I loved about the show was the time it took to bring our heroes together, giving each of them a few episodes to develop their own personalities and stories. Which one of the three protagonists stood out to you the most?
James: Ugh, this is so hard—it’s twee to say, but I genuinely loved all of their journeys, and especially that the series took the time to delve into their individual arcs instead of just smooshing them all together and keeping them that way for much of the show. Push comes to shove, it’s probably a toss-up between Brea and Deet. Brea’s familial drama and her bond with her sisters I thought was beautifully done, and then Deet was just so charming from the get-go, and her story becomes the real dark, bittersweet undercurrent of the season in a way that really intrigued me. But I liked Rian and Hup a lot too! I do wish there was more time with Hup though, he sort of disappears for a bit in the back half. He’s so goofy and fun.
Beth: Hup is too precious for this world, but not too precious for this show. I wanted more of Hup too. I loved both Brea and Deet...albeit for different reasons. I loved Deet for her earnestness and charm—and also Nathalie Emmanuel’s sweet performance—which made her sacrifice all-the-more heartbreaking. But I feel like Brea had a resolve in her character that the others did not. I think it came from climbing out the shadow of her family’s expectations and forging her own path. Sad to say, I think more needs to be done with Rian. He’s a fine character, and Taron Egerton is trying his hardest, but he’s just not clicking for me yet. Right now, he feels a bit too generic.
James: I think it’s because Rian had to bear the load of being the more atypical protagonist—he has to find the sword, fight the fights, be the leader of the resistance, and all that. I think now that they’ve established all that, and they’ve also set out the relationship between him and Deet, he can get a bit of a meatier arc if (or rather hopefully, when) the show gets a second season.
Beth: Yeah, the showrunners indicated that Brea’s going to be the voice of the resistance, which gives Rian space to find his own voice. Speaking of Brea and her family, I really want to talk about Seladon. I found that character arc to be fascinating, and way deeper and more thoughtful than you’d think would come out of a show like this.
James: God, what a journey you go on with her! You hate her, you love her, you feel so sorry for Seladon. It would’ve been so easy for her heel turn to be just that, but to redeem her the way the series does not only felt very timely—in that it is a story arc that’s about making the choice to side with your own oppressor—it felt earned. I was totally expecting the easy way out that Seladon’s journey would be that she sides with the Skeksis and they immediately just bump her off, and her punishment for betraying her people was death. But instead making her live with that decision, and process it as she realizes just how cruel and awful the Skeksis are, and it becoming the strength she needs to side with her sister and the Resistance in the last battle, was extremely well done.
Beth: When she donned the finery of the Skeksis, modeling herself in their image, I was speechless. The whole thing about the Skeksis is that their bodies are frail, so they adorn themselves in layers of finery and puffed-up armor to make themselves look bigger and more intimidating. Their biggest form of humiliation—since they’re not supposed to kill each other—is to be stripped of their clothing, left weak and exposed. She was scared of being exposed too, but for different reasons than the Skeksis. When they stripped her of her finery, all she was left with was her mistakes.
James: Actually, can we pause and just say how good that costume was as a look for Seladon though. The blues! The crown! Fabulous.
Beth: Oh yeah, Seladon needs to design the looks for the resistance. She knows her stuff.
James: But on that point, I’m so glad you said that, because the thing I loved the most was that the deep blue dress underneath it all is what she remains in for the rest of the season after the Skeksis rip the finery off of it—it’s symbolic that she’s changed in some way, she doesn’t go back to those Vapra colours of cool blues and greys. She remains hardened by what she goes through and realizes, but the artifice, all that extra detail, has just been cast away from it. It was a beautiful bit of costume detailing that added to her story.
Beth: I’m looking forward to seeing how Brea and Seladon’s relationship is handled in the (hopeful) second season.
Okay, before we get into the technical feats of this show, and oh boy, there are some feats, I do want to chat about the Skeksis for a second...and their performances. I was blown away. Simon Pegg, Awkwafina, Jason Isaacs! The actors were committed to making these Skeksis distinct and terrifying... and in a way where you could actually understand them this time. If I was a kid watching these things, I would’ve hid under the bed by episode three...or whenever they do that creepy thing to The Scientist and take away his eye. Good lord.
James: I’m gonna say it, because I can’t not say it...
James: That sound! It’s just perfectly haunting and alien and cruel in a way that sums up the Skeksis so well—Simon Pegg does such a great job of emulating the original voice actor, Barry Dennen, for it.
Beth: Pegg killed it as The Chamberlain. I know you watched the behind-the-scenes documentary too—which, side note, it’s required viewing—but watching him perform those scenes was inspiring. Any other Skeksis faves?
James: Oh, Mark Hamill as The Scientist is definitely the other stand out. But they’re all so good overall! I really appreciated that the show just sort of reveled in how excessive and gross the Skeksis have become even at this point—like, their hedonism by the time of the movie isn’t just something that’s been expounded by their (at that point) victory over the Gelfling, it’s just something that’s always been there, exacerbated by The Darkening.
Beth: And they even expand into the loner Skeksis, who interact with their vices in other ways. Like the Hunter...and one of my favorites, the Heretic. Played by Andy Samberg, who was channeling some Frank Oz vibes with his performance. Actually, the Heretic is a great segue into talking about the technical feats of this show, because there’s that beautiful exposition scene told as a puppet show within a puppet show.
What were your overall thoughts on the technical achievements of the show? Any favorites? Anything that simply blew you away? For me, it’s Lore the Rock Creature, plain and simple.
James: Once again, this is like, the Sophie’s Choice of Age of Resistance. There’s just so many mind-blowing moments with the puppetry going on in this series that you can’t help but be baffled. Lore definitely stands out and like you said, the puppet show-within-a-puppet show. But honestly, the thing that surprised me the most watching the documentary afterward was that at least some of the Arathim were practical puppets. When the trailers were being released I thought they’d all be CG, and were honestly the most jarring aspect of everything they were showing off. But not only did they work in the show, they did such a good job between blending the puppet work and the CG work that I was genuinely astounded by the reveal they had some of them be puppets.
ALSO: Podling butts. That whole sequence with Brea having to work with the order of lesser service to clean dirty podlings had me in stitches.
Beth: I was just so impressed with how much love you could see went into the work being crafted. When I first interviewed the show creators, they said how, early in the development process, the Jim Henson Company told them how excited they were that the show was going to be announced...because the moment they did, they wouldn’t have to scout for people. The talent was going to come to them. And it did. Some of the best and brightest folks in their fields came together for this project, and the proof is there on the screen. You also have to give all the props to director Louis Letterier, who found a way to frame and film puppets that’s so revolutionary it might become a new industry standard.
James: Maybe it’s just because of the way puppets are, and the way they have to navigate these sets, built several feet up off of the ground to hide the puppeteers underneath, but there was an intimacy to the way the show is shot that made you not just appreciate the artistry on hand—because it’s so up close and in your face—but made it feel that much more real. It was an interesting contrast to the movie, which is just jam-packed with sweeping, wide shots of Kira and Jen and the mystics and whatnot traversing Thra. While that was about a lens for the world of Thra itself, the way Age of Resistance is framed focuses it so tightly on the characters that populate it in a way that felt like a very deliberate point of comparison.
I will say, if I had one tiny critique, I’d hope a potential future season, which will no doubt be filled with more fighting now that the resistance has truly been formed, is that there’s a little less shaky-cam in the action sequences. I get why it’s done—you have to hide a little bit that these puppets are clashing swords with each other in a way that doesn’t necessarily look like the most lavish fight scene in the world. You’re not gonna get the Daredevil hallway fight with a puppet (although I’d not be surprised to see this immensely talented team prove me 100 percent wrong!). But the shaky-cam got so severe at points it felt less more like it was conveying a hectic feeling and more like obfuscating the puppetry. That’s the closest I honestly have of a critique of the show, frankly. The bits where I couldn’t see the puppets as well! Give me more lavish close-ups of latex fantasy creatures!!!
Beth: That is going to be a challenge moving forward. As the resistance grows, so will the number of characters...and therefore, the number of puppets. And the type of conflict they’re engaged in. The scale is only going to increase from here on out—and if I have a worry about it getting another season, it’s that it’s already too big an endeavor for Netflix to agree to again. That said, I really want it to get another season...and given the glowing response, I feel it’s possible. Where do you want to see the series go in the sophomore season? What stories are you most most looking forward to growing?
James: If Netflix don’t give us more Gelfling goodness, well, then I need a dual glaive of my own to lead a resistance against them!
I think going forward beyond the actual resisting itself, I’m most interested in seeing two things: I want to see what they have planned for Hup because I think keeping him entwined with the Heretic and the Archer for the back half of the season was intentionally intriguing. And I want to see Deet’s descent with the darkening explored because we get those very cool flash-forwards of her sitting on the throne in the castle, and Rian seemingly doing what Jen does at the climax of the movie, and I want to see all that unfold for myself. I don’t think there’s a less in this instance: it was all so well done here that I just...want more. Give me more, please.
Beth: I feel like some pieces are being laid out, giving hope that the situation in the movie was not the entire story and that some Gelfling survived the coming genocide. For example, the alliance with the Arathim that have reclaimed the caves of Grot, or the fact that one Gelfling clan lives beyond the sands that they make sure to point out cannot be crossed. How would the Garthim reach them all? If the series does, in a sense, reinterpret or “ret-con” the movie to have some Gelfling survive, how would you feel about that?
James: I think I’d be fine with that, honestly. Not only does it give them more avenues to explore should there ever be more Dark Crystal beyond this (well, in the medium of TV or film, there’s already been more thanks to the books and comics!), but I don’t think having more survivors beyond Jen and Kira takes away from the desolation of the movie, or even the hopeful tone of this series—if anything, it gives them the chance to embolden that hope, if there’s still some Gelfling out there after everything Jen and Kira ultimately go through. Thra’s a big place, after all!
Beth: Yeah, and incest (between Jen and Kira’s possible kids) is so not cool.
James: Very glad we could clear that up. Gelfling incest: Bad. Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance: Good! Probably my favorite TV series of the year, frankly.
Beth: Same. I didn’t expect to love this show as much as I did or fall in love with the wider world it encompasses. I even talked with my dad about the show yesterday, and he is not a fantasy guy. I’m so happy the show has been so well received, and that a lot of people are coming together to celebrate a great piece of art. One that I honestly think will have just as much an impact as the original movie, if not more so.
“mmmmMMMMMmmmmm. Chamberlain love praise. Eat it up with spoon.”
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