The Robinsons have been, and will always be, the beating heart of Lost in Space.
By necessity, that was the case in the original Irwin Allen-produced 1960s original version of the show where, wacky aliens and strange contrivances aside such as the time the family went back to 1947 thanks to a time warp, there was no one else but the Robinsons around.
Their ship, the Jupiter 2, had set out all on its lonesome to colonise Alpha Centauri and when they went off course, there was no one else for them to interact with; hence, they were the stars of their own show and the narrative had to spring from within their tight knit family dynamic, save for the wild card of Dr. Smith, played with gently malevolent campness by Jonathan Harris.
The 2018-2021 iteration of the show, developed by Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless, has kept the family right at the centre of the story, to an amusingly obsessive degree at times (apparently the Robinsons, and the Robinsons can save Alpha Centauri from murderous robots) but also wisely created a scenario where the family has more humans than just those on the J2 to make sweet narrative noise with.
It makes sense on more than just getting ride of the lone family Robinson vibe; it places thee Robinsons into a much-wider global mission to send colonists to Alpha Centauri, with their cohort of multiple families the 24th such group to make the 26 trillion mile trek to a new life away from a dying Earth.
Why on earth would the authorities invest everything in a single family?
It’s a very all-eggs-in-one-basket approach that really jumped all logical good sense and reason and which Lost In Space Mark II – yes, there was a movie back in 2004 but the less said about that charmless mess, the better – corrects the oversight of the original by giving the Robinsons fellow colonists and friends … except, of course, when events conspire, and they do over and over again, to separate them from their fellow new worlders and from each other at times.
In this final season of the show, the separations are many and varied with season 2 events forcing the colonists to send their kids, all 97 of them between the ages of 10 and 16, under the command naturally of overachieving teen doctor Judy Robinson (Taylor Russell) who has her younger siblings Will (Maxwell Jenkins) who, as ever, has the weight of the universe on his slight shoulders, and aspiring novelist Penny (Mina Sundwall) in positions of authority too.
It’s never quite explained why the Robinsons are in charge of the kids, but to be fair, no one goes all Lord of the Flies on the planet they crash onto – thankfully into the one lone valley that still contains some semblance of atmosphere and forested life; that was lucky, right? – and when we meet them again at the start of season three, they are busy gathering and refining titanium to get their Jupiter‘s engines up and running.
It’s taken a year to get to this point, and Will, who as always has Robot (Brian Steele) by his side (the one friendly member of his race, save for Scarecrow who still has trust issues) and is feeling the weight, after a year of not getting off the planet, of keeping a whole bunch of kids separated from their parents who are some considerable number of light years away trying to get a robot and an robot engine to get to Alpha Centauri.
Penny too is lost and adrift, unsure if she loves Liam (Charles Vandervaart) or Vijay (Ajay Friese) – yes, it all gets a little, or a LOT CW teen angsty at times but hey they are young and in love and all that – and feeling the effects on not being close to Will or Judy, with all three having lost the famous Robinson closeness for which they are justly well-known.
Somehow or another, the fake Dr Smith (played with a gloriously well-played mix of bluster and vulnerability by Parker Posey) managed to get onboard the kids’ Jupiter as well and continuing her character’s redemptional arc, she is teaching French to the younger kids (can she speak it? No, but when has actual proficiency in anything ever stopped her?) and proving she might have a gram or two of decency in her, after all.
In line with the original series, which the new series has sought to honour even as it morphs characters and scenarios into wholly new and pleasing forms, Will and Smith form a tight friendship, but while in the original series it always felt a little creepy, here it feels fundamental to both characters’ journeys with Smith becoming the confidante Will needs as he begins to feel that he is the only one who can stop the murderous Robots, led by SAR, from chasing after the humans and killing them all (as luck, and narrative convenience would have it, the planet the kids are on has tons of answers about the robot’s origins and why they are so inclined to “Kill Will Robinson!”).
There is also a sisterly intimacy between Judy and Penny which, as in the original series, is given fresh life in the new series as the two come to realise how much they need each other, and by extension, their parents who are nowhere near them through some pretty epic moments such as Judy discovering that her birth father, a famous astronaut, may be on the planet too via a shop, the Fortuna, that went missing twenty years earlier.)
While all this is going on, the parents, hiding from the robots in the frequency fuzzing shadow of a star, which is screwing with the A/C thank you very much, are doing their best to get to their new home, hoping against hope that the kids will be there to join them.
There is, as you might have gathered from this largely spoiler-free recap, quite a lot going on.
Lost in Space season three, which is being pitched by the producers as the end of this story but not necessarily the finish of our time with the Robinsons (though no firm new series announcements have happened yet) in their universe, does a finely-calibrated job of finishing up what has been a well-told story from start to finish.
Unlike the cheesy monster and planet of the week narrative structure of the original series, which was loopy fun to watch but never really seemed to get anywhere concrete, the 2018-2021 version set out with a firm weighty narrative that always had the Robinsons at the core but also a fairly intensely substantial musing on what the cost of humanity’s survival should be.
Do we get to survive at the expense of everyone else? Should we enslave the robots, which is what was revealed as having happened in season 2, to save out our skins, their self-determination be damned?
This discussion was had mostly by the person of Robot, and through his close relationship with Will who over time, and throughout season three, is able to convince his family and many other settlers that maybe the robots aren’t the black and white threat they seem to be.
Granted, Lost in Space does get a little over earnest at times, and a little cheesy in its own far more sophisticated way, but overall, it nicely balances the fight for the Robinsons to reform as a family, which has now widened to include onetime mutineer Don West (Ignacio Serricchio) and Dr. Smith, and the battle by humanity in its far-flung colonial form to save its own soul and body.
What makes Lost in Space so cool to watch, quite apart from nicely executed CGI and a sense of the space operatically epic, and this is particularly evident in season three where the battle between humanity and machine reaches a do-or-die crescendo, is the way it priorities character and a thinking meditative storyline.
True, it’s no all-encompassing, searing philosophical or political treatise but then it doesn’t have to be; it simply needs to tell a robust, thoughtful sci-fi story which as a genre is always at its best when it has a ruminative soul at the heart of character-rich storytelling.
Lost in Space, which finishes off its story as perfectly as you could hope for, happy familial endings and all, may not necessarily be a giant of the genre but it is captivatingly immersive viewing that keeps the Robinsons front and centre, asks some pointy questions about the worth and survivability of the human race and does it all with style, visual epicness and the kind of storytelling nous that all but demands a return to their world, or if the final scene is any guide and it likely is, worlds.