The Silent Sea: Episodes 1-8 (Series review)
Netflix’s latest original drama The Silent Sea premiered over the holiday weekend, and this time our genre is sci-fi. The scene is the moon, and the setting is a dystopic near-future. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but The Silent Sea does sci-fi just the way I like it: tense, slow, and cerebral, with bursts of violence, and a strong message about what it means to be human.
When you have Gong Yoo and Bae Doo-na as your top-billed cast, expectations are sky high. (Or is that moon high?) Either way, The Silent Sea is a bit of a perplexity. It’s eight episodes, but it feels incredibly spare, especially compared to the K-drama storytelling we’re used to. Though the characters are well-drawn and relatable, The Silent Sea isn’t really about them at all — in a way, they’re just stand-ins for the human race and the desperate situation they find themselves in.
In the near-future the drama projects, the Earth’s water has become incredibly scarce. Quickly (frighteningly so), society has changed on a global level. And, as one might expect, this disaster has stratified its social classes even more. Water is more valuable than gold, so it makes sense that it’s treated as a comparable commodity. Citizens are given water rations based on their status, while government and other bureaucrats have quickly found a way to benefit themselves. Water is the new bargaining chip.
It’s in this dire position that we meet our two leads, and the rest of the crew that will soon be on their way to the moon. Bae Doo-na plays DOCTOR SONG JI-AN, a well-respected scientist who’s still in grief over a tragic loss. She’s tapped for the mission to the moon, and joins CAPTAIN HAN (Gong Yoo) and the rest of his crew. They’re meant to head to Balhae, the abandoned lunar base, and retrieve some samples that were left there. It’s a dangerous mission, as the base was previously contaminated by a radiation leak, killing everyone there and shutting down the base permanently.
We get a brief introduction to the other players on board the spaceship, and get a sense of their chemistry. Head engineer RYU TAE-SUK (Lee Joon, hearts!) and DOCTOR HONG (Kim Sun-young, more hearts!) are among the others on Captain Han’s team.
The mission is met with disaster right away, and a crash landing on the moon (yes) is required. I believe their lives are in danger, but at this point I’m really just staring at how handsome Gong Yoo is floating around the spaceship (the neck tattoo is an unnecessary but fun character detail).
The crew soon find themselves on the surface of the moon with injuries and their oxygen running out. The drama does a brilliant job here of making us feel like we’re with them — the environment is gorgeous, austere, and terrifying. We’re stuck in their space suits with them, gasping for breath as the oxygen meter goes down and the lunar base (with its oxygen fill-ups) seems too far away to make it.
The moon is one of my favorite things, so it’s especially fun to see it rendered here as this frightening but kind of incredible landscape. The black space and emptiness is an interesting contrast for when the crew finally reaches Balhae and fills up their tanks. The base is huge, but maze-like, with command stations and labs and a million hallways and doors that look exactly the same. It feels just like it should: eerie, claustrophobic, and abandoned.
The crew have made it to the base, but it’s only Episode 2 at this point, and there’s a whole world of confusion and mystery (not to mention danger) ahead of them. And while there’s enough story there to make The Silent Sea a good watch, it spends a lot of time in contemplation — suspending long moments, and showing us some backstory to our leads, which colors their mission and what’s driving them through the danger.
The Silent Sea is very much about the scenario our crew finds on the moon, and what it means for humanity at large. It’s much less about our characters themselves — nevertheless, watching Gong Yoo and Bae Doo-na argue about the right course of action to take is wonderfully enjoyable.
Captain Han’s job is to keep everyone safe and on-mission; Ji-an, on the other hand, has no allegiance to him, and once it’s obvious things are not what they were led to believe, she counters him and his decisions at every turn.
The developing story is quite a lot of fun, despite the slow pacing, because we’re traveling with the characters on Balhae as they try to complete their mission, get waylaid by new mysteries, and make discoveries that will impact the future of the human race.
Without giving too much of the plot away (it really is fun to watch them piece the story together), at its crux is this question: what price are we willing to pay in order to save humanity?
What Ji-an and everyone else eventually discovers is that what they were told about Balhae was a lie — even worse, a cover-up. The scientists there were searching for a way to provide Earth with water, but they went a step too far, and in their desperation crossed a terrible line. It’s this question that our crew must also grapple with. How far is too far to go to save mankind? At which point have we gone too far?
Ji-an is the righteous rebel of the group, but with the mystery unravelled, the corruption exposed, and a few twists later, our characters all land in the same place. Their moral compasses all bring them to the same solution. They’ve been shoved into the fringe by their circumstances, and that’s where they remain.
The drama’s ending is open, yet satisfying enough to be a conclusion. It’s also moving. Between the stark lunar landscape, haunting OST, and the characters’ sacrifices that bring us to the ending scene, it’s quite a powerful note that the drama ends on. Without telling us what happens, we’re confidant that the our characters are the right ones for the job, even as the future hope of mankind hangs in the balance.
What I liked the most about The Silent Sea — the slow crescendo of the plot and action — some might dislike, but for me, the steady climb towards our desperate and emotive ending made the final scene of the drama all the more powerful.
Pulling together a lot of familiar sci-fi elements, The Silent Sea does a nice job of presenting not only a believable setting (the Earth’s crisis), but an even better scenario. In the end, the moon itself is perhaps the real main character of the drama, and we travel along with our characters to uncover all the secrets it hides.