Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Avenue 5 lets the peril pile up, though murder is on the horizon

Zach Woods
Zach Woods
Photo: Alex Bailey (HBO)

This week, Avenue 5 really embraced its existence as a very, very slow-motion space-set disaster tale — so slow-motion, in fact, that at least one threat still remains very real on the horizon.


Much of “Was It Your Ears?” is concerned about the emergence of a low, ominous beep rattling through the ship, much like the one you might hear from a smoke detector whose batteries are dying. In this case, engineers first end up assuming that what initially is assumed to be evidence of an oxygen leak which will leave the passengers of this futuristic spaceship dead in about nine months.

It turns out that the beep is actually tied to a different issue: A passenger has given birth, and the beep is meant to indicate that the crew of the ship (wow, hey, shockingly) has forgotten to do its job and recalibrate the ship’s settings to accommodate another life form on board.

That life form is a newborn baby whose presence is barely seen, but does clearly make an impact on Iris (a softie for the softhead type, unexpectedly). But the threat of oxygen loss quickly leads certain key members of the Avenue 5 team, especially Karen, to suggest the idea of murdering Judd.

As mentioned above, the ominous beep of this episode and, accordingly, the life-threatening lack of oxygen, is no longer an issue for the Avenue 5. But the ship has not escaped a far more serious issue, one which will not be easily written off as a technical glitch: The United States government (whatever form it might be taking these days) will help NASA with a rescue effort, on the condition that 500 “non-essential” people get jettisoned.

Only a few people know about this, as the episode ends, but given how easily mob rule has in previous weeks turned to the idea of jettisoning technically innocent men out the airlock, it does feel like things are on the verge of escalating fast, and not in a fun way.


And that proves to be a reflection on the world of this show as a whole, as seen through this very specific lens. The planet Earth as depicted here, in some future timeframe, is one that we’re only getting tantalizing glimpses of, and the word tantalizing is on the verge of becoming frustrating. Take Matt mentioning that he’s from Pennsylvania “before the fires,” or why there are now two United States Presidents, one of which operates like an automated DMV teller. What would make these revelations work better is some sort of cohesive vision about what, exactly, has led the world of the future to this point.

Much of what’s been revealed points to a dystopia, or one on the rise, or one which us, here in the year 2020, feel like a dystopia but in reality, it’s not that far away from where we’re heading. (The last of which feels most like what creator Armando Iannucci going for.)


We’re operating on a sprinkle of details here, and that definitely helps keep viewers engaged, but every time a trivial shipboard detail takes over the narrative... Well. The darkness is growing, and there’s more momentum here than past episodes, because there are both external concerns (the oxygen leak) as well as internal issues (Judd’s jealousy over the newborn baby). And if Avenue 5 could focus in on what makes this show’s premise so essentially compelling, that’d be much appreciated, especially with only two episodes left to go this season.

Stray Observations:

  • So baby “Kayden” (and yeah, that’s not the best name) is the first baby ever born in space. Another question to be asked about this show’s world-building.
  • The “Karen” meme might not have fully emerged before this show was wrapping production, but the fact that this character’s name happens to be Karen feels awfully apt.
  • The longer this show goes on, and the more inessential and annoying Judd proves to be, the easier it is to maybe, just maybe, see where Karen’s coming from on the whole murder thing.
  • Hugh Laurie gets some quality goofy and physical moments in this episode, including an abrupt cut to him dangling from the ceiling that led to some personal giggles.
  • “What is this ship made of? Tinfoil?” It definitely does not seem like the Avenue 5 is up to the standards of, say, Starfleet. But to be honest, it is probably up to the standards of today’s typical cruise line. (I have been on a few cruises and had a very fun time, but would not feel comfortable saying that under comparable circumstances, the craftsmanship of those ships would last under extreme circumstances like the ones being endured here.)
  • The only thing cuter than Iris being baby-crazy is this observation: “Babies are like New Zealanders — everyone loves them and the way they talk.” I mean, where is the lie?

Liz Shannon Miller is a L.A.-based writer who recently spent five years at Indiewire. Her work has also been published by the New York Times, Vulture, Variety, THR, the Verge, and Thought Catalog.