Based on George R. R. Martin’s 1980 novella, “Nightflyers,” the new SyFy Channel adaptation continues to explore first contact in season one episode three, “The Abyss Stares Back.” The episode begins with a flashback in which Karl gives a presentation which suggests that the object he has been tracking in space is an alien ship. Karl theorizes that a minuscule adjustment to its trajectory cannot be random and we feel smug along with Karl when his colleagues mock him because we know that the object is actually the volcryn.
Karl receives a suspect video chat from Captain Roy Eris of the Nightflyer as soon as his presentation ends. Eris mysteriously has access to Karl’s research despite its not being public, and says that he agrees with Karl that drastic steps must be taken in order to make first contact with an alien species. Eris offers Karl a chance pursue the object and prove his theory aboard the Nightflyer. In the present, Karl ends another session of memory replay and muses on whether Captain Eris has ever been honest with him since that day.
In another part of the ship Eris conducts a funeral for crew members killed during the robot spider attack originally meant for Thale. During the eulogy he compares the human body to “a vessel free to explore the vastness of the heavens and to explore the stars from which they came.” While his words suggest that he speaks of humans exploring space his actions are literal as he launches the dead crew members into space moments later and their wrapped bodies float off to find the stars from which they came.
Karl seeks Mel and Lommie in Lommie’s quarters where they share concerns about Eris who keeps saying that something wants control of his ship. Mel surprises them when she announces that Eris confides in her in private. Karl asks Lommie to chart any malfunctions on the ship and she agrees.
Later, Mel challenges Eris to speak to her rather than hiding in his quarters. When he comes to her, still as a hologram, they speak of trust in a way that mirrors the conversation between Karl and Eris, only here Mel asks Eris to trust Karl. The bond between Mel and Eris becomes clearer as they start to refer to each other by their first names; Roy and Melantha.
In another part of the ship, Rowan and Tessia discuss chaos and order in nature and Rowan expresses an interest in refining Thale’s capabilities in order to conduct research on L1’s. When Rowan visits Thale he brings a white rabbit named Ralphie who he hopes to test Thale’s powers with as they get to know one another.
While Karl’s wife continues to give up memories at home, Karl tries to hold onto his and frequently replays them in the device they use to visit past experiences. After reminiscing about their honeymoon, Karl’s wife explains that she will continue to pursue a memory release therapy that allows her to erase painful memories of the past. She describes the process of forgetting their dead daughter and Karl realizes that she – in order to “go deeper” – will have to erase memories of him, too.
Lommie interrupts Karl’s big sad when she announces that the ship’s thrusters are powering down and resetting multiple times per day. She believes that the program causing the malfunction is intentional. Karl confronts Eris about the possibility of missing the volcryn and they decide Mel will attempt to reset the thruster manually despite the danger of radiation poisoning. She is able to reset the thrusters but is nearly killed in the attempt. As if to match Mel’s act of bravery, Captain Eris emerges from his quarters and goes to Mel to save her, then shuts down a mutiny on the deck of the ship, shocking Auggie and the others when they realize he is there in the flesh.
Karl and Rowan sneak into his quarters using a less than savory method to get past his personal securities. The pair realize quickly that they are in the quarters of Eris’s mother who was responsible for the design of the Nightflyer.
The ship fights against the invasion, creating visions of Karl’s wife to accuse him of things he knew he was guilty of and some that he worries he is. Just as Karl is about to break, Eris rushes in and halts the attack. He is forced then to confess that the being trying to control the ship is . . . . . .his mother – Cynthia Eris, who transferred her consciousness into the ship before her body’s death, and wants to destroy the mission.
With themes throughout the episode of both holding onto and desperately rejecting the past in favor of the unknown future, episode three shows that nature exists in a state of chaos. Karl fights to hold onto the past out of a sense of guilt and Mel charges towards the future. Thale expects his future to resemble his past and Eris is trapped by his past in the form of the Nightflyer. Everyone on the ship has something to run from and only one thing to find – the volcryn.