Beacon 23 season 1, episode 1 recap: “Corbenic”

Beacon 23. Image courtesy MGM+
Beacon 23. Image courtesy MGM+ /

On the fringes of the known galaxy, Beacon 23 is one amongst the many lighthouses that help spacefarers navigate the many dangers of the outskirts. Around it lies the debris and remains of unfortunate ships that crashed or were devastated by celestial events.

We zoom in on a black man (Stephan James), who’s troubled at the arrival of a ship that quickly attaches a rigging to the beacon’s blast doors. Looks like they’re pirates.

He begs a woman (Lena Headey) and Harmony, an AI projection, who are on another level of the lighthouse. The two debate about what to do, but the time for talking has passed.

The raiders are inside the beacon. Screen fades to black and a text card announces: EARLIER.

Beacon 23
Beacon 23. Image courtesy MGM+ /

Beacon 23 season 1, episode 1 recap – The situation on Beacon 23

The Crest is a data hauler ship carrying 8 passengers and about five years’ worth of supplies for far flung colonies and it’s speeding towards the sector lighted by Beacon 23. Unfortunately, there’s a ton of dark matter in the ship’s way and their navigation seems to be on the fritz.

The beacon keeper, the man we saw in the first scene, tries to hail them and give them a message that they are not cleared to pass the sector. But they’re simply not receiving his comms.

The beacon is equipped with a gravitational light that warns incoming ships. But even when the beacon keeper turns on the light (that means danger, no passage), Crest and its crew are not able to hear him.

The keeper dons his spacesuit and goes up to where the light projects through space, trying to stop the light and turn on the red for danger by putting a wrench into the gears. He is too late and the ship crashes into a cluster of dark matter, obliterating it completely.

When he goes back to his monitors, the computer is pinging that a lifeboat of one of the sleeping passengers has escaped the destruction. It’s out floating in space but it’s running out of time, leaking oxygen.

He decides to mount a rescue. He’s got about 7 minutes before the person inside runs out of air.

Successful in his retrieval, he revives the sleeper and out comes Aster. He reassures her the best she can, even as she struggles with the trauma of waking up from cryo sleep.

He gives her a medical patch that delivers some calmative drugs to her system. He briefs her on the situation: her ship crashed, he believes the beacon malfunctioned, but he was able to rescue her.

Aster later reveals that she was actually heading to Beacon 23 and that she was sent by Mission Control to check out Solomon’s reports of minerals and possible mining opportunities on the outskirts. Here’s the thing though, she calls him Solomon Smythe, the designated beacon keeper.

He never told her that. He gets defensive and agitated when she asks for access to the data, the material samples, and the reports though.

They end the day on a tense note, him telling her that they’ll talk about it after he files the crash report of the Crest and figures out what’s been malfunctioning. When Aster grabs her bag, she also secretly palms one of the kitchen knives.

She opens her bag and takes out a conch shaped device, which houses her AI Harmony, whom Aster asks to hack into the beacon’s database, or at least try to access it. While Aster goes poking around the ship, Solomon goes up to the beacon projection tower and gets slightly high on the gravity waves it projects, meditating on a framed photo of an old lighthouse surrounded by crashing waves.

Aster is clearly someone who’s working for some higher authority and it’s also clear from her demeanor that she’s hiding something.

Beacon 23
Beacon 23. Image courtesy MGM+ /

Beacon 23 season 1, episode 1 recap – Who is Beacon 23’s Solomon Smythe?

Eventually, the revelation that Solomon Smythe left the beacon to gather rare mineral samples is a turning point in this episode. We also later find out, as Aster is poking around the footage, that the man is not Solomon Smythe, the designated beacon keeper.

Solomon is an old white man. The black guy’s name is actually Halan.

Halan’s an ex-military guy who’s been stranded. He claims that real Solomon Smythe hijacked his ship and left him there, so he had to take on the mantle of beacon keeper until he could find a ship to take him.

Aster doesn’t believe this, and she actually stabs him as she tries to get away. But Halan/Solomon is able to grab her and choke her out.

Eventually the climax at the end of why Halan wants to keep the mineral findings a secret and why Aster wants to uncover them, provides plenty of momentum to keep watching this series. Establishing this world, where the beacon is essentially like a locked room where everybody comes to play, is done with great finesse and pacing.

We aren’t bombarded by too many details at the onset, either. Even the touches of how far along technology has gotten is dispatched in waves.

This is unlike some films, which employ information dumps or favor a long monologue. I especially liked the AI with their different personas.

There’s Halan’s beacon assistant housed inside a drone and also Aster’s AI helper which projects into the world as a black woman. If showrunner Zak Penn and his team keep up this kind of high quality, then this new adaptation of a Hugh Howey story will be a rival even for his concurrent Silo series.

I really also want to know what purpose the series of beacons serve, aside from being hazard landmarks for navigation, since they’ve been positioned at what is assumed to be the fringes of the known galaxy. As a drama between two people who are stranded on the beacon and become trapped with each other intensifies, I am very intrigued how such a lonely fringe of society functions or is useful for the rest of the intergalactic travelers.

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Beacon 23 is now streaming on MGM Plus.