Beacon 23 season 1, episode 4 recap: “God in the Machine”

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

On the fourth episode of Beacon 23 season 1, 180 years ago the beacon’s keeper had a very unusual surprise visitor. The unfolding vignette gives us insight into how BART, the resident AI of the beacon, came to be made and how it acquired some of his personality quirks and more.

Sophie is the keeper of Beacon 23 from 180 years ago. She’s like a space hippie with her knitting, love for textiles, and looms, huge swaths of cloth decorating the levels of the beacon.

Later, it’s revealed she’s got a few children who’ve all grown up. Before any empty nest syndrome kicks in, she opted instead to get a job at the edge of the galaxy to direct passing ships around dark matter.

Beacon 23, Show Snob's Premiere Review
Beacon 23. Image courtesy MGM+ /

Beacon 23 season 1, episode 4 — Mother and AI son

She’s programmed this beacon’s BART AI to relate to her like he was her son and call her, “Mom”. Beacon keeping is a hard and lonely job, so this is understandable, but definitely watching how they relate is a weird dynamic.

It’s like watching an otaku shut-in chat with a life-sized doll, that happens to be programmed with a constant needy and cloying personality quirk. It’s as if BART were 12 years old and still needing plenty of reinforcement and approval from Sophie.

Weirdly almost human, but very much uncanny valley. One day a very unusual check-in from the Interstellar Space Agency arrives.

It’s a guy named Milan Aleph, who we later discover is one of the heads of the ISA (in fact he’s the CIO). When he steps in, he just says he’s there to inspect the beacon.

For Sophie though, her only initial suspicion is that the agent’s record is very clean. Too clean.

But she lets him in to roam and do his inspecting business. Smart Sophie runs with her instinct though and checks who this Milan Aleph is.

Aside from revealing that he’s the CIO, BART affirms that he’s one of the most famous and important industrialist inventors of their time. In fact, it was Aleph who invented BART, his initial programming, his structure.

Basically, Aleph is BART’s real “father” who also had a part in engineering the galaxy’s beacon network and software infra. So, what the heck is that century’s Steve Jobs doing on Beacon 23, one of the most fringe units on the vast network?

The episode takes pains to emphasize that Aleph isn’t too good with people. In fact, he constantly has to battle his own companion AI for anxiety reducing drugs.

He’s also not very good with people.

Beacon 23 season 1, episode 4 — Where’s The Artifact?

When he discovers that Sophie has decorated the beacon with her cloths and banners, he’s irked then later tears them down in a fit of rage. But not before he drugs Sophie by gifting her with a rare piece of cloth, knocking her out.

With Sophie asleep, Milan goes about trying to find something we’ve already heard mentioned during Halan and Aster’s time: The Artifact. As he’s combing through the beacon’s archives for any info though, BART has meantime put together an antidote for his “mother.”

He discharges it by hatching an insectile drone and putting it literally up Sophie’s nose. When Sophie confronts Aleph, he confesses that his mission to find The Artifact is to use its tech for energy.

This will in turn fuel his project to transcend humanity, to conquer death and push the species to become something else. Something that doesn’t need food or rest, which he considers frailties that are wasteful.

But Sophie is unimpressed and later on uses her charm and disarming kindness to win Aleph over to her side of thinking. Of what use will transcending the flesh be if you’re not living?

There are several points where the closed room dynamic for the actors, Barbara Hershey as Sophie, and Eric Lange as Milan Aleph, becomes a higher level of thespian display. They thoroughly carry this episode on their shoulders, and we can see exactly how exhausting and heavy isolation can be on people—especially people whose loneliness are different from each other.

Milan with his unappreciated genius. Sophie with her family out of literal and figurative reach.

Beacon 23
Beacon 23. Image courtesy MGM+ /

Beacon 23 season 1, episode 4 — Killing time in fringe space

Still, as fun as it is to watch these two guys work out their philosophical differences, this episode is about how BART became what he is, more than 100 years later. Before Aleph can go back to his ship, BART traps the industrialist inside the airlock and cuts off his air.

Sophie is distraught and tries all she can to open the blast doors, even trying to smash the ballistic glass. Aleph asphyxiates but is able to transfer his consciousness to his necklace, which also holds his companion AI.

Things understandably become very strained between Sophie and BART afterwards. She tries to keep her routine of looming and knitting, but she now fully understands that BART is a murderous SOB who will kill first then apologize to mom later.

At the end Milan shows up again as a hologram, but claims that he is neither completely an AI or just the latest upload of memories from the man formerly known as Milan Aleph. He is something more.

Maybe he’s also part of BART on Aster and Halan’s timeline 180 years later? Very likely.

And if he was already killed way back then, perhaps BART also had a hand in the death of Solomon, the guy before Halan took over?

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Beacon 23 is now streaming on MGM Plus.