Somewhere along the Atlas space crew's perilous trek from Earth to Mars on Netflix's Away, their water recovery system breaks down, leaving them at risk of dying of dehydration before completing their history-making mission. Acting as self-described "surgeons," the team decides the best course of action is a "heart transplant": remove the dead "heart" and replace it with their backup system's healthy parts. This is hardly the only time the ship malfunctions during the first leg of their three-year trip, but it does exemplify the core of their journey: five disparate astronauts, all setting aside the individual struggles they've faced on the ship to work through a high-stress situation in the name of survival.
In this way, Away is kind of like Grey's Anatomy in space. Just as the doctors at Grey Sloan Memorial must balance high-stakes medical cases with their fraught interpersonal lives, the Atlas crew mitigates the technical and physical challenges of living in space while contending with the extreme mental and emotional strains it puts on them. "It's a really nice mix, the emotional breakdown and the physical ship breakdown," showrunner Jessica Goldberg tells Bustle.
For ship commander Emma Green (Hilary Swank), that includes continuing with the mission even when trouble besets her husband Matt (Josh Charles) and teen daughter Lexi (Talitha Bateman) back on Earth. As the Atlas propels through space and away from Earth, "[There’s] this thread that connects [Emma] back home," explains series creator Andrew Hinderaker. "All the show is really doing is stretching it thinner and tighter without hopefully snapping."
Ultimately, Away uses the high stakes (and long travel times) of a space mission to illustrate how Emma must come to grips with the fact that she can no longer be the wife and parent that she was on Earth. "Her daughter is 15 when she leaves. Her daughter will be 18 [when she comes back]. She'll have graduated high school, she'll have had her prom, she'll apply to college," Goldberg says. "That to me in a weird way sort of encapsulates what the entire journey is: what you miss and how you grow [in the interim]."
Hinderaker agrees. "It's a show as much about how you're away from the people you love and how they simultaneously support you and allow you to do what you're doing [as it is about] the sacrifices and the pain of not being there."
Like Grey's Anatomy's team of surgeons, the astronauts' loved ones sometimes have to take a back seat as they work toward a common, often impossible-feeling goal. They are, in a sense, their own dysfunctional workplace family who must repeatedly put their lives in each other's hands — and yes, confront potentially messy romantic connections.
"Each one of us is learning how to trust one another in each episode," Swank says of the international crew, which includes Russian cosmonaut Misha (Mark Ivanir), India's Ram (Ray Panthaki), Ghanaian-turned-Englishman Kwesi (Ato Essandoh), and China's Lu (Vivian Wu). "When you think about relationships that you have, whether it's your boss, your friends, your partner, whatever it is, you're always learning trust daily. And it just strengthens and strengthens to help you get to that end goal together."
Additional reporting by Dana Getz.