left to right: Indira, Bella, Paul and Arlo from MoonhavenYou can find Season One of Moonhaven on AMC+. The science fiction show’s first season finale airs on August 4, and it has already had a second season greenlighted. Having watched the first five episodes, I’m slightly more baffled than intrigued, but still watching. The most recent episode, Episode 5, explained a few things, even if it meant a lot of awkward dialogue to shoehorn in the needed info. I’m in the unusual position of watching something whose strengths and weaknesses nearly perfectly cancel one another out.

For you visual folks, Moonhaven is beautiful. The showrunners and studio invested deeply in the special effects, especially the stunning credits. In general, the interiors and exteriors of Moonhaven, a 500-square-mile patch of terraformed moon, are beautiful. The exteriors are all forests, hedges, manicured green grass, rivers, ponds and even a sea (why yes, it is the Sea of Tranquility!). Colorful weavings, intricate carvings, exquisite paintings, amazing musical instruments, and general eye candy jostle and crowd the interiors. The clothes all look like natural fibers in vivid colors. The central metropolitan area of Moonhaven, called Glade, looks like a cross between a 1970s commune with better hygiene, and downtown Hobbiton. As pretty as it is, those visuals were one of my problems, leading to so many questions still unanswered.

Here’s the premise: a hundred years ago the earth sent its most complex, brilliant AI learning machine, IO, and a population of experts to the moon, with a multi-generational assignment to find a set of solutions for earth’s overpopulation, poisoned air, deadly water, constant wars and rising oceans. Now, in 2200, the first wave of “luner” young people are ready to travel to earth to share the insights and tech they’ve created over three generations. That’s right; you’re going to leave your personal climate-controlled Renaissance Faire Paradise life to go the hell-planet. Earth’s envoy to IO, Indira Mare (Amara Karan), is set to journey to the moon and meet Maite (Ayelet Zuyer), the leader of the Moonhaven council. (Her name is pronounced “mighty,” and it confused me). Together, they will assure IO there is consensus between them, and IO will give the go-ahead to the fleet of transport ships from the earth. In other words, drowning in problems caused at least partially by colonialism, earth decided to seek an ultimate solution in colonialism.

What could possibly go wrong?

Before any of that starts up, though, we meet two luner detectives, Paul Sarno (Dominic Monaghan) and Arlo (Kareen Hardison), who find a young woman murdered in a meadow. Because of their connection to IO (every luner has a tracker or “mark” implanted) they identify the murderer in about thirty seconds. Their main purpose seems to be to offer comfort to the dead woman’s sister in the form of a council-approved drug that takes away grief. Drugs, it seems, particularly psychedelics, are the answers to a lot of questions on Moonhaven.

Meanwhile, on earth, Bella Sway (Emma McDonald), an embittered, orphaned war veteran- pilot-turned-smuggler, ends up piloting the Envoy to the moon, after her smuggling contacts manipulate events so she can pick up a shipment a rare luner drug called Singer. This pilot-switch doesn’t make much sense, but for plot reasons Bella has to get to the moon, so we don’t ask a lot of questions, just like we don’t ask why the Envoy’s bodyguard, Tomm, intones cryptic utterances and doodles on an Etch-a-Sketch.

We do know the stakes early on. Envoy Indira is a true believer, at least in IO, which she believes will save humanity on both planets. Paul Sarno, like everyone in his generation of luners, believes that on the moon they have genuinely worked on and conquered the personality problem that leads to greed, lust for power, hatred, war and so on. (Spoiler alert; according to IO, it’s tribalism.) He also believes that a few hundred young people can fly over to the earth, scale up Moonhaven 2.0, and save humanity.

To give Moonhaven credit, the story doesn’t believe that, and makes that clear early on. This part of the story worked for me: the critique of human nature. Throughout the show we hear Paul say two things, both of which he believes wholeheartedly; “They are us and we are them,” and “We’re not earthers.” We are all one species, one team pulling together, but the luners don’t make the mistakes earthers do. Some of them really believe that—and, again to be fair, in many ways they have gotten better. Meanwhile, the earth council Indira interacts with is, predictably, paranoid, distrustful, expecting the worst. The show provides critique of colonialism. It also wants to be a beautiful, scary, not-quite-right sorta-political thriller, and that’s too many fences for this show to straddle.

Things aren’t right in perfect Moonhaven. The murder of the young woman was not random or a crime of passion; a great many luners have ripped out their trackers, hiding their actions from IO, and suddenly, as the day to send away their children grows closer, there is vocal opposition from luners; … not to mention the place outside the big wooden fence (yes, I said wooden fence) that Bella finds, where both the gravity and atmosphere are dangerously thin. Oh, and did I mention the feral child with glowing eyes? No? In episode 5, we suddenly discover from a community of people—almost like a tribe!–who live in the woods that IO is having “glitches,” a fact no one thought to report to the Moon council, and IO didn’t think to communicate to anyone.

Seriously, IO may be a brilliant machine, but it is a bad communicator.

It does make pretty trees, though.

Through the character of Paul, the flaws in the luner philosophy are revealed. Once IO decided that tribalism was the root of all human conflict, and tribes started with nuclear families, it decreed that no one raises their own biological children on the moon. This prevents the development of tribal loyalty, at least in theory. Paul, however, like the millions of humans on earth right now loving and raising children who came into their lives through adoption, stepfamilies and other ways, loves both his children fiercely. He is in a polyamorous relationship with a woman named Lone and a man she fancies named Fritz, and Paul struggles with resentment and jealousy. He cannot see that this makes him just like an earther.

Bella is deeply involved in doings on the moon through no fault of her own but because of those pesky biological connections. Whatever her personal pilgrimage will be, she functions well as the skeptical gaze of an earther. And the show does a good job of showing us what can work on Moonhaven, and some of it does.

By Episode 5, schemes have come to light, people we like are in danger, and it’s all very exciting.

My problems are mostly with world-building, and possibly more accurately, world-setting. Moonhaven is filled with happy people and pretty things. One big marketing talking-point is how cleverly the show uses language, especially luner slang, to show us the two worlds have grown apart. One review I read compared luner slang to the Belter creole spoken in The Expanse. Far from being a language that evolved organically from the work done on Moonhaven, lunerspeak is simply clever compound words or whimsical beats, all of which seem to come from British Isles English, some of which seem especially childish. “Thoughts” has been replaced by “thinks.” People experience “dreadfeel,” or a “warm eye” feeling, which means even though you’re seeing a person for the first time you feel like you know them, or they get “gigglesome.” How do these cute phrases demonstrate deeper awareness, or even any connection to work done with IO?

This leads directly to my biggest inconsistency with the world of Moonhaven. Work? What work? We see a lot of beautiful crafts and arts, nearly all wood or wood products, Paul tells us (they grew a lot of trees on the moon). We see two detectives, who offer folks drugs, and some firefighters. There are “makers,” there are biologists like Maiti making drugs, and there are “dreamers,” who seem to use to the drugs to help contemplate what models would change (save) the earth. The people eat stuff that look like gummies. What is that? Are there farmers? Are there farms? Moonhaven is making tech for earth, supposedly; where are the manufacturing sites? Under the lunar surface, with IO?

Who keeps the water running, the energy flowing, and sends the sewage and other waste wherever it goes? Who maintains the atmosphere? If IO is taking care of all of this, and IO is starting to glitch, the question of why no one on either planet notices becomes even more serious.

The cast is good. Sometimes the sheer absurdity of the lines they were having to speak made me realize how good they were. They commit. Bella is a perfect YA protagonist, and I was sure this was an adaptation of a YA novel, because the political issues that underpin the story are presented in a simpler way than shows like, well, the Expanse, but this is an original premise and original story from the producer.

Moonhaven airs on Thursday nights. I’m starting to enjoy it, but I remain unconvinced.


  • Marion Deeds

    Marion Deeds, with us since March, 2011, is the author of the fantasy novella ALUMINUM LEAVES. Her short fiction has appeared in the anthologies BEYOND THE STARS, THE WAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE, STRANGE CALIFORNIA, and in Podcastle, The Noyo River Review, Daily Science Fiction and Flash Fiction Online. She’s retired from 35 years in county government, and spends some of her free time volunteering at a second-hand bookstore in her home town.

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