12:00 pm EDT, September 6, 2018

‘SONA’ review: A webseries set in the stars casts a critical eye on home

Ashley Clements speaks to Hypable about her new sci-fi webseries SONA, which mines powerful ideas from the most modest beginnings.

Created, written by, and starring Ashley Clements of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, SONA is a unique successor to a science fiction tradition that has as much to say about the present as it does the future. The project is decidedly DIY in nature — the main set was built in Clements’ dining room and SONA was largely funded on Kickstarter — which adds a homey feel to a series loaded with very big ideas.

SONA begins at the end — or at least, the end of Belyn Sona’s time on the United Earth Space Corps ship on which she has been serving as a lieutenant. Shoved into a malfunctioning escape pod and ejected into space, Sona (Clements) is the lone survivor of her crew, and the sole inhabitant of the tiny pod bearing her toward an unknown fate. Left with nothing but time, Sona contemplates the path that led to her lonely journey.

That path includes an alien husband, inter-species racism, an increasingly disappointing Earthen government, and a series of decisions that don’t always reflect well on Sona’s character. Stuck in her escape pod, Ashley Clements highlights her protagonist’s intelligence and ingenuity, but also her depressive nature, stubbornness, and capacity for manipulation — all of which are why Clements decided to tell this story.

SONA, Clements says, is “the most personal thing I’ve ever created, in that it deals with some darker aspects of the human psyche and that meant really exposing mine. So Sona is not always likeable perhaps, and she’s certainly not a perfect protagonist, but she’s a very real person in very unreal circumstances.”

“At this point I never worry about whether or not characters are likeable,” she tells Hypable. “I worry about whether they’re relatable. I know that SONA is relatable because she’s very much the embodiment of darker parts of myself.”

That combination of flawed relatablility, tossed with a sense of the surreal, also applies to the wider world of SONA. In the second episode of the series, Sona and her alien husband Akiva (played by director and co-star Brendan Bradley) are confronted by a xenophobic passerby who objects to their inter-species relationship.

Other political themes spider out from this display of intolerance throughout the series. Refugees and deportation, persecution of minorities, and disillusionment in ones’ government are just a few of the ideas that Clements tackles from her dining room set.

Clements says that she began writing the project with Sona’s mental health front of mind. “I knew as I started to write it that that I would unravel, as anyone would in isolation, so I knew that I’d be getting into mental health issues,” she says. But SONA‘s powerful political themes blossomed through her writing process.

“I wrote this about a year ago,” Clements says, “So I was very influenced by current events.” Even so, “It was insane this summer, to watch things that I’d written in the show feel like I had known they were going to happen.”

And in fact, the politics of SONA feel unnervingly prescient. The impact of xenophobia on vulnerable populations of refugees, and particularly children, becomes a pressing theme, which Clements observed with some irony.

“I was taking things to an extreme in the show that seemed impossible, and then they started to seem much less extreme in terms of what was possible in our current reality,” she says. “So I’ve watched current events catch up to the show in a very surreal way.”

But, she adds, “I think it’s hard to make art in the current political climate without letting it impact you. And I’m proud that SONA has something to say.”

SONA‘s messages are just one facet of the show’s accomplishments. In eight brief episodes, Clements tells a story of social change, rebellion, loss, and promise — all woven around a romance that is as profound as it is unusual. (Bradley’s character is not only a gray-skinned alien from the planet Colaris, but also communicates exclusively through telepathy and psychic intuition.)

Coming out of her packed, hand-grown series, Clements says that she hopes “that viewers think. About the current political situation, about what it take to just be empathetic to others who are struggling and who are different. And I hope that they remember to find their own source of hope, because that’s something that Sona is searching for.”

“I feel like that’s a major theme in the show,” she adds, “Even if it doesn’t always feel like there’s hope.”

Clements herself hopes that SONA can extend beyond its first eight episodes.

“There is a lot more to say!” she promises. “I have so many ideas. I want to show what the Colaris homeworld looks like. I want to show more of what was happening back on Earth. I want to show what an Space Corps. opperations look like.”

That’s a tall order for an independent creator with an escape pod in her dining room, but Clements isn’t phased.

“I have a lot more story to tell,” she says.

New episodes of SONA are released each Wednesday on ProjectAlpha.com.

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