Review: ‘Beacon 23’ has an interstellar premise with a lot of promise

A new sci-fi beacon has ignited amongst the stars in the vast expanse of the streaming cosmos. Beacon 23, based on five novels by Hugh Howey, premiered this past weekend with two episodes on MGM+. Set amidst deep space where dark matter is a serious threat, the original series revolves around the enigmatic Aster (Lena Headey) and the solitary Harlan (Stephan James), whose fates intertwine aboard a remote interstellar lighthouse. We checked out the series’ first two episodes and were totally (and unsettlingly!) hooked. 

[Editor’s note: This is a spoiler free review of the first two episodes of Beacon 23.]

Beacon 23 isn’t just another space opera with a ton of battles. From what we’ve seen so far, it’s ambitious and smart science fiction with a ton of suspense and some serious thriller vibes.

Beacon 23’s pilot episode, Corbenic, directed by Daniel Percival and written by Zak Penn and Allison Moore, is a real gem among sci-fi pilots. It skillfully handles the heavy task of world-building while maintaining a thrilling, almost frantic edge. It’s not just another day at ye old space lighthouse; a multitude of mysteries and troubles begin to simmer just beneath the surface that makes for an interesting, unexpected watch. Lena Headey and Stephan James really shine. The Beacon 23 narrative also weaves in real worries and complexity of artificial intelligence (blurring the lines a bit between science fiction and science fact) – with the kick-butt performances of Natasha Mumba and Wade Bogert-O’Brien.

In addition to commendable acting, writing, and direction, Beacon 23 has a ton of fun physical worldbuilding. The show’s futuristic interiors seamlessly blend familiar sci-fi tropes with novel and innovative designs, creating a captivating backdrop for the narrative playing out amongst the characters. And also claustrophobia, so much claustrophobia. The confines of the Beacon make the tension so much more real. 

On Aster and Harlan in Beacon 23

The character dynamic between Aster and Harlan is an unsettling and must-watch dance of power and uncertainty in the first two episodes of Beacon 23. As viewers, we are caught in the crossfire, unsure where to place our trust and sympathies.  Do we feel bad for Aster, whose ship just blew up? Or Harlan, who is dealing with some intense PTSD and guilt? We’re never quite sure who to root for and who has earned our trust as an audience – which creates a ton of tension in the show. They both have secrets and an agenda – and some of it deals with mysterious space rocks! Their dynamic is a key driver of the narrative so far and is one of the show’s strong suits. 

Final thoughts on Beacon 23

While the exterior space scenes in Beacon 23 are admittedly limited, whether due to budget constraints or other reasons, this choice actually works in the show’s favor. Besides, science fiction doesn’t need to be ultra-high in definition to ignite our imaginations. The first two episodes of Beacon 23 tease a universe brimming with danger, the moral and ethical questions that underpin the best kind of sci-fi, and an exciting journey.

With the first two episodes, Beacon 23 is a show taking big swings with sci-fi mythology and a ton of palpable tension. It will be exciting to see if it pays off as the series continues.

The Hugh Howey cynlindrical cinematic universe

On a footnote to the show itself, Beacon 23 solidifies that we live in the Hugh Howey cylindrical cinematic universe. Apple TV+’s Silo, a fantastic and standout show starring Rebecca Ferguson, was also adopted from Hugh Howey’s series called Wool. It takes place in a post-apocalyptic Silo. Silo…lighthouse in space… It’s all weird cylindrical structures and we are here for it. 

How to watch Beacon 23

The next episode of Beacon 23Why Can’t We Go On As Three?, will stream on Sunday, November 19th on MGM+. Check it out however you stream your media.

Beacon 23’s first season has eight episodes total. A second season has been filmed, but it hasn’t received the green light to air yet.

Your thoughts on Beacon 23

Have you checked out Beacon 23? What did you think of the lighthouse in the stars? Join the conversation below, or follow us on X (formerly Twitter) @MoviesWeTexted to continue the discussion.

If you’re still looking for more science fiction to keep you warm on a cold winter night, check out our review of The Marvels, the latest film by Marvel Studios.  Looking for something with monsters? Check out our thoughts on Yorgos Lanthimos’s latest flick, Poor Things, starring Emma Stone.