Is this the most exciting time ever for sci-fi? A genre once generally considered the preserve of men, sci-fi is now enjoyed by all. And with a shift in audience, there’s also been a shift in sci-fi narratives – and casting. From Stranger Things’ Eleven to Star Wars’ Rey, executives are calling for strong, fierce and even (whisper it) ‘selfish’ female leads, who are driven by their own quests or desires, rather than romance.
In SYFY’s latest fantasy sci-fi series The Outpost, the lead female role of Talon is, according to one of the show’s stars Imogen Waterhouse, unapologetically selfish – and that’s precisely what attracted Waterhouse, the younger sister of model-actress Suki Waterhouse, to the show in the first place.
Talon has a “level of selfishness that you don’t really see within women roles,” Waterhouse tells RadioTimes.com. “Her goal isn’t to find the man she loves and meet him and marry him, she’s actually there for a purpose, and it’s pretty dark.”
From the makers of cult hit and guilty pleasure Sharknado, the new ten-part series follows Talon (played by Jessica Green), the last surviving member of a persecuted magical race called Blackbloods. After witnessing the slaughter of her people, Talon cuts off the identifying black tips of her pointy ears and sets out on a quest to find their killers.
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The first episode does have some cringe-inducing moments. Talon treks over a series of generic terrains in an ‘epic quest montage’, cut to a rousing soundtrack and punctuated by a couple of encounters with ‘monsters’ (the CGI throughout the first episode is distinctly ropey, reminiscent of Merlin’s earliest episodes minus the fun). Talon’s path – strewn, of course, with broken hearts – leads eventually to the eponymous outpost: a “lawless fortress on the edge of the civilized world,” according to the show description.
It’s there that Talon seeks work in a bar, and meets Gwynn Calkussar (played by Waterhouse), the daughter of the outpost’s second-in-command, and the alchemist-turned-brewer Janzo, played by Anand Desai-Barochia.
“I think it’s very current for this climate, [that] we’re showing a female lead on a fantasy sci-fi show,” Desai-Barochia tells RadioTimes.com. He believes that The Outpost goes some way in challenging the masculine sci-fi stereotype: “From comic books to fantasy sci-fi, everything’s always been male-driven… and to see this new perspective – I mean, finally, it’s about time!” he says.
“I think it’s brilliant portraying such a strong woman. [Talon’s] completely independent… I think that’s so important to see on today’s TV.”
Waterhouse agrees. “I think more and more it is happening, seeing more women – strong women onscreen,” she says. “I mean, there’s still a way to go, but for a young girl to be able to watch [Talon] and go, ‘Oh, she’s out there getting what she wants, and not taking s**t – she’s got power’… it’s just refreshing.”
The Outpost, which was filmed in rural Utah, marks both actors’ first foray into the sci-fi genre. When she first read the script, Waterhouse was initially attracted to a project that centred around “a strong, Lara Croft-like woman… she’s out for herself, which is quite rare”. Her own role, Gwynn, is “kind of the opposite of Talon”, but Waterhouse believes that both characters “wear a mask in the way they present themselves to people”. She describes Gwynn as “a bit naughty”, a “girl navigating her way to becoming a woman in a male-dominated society”.
“I’d like to think she’s [Gwynn] not very similar to me,” Waterhouse adds, “I don’t know, maybe my cast [mates] disagree”.
Desai-Barochia didn’t initially read for his character, the “clumsy” genius Janzo, but he “fell in love” with the part when he got the script: “[Janzo] is such a special kid.”
Both actors liked the idea of working on a show with a strong female lead – particularly with a revenge storyline. “I don’t wanna see another male protagonist on a revenge story. Boring!” Waterhouse says. A revenge plot involving a female protagonist “comes [with] these new elements that we haven’t seen,” she argues.
Disappointingly for a show that touts female strength, Waterhouse says that Gwynn, the only other notable female character, is immediately “threatened” by Talon’s presence.
“Gwynn’s quite threatened by her, because she’s never really seen this kind of woman before,” Waterhouse explains. “I think Gwynn has definitely got her front on, and she’s kind of sussing her out – keep your friends close, keep your enemies closer.”
Perhaps the animosity is borne out a love triangle hinted at in the first episode, involving the two women and the literal-knight-in-shining-armour Captain Garrett Spears (great name).
Desai-Barochia’s character Janzo is “in complete awe” of the warrior Talon, attracted to not only her “absolute beauty, [but] her physicality as well”.
“I think that’s actually the case with absolutely everybody who comes across Talon,” Desai-Barochia adds. The two characters become “best friends” as the show progresses.
With so many fantasy sci-fi shows and films being released, there’s every risk viewers may soon feel overwhelmed. Were either actors intimidated adding a brand new fantasy world to the mix?
Desai-Barochia sees it as “a positive”, unburdened by any outside pressures: “It’s not like it’s a comic book that we’re recreating, you know?” Described by Waterhouse as a “guilty pleasure” for adult viewers, both actors claim The Outpost will serve as fantasy sci–fi for the non sci–fi fan.
“It’s a completely new world,” Desai-Barochia enthuses. “A new realm, a new society that we’re creating for the audience.”
The first two episodes of The Outpost air on Monday 13th August on SYFY