Greg Daniels is having a busy year. Less than a month after the second season of Space Force premiered on Netflix, his second series for the year, Upload, has premiered on Amazon Prime. Continuing the humour and expanding the allegory of the first season, the second season of Upload is a satisfactory and engaging continuation of the story set up in the first season.
If you’re unfamiliar with the series, here’s a quick breakdown of the first season. In the near future, a young man (Nathan Brown) is severely injured in an accident involving a self-driving car. Rushed to the hospital, he’s presented with two choices: seeking treatment for his injuries – where if he dies, it’s permanent. The other option is to upload, where his consciousness would experience a virtual afterlife, leaving his body behind.
Of course, this brings up some pretty interesting ethical dilemmas, and Daniels uses it to address one of the most pervasive and problematic of these dilemmas, which is the inherent wealth inequality in the system. Uploading is the domain of Big Tech, and one’s access to a nicer or more desirable afterlife is nearly entirely governed by their means.
Nathan was trying to do something about that with his best friend before his demise, as a coder, he was trying to create an afterlife that is the equivalent of freeware. Of course, this was a threat to the industry as it existed, and so there’s a great deal of suspicion around the circumstances of Nathan’s crash.
Second Time Around
After the events of the first season, we pick up with Nathan left in the “2 gig” section, and his primary ally in the real world, Nora, on the run from Horizon and the powers that be after the botched assassination attempt from the first series finale. Her Dad makes good on his promise to connect her with the “Ludds” – a society of people who reject modern technology.
This is one of the primary threads in the second season. After they discover Nora’s skills as a programmer, she re-applies at Horizon – but as a kind of spy for the Ludds. However after she’s asked to perform a task that for her crosses a line, her character is in this weird limbo – not loyal to Horizon, but not exactly on the Ludd’s side either.
After Nathan’s girlfriend Ingrid has “uploaded”, their relationship gets more complicated as his dependence on her grows. Allegra Edwards doubles down on the crazy in her character and moves into the truly unhinged territory. With her performance, she gives one of the season’s best performances. Nathan is still determined to make his plan… Of a free upload available to everybody. A reality, that sees him attempt to collaborate with Nora in the real world.
After Nora and Nathan are separated both by circumstance and choice, it gives each of their characters room to breathe in this season. There is room to contemplate what they really want, both for themselves and the broader human race.
This also gives the side characters more opportunities to shine. Some fare better than others. Nora’s friend from the first series, Aleesha, is “tempted by the dark side”. She is offered more money and better living circumstances for climbing the corporate ladder at Horizon; which we, as an audience, know is not the most ethical of businesses.
One of the funnier side characters from the first series, Luke, has some early interesting material. He’s one of the first to cotton on to the fact Horizon are beginning to monitor and record the thoughts of the uploads. However, he is given less to do as the series goes on.
Clever Blending of Sci-Fi and Comedy
Ultimately, Upload toes the line between comedy and more serious sci-fi in a very convincing balancing act. A lot of the best works in the genre are allegorical. Daniels uses this to great effect – using a fictional afterlife to examine the issues we as a society face today. Namely, the classist nature of capitalism and the limits it puts on people “at the bottom”.
It’s also very sharply written, mining the concept’s inherent absurdity for humour. For example, the AI attendants and the limits to their abilities. There is a dinner party sequence that is a particular highlight as they are the world’s worst waiters.
Upload is probably not quite as accessible as some of Daniels’ more well-known output. But it tackles some interesting philosophical territory, and for patient viewers, it is a funny and rewarding experience.
Upload: Season 2 is now streaming on Amazon Prime. Check out the trailer below:
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