Lost in Space is an exciting space-travel show (based on the 1960s show) with a surprising Christmasy theme. To be fair, I do not recall a single time in the Netflix series Lost in Space where they mention Christmas. There are no religious undertones within the show either. In fact, it’s a very decidedly humanistic message that focuses on the strength of character and intellect to win the day. Despite this, there is a clear “Christmas Carol”ian theme–the possibility of change.
In A Christmas Carol, we meet the impossible Scrooge who, according to Johann Arnold, is “tight-fisted and grasping, he goes through life dragging a chain that he himself has forged, link by link, with each miserly deed.” The story is about the incredible and supernatural lengths that are needed to bring change into his life. Through the power of Christmas, Scrooge is transformed. He emerges from his ordeal as he “rediscovers the world around him with the unselfconscious happiness of a child.” The story starts with him one way and it ends with a transformation that bewilders those who know him in the story.
Connie Willis, an amazing science fiction writer, notes that “the story touches us because we want to believe people can change.” If someone as miserable and closed off as Scrooge can be transformed, there is hope for us. The setting lends to this hope. Willis states that “Christmas is about someone who believed, in spite of overwhelming evidence, that humanity is capable of change and worth redeeming. And Dickens’s Christmas story is in fact The Christmas Story. And the hardened heart that cracks open at the end of it is our own.”
This isn’t the only Christmas story that echoes the refrain of transformation. The Grinch, The Santa Claus, Elf, Home Alone, and many more repeat the belief that change is possible. This is the hope of Christmas–that we can, even for just this season, lay down the bitterness and regrets and foibles of our characters to be the better version of ourselves that we hope is within.
A Transformational Theme
Ironically, this is also the message of Lost in Space. Tucked into a multiplicity of harrowing escapes from danger that require their individual geniuses to overcome is a pervading question–can someone change?
We see this very storyline most specifically in two characters: Robot and “Dr. Smith.” The Robinson family, among many others, is leaving the dying earth in order to reach the new settlement on Alpha Centauri via the ship Resolute. On their way, they are attacked by robots and many get on smaller ships to escape to a nearby planet. Once there, Will (the youngest of the Robinson family) encounters one of these robots impaled by a tree. In an act of kindness, Will rescues the robot. Instead of attacking Will once he is free, he becomes Will’s most loyal support. This is indicated by the color of his face (more a screen than a face) turning from red to white. Robot spends the rest of the series helping the Robinson family and the other humans, even fighting against his own kind. SARS, the leader of the robot people, is furious with him and seeks WIll out so he can find out how Will changed Robot’s programming.
In the final episode, when the robots have gotten to Alpha Centauri and are working to destroy it, Will’s sister Penny encounters a robot trapped under a burning ship. She helps to rescue the robot, and just like Robot, it is transformed. The humans realize then that the key to transformation for these robots is an act of kindness.
An Invitation to Change
For “Dr. Smith,” her transformation is not so quick or so clear. In fact, she isn’t really Dr. Smith at all as her real name is June Harris. She stole her sister’s spot on the Resolute and then during the attack of the robots after she had been found out, she steals the identity of the real Dr. Zoe Smith in order to evade punishment. The whole series watches her vacillate between deceiving people to save herself and then surprisingly coming through as a team player in a crucial moment. No one trusts her, however, and she is locked up several times.
In the end, there is only one person left who knows her past and wants to prosecute her and this person is in a coma. In a desperate moment, she stands over his incapicated body planning to kill him so that she can be free if they survive the robots. Robot steps in and asks for her help, keeping her from committing murder. It is this moment that proves transformational for her. After they have won the battle with the robots, she comes to see the man whom she almost murders, who angrily tells her that he will still lock her up. Instead of arguing, she gives him a signed confession of all her wrongdoings and willingly gives herself up for incarceration (something she vowed to do anything to avoid).
For these two characters, change was possible. For the Robot, it was precluded by a sacrificial act and for Dr. Smith it included an invitation to be a part of something better than solitude and survival. And it’s fitting that Robot, the one who has been transformed, is the one who is key to Dr. Smith’s own transformation.
A Lesson to Observe
Both A Christmas Carol and Lost in Space have important messages of transformation for us this Christmas season. A Christmas Carol reminds us there is hope even for the most broken of us–the ones who have turned inward so much that we no longer have any compassion for those around us. It will take a supernatural involvement to accomplish it, but once we see what good can be done when we take our eyes off ourselves, huge change is possible.
Lost in Space lets us see how we can join in this process. Our acts of kindness and our invitations into our livesvcan make the path of transformation easier for others. We can participate in our microcosmic replay of the Christmas story.
The real Christmas story is all about supernatural events at work to change a broken world that is so intent on itself that it cannot see what it is doing. It’s all about a sacrificial act wrapped in an infant birth that includes an invitation to something so much better than we can ask or imagine. Resting upon God’s own sacrifice and the sacrifice of Mary and Joseph, we get to bask in the invitation extended to the shepherds and to us to see this great thing God is doing in us and around us. This Christmas hope, like the message of Lost in Space, is one that can extend beyond our Christmas festivities and can give us hope all year long. Every day can be Christmas when we embrace the hope that we can change and be better. And, like Robot, those who have been transformed first are the best conduits of transforming grace.