In 2018, Netflix released the reboot of the 1960’s television series, Lost In Space. The sci-fi adventure tells the story of the intrepid Robinson family and a mysterious robot when they are, get this, lost in space. The Robinsons are truly an exceptional family as each member has an unusual level of skill and knowledge. The mother, Maureen, is a world-class aerospace engineer, the father, John, is a former U.S. Navy Seal, oldest sister Judy is a brilliant medical student, youngest brother Will is a science wiz and Penny, well Penny at first glance is just simply Penny.
As the middle child of the Robinsons, Penny is frequently overshadowed by her siblings’ achievements. And she’s left straggling in the wake of the huge standards set by her parents’ status. Penny is not exactly in her element during space travel. She is fearful of the new dangers that await in the corners of the universe. Her decisions are often made impulsively, leading to quite a few mishaps and close calls. Even when she tries her hardest, she often feels left out of the family scheme. And she wonders if her mother purposely assigns her the “dummy” jobs.
During the first season of Lost In Space, we discover that Penny is a spirited and clever girl in her own right. She is witty and sarcastic, adding a much-needed levity to the often grim circumstances in which the Robinsons find themselves. She adds the human element of emotions and needs to the plans hatched by her family, something that is often overlooked in favor of mechanics and logistics. As Penny says to Judy, “We are not a math problem”. She pushes through her fears to help her family, risking her life in the process but overcoming obstacles to save others. Penny even makes the attempt to understand Dr. Smith’s manipulative character and gives her the benefit of the doubt.
A part of Penny’s feelings of alienation comes from her interests in the arts rather than science. Back on earth, she was a lead in Midsummer Night’s Dream and in the second season of the show she writes a memoir about her family’s adventures. In the inhospitable and perilous environments of space and alien planets, the key to survival usually lies in the hands of the doctors and engineers, not the writers and the actors. Penny’s contribution to the family dynamic might seem very small compared to Maureen’s calculations or Judy’s live-saving knowledge.
However, what Penny brings to the table is not a meager portion at all. Her memoir told the stories of her and her family’s deeds, their disasters, their triumphs, their grief, and their joy. Without her writing, there would be no record of those human experiences to inform and inspire other adventurers. Her work also had a profound effect on her family especially when they were facing hardships. Penny gifted them with a way to look back and appreciate how far they had come from the beginning. And take comfort in the fact that the past was behind them and the future, ahead of them. Everyone has a different role to play and the Penny’s of the world are needed now more than ever.