This review contains spoilers for the gay bits of Season 3 of Prime Video’s Upload.
After two and a half seasons of hilarity and existential crisis, Prime Video’s Upload has finally centered a queer lady relationship.
Upload is one of those shows that doesn’t sound like it would be my jam on paper, but it actually brings me an unexpected amount of joy. It’s all the fun technology stress of an episode of Black Mirror, but with a lot more humor. It takes place half in a digital afterlife called Lakeview and half in the real world, where corporations are doing their capitalist nonsense — making it hard for non-rich people to access a digital afterlife, including taking out people involved in making a free alternative to Lakeview, including but not limited to Nathan Brown, our protagonist.
Helping Nathan figure this out is his “angel” Nora, a Lakeview employee who is alive and spends time both in the virtual and real world, and who eventually becomes his girlfriend. Other players include his on-again, off-again girlfriend Ingrid, a fellow Lakeview resident named Luke, and another angel named Aleesha (Zainab Johnson), who we’re here to talk about today.
In episode four of the third season, a wild Jeanine Mason appears, which is exciting enough on its own. She was a force to be reckoned with in Roswell, New Mexico, and her character, Karina, immediately flirts with Aleesha. Karina is a badass boss lady and within moments of being at a work function together, Karina asks Aleesha if she wants to go somewhere more private. And just like that we have a queer regular and a queer recurring character and isn’t that a beautiful thing?
After a few episodes, Aleesha starts to wonder if this new fling she started up is a good idea. It’s a dangerous game to date a coworker in a higher position than you (even if she ISN’T your direct boss) and also Karina might be a little… evil? But she’s also really hot. So you can see why Aleesha might be torn. Jeanine Mason plays Karina with an effortless confidence where she sounds charming as hell even when she’s saying unhinged things. She’s so magnetic it’s easy to overlook the evil streak, and Aleesha is hilarious and has her own bold confidence that makes her even more attractive than her obvious good looks. When you put the two together? Whew. The chemistry between Karina and Aleesha is palpable.
We get a few cute scenes of Karina meeting Luke, and Aleesha asking Luke for relationship advice. But, ultimately, Aleesha decides to end things with Karina. She can’t just break up with her though, so she decides to do a little spycraft and reveal some of the not-so-good stuff Karina has been up to. In a not-so-good development though, while on this mission, Aleesha celebrates a victory by kissing Luke on the mouth. She plays it off as excitement, but it’s clear that’s a direction they want to lean into, since Luke has been less than subtle about the torch he holds for Aleesha. I know she’d already decided she wanted to end things with Karina, but I don’t think we’re far enough past the “cheating bisexual” trope for this to be totally okay. I thought it was fun that Karina was doing evil corporation stuff while also being sweet with Aleesha. I was even down for the spycraft. But this felt a bit too far for me.
Then again, Upload always toes the line for me. Most of the time it’s fun and hilarious, but then they’ll make a fat joke about Nathan, who is played by Robbie Amell, and is not fat. In fact, that’s a running joke throughout this entire season, and it was annoying enough the first time, so it gets extra tired extra quickly.
They also spend a lot of time talking about the rights of uploaded people, and whether they should have the same rights as alive people or if they are the property of the person who uploaded or the corporation they uploaded to. This is all well and good and makes for genuinely interesting stories, the only problem is, it means women, queer people, and/or people of color are pointing at straight cis white Nathan Brown and calling him a second class citizen. I know it’s a metaphor but it can get a little cringey.
All that said, there’s more to love than there is to be annoyed by. They make a lot of really solid jabs at our capitalist society; one of my favorite running bits is the imagined mergers, like Oscar Mayer Intel, often said with complete earnestness. And what maybe surprised me most was the genuine character development of Ingrid, Nathan’s ex-girlfriend, a living woman who was once a vapid rich girl but whose heart is slowly growing size by size. She has a bit of Alexis Rose to her, seemingly (and sometimes actually) shallow while also showing growth and depth.
This season of Upload ended on a cliffhanger between Aleesha and Karina, and a huge cliffhanger for the show overall, so here’s hoping we’ll see the Lakeview crew again soon. It’s no “San Junipero,” but it does explore the question of what makes a person a person, and whether it’s possible to have a digital afterlife that isn’t a capitalist hellscape — all while being hilarious (and occasionally gay!) in the process.
The third season of Upload is now streaming on Prime Video.