EPISODE REVIEW: Defying Gravity: “déjà vu” (Episode 10)

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Our brief and noteworthy run as the *only* American website that’s covering “Defying Gravity” continues, as we watch episodes that have aired in Canada, but which sit moldering on the shelves here in the ‘States because the network selfishly wants to run shows that are popular instead. At least for this one episode, they more-or-less made the right decision, since there’s little in this one to attract people. It’s kind of a place-holder episode that adds little to the ongoing story.

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2042 - The Mars Expedition is nearing its end: In orbit, Mike Goss remains in overall command of the mission, while on the ground, we’ve got Donner, Shaw, Donner’s girlfriend Sharon, and Walker. They’re living in a habitat, getting ready to bug out and head back to earth, with just one major Marswalk remaining. Sharon’s acting all weird, staring moon-eyed off in to the distance, looking edgy and strung out, and frankly quite a lot less pretty than the previous times we’ve seen her, and Walker is clearly in bad health - sweating, out of breath, chest pains - Donner jokingly implies this is due to over-vigorous masturbation, but the guy ignores him and just keeps on exercising.

When moving day comes, Walker and Sharon head out to retrieve Alpha, but a storm blows up, slowing the two of them down. Walker starts having a heart attack. As we all know, Donner and Shaw launch before they get back, and, presumably, Walker and Sharon die very shortly after that.

2052 - November 5th. It’s Election Day. The crew are casting their long-distance digital votes for President, and Paula’s covering it on the ship, while the English reporter guy is covering it back on the ground, and Goss flat-out states to him that he’s never going to let the Brit have access to his astronauts. The Brit continues to ask around about “Yesterday’s lockdown.” He targets Arnell, the minor character who’s always fine in the five-years-ago flashbacks, but conspicuously limping in the ‘present day’ stuff. Arnell resists, but it’s obvious that his will to resist is fleeting.

Meanwhile, Rollie and Jen are having problems. Pardon my French, but Jen has generally been needlessly bitchy on this show, and she’s in bitch-overdrive mode this time out: She’ll barely tolerate her husband’s phone-ins, she snaps at him when he reveals a gift to her that he’d hidden aboard ship, she snaps and gets all defiant about her Canadian Citizenship when Paula good-naturedly tries to hand her a “Vote ‘52” pin for her jumpsuit, and then declares that her being married to an American “Makes him Canadian.” Even Zoe - who’s inexplicably befriended Jen lo this whole series - is concerned. She tries to get her to talk it out, and Jen finally admits she can’t see Beta or hear it, or whatever, and is freaked out by the implications of that, but then she keeps lashing out at Zoe and claiming that all Zoe wants to do is talk about herself. Zoe goes to help Paula with lander simulations, since they’re three days to touchdown.

Meanwhile, Eve reveals yet more information that she’s been withholding, and Donner and Shaw get all pissed at her, though really the info is of no real consequence, and was more-or-less implicit in what we already knew: That the botched Mars mission was because Alpha didn’t want Walker to take it to Earth, and killed him as a form of rejection. Donner begins to realize that Gamma on Venus probably doesn’t want Paula there, and discusses it with Zoe - “I didn’t know what to look for ten years ago, but I do now.” Zoe gets upset at him.

Paula, meanwhile, is mysteriously all better from her religious fugue only the day before, and is excitedly looking forward to the mission, and stating that Beta is, if not God, then clearly an agent of God shepherding them to His grand purpose, whatever it is. This puts Zoe off a bit, but she handles it better than Wassenfelder and Jen handle these kinds of things. At first everything goes fine, but as they get closer to the planet, Paula begins to blow the simulated landings, and then her finger starts bleeding copiously, and just like that, she’s off the mission and relegated to covering the election results from space.

While she’s doing this, she freaks out on international TV and starts talking about how she feels like Job, and Satan is aboard the ship and….at that moment, Wassenfelder jumps in claiming to be the devil, and snatches the camera away from her. He does a little standup routine about how he’s pranking everyone on the ship pretty much all the time, meanwhile, the others haul Paula off for a time out. Paula’s changed her opinion on Beta, saying that it’s evil because it won’t let her go to Venus.

Wassenfelder, by the way, is much more active than we’ve ever seen him before, friendly, outgoing, manic, and slightly paranoid - he’s stealing supplies to build a large 3-d representation of a hyperdimentional shape in his cabin, so that “The people on the ground won’t know what I’m doing.” He seems to get along all chummy with Paula, who even laughs at his lame jokes, he’s dancing in his cabin, and he gives Nadia a big, not terribly compelling speech about how she should put her reservations aside and just “Charge.”

The others have little to do in this episode, though Rollie and Jen have another tense discussion and are officially now in “Failing Marriage” State. On the way home, while Eve and Goss discuss who’ll be the member of the ground control to crack first and talk to the media, Rollie isn’t paying attention to what he’s doing, and runs over a girl on a bicycle, killing her.

OBSERVATIONS

Is it just me, or is the name “Walker” a bit Dickensian? Because, you see, there’s little else to distinguish his character aside from the fact that he walked on Mars. I wonder if there’s more Dickensian stuff going on here. I suspect there is: “Zoe” is the greek word for Life; “Paula,” - as we discussed previously - is probably supposed to reference the Apostle Paul. “Rollie” just rolls with it. “Donner” = “Dawn-er” or one who’s there at the dawn. He’s also our narrator, which suggests that he’s the guy who sees the dawn of a new era. Are there more? Probably.

This episode evidently takes place just one day after the previous one.

Goss and Walker were apparently in the USAF together. And that’s about all we’re ever going to get on characterization for that guy, trust me.

“Arnell,” the limping ground controler/ex-AsCan, is clearly the one who’s going to crack, and his scene with AJ about fate vs. destiny was pretty good, not so much because of what it said, but because it plays a much-needed counterpoint to AJ’s continued blathering about fate and destiny. To wit: That’s all well and good for the guys on the mission, but what about those of us who sweated and fought for it, and got washed out? We never had a chance. Later in the episode, we see that Arnell now has a fake leg, hence the limp, and he’s obviously thinking that Beta was somehow personally responsible for that. Frankly, he’s probably right.

Speaking of which, Arnell’s leg seems rather primitive. If you look at how far prosthetic technology has improved in just the last 8 years (A grim benefit of the wars we’re fighting), and then extrapolate 43 years in to the future, it doesn’t make much sense. The guy might as well be hobbling around on a pegleg.

You know, I actually *like* the British reporter. He’s really more detailed than a lot of the main characters. He’s a Pulitzer-winning reporter who got exiled over a story he did on political corruption back home, cast out and forced to cover a space program that few give a damn about, and he’s desperate to reclaim his former glory. I like that he’s obviously got self-serving purposes in mind, but he’s not an unsympathetic or bad guy. When he takes care of AJ after his collapse, obviously he’s just trying to get an insider on the floor, but just as obviously he actually cares for the guy. His approaches to Arnell are a bit less well handled, but they make sense, and how cool is it to see a reporter who actually *acts* like a reporter for once?

Man, does this show have a sprawling cast, or what? Seriously: Evram (1), Jen (2), Donner (3), Nadia (4), Paula (5), Wassenfelder (6), Shaw (7), Zoe (8), all on the ship, and then there’s AJ (9), the flight surgeon chick (10), Eve (11), Goss (12), Rollie (13), Arnell (14), the English reporter dude (15) and Sharon (16) - that’s a huge cast for a show of this type. I love the whole “It takes a village to run a space mission” aspect of it, which we generally don’t see. Generally it’s just “Let’s go to Mars” - jumpcut - “We’re on Mars, gosh that was a rough nine months that we’re not going to bother to show you.” So: Mad props to the show for showing us all how complicated this kind of stuff is.

We see another flash of the Zoe/Donner dream. Does Zoe have a huge tattoo on her back that I somehow managed to miss before now? How did I miss this? Can anyone tell what it is?

It’s funny, after 10 episodes, I still haven’t gotten a good look at the Antares Mission Logo, but we get a really good look at the Mars Mission one: It’s a stylistic representation of “The Face on Mars,” which is funny, but probably not the sort of thing any *real* space agency would ever approve.

We don’t actually get a good look at the party identifications of anyone running for office, but it’s implied that incumbent “Jane Kendrick” is Republican (Given she’s the red candidate on the voting screen and the other one is blue). Not surprisingly, Paula - the one religious person onboard - votes for her. Jane wins a second term. Woo-hoo! Four more years! Four more years!

Speaking of Paula and “Woo-hoo,” is it just me, or was her ‘excited’ delivery in the lander like the worst of all possible line readings? Also interesting is that they apparently filmed the Lander scenes all in one block, because if you look close you can see that Zoe’s got a big zit over her left eye (Covered with makeup) that’s absent in all her other scenes in the episode.

Eve says that she knew all along that Alpha didn’t want Walker, but no one would listen, and as a result of that debacle, she’s more-or-less in charge of things now. How did she know?

Why can’t Jen see Beta or hear Gamma? Jen’s deterioration is interesting. As I said, she’s always been a pill, and I assumed this was just bad writing. You find that a lot in women characters in SF that are written by men. All too often, men write women’s parts simply by writing a man’s part, and then slapping a dress on it, by which I mean that all too often the only difference between Captain Janeway’s lines and Captain Kirk’s lines is the name on the script. This provides us with an endless array of allegedly strong, independent, intelligent, empowered female characters (Not that anyone who’s actually “Empowered” would ever use that word, it’s something that only the powerless say) who come across as bitchy or even dykish *because* the behavioral cues are all wrong. Women with authority are capable of the same exact things that men with authority do, and they actually *do* these things, but they enact their power in different ways than men do. Attempting to have them behave like dudes in dresses is just an embarrassment, and again, Trek is the worst offender in this regard.

I assumed that Jen was a case of this early on, she’s irritating, brash, bossy, didactic, self-righteous, annoying, bitchy, and frankly a pain in the ass. She wears her nationality on her arm as a shield, and this is believable because we’ve all met Canadians who do this, though with considerably more aplomb. (For the record, I’m half-Canadian on my Dad’s side. Non-practicing.) This kind of “Don’t confuse me with you war-mongering Americans” kind of behavior is what my dad calls “Ugly Canadianism,“ the counterpart to “Ugly Americanism.“ I think that fits Jen. Now that the show is progressing, and we’re seeing her character start to deteriorate, I’m having a whole new regard for the writers, since things that irritated me early on about her are now coming out as serious character flaws. Well done, guys!

Paula’s mercurial vacillation on whether there be angels or devils is a bit more superficial than the rest of the character’s qualms, but given the long-range plan for Jen, I’ll hold off judgment for now: they might have something up their sleeves.

We’re told that the ship is 25 million klicks from earth, which is 15,534,279 miles. It should take 83.5 seconds for a signal from Earth to get to the ship, but of course they dispense with that in this show.

The ampoules of Vodka the Russians sent along was a nice touch. Reminds me of a similar incident during the Apollo/Soyuz mission of ‘75.
Holy crap, I totally did not see that car accident coming, did you? Caught me completely off guard and startled me, and I have to wonder what they’re going to be doing with this. Rollie’s already in a bad place, and no doubt Jen will manage to make it all worse somehow. Geez!

All the flashbacks in this episode were ten years earlier, during the ill-fated Mars expedition. Frankly, they were a huge disappointment: They didn’t add anything we didn’t already know, and they were more of a distraction than anything else. Generally the flashbacks on this show run from about 1/4th to ½ of the running time, but the Mars scenes were much less than that this time out, I presume because there was so little material of significance in ‘em. Without the flashbacks, and without much of an “A” story, this episode ended up feeling pretty padded out and trivial.

Now that they’re actually in Venus orbit, however, I’m sure next week will be better.

Mad props to nwkeys01 for finding the episode for us, and you can watch it online here http://www.megavideo.com/?d=YZMGNQBZ

Oh, hey, if you like the show, or you know someone who does, please make sure they're aware of our reviews up here on the 'bot, ok? Spread the word!

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