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On Mars, the Zeus lander is preparing to blast off to reunite with the Calliope command module in orbit. A sandstorm blows up, and because of it two astronauts on EVA are not going to make it back to the Zeus before the end of the mission. The Mission Commander - Mike Goss - orders the Zeus to lift off immediately without waiting for the others, because if they don’t take off before the end of the window, the entire landing team will die. Reluctantly, Shaw and Donner lift off, stranding the other two of their party on Mars to die. One of them - the only female member of the crew - was Donner’s girlfriend.
It’s the fifth anniversary of the Mars Disaster, and Donner’s in a piss-and-vinegar mood. This is made worse when AJ stupidly corrects him in front of their class. Donner tears in to the guy viciously in front of everyone. Some time later at the Gym, Wassenfelder compliments AJ on his guts for picking a fight with the teacher on a day he knew the guy would be in a bad mood anyway. AJ legitimately didn’t know, and tries to apologize to Donner, explaining that when he worked for an aerospace company, his supervisors insisted that everyone know everything about everything, which is just folly, so the engineers all came up with a code for someone else to jump in when they needed help, but didn’t want to arouse attention - they’d make reference to an “H2IK Sequence,” which he explains means “Hell if I know.” Donner tells him to learn how to shut up. Evram tries to get Donner to talk about it, too, but Donner challenges him to discuss the ‘beauty marks’ on his own back - extensive scaring from the war - and Evram clams up.
That night at the bar (Which I believe is called “Major Tom’s”) the English reporter that Donner will deck 5 years in to the future shows up and asks the Antares Cadets if they’re there for the show. Donner and Shaw are sitting silently at the bar. Goss - now the director of spaceflight - comes in and sits down with them, and delivers an eulogy, then the three of them toast the dead Mars crew members. Goss and Donner leave separately, Shaw stays and drinks. “Prolonged torture disguised as tradition,” the reporter calls it, and the cadets debate why they put up with it. Jen, who’s now knocking boots with Shaw, sidles up to him and gives him some of her annoying free-to-be-you-and-me 1970s handholding talk (To be fair, it’s far less annoying this time out than it usually is) and finishes by telling him she doesn’t think he should be alone tonight. He agrees, grabs a bottle, and leaves her behind at the bar. At Donner’s house, he finds the guy watching Mars Mission tapes of the disaster. “Ok, three things: First, burn that damn disk; second, we’re never toasting again; and third: neither of us are ever going to be alone on the anniversary, ok?”
The next day in class, Donner is teaching and Nadia asks a technical question. Donner flounders for the answer, and lets slip an “H21K Sequence” reference. AJ picks up on this, and jumps in saving Donner and making it look like Donner knew what he was talking about.
Still en rout to Venus, and several weeks after leaving earth, the Antares starts having massive electrical problems. The lights are flashing, systems go on and off randomly, no one can figure out what it is. They try to pin it down, but they aren’t having any luck. Donner asks for AJ’s help on the ground, but they hem and haw and say he isn’t medically ready, lying, basically, blaming it on a psych eval when in fact Mike Goss just doesn’t want the guy back on the floor. AJ, meanwhile, visits “Major Tom’s,” and ends up unwillingly eating lunch with the annoying British reporter. The reporter mentions electrical problems on the Antares, and AJ attempts to excuse himself and leave, but has a heart attack on his way to the bathroom, a victim of the plaque building up in his heart.
Shaw, meanwhile, has visited Beta three times since the last episode, and every time he sees the same thing - a martian dust storm, and no other information. He has no idea what it means. Nadia hits on Donner, and Zoe gets jealous, but Nadia points out that they’re just sex buddies, and nothing more, and they have been for years. Donner goes EVA to see if anything is conspicuously wrong outside, and finds nothing material, but sees the space suited ghosts of the dead mars astronauts. They fly up from the ship, and he follows, freaking out the live crew of the Antares. Eventually he hears Zoe/Sees his dead girlfriend telling him that she/they need him, and he stops, returns to his senses, and heads back to the ship. He covers for the whole incident by saying he thought he saw a piece fly off and went after it himself.
The Rotator Arm stops spinning, and the living quarters looses spin, as well as heat and electricity. Wassenfelder refuses to leave his cabin. Paula tries to coax him in to it, but he won’t go, so she claims she’s leaving, but she’s really just in her own cabin next door, huddled up trying to keep warm.
Back on earth, AJ is prepped for surgery, and Rollie will have it later in the day. Since the reporter called HQ first, rather than his own producer for a scoop, they give him some more latitude than they normally would. Ultimately, everyone demands AJ be brought in to it, and finally, with no choice but to publicly say he hates the guy, Goss gives in and has the relevant info sent to the guy in the hospital. On a comlink with the ship, he tells Donner that he’s pretty sure it’s an H2IK sequence. Donner doesn’t take that well. Evram, meanwhile, is having flashbacks to “The War” and freaking out, Paula went back over to keep Wassenfelder from freezing to death, and Shaw is seriously looking at an abort back to earth.
They’ve eliminated the possibility of software error, so it has to be physical, it has to be a short, but the ship is incapable of shorts because everything is coated with an insulating polymer. Suddenly, Donner has a flash of inspiration, and turns off their hokey fake gravity system, and pokes around in a Jeffries tube, where he finds a wrench floating around. When the gravity’s on, it falls on the main busses and shorts’ em out.
The day is saved, everyone is happy, and on they go. The crew demand that AJ be returned to ground control permanently, and again, Goss has no choice but to reply.
The gravity on the ship is maintained by two spinning sections, but then they’ve got a hokey pseudo artificial gravity system that they use in the non-spinning parts, which they explained is a combination of nanites, magnetic clothes, and electromagnets in the floor. Leaving alone that’s a ludicrous amount of trouble to go through in a ship that’s already partially spinning, and that you really don’t want that number of electromagnets around sensitive electronics and computers, it’s just a goofy idea. It’s a bad doubletalk system to get around the expense of shooting weightless scenes, which is annoying since it could easily have been sidestepped by simply making the whole ship rotate, or making the rotating sections larger a’la the Leonov from 2010 or the Omega Class Destroyers and Explorer Class Ships from Babylon 5. But noooooo.
I asked logically a couple weeks ago why their hair is obviously not floating around, and joked “What? Are they using magnetic shampoo?” Turns out they are! They made a point of mentioning that this episode, and it became a bit of a plot point, actually. Dumber and dumber…
They make mention that the ship is 6 million kilometers from earth, give or take. That means it’s 3,728,227 miles from earth, roughly. Light travels at 186,000 miles per second, so at that distance it would take communication signals from the Antares a hair over 20 seconds to get to earth, and of course another 20 seconds for the reply to get from the earth to the Antares. All the communications in the show up to and including this episode have been instantaneous, and I think we can safely conclude that the series will ignore any light speed lag in the future.
Why is Beta showing Shaw the Martian storm? Obviously he wants Shaw to confront something from the Mars mission, but what is it? Irritatingly, we intentionally don’t have enough info to make a guess at this point.
Clearly the ghosts of the dead astronauts were Beta screwing around with Donner’s mind again, as with the precognizant dreams earlier on, but why? And was he responsible for the malfunctions? I don’t think so. I think it was a legitimate malfunction that Beta had no control over, but he was trying to tell Donner something, and didn’t have much success. It’s up in the air as to whether Beta was manipulating events to get AJ back on the ground crew or not, though.
I’m increasingly of a mind that the Mars Mission’s purpose was to recover an alien artifact from Mars, and that that artifact was Beta himself. That may not actually be the case, but it’s increasingly seeming like whatever’s going on in the present is inexorably tied up with that disaster.
Donner has only had casual meaningless sex since the Mars disaster, he refuses to get involved with a female astronaut because of how much killing his ex ripped him apart. Nadia knows this, but Zoe never put it together until Nadia pointed it out to her. Nadia also implies that Donner hasn’t been up and running (So to speak) since they left earth.
Paula is fully recovered from the last episode, and more or less admitted to being a Christian in this episode, which is evidently common knowledge among the crew. Wassenfelder kinda’ sorta’ makes fun of her because of this. It’s fairly obvious that Paula and Wassenfelder like each other, but she’s too stubborn and he’s too much of a jackass to do anything about it.
The reporter may not be as big a jackass as we were led to believe in the pilot. He makes it clear that he was once a top-flight reporter who exposed a corrupt politician, but the politician was somehow able to make it appear that the reporter faked the story. As a penalty, he’s been exiled to cover the space program, and he immediately recognizes AJ as an exile of another sort. Though he’s clearly using AJ for his own purposes, he is kind of charming and he does seem to care for the guy, and does seem concerned when he goes under the knife. Also, obviously, he knows the political game at the space center well, and is able to play the game with ease.
Evram’s scars were the result of a war at least six years in the past, probably quite a bit longer than that, though. Judging from the flashbacks, he was in the Israeli army during a big war, presumably with the Arab nations around Israel. We saw him crawling through the rubble of a collapsed building trying to rescue a woman - his wife? Sister? Girlfriend? A total stranger? - and then getting pinned beneath some falling rubble. There’s been allusions to his detoxification in last week’s episode, but tonight we found out that he’s an alcoholic who’s been coping with the trauma of the war - and evidently the pain of his injuries - with booze. Claire, the ground control flight surgeon (Who he calls “Frenchie”) has known this all along, and has been covering for him. He’s been using dermal transfer patches to wean himself off the alcohol, but isn’t fully clear yet. There’s a hint of some romance between them.
And that, my friends, is that. Not the greatest episode they’ve ever done, but I think a bit better than last week, and the Lostbacks were a bit more focused and on-target this time out. I’m glad to see AJ isn’t leaving the cast of the show, though I’m surprised this show’s “Helo,” Rollie, has so little to do.