I’m a sucker for goodbyes. The way things end are, for me, a lot more important than the way they begin, if only because, so often in life, we don’t really notice when things begin. You meet a girl at a party, and you’ve got no way of knowing you’ll end up marrying her; you buy a car with no idea that keeping the damn piece of crap running will cost so much money that you stupidly let your health insurance lapse, and then something goes wrong with you, personally; you have no way of knowing that annoying guy in the room across the hall in the dorm will end up being your best friend decades later, and so on. These things slip by unnoticed, and it’s only in hindsight that they have any real significance.
The actual goodbyes themselves I’m less particular about. They’re generally not all that good. Seinfeld ended badly, so did Northern Exposure, so did Cheers, so did Frasier. Yes, the M*A*S*H* finale moved me, but the show had long-overstayed its welcome by that point, the same is true of the Star Trek: TNG finale. The Babylon 5 finale moved me, eventually, but to my shame I had years and years of growing up to do before I finally got to the point where I ‘got’ it.
Curiously, the goodbyes that have the mean the most to me are the ones you hoped wouldn’t happen, the de facto finales where you’re forced to say goodbye to people you weren’t really done with yet. The premature finales of SG1 and Atlantis pissed me off because, clearly, we hadn’t reached the end of the road yet. The abrupt cancellation of Firefly affected me in ways that Serenity was never able to really make up for. The last episode of Crusade (By my count) is the one where the ship visits B5, and Max mentions that “Babylon 5 is one of those things that just goes on too long.” The last episode of The Monkees - the Frodus Plant episode - is strangely haunting, and when I found out, years later, that there was a Monkees movie, that just made matters worse: That final scene of them in a water tank, being driven away from the camera, pounding on the glass, trying to get out…well…suffice to say I never really got closure.
So it goes without saying that this has been a really rough year for me: Not only did Galactica totally crap out, but we lost Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chonicles, Dollhouse is doomed, we lost Kings, the best SF show since Firefly. And on top of that, we’ve lost Defying Gravity, a show I’d really grown to love.
Yes, I’m aware the show had problems. Pretty much nothing happened in nearly half of the episodes, it moved at an almost Mosfilm pace at times, it was overly PC and New Agey, it conflicted with my own values at times, and while I still don’t know what the hell was going on with Nadia, pretty much everything tied to that subplot was particularly icksome*. There were plenty of problems, I’m fully aware of that, and I’m fully aware that the show would have *eventually* let me down like Galactica did, probably in some similarly self-righteous and fundamentally silly fashion. Trust me, I get it: This is not my first barbecue.
None of which matters, really, because sometimes the spooky-yet-hot goth girl that you’ve been sneaking looks at for years comes up to you on the last day of high school, kisses you square on the lips, and then leaves and you never see her again, and you spend the next quarter century wondering what it would have been like, not so much because you want to trade what you have now - which is great - nor because you have some goofy romantic daydream assumptions of how things would have gone with her, but rather because you feel like maybe you missed something you could only have gotten through being destroyed by her.
As my band (“Republibot 3.0 and the Republibot 3.0 Orchestra, Featuring Republibot 3.0”) occasionally sings, “I’d still love to have been destroyed by you/For a year or two.”
All of which is my long-winded obituary for Defying Gravity. Forgive me for rambling on. It’s not all bad, after all: As unintentional final episodes go, this was a pretty good one:
PLAY BY PLAY
In 2043: The Chinese launch a probe to Venus, which evidently crashlands near the Gamma site. Some time after this, “We” launch two failed probes there as well. Around this same time, Donner gets back to earth from Mars, and has a vasectomy because he doesn’t want a wife, a family, or any of that. He embarks on a life of one-night stands.
Zoe’s getting an eagle tattoo on her back when Donner shows up, trying to talk her out of leaving. Jen quickly gets rid of him, because Zoe is trying to demark her life between “Pre Eagle” and “Post Eagle,” and doesn’t want Donner confusing things by being “Mid-Eagle” (As he puts it). AJ gets the job of taking Donner to the train station to wait for them all to come back, and he almost - but not quite - lets it slip about the abortion. He and Donner talk chicks. Eventually, Zoe turns up, and everyone says their goodbyes, she gets on her train and leaves. Donner is clearly lamenting this badly.
That night, Rollie and Jen - who’s evidently known Rollie’s crushing on her all along - end up making out his truck while Eve and Shaw have dinner together, and Eve says what’s probably the driving aesthetic decision behind this series as a whole, “It’s all so big, so grand - space - maybe we need to bring this down to size - home and family.” I think that’s what they’ve been trying to do with the show all along - bring the mysteries of the (fictional and real) universes down to a scale an average audience can ‘get.’
Donner decides to go to the same tattoo place Zoe went to, and gets a tattoo that ‘won’t show up in the locker room’ - it’s a bucket, on the bottom of his foot.
Zoe disregards the game plan, and heads towards the sounds of crying, which no one but her can hear. There’s no way she’ll make it - the suit is only rated for 20 minutes and 100 meters, and this thing is nearly three times that away. On the Antares, Paula assists with the faked landing footage ground control has requested, which is glitching slightly - “Anyone but me disturbed by that black rock that just popped up?” - but no one at large appears to notice.
Arnell writes Zoe off as dead, enraging AJ who screams at him. Goss - in his one pure ‘good guy’ moment - extols Zoe’s suicide run as ‘true courage’ and says “That’s what we aspire to.”
Knowing it’s a suicide run, everyone tries to talk an increasingly erratic Zoe back to the lander, but she won’t do it. Shaw is increasingly fearful of Donner’s mental state as well, fearing what loosing yet another woman he loves on yet another desolate rock. Zoe tells Donner - and everyone - that she’s hearing a baby’s cry, and eventually finds Gamma, which appears as a glowing infant. She picks it up, and says “I’ve got our baby” to Donner who…suddenly….gets….it, and looks like he just got punched in the stomach. Stunned, he calls AJ on earth, who confirms what happened. Donner, despite obvious pain at all this, shakes it off and attempts to figure out how to stay on Venus longer to buy Zoe some more time. They jiggle the handle to give the suit a couple extra minutes, but it fails just as she gets back to the lander. They’re able to retrieve her and the Gamma object, and lift off.
Back on the Antares, Zoe’s in a bad way, dehydrated, exhausted, lung damage, 3rd degree burns over half her body, “She should be dead” Evram says in no uncertain terms. Claire agrees on Earth, and they speculate that the ‘genome changes’ the crew have been going through have been to make them more survivable on this mission, “A little boost” to help them over the rough patches. Paula finally sees her miracle in its entirety: She came home from school, her mom’s boyfriend tried to molest her, she ran away, her dog got hit by a car, (Well, I called that) and then the molester-boyfriend gave the dog mouth-to-mouth to get it breathing again. (Well, I didn’t call that.)
Meanwhile, all of this is interspersed with the Antares crew wondering why the Objects keep trying to attract them and kill them off. Paula and Evram speculate that perhaps it’s like Job in the bible - he was tested by the devil to give up his faith in God. Maybe the Objects want the test to be as hard as possible to see if we’re up to the challenge.
Arnel Texts Trevor, the English reporter, to let him know all is not as it seems. Rollie goes to the hospital to face the girl he ran over. The police are waiting for him. Talking to Eve, Shaw voices his forebodings about the future.
In surgery, Zoe’s in a bad way. Donner kisses her on the lips, and she wakes up and smiles at him, though she’s still in a very bad way.
The end, forever and ever.
Before we begin, yes, I’m sorry, the show is dead. TV.Com reported that the show was actually cancelled a couple months ago, and the sets have been destroyed. This was an expensive production (Rumored budget of between $2 million and $3 million per episode), and though I have no idea how much the sets cost, they were obviously very high quality and expensive, so what this means is that the show isn’t coming back. Even if - somehow - a write in campaign worked at this point, they couldn’t simply re-start production. Rather they’d have to completely rebuild everything from scratch. For all intents and purposes that would mean continuing this show for another year would be every bit as expensive as it was to develop it in the first place, which is simply unaffordable. I mean, the reason it was a multinational production to begin with was the because the expense was too great for any one company involved to afford. So, I’m sorry my friends, but this is all we’re going to get.
Damn, was this a pulse-pounder, or what? I was on the edge of my seat through the whole thing. The intercutting between Zoe leaving in 2047 and her suicide run in 2052 was extremely well done. Also, I like that they didn’t resolve how she got back in the program. The clues are there - Arnel looses a leg, obviously - and she gets his slot. Still and all, however, I like that they ended the flashback with her leaving. There’s a nice poignancy in that, I suspect because the producers knew they likely weren’t coming back for another year. I like that. It captured my feelings at leaving these people behind perfectly. It’s similar to the funeral scene at the end of the penultimate episode of “Firefly,” (Which was the last episode they filmed).
It appeared that the girl Rollie ran over lost both of her lower legs, and it appeared she’s still in a coma. I'm a little fuzzy on his apparent arrest at the end - I mean, the ISA had already paid off the police, right? So why's he getting arrested again?
I really don’t know what we’re supposed to make of the child molester saving the dog’s life - what? He rapes kids, but he’s good with animals, so that’s OK? There’s a subtext there that I wasn’t getting, I guess. It’s interesting that Paula interpreted it as a miracle, however, because she’d completely edited that guy out of her memories of the incident. As Wassenfelder said, “Miracles are what we know with parts missing.” It would appear that Gamma gave this reconstituted memory to her.
What the hell is Wassenfelder’s job, anyway? He’s got no apparent duties at any point in the show, other than moving crates around, and he damn near killed Paula doing that…
It was interesting to watch Nadia’s increasing hysteria over Donner’s impending death. Despite all her insistence that their relationship is just a ‘sex buddy’ thing, she’s clearly in love with him. It’s interesting that no one seems to have noticed this before, since they’ve telegraphed it a bit. I mean, at least as much as Rollie’s crush on Jen. We’ve toyed with the idea of Dickensian names on this show before - Nadia Schilling was one I couldn’t get. It occurred to me while watching this that maybe it’s something like “Nadia” = “Not A” and “Schilling” could be “Shill” (one who sells stuff disingenuously), or maybe it’s just a phonetic gag for “Not a she” or “Not as he ling.” No idea what “Ling” would be, and I admit that’s one hell of a stretch. It could just as likely be a nod to Peter Schilling, who had that “Major Tom” song in the 80s.
When they recover Zoe at the end, they’re wearing hazmat suits rather than space suits. That got me to wonder: have we ever seen more than 2 space suits at a time? I feel like we have, but I can’t remember off the top of my head, and obviously, those kinds of things are expensive to make.
The Chinese lander ruins were interesting. Evidently, the Chinese know about the objects too, and evidently they’re not part of the ISA. It’s most likely an unmanned retrieval probe kind of dealie, but the dialog is a bit ambiguous, there’s a slight chance it might have been manned. Evidently, the US or ISA attempted some kind of automated retrieval program twice, with both missions being launched in secret from Canaveral. Canaveral, we’re told, is underwater, but evidently still in use for top-secret space missions, though this isn’t commonly known. Damn, but I would love to have known more about that! The use of “ours” is a bit ambiguous, it could mean “American” or “ISA.” Is there an American space program independent of the ISA? (Sort of like France maintains one independent of the ESA) We’ve not seen any Russians in the ISA, so is it kind of a generic western democracies space program? What happened to the older national and international programs?
We don’t get a really good look at the Earth from space in this series, but what glimpses we saw looked pretty much like the world as it is now, and not like this http://www.worlddreambank.org/D/DUBNORAM.JPG I think I would have noticed if Florida was missing. The show’s offhand mentions of environmental changes have been very inconsistent - we’re told the world is warmer, but in another episode Jen said the great barrier reef is above water, which would mean the world is in another ice age.
Goss didn’t know about the abortion. He did not seem happy with Eve glossing over her explanation of it.
Zoe abandoned the sled at some point, but we didn’t see it, and no one mentioned it.
It was interesting that Evram and Paula both agreed about the Job thing. In the Bible, Job looses everything except his nagging wife and his life, and is ultimately rewarded with twice as much as he lost when the trials began. I suppose we’re to take this to mean that the promise of the mission is much greater than the cost.
Ok, real science time: the lander, as shown, wouldn’t work. Last week we discussed the landing, and how it was derivative of the Apollo 1l LEMlanding on the moon, and utterly failed to take advantage of the local conditions on Venus that should have made the landing much, much easier. Today, we have the reverse problem: How do you get back in to orbit? In the show, they simply blast off like a LEM, and one cut later, we’re there. In reality it wouldn’t be so easy.
Since the earliest days of space flight, most EVA suits have a water or Tang supply that you can access through a nozzle on the inside of the helmet. Why didn’t Zoe’s have this? They keep talking about her dehydration, well that’s an easy fix - and we’ve been using that easy fix for nearly fifty years. Why aren’t they using it forty years from now?
Firstly, all things being equal, Venus has gravity that’s insignificantly lower than earth. Let’s assume, for sake of argument, that the crew compartment of the lander is about the size and weight of an Apollo capsule. It looks bigger, but, just to give us a reference point, let’s say it’s about the same . Now since the gravity on Venus is almost the same as on earth, it follows that it would take about as much energy to put a six-ton payload in orbit around Venus as it would on earth. It follows, then, that the lander would have to be about the same size as a Saturn 1B rocket - about 224 feet tall an about 22 feet wide.
Problem number two is the high temperature on Venus: In order to work in an atmosphere, the combustion temperature of a rocket must be higher than the ambient temperature outside. If it isn’t, then you don’t really have a rocket, you’ve got an incredibly inefficient refrigerator (As Fred Phol pointed out), and it just won’t work. So you need some super-high energy fuel if you’re going to do it that way.
Problem number three is that in the extremely high pressure, it would be like attempting to launch a rocket from half a mile down in the ocean, which means that (A) you’ve got to build a rocket that can stand the higher pressures - which means a bigger, heavier, sturdier rocket than you’d use on earth - and (B) vastly more atmospheric resistance, which means you’d need to use more fuel.
All of these factors conspire to mean you’d need a rocket that’s much larger than a Saturn 1B, though probably not as big as a Saturn V, to get back off the surface, if you’re going to use a rocket to do it. And keep in mind that you need to actually somehow LAND this big beastie on Venus all in one piece in the first place. So: bottom line, it’s not an insurmountable problem, but it certainly wouldn’t work the way they show it in this episode.
And in the end, well, this is the end. At least we got a bit of closure. We’ll never know what it all meant, or where they’re going from here, but at least we made it to the end of the chapter, and though we’ll never get another one, if you’re not going all the way to the end, this is as good a place as any to stop. It’s more of a finale than Cantebury Tales got, right? That’s got to be worth something. In the end, I think the show was a worthy experiment, and I like the way they dealt with their sprawling cast and I liked the now-and-then flashback style, which was similar to Lost, but at the same time completely different. Should I ever get to make my own show, I think I’ll steal it in some capacity.
I’m sad to see it end. How about the rest of you? Sound off in comments.
Why did Gamma give Paula the reconstituted memory of nearly getting raped as a kid?
Why can’t Jen see the Objects?
Why didn’t Wassenfelder hallucinate?
What the hell is the deal with Nadia’s hallucinations?
What are the objects? What do they want?
What is “The Big Prize” that they get for completing the mission?
What will happen to Rollie? Will his and Jen's marriage survive? Will Eve and Shaw's?
What happens next?
TO ALL OF YOU who’ve visited Republibot specifically because we’re the only American website bothering to cover this show, and treating it seriously, I’d like to thank you for your time, comments, assistance, and patronage. I’d like to welcome you to stick around, and continue to visit our site and be part of our little community, if you haven’t already gotten comfortable here and checked the place out. We’ve got a lot to offer, and we’d hate you to stop coming around simply because the show ended.
And though this show has ended, should any more information of note come up about it, we’ll still post it on the site, and, of course, if any of you find out anything interesting about it, please let us know. We’re interested in your theories as to what it’s all about, as well, and feel free to email me with ‘em, or post ‘em in comments.
Special thanks to Channel 131 and to Nwkeys01, who have been instrumental in allowing us to continue covering this show when it went off the air in the ‘states.
The final episode is online here http://www.ch131.com/defyinggravity113.htm