EPISODE REVIEW: Defying Gravity: “Natural Selection” (Episode 2)

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Another interesting aspect of this show is that it’s a truly international project, with the US, Canada, the BBC, and a German company all sharing the funding and contracts for the show. Theoretically, at least, this makes it rather hard to cancel, simply because there are international contracts to consider, and one or more of the partners may decide to go ahead with the story, even if, say, Germany, or the US back out. Just interesting. It may be that the way to save shows like Kings and Firefly in the future is to go international with them, and thereby make the paperwork surrounding them so difficult as to make it not worth the network’s time to kill it. “Fine, just let it run until the end of the season. Whatever.”

Whether or not that’s the case, this whole production looks and feels more confident than “Virtuality” did, as if they know they have some time to hook an audience. This relaxation, a de-compression that comes from knowing you have time to flesh things out - comes through on camera.

PLAY BY PLAY

2057 - Zoe is given her psych profile, and is convinced she blew it. She goes to a bar and gets drunk. Donner sees her, makes her for a desperate washout, and decides to use her depression to get lucky. He follows her in to the women’s bathroom and more-or-less picks a fight with her (it’s not exactly funny, but it’s awkward enough to have some humor in it), then pays her bar tab, gets insulted by her, and then they end up making out outside. They head to her motel, he informs her he’s had a vasectomy and they knock boots. The next morning, they argue again when she realizes he was taking advantage of her emotional state, though he points out she was nailing him as a way to get close to the space program. He is an astronaut, after all. The phone rings, and she made it through the screening process. She’s now a candidate. She dumps Donner then and there. This all takes place BEFORE the flashbacks from the previous episode.

Some time AFTER the flashbacks from the previous episode, Jen is trying to get Zoe to confess who it was that knocked her up, and talk her in to having an abortion. Zoe is still torn on the matter. They’re having swimming tests for the mission, it’s a simple pass-fail thing. Steve Wassenfelder goes in the water and sinks like a stone. Zoe dives in to save him, and has some difficulty. Donner jumps in to save her, but Zoe saves the day, and by watching the two of them bicker, Jen figures out who did what to who.

For whatever reason, Ted Shaw’s wife eve, wants Wassenfelder on the team, and Mike Goss reluctantly goes along with it.

2062 - Three Days After Leaving Earth Orbit. Everything is hunky-dory, except that Donner and Zoe are apparently having the same dream - the one where he’s looking at Ganesha on the atmospheric shield, and she goes outside naked. Neither of them mention it to each other, however. Back on Earth, Rollie has been assigned to “Helo Plot” duty, while Ajay, we’re told, will not be allowed to pass his psych evaluation.

Paula is interviewing various crewmembers for TV, and she talks to Jen about the experiments in Natural Selection that she’s been doing since they left earth. Essentially, she’s invitro fertilizing rabbit ovum, waiting about a day, extracting the genetic material, and then using said material to fertilize more rabbit ovum. The purpose is - over six years - to see how many mutations enter the rabbit’s DNA, since they’re away from earth and the familiar environment. Paula expresses some clichéd catholic disdain for this, and Jen displays some clichéd Canadian intolerance for same. Next up on the schedule is to test out the Venus Suit, a special suit designed for their landing on the Second Planet! Zoe will be taking it down.

Wassenfelder and Nadia, the hot German chick, debate why he’s on the mission. He doesn’t know the answer, he just ended up here. Meanwhile, Shaw is asking his wife why “It” chose him, and not Rollie. She says she doesn’t know, but that he needs to go to one of the cargo pods and ask “It” himself, since presumably “It” knows why it did that. “It” is called “Beta,” and it has been a source of consternation for the space agency “Since we found it.” Shaw goes to the cargo bay while Zoe is testing out the V-suit for leaks. The idea is to pressurize it in the airlock, while depressurizing the airlock itself. If the internal pressure goes down, they’ll know and be able to fix it. Nobody’s going outside. Remembering his dream, Donner tethers Zoe, just to be on the safe side.

Before Shaw can push the button to open the cargo pod that “It/Beta” lives in, a malfunction hits, and the airlock opens. Zoe gets sucked outside, but fortunately she’s tethered. However, her suit definitely is leaking. Donner suits up and depressurizes a portion of the ship so he can get in the airlock, then starts hauling Zoe back in. The leak is getting worse, however, and she’s becoming delirious and getting nitrogen narcosis. Wassenfelder suggests a big loogie might plug or at least slow the leak at this pressure, so Zoe hawks one, and it buys them enough time to get her back in the ship and in to a hyperbaric chamber.

In Narration, Donner reflects on how the closest thing to natural selection on the ship is those rabbit ovum, and that ain’t natural at all, but everything else has been manipulated since day one by fate, chance, God, selfish desires, whatever. Of course he doesn’t know it, but Beta selected the crew, so he’s more on the money than he realizes.

That resolved, Shaw goes to talk to Beta, and opens the hatch to find himself on the surface of Mars without a suit.

TO BE CONTINUED…

OBSERVATIONS

No real sophomore slump here. The second episode was as good as the first, though the ‘reeling in Zoe’ scene went on a bit too long

So “It” is “Beta.” Who or what is Beta, anyway? An alien, obviously, found somehow by the ISA (“International Space Agency”) The official purpose of this mission is to do the 7-planet trailblazer thing, of course, but increasingly obviously that’s all just a cover for the secret purpose of the mission that involves Beta in some way. Are they taking him back to his spaceship? Are they taking him to Saturn so that someone will give him a short bit of metal with two holes in it so he can fix his ship and return to Tralfalmadore? What kind of name is “Beta” anyway? What happened to “Alpha?” Dead?

Whatever the secret mission is, only the Mission Commanders - Rollie and now Shaw - were told about it. Rollie alluded to it when he said goodbye to his wife in the previous episode, “I would have been there with you when it…never mind.” The rest of the crew are to be told when they hit Venus.

Travel time from Earth to Venus for this mission is 43 days, which is pretty darn fast, really. Generally it takes about 4 months for probes from earth to get there. I could probably look up the relative positions in Earth and Venus in 2063 and figure out their distances and hence work out the average speed of the ship, but I’m far too lazy to do that.

The Engines were shown firing all through this episode. In real spacecraft, the engines only fire during acceleration, deceleration, and course corrections. This could be an example of bad science, or it could be that they’re using Ion engines, which can fire continually as they use next-to-no fuel. This is unlikely, however, as Ion engines also give next to no thrust - to get from LEO to the halfway point between earth and the Moon takes about 18 months by Ion. More than likely, it’s some nonexistent mojotech drive. However, this is significant, since if they’re under constant acceleration, they can not be weightless. Acceleration and Gravity are indistinguishable in these kinds of circumstances. They should all be -at least slightly - drawn towards the stern of the ship.

When Zoe got sucked out, the recoil from hitting the end of her tether should have yo-yoed her back to the ship, or at least closer to it. Instead, she’s show floating dead in space relative to the Antares. Furthermore, if the engines are firing, she, too, should have been drawn back towards the engines, like a string hanging out the window of a moving car. (Though obviously not because of wind)

There is no lag time in video communications with Earth, but they’re obviously already farther away than the moon, so there should be a second or two lag at least.

I presume “Beta” is the reason Zoe and Donner are having the same vaguely prescient dreams? I presume Beta also caused the malfunction for his own purposes.

I can not tell you how excited I am that they’re going to Venus. Mars always gets all the love, but Venus is closer, easier to get to, and potentially a much better home for humanity than the red planet is http://www.republibot.com/content/mars-or-venus-which-better-home-humani... but it always tends to get overlooked in SF. The Venus Suit is essentially the equivalent of a “JIM” suit, a kind of hard suit used for extremely deep dives http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_suit Indeed, if we ever get to Venus, we will need things like this. I wonder how long it’ll take them to get to Venus, in terms of Episodes. Is that the Season Finale? The Mid-season cliffhanger? What?

So Rollie, Mike, and Eve are our “Helo” plot team. Rollie is clearly the dominant character here, and in demeanor he reminds me a bit of Helo, so there you go. In any event, he’s the one beloved of all who got left behind, and you *can* have Helo plots with more than one character (Agent Ellison from T2.5, along with Shirley Manson from Garbage and John Henry, for example).

Still liking the flashbacks, though there wasn’t too much mystery that Donner was the father, now was there? Since Zoe’s been having hallucinations of a baby crying, and she’s still on the mission, we’re obviously being led to believe that she had an abortion, but you know what? I think that’s too easy. That’s the rope-a-dope, I think we’re being led to believe that so that when we find out what really happened, it’ll shock us. I personally don’t think she had one. Why not? Well, because she’s being set up as both likeable and smart, and I think it would adversely affect the character in the public’s eyes. This is not Maude, after all. Plus, as I said, I think that’s too easy. I think Zoe found some third option. What could this third option be? I dunno. It’s the future. Maybe she had the baby removed and cryogenically preserved for later re-insertion. Maybe she simply had the baby transferred to another woman’s womb. It’s the future, after all. Just because we can’t do that sort of thing today doesn’t mean it won’t be possible in fifty years. And it would make life much easier for everyone if it was.

Curiously, Jen begins to show some attachment to her fertilized rabbit embryos and some remorse at destroying them in the end. Again, while I have no doubt this show will take a guardedly pro-choice stance, part of the backstory here seems to be that Abortion has become illegal again, and I can’t help but wonder what circumstances led to that. It would be a really interesting plot element if - as in the new Battlestar Galactica - there was a very clear and present reason to make it illegal. More than likely, though, it’s just an attempt to use the future as a liberal cautionary tale.

In any event, however, the show has thus far been really good. I enjoyed it. The acting is nice, the various story arcs are developing well, the characters are good. They’re freakin’ goin’ to Venus, and nobody does that. I’m happy with it. I’m eagerly looking forward to tuning in again next week. The show is much, much better than I expected, even if it is a soap, it’s not nearly so girly as the wags led us to believe, and I’m officially on board, at least for a while. I recommend checking it out. It’s sort of like Virtuality would have been like, were that pilot not irretrievably annoying and stupid.

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