EPISODE REVIEW: Defying Gravity: “Solitary” (Episode 11)

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Our stint as the only American Webiste covering Defying Gravity continues! We’re doing this (A) because we like the show, and (B) as a service to fans who’ve been jerked around by a lack of network support and scheduling, and don’t feel like waiting around for six months to see the final episodes. We’re also hoping to engender discussion and support for Canadian viewers who are looking for info and observations about the show. If you’ve found this review, and you know people who like the show, please do tell your friends!

Before we get started, I’d like to give a shoutout to Defying Gravity (dot) com located here http://defyinggravity.wetpaint.com/ - this is the best fansite I’ve found dedicated soley to the show, and I’d recommend anyone who likes this series might wanna’ go there and take a look. They’re trying to get a face book petition going to bring DG back for a second season, and could use your support, if you’re of a mind to try that sort of thing, but even if you’re not, definitely check it out.

Getting to this episode: Yet another intermezzo in which little happens apart from character development, but it somehow works out far better than last week. (Can you have an intermezzo that doesn’t take place between two acts? I mean, you can’t really have two intermezzos back to back, can you? Oh well, no matter)

PLAY BY PLAY

2042:
“Walker” continues to live up his Dickensian name by being the first person to walk on Mars. His first words, “Red planet conquered, the warrior brought to his knees.” Presumably eyes roll all across earth, and ten years later these ‘first words’ are still regarded as something of a joke.

2047:
The Antares ascans (Astronaut Candidates) are forced to undergo sensory deprivation, presumably as part of their psychological evaluation. We’re told this is mandatory. Rollie, who’s already a flown astronaut you’ll recall, is the instructor in charge of the exercise. At this point, this batch of ascans consists of the Antares crew (And main cast) as well as future washouts, Claire and Arnell, who hasn’t lost his leg yet. AJ is conspicuously absent.

For the most part it goes well: Wassenfelder falls asleep in the sensory deprivation tank. Zoe, Evram, Claire, and Arnell have no problems, nor even any remarkable experiences in there. Paula has a vision of a miracle from her childhood, and is fine. Nadia says she’s fine and manages to plow through it, but afterwards we see her seated in a fetal ball in a shower, obviously terrified. Jen, meanwhile, screws the proverbial pooch and lasts only 42 seconds before she has Rollie haul her out. She was having visions of being lost in an airport as a very little girl. She goes and buttonholes Shaw, and takes him home for sex. Rollie calls and gets her in a later session, since they have to pass the tank, or wash out. She asks Shaw to help her get through it by being there, and he says he’ll try, but he doesn’t show. Rollie tells her that he did poorly his first time, but gives her a tongue twister to concentrate on, and if she can do that, she won’t have time for fear. She works on it, still plenty afraid.

Wassenfelder has heard that everyone is sex-crazy after a session in the tanks, and is trying utterly ineffectually to score, both with the female ascans and total strangers. Donner makes one of his trademark half concern/half hitting on plays on Zoe, and she insists that she’s on a date with Wassenfelder. They play darts, which she claims - stupidly - to love playing, but she’s terrible. Nadia shows up in a slinky dress and demands sex with Donner in the bathroom at the bar right now. He kinda’ blows her off to finish his game of darts, so Nadia takes the darts away from him, and throws the win. Claire, meanwhile, hits on Evram, but he turns her down because “He likes her a lot,” and he’s “Not the kind of guy she should get involved with.” Good for him!

Out of the tank, Jen thanks Rollie profusely, and he makes a play for her, but she brushes him off and goes to the bar. There, the English reporter guy makes a play for her, and she takes him up on it. They head home. Donner, meanwhile, gives Zoe some pointers on throwing darts: “You’re holding on too tight. Slow down, relax, and let the dart do the flying.” Donner and Nadia head home, in a relationship that just gets creepier and creepier.

The next day, Shaw tries to make it up to Jen by taking her some Chinese food, but she literally shuts the door in his face.

2052:
The Antares is in orbit around Venus. The landing is scheduled for the next day. Everyone is trying to deal with isolation in their own ways: The crew on the ship, the ground crew dealing with their distance from their families and lovers, and Rollie in jail, literally unable to contact anyone.

Zoe has been told to do nothing all day, relax, so she’ll be bright and shiny for the landing tomorrow. She’s not good at relaxing, so Donner tells her to work on some ‘first words’ that will hopefully be better than Walkers. She begins to obsess over having nothing to say.

Donner, meanwhile, is obsessive that the mission will not go the way it did on Mars, and will not leave the simulator, exhausting himself in various sim-landings that are far more difficult than anything they’re likely to encounter. He won’t let it go, he won’t let Zoe help, and he’s kind of a bastard to everyone around him.

Nadia hallucinates about her bearded doppelganger.

Jen tries to contact Rollie, but can’t get a hold of him - GC is issuing a cover-story.

Paula is contrite over her freakout, and wants to jump right back in to the routine of things, but ground control won’t let her. They sentence her to a psych session with Evram. The session centers on her ‘miracle’ - when she was a little girl, about 8 from the look of it - she came home from school, and her dog got out and was hit by a car, and was dead. She prayed really hard, and suddenly he was alive again. Evram questions her about this again and again, and it becomes apparent that there’s some details unconsciously missing from the story - how did the door get open? Was anyone home? How did the dead dog get from the middle of the road to the side of the road in Paula’s arms? Whenever he gets to one of these missing details, Paula gets more reserved. It also becomes apparent that Paula’s mom was never around. Ultimately, she stomps off. There’s clearly buried issues here.

Paula has another freakout, and ends up crying in Wassenfelders’ arms, eventually crying herself to sleep.

Back on earth, Goss manages to bail Rollie out of jail and cover up the story. Rollie, it seems, was very solidly DUI at the time. The girl survived, and is in a coma, but it’s unclear if she’ll live or whatever. Rollie is devastated by all this, and more than a little upset that he’s being let go and put back on the floor as if nothing happened. Claire, meanwhile, has discovered that the “Genome” of the crew is changing, and wants to warn them about it, but Goss won’t let her. She’s upset about this. Meanwhile, the English reporter dude manages to find someone at a pharmaceutical company who’s 99% sure the ’tainted batch of HALOs’ story is a lie, but they need to find someone inside the ISA to confirm this.

Back on the ship, Zoe tells Donner “You’re holding on too tight. Slow down, relax, and blah blah blah” and suddenly he’s able to stick the landing. He calls it a night, and gets back to his cabin to find Nadia there. She tries to play it off as being in the mood for love, but quickly reveals that she’s a mess.

The End.

OBSERVATIONS

I really liked how the physical separation was handled on earth in the flashbacks, while the metaphorical separation was handled in space. This was counter-intuitive, but I think it worked much better playing it this way. There’s something more poignant about being completely alone in a crowd than there is about being alone in solitude, and I think that gives it a bit of resonance. This hits its peak in the well-intercut sequence where Jen’s in the tank, reciting the tongue twister, and Rollie’s in jail reciting it, and Jen’s on the ship reciting it. I like how these events build on each other, and given the deliberately fractured narrative, they can even bounce off each other.

This episode got me thinking about Lost, which is unquestionably the best SF show in production today. Defying Gravity deserves some attention - if for no other reason, then because they’re the only other SF show that’s been able to make good use of the ’Lostback’ plot device Lost invented and used. (Many shows have tried and failed.) Some time back I joked that after Lost was done, it would be fun to take every episode apart, and edit the whole thing together chronologically, with all the flashbacks (“Lostbacks”) independent of their episodes and airing in their chronological order. You just know some OCD guy is gonna’ do that eventually, which, given the time travel involved, is gonna’ be mildly confusing.
I got to thinking that it would be fun - and really much easier - to do that with Defying Gravity: Have all the Mars sequences first, then the Ascan sequences in chronological order, and then the mission stuff. There’s no point to doing this, of course, and I actually really dig the way the producers have chosen to put this show together, but it would be interesting to see if things like Zoe quoting Donner would have the greater or lesser impact after several hours of intervening screen time. Just a thought, but not a very substantial one, I’ll be the first one to admit.

Donner must have done a hundred sim-landings by now. I got to wondering, shouldn’t there be a sim-liftoff? Given the surface conditions on Venus, Landing should be comparatively easy, and akin to, say, maneuvering a minisub (Venus’ atmospheric pressure at the surface is about the same as the ocean’s pressure half a mile down). Taking off, however, is much, much harder, since the atmosphere is so hot. Why is that a problem? Because - as Fred Phol one pointed out - the average temperature is hotter than the combustion temperature of many rocket fuels. Therefore, if you tried to use them, you don’t end up with a rocket at all, but rather an incredibly expensive and inefficient refrigerator. Indeed, as regular visitors to this site will recall, I’m kind of obsessed with Venus: I’ve given a LOT of thought as to how one could get back off the surface again, and I’ve only really come up with one reasonably efficient way (Small Nuclear Pulse Rocket). I can almost guran-damn-tee that’s not what they’ll be using on this show, but I’m interested to see what they come up with, or if they even address it. If they *do* intend to use a conventional rocket to get back to orbit, the lander will have to be freakin’ huge. Like bigger-than-a-Saturn V huge.

Nadia’s bearded double is slightly taller than she is. It’s been strongly suggested that she used to be a dude, and I’m thinking the evidence is stacking up in that direction. For instance, in tonight’s episode, we’re shown that she has excellent eye/hand coordination with regard to hitting a target. This is one of those things that, traditionally, men are much better at than women, owing mostly to our plumbing. (Without getting too graphic, we’re shooting from the hip, so to speak, from a very early age.) Women can, and do learn this eye/hand stuff, and can get very good at it, but in general - and I’m not being sexist here, this is just statistical - in general, they don’t tend to learn it, or learn it late in life, and as such never develop quite as well as guys do. If you ever wondered why girls, on the whole, “Throw like girls,” there you go: Toilet training, coupled with a preponderance of ‘action’ toys for little boys (Cars, tools, guns) versus a preponderance of passive toys for little girls (Dolls). The idea that Nadia is that good - implied that she’s better than Donner, who’s a pilot - suggests - again, without getting too explicit - that she was shooting from the hip at an early age.

I gotta’ say that I’m hoping this isn’t the case, but it’s seeming more and more like it is. Good God, poor Donner!

Halos are not only sold to prisons and Astroanuts, they’re also sold to catholic priests. That cracked me up. Reasonable, too.

Nadia calling Zoe a “Bitter Space Nun” cracked me up too, by the way.

I haven't mentioned the sets on this show in quite a while, but damn I love them! I particularly love the way they were filmed in this episode - the cinematography was better than usual.

So just out of curiosity, where is the ISO located? They never say, but several things on the wall in Major Tom's bar imply it's Texas, despite being way the hell too cold. Anyone got any ideas? Anyone know?

There’s something dark going on in Paula’s past. She talked about how her mom was never there, and in the last flashback, we could see a guy in his underwear coming out of the house. I’m suspecting sexual abuse. I really liked how they played the psych session. As a guy who’s been in analysis more than a few times myself, I thought it was done pretty well. I particularly was impressed by how Paula was increasingly reserved the more agitated she got, which I’ve seen happen (Not in me, but in others). I also liked how Evram maintained focus in the session, and told one of his own stories to help the transference along, and how he simply ignored her occasional insults.That played out as real, even if I think he was pushing a bit too hard to get at the obviously-suppressed memories. You don’t do that kind of thing all at once, and I have to point out that each person only gets so much enlightenment as they can stand - any more than that is dangerous for you. As we kind of saw, with Paula breaking down afterwards, much worse than her previous freakouts.

On the subject of Enlightenment, the Reporter said “The best crew to send in space would be Buddhist monks, but it sounds bloody boring,” and later on when talking to Claire, Eve said “This mission is all about faith, and not of the religious kind. I don’t know where I come down on ‘God’, but…” That’s interesting. There’s an undercurrent of ‘the changing of the age’ that pervades this show, and we still really don’t know what the ISA is hoping to accomplish. We know what they want to do, but we don’t know what’s supposed to come out of it, what they hope to gain by doing it. If it’s a physical, scientific, or economic goal, than ‘faith’ isn’t really called for, it’s simply a case of math and timing and whether or not the crew are up to the challenge, but given the importance Eve is placing on ‘faith’, it’s apparent that their goals are not something so immediate and mundane, but some larger, presumably less-predictable thing that may not come off, or may come off, but not be all they hope it is. It’s also interesting that whatever it is they believe in is *very close* to religion, since Eve herself makes a point of distinguishing the two. I conclude, then, that the unstated goal of the mission is neither scientific nor religious, but rather a sort of preternatural quasi-religious thing.

Damn, I hate that this show is dying. I’d love to know that that kind of change could be!

Claire rants about spending $10 trillion dollars to send 8 people “Across the galaxy.” That’s strictly speaking not even close to true - across the solar system, yes, across the galaxy, no. I’m assuming she was imprecise because she was upset, but calling this an ‘across the galaxy’ mission is like saying an ant walking across the shell of an egg is ‘on a voyage around the world.’

Getting back to the ‘change’ theme again, $10 Trillion is a LOT of money. It’s about as much as the US federal government spent in the entire decade of the ‘80s. Granted, there’s inflation 50 years in the future, but still - this is an international mission. Why so much funding? Is it an act of desperation? I’m beginning to suspect that the world is about to fall apart, but the symptoms are not advanced enough to be noticed by the general public. This mission could be humanity’s ‘last, best hope’ to avoid this, which would explain the no-holds-barred funding.

Uhm…so did Donner and Nadia have sex in the bathroom, or what? She’s hunting for bear when she comes in, and she’s very calm when they leave…

What exactly is a “Genome mutation?” That’s a bit too doubletalky for me to follow, but obviously there’s physical changes taking place among the crew, even if they haven’t really noticed ‘em yet.

Despite the fact that Jen’s bunny was born, she continues to deal with her problems by getting bitchier and bitchier, though not so bad as last week. At one point, she chides Zoe for wanting to speak Latin on the surface of Venus as her first words, then claims she doesn’t speak it, she took Mandarin, “You know, one of the useful languages?” How is this possible? Jen is a scientist! Every scientist I know (including my wife) and every medical person I know (Including my wife) took a year or two of Latin, and have a working knowledge of it. Most have some Greek, too. Why? Because Latin is the international scientific language. I mean, hell, Chinese scientist are functional in Latin, so are Russians, so are scientists who grew up speaking Xosa. What, has it been replaced by Esperanto in the future? Or Klingon? Or have academic standards fallen that much? Or is Jen just being bitchy again?

(That said, I’ll be the first person to admit that Latin taxonomy is frequently stupid as hell. The Latin name for a skunk, for instance, is “Musteloidea Mephitidae,” which literally means “The smelliest of the smelly.” Personally, I’d welcome a slightly more rational taxonomic system, but I doubt we’re going to get one, and I’m sure we’re not going to get one in the next 50 years.)

I have to mention that Jen looked pretty fine in her dive suit. Grrrrrrowllll!

I wonder how Claire and Arnell washed out? I wonder why Evram didn’t want Claire to get involved with him (And I certainly admire his gallant desire to protect her). More than that, I wonder what caused him to get over it. Evram is drinking again by the end of this episode, by the way. And where the hell is AJ?

There’s something odd about Rolie’s (Frankly painful) breakdown in the prison cell - he mentions “Zoe” and “her family.” Are they alluding to something we don’t know about yet involving Zoe, or am I just hearing this wrong.

In the end, a solid, good, enjoyable episode, a bit on the slow side, but I think it worked out much better than last week. It felt a lot like this was what they were going for last week, but didn’t get.

If you’d like to watch the episode, go here http://www.ch131.com/defyinggravity111.htm and if that doesn’t work, then go here and select it by name http://www.ch131.com/dgseason1.htm and thanks, as always, to nwkeys01 for finding this for us.

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