Season 1, Episode 6
Date of airing: August 28, 2009 (CTV), August 30, 2009 (ABC)
Nielsen ratings information: 2.53 million viewers, 0.9/2 with Adults 18-49, 1.7/3 in Households
When you’re able to play with the intercutting of flashback and present-timeline scenes, then you may have made it as a writer and director, especially when the intercutting seamlessly brings the two timelines together, as it was always destined to be. The operations on the gunshot victim five years ago and Paula today was close to splendid, with both stories sharing their similarities, and having characters on opposite ends in each timeline. Just think about where Evram and Donner stood in the OR, watching the inexperienced and scared doctor operate on the gunshot victim, and compare it to where Evram and Donner stood while operating on Paula – two situations eerily similar (replace the gunshot wounds with an abdominal injury), but Donner and Evram changed places. Evram was the one pushing for the gunshot victim’s sake in the flashbacks, Donner was pushing for Paula’s sake in the present timeline. Evram was now the scared doctor he pushed aside five years ago. Donner was the one actively pursuing the save of Paula’s life, which is what Evram did five years ago with the gunshot victim. So many similarities, perfectly depicted by constantly changing back and forth between the two timelines.
It’s what made the episode so damn impressive. Well, that and other circumstances, proving once more that DEFYING GRAVITY is a different show than you might expect. It already started off with the realization that the episode’s major plot didn’t kick in until 13 minutes in. What every other show would have used to end the teaser with, DEFYING GRAVITY used to end the first act with, so the characters had enough time to be placed in both timelines during the episode, to make the middle part of the hour more gruesome for the characters, and to have the moral of the story be as heavy as possible for all the characters involved. And in the meantime, you are allowed to start wondering whether or not Paula was destined to lose her thumb, and whether it was always planned that she could never pilot the Venus lander.
Think of it this way: Every time Venus was the topic within the narrative, it was all about Zoe and Donner. It was Zoe and Donner who tested the Venus suit and found the leak. It was Zoe and Donner who checked the landing sequence in the Venus lander, because Paula happened to be sick that day. It was Zoe and Donner connecting over Zoe’s near-death experience in space, when the Venus suit leak almost killed her. It was Zoe and Donner who both realized at the same time that the Venus lander was active and mission control changed the code. And because Beta happens to defy how the mission is supposed to go, you can’t help yourself thinking that Zoe and Donner were destined to be part of the Venus mission, and not Paula. Especially now that Paula lost her thumb, because for some reason the hatch closed during the accident, which was the reason she lost her thumb in the first place. Like the hatch mysteriously opened when Zoe was blown out of the airlock, leading to the discovery of the leak in the Venus suit, another hatch mysteriously closes, cuts off Paula’s arm, and seriously threatens her involvement in the Venus mission. Beta wants Zoe and Donner on Venus. Beta has been manipulating the mission more directly during this episode. Beta is about to be revealed to the characters.
And I don’t just say that because of Paula’s accident, but also because of Evram’s “full blown hallucination” speech at the end. He has come to realize that things aren’t normal, and he is talking about it to two people who also had hallucinations – and Ted even knows about Beta already, which means Ted is even more under pressure to reveal the biggest and more mysterious secrets of the Antares mission. Before Evram told Ted what happened during the emergency operation, Ted simply could have been angry that a sickness of one of his crewmates almost killed another one of his crewmates. After Evram told him about his hallucinations though, things seem to be connecting in Ted’s head. And all that’s missing is just another mistake by any one of the astronauts for Ted to blow up, or for any of the others to realize that something is seriously wrong about this mission.
In a way, this episode did quite a lot to advance the ongoing mystery arc of DEFYING GRAVITY, and it’s surprising that the writers managed to do it this passively. Beta was never directly mentioned during this episode, and no one would even consider Paula being pushed away from the Venus mission on purpose, but here we are, connecting dots. This episode could almost be a prime example of how to advance the major premise of your genre television show.
Meanwhile, the episode did never forget about its characters. Evram was front and center, due to his involvement in both timelines, but Zoe wasn’t forgotten either, as she advanced her own life and took that pill, teasing the fact that abortion is illegal in the future, and that it’s also pretty easy to keep it hidden from everybody, who might be able to read a patient’s chart. Special attention has to be put on Zoe and Dr. Winkler still keeping contact five years later. Maybe the two just became friends after that fateful day in the ER, but maybe both women were vicariously living through each other, with Zoe learning what motherhood can be like through Dr. Winkler’s eyes, while the ER physician sees and feels the experience of being an astronaut in space. Both women still yearn for that other life they could have had, and one might wonder if it could distract both of them. Mostly Zoe, because she is a character on this show, and Dr. Winkler is only a one-episode guest character, but still…
And let’s not forget Jen, who slowly but surely seems to disconnect from her friends and family. Her continued rabbit experiment has already alienated her from the rules of the mission and science, as well as put a damper into her marriage with the ever-so-distant Rollie. Now that she also created a conflict with Zoe over the rabbit baby, Jen might inadvertently create more distance than she was hoping for. She said she created the rabbit to feel less lonely, but will it make her more lonely, because of the rules and procedure she decided to break, making her less trusting to her crew members?
Best part of the episode: The fact that the operations went full in on blood. Usually those kind of scenes are reserved for shows like ER, but DEFYING GRAVITY went there and didn’t stop, creating an extra level of realism for the show.
Worst part of the episode: I didn’t get the story of the drug addict, and why Wassenfelder was connecting with him. It’s not particularly a bad thing to have put into this episode, and why I get that the guy’s death connected Wassenfelder and Paula for a second, while five years later the two connect over an entirely different matter, spending half of their story with this weird dude seemed like a waste.
Weirdest part of the episode: Does Nadia love or hate Wassenfelder? Again she was wondering out loud why he is on the mission, and again she seems to be happy that he managed to do something good. She had a happy look when Zoe was saved with Wassenfelder’s spit idea four episodes ago, and now she seems happy that Wassenfelder found a thumb. I’m confused.
Player of the episode: Whoever had the idea to put a little more liquid into Ron Livingston’s mouth, when his character was puking in the distance. Those weren’t just drops, it almost looked like a real puking deal. And another layer of realism was put into this episode.