Season 1, Episode 10
Date of airing: October 2, 2009 (Space)
When I almost start crying at the end of the tenth episode of a television drama, does it mean I really love the show, that I am connected to the characters, and that I am invested in the events unfolding on the small screen? Or is it just because the editing of the episode was splendid, and the music happened to hit the right marks when it comes to emotional manipulation? I’m pretty sure the final scene with Sharon’s “The sky is red, Donner” would have been less emotional with the slow guitar song, but it was accompanied by an acoustic song with an emotional punch in it (is it obvious that I am too lazy to google what song was played?), and the scene itself was delivered with an emotional punch. Knowing that DEFYING GRAVITY was a show that crashed and burned with audiences hurts even more now, especially after this episode, which managed to get me involved more with the characters, all while those characters live crazy lives right now. A lot has changed since the revelation in the previous episode, and it shows in the narrative: Jen uncouples herself from everyone, Arnel is falling apart like a house of cards over the sacrifice he made during training, Paula is seeing the devil in disguise, Rollie has probably killed a woman, Nadia’s don’t-care attitude is being shattered by the fact that the universe doesn’t care about giving her answers to the many questions she has (how about them apples, Nadia?), and in the meantime, the suits at the ISO mission control are about to fear the inevitable leak of Beta to the public.
And the latter was only one of the stories being introduced in this episode, which could have enriched future seasons, if they would have ever existed. Granted, Arnel’s insecurity about what happened to him, and whether Trevor successfully gets the big Antares secret out of him, has already been part of the narrative in the previous episode, but this hour made it more obvious than ever. Not only was it shown what exactly Arnel sacrified, and why he had to sanctify his leg, when he was never even supposed to be on the mission in the first place, but his get-together with Claire, Ajay and Rollie showed that he might not be the only one currently thinking negatively about the Antares mission, or how it will change everything for the worse. Rollie has already sort of lost his wife to all that, Ajay is probably still in the middle of finding his place and fate with the ground control crew (after all, he should be equally disappointed and angry like Arnel, since they both never had a shot at being part of the mission), and Claire is carrying the weight between the ones at ISO who run the mission, and those on the floor of mission control, essentially carrying twice the weight to keep an eye on the mission, while also keeping the secrets she still has to keep, even though mission control knows about Beta already (but they will never know everything, right?). Ten episodes into the show, and the characters are being tortured with a changing environment, a world that is different now.
I found it intriguing that this episode decided to forego the flashbacks from five years ago, and instead went even further back in time, straight to the failed Mars mission ten years ago. And it was not just intriguing, as it was also a perfect opportunity to enrich that back story of the show after the Beta reveal in the previous episode. Back then Donner already asked himself and Eve that the failed Mars mission was about picking up Alpha, and back then the viewer might have realized already that the mission failed, because Donner wasn’t the one at Sharon’s side. The way this show has treated fate so far, it seems obvious that Zoe and Donner are the central couple of the universe, and that the fractal objects want them to run the show and no one else. It’s why the Mars mission failed according to Donner, and it’s what the viewers learned with this episode. Hence Paula’s crash in the Venus lander, just to show that she was indeed never intended to fly the lander – she was sick when the first test of the Venus lander was scheduled with Zoe, and Zoe tested the lander with Donner. Paula lost her thumb, just to make sure she won’t be in full and complete health by the time the Venus landing comes around, simply because Beta and Gamma wanted Zoe and Donner. In a way, it wanted Donner with the love of his life by his side, making me wonder whether Zoe was “fated” into the ISO program, simply because Donner needed another love of his life. Does it mean Zoe was always destined to be with Donner, after Sharon was left behind on Mars? Did Zoe’s life change completely after that failed Mars mission? Did something tell her to go for ISO and the Antares mission after the failure of the Mars mission? Does Beta’s reach go that far?
Besides all that, seeing Sharon having hallucinations, without fully seeing or hearing them, looked interesting as well. After ten episodes, we finally get to see what it looked like for Wassenfelder and Jen up there, who did not have had a hallucination, and who had to witness their colleagues and friends going nuts while experiencing hallucinations. For the first time in the show we got to see what it’s like to witness an astronaut colleague potentially going crazy through hallucinations. Still, the writers couldn’t hold back here and had Donner know what Sharon probably saw and heard back then. Who knows, maybe she did tell him, but maybe he just deduced it all, now that he knows what hallucinations around the fractal objects are all about.
Meanwhile, Jen, Paula and Nadia went through their own emotional minefield, with each believing in a different way why they think that they are unworthy of the mission, or even see Beta as a threat to their jobs or livelihoods. I especially appreciated that Jen was put front and center during this episode, as she has always been sort of the background star of the show, only being put to the front, when the scene needed an attractive woman in her 30s, or when the viewers needed to be reminded that there are two married people on the Antares, and both their spouses have been left behind on Earth. And Paula specifically taking the devil’s word in her mouth could also show that the writers were very much interested in depicting the religious side of the journey through the solar system. Now that we’re all wondering whether the fractal objects are God or not, it’s only fair to have one of the main characters carry the position of a believer.
Best part of the episode: The flashbacks from five years ago were replaced by the Mars flashbacks, and I didn’t even miss what was not going on five years ago. In fact, this is the second episode in a row, during which the flashbacks from five years ago didn’t add anything to the character arcs. That makes you think whether the flashbacks were really necessary to begin with. And they were.
Worst part of the episode: Nadia’s change of heart in piloting the ship after she came to learn about the objects came out of nowhere, and didn’t really fit with the nature of her character. Okay, maybe her “fuck ‘em and street ‘em” attitude is also being accompanied by a fussy attitude, but she kind of went on strike without asking the more specific questions, and then went back to work without her mind ever being radically changed.
Weirdest part of the episode: Wassenfelder wins this award, because I have no idea what’s going through the kid’s mind right now. Maybe he can finally deliver something to this mission, how that his theoretical physics and mathematics come to play, but he built a structure and he didn’t even explain it. Did the writers know what the straws and dental floss with some tomatoes were going to be in this episode?
Player of the episode: Lana Gilchrist is crush material. She has been given a pretty minor role in this show, but when she was also given a back story to her character, she delivers. Besides, she is kind of my type, so there is that. I am wondering whether she would have continued to be part of the show, if it had been renewed past the first season, as her Mars story might have not been finished with Donner and Ted’s liftoff ten years ago.