Season 1, Episode 11
Date of airing: October 9, 2009 (Space)
The writers knew how to keep themselves close to one of the targets of the show’s journey through the solar system. Antares is already in orbit of Venus, and if the show would have been renewed for a second season, I can imagine Antares would have been in orbit of Venus for additional episodes, simply because Venus is the first target of the crew, the first target of the mission, and the first real effort to bring some solar system science into the show, for the writers to turn the narrative into an educational hour (or hours) about Venus. If I had been part of the writers’ room of DEFYING GRAVITY, I would have pitched that science lesson to James Parriott and the producers, and maybe the Venus landing could have turned the show from a somewhat esoteric science-fiction soap opera to a science-fiction drama with scientific elements. DEFYING GRAVITY is already surprisingly grounded for a science-fiction show, has a few elements of hard science in it, but with me in the writers’ room, I would have expanded on the hard science. And going hard on the science during planetary orbits and storytelling would make for a highlight of the show’s season, whenever Antares is in orbit. Even more so after I’ve read that if and when the show had gotten to Mars, most of the season would have been set in orbit or on the planet.
This episode was essentially a teaser of things to come. Antares is in Venus orbit, the preparation for the Venus landing has been ongoing, and the characters are on edge, both emotionally, and probably even physically, when you take a look at Donner during the simulations, and how he pretty much had two strains of sweat rolling down the side of his face, when Zoe joined him in the lander. Nobody of us can’t even imagine how freaking hard it must be for a pilot to steer the plane or a spaceship towards its target – it makes me wonder how much salty fluids Neil Armstrong lost during the Gemini 8 mission, let alone his decision to fly over that one crater of the Moon, because the perfect landing spot for Apollo 11 was on the outskirts of said crater. Those scenes in FIRST MAN were killer, and I wouldn’t mind seeing similar scenes like that on DEFYING GRAVITY. Well, there is at least one episode to showcase Donner’s piloting skills, and how close he lands on target, or how far off he comes.
And I loved those preparation moments of the Venus landing, since it gave the characters time to develop their own arcs. For once in her life, Nadia was not the hardcore woman we came to love and appreciate. No, she broke down in the shower after the sensory deprivation test, and she was terrified on Antares, because of what (who) she saw, and how easy it is for Donner and Zoe to get lost on Venus, all while she still hasn’t gotten any answers about what the fractal objects want from her. After eleven episodes, it’s quite the timing for Nadia to become a real character in this show and develop a field of emotions, making her more of a relatable character – at least for the women viewers of the show, who maybe might not have appreciated Nadia’s quite masculine behavior during the first batch of episodes. But how am I supposed to know what women were thinking of a particular character in a specific science-fiction show not more than three million people have watched or can remember?
Because of all the preparations for the Venus landing, there was some extra time left for the flashbacks to five years ago, which developed some steam after not being purposely followed up on during the previous two episodes. Jen had an entire story in here, Wassenfelder went through his comedic moments, Zoe and Donner had a quiet moment of friendship and partnership that doesn’t need to end in sex, and while Nadia got her first real share of character depth, the relationships of Jen and Rollie, as well as Evram and Claire, were teased upon, in addition to Evram’s alcoholism being depicted for the first time here. The question still remains though, whether Evram started drinking around this time, during the first year of training, or if he was already addicted to the bottle way before that, and if it started shortly after he couldn’t save the girl in the rubble. Judging by how quickly Evram got away from Claire during the final moments of the episode, it can be said that he was already a full-blown alcoholic here, making me wonder why the ISO never saw that coming. I guess Evram went dry for as long as it took for blood tests to make him a viable candidate? But then he wasn’t really an alcoholic back then, was he…
Paula’s back story was also given a lot of spotlight, and by now it’s really obvious (thanks to Evram’s out-loud thinking) that something is still hidden within Paula’s mind, although focus has to be given to Evram’s realization that Paula isn’t hiding another truth, she has been repressing it. Which means there is a whole lot of emotional Paula coming up, when she learns what really happened to her, and what preceded her miracle with Hector. It might be predictable where the story goes from here, but I am appreciative towards how she is reacting, and where she goes to for consolidation, when she couldn’t hold back her emotions. Not that I am a big Paula/Wassenfelder shipper, but Paula finding solace with Wassenfelder makes him a much better character, and it would develop him towards becoming a more important figure on the Antares – if not for the sake of the mission, then maybe for the sake of one or two characters.
Best part of the episode: Step by step, the writers paint a picture of what Earth in the 2050s was really like. Abortion most likely illegal, because Zoe had to sneak around to get the pill, and lets not forget the whole secrecy thing, when she had the abortion. And during this episode, Wassenfelder mentioned sleeping “through World War Four”, and Rollie was scared to land for a guaranteed two and a half decades in jail because of vehicular manslaughter. The episode “Bacon” also had a gunshot victim coming in, with the doctors proclaiming they haven’t had one in a while. The Antares mission is the sole focus of the show, but with each episode, there is a tiny bit of what Earth is like, and it’s an interesting way to do some world-building.
Worst part of the episode: Ted was a crappy boyfriend in this episode, leaving Jen out to dry to take care of herself during the sensory deprivation test. How can he disrespect an attractive woman like Jen and not take care of her emotional needs, let alone not realize that she has emotional needs?
Weirdest part of the episode: No one took in Wassenfelder during his life and told him that his sexism and misogyny was showing? It’s a good thing Zoe was there to tell him off, but no one else was?
Player of the episode: Nadia, but not because of her back story delivery, or the fact that she was terrified. But when she was at the control panel while Donner repeated the simulation over and over, failing over and over, she kept her cool, was not annoyed, and didn’t tell him to just quit it and move on. She was as professional as Donner was wanting to ace the simulation. Then again, the scene wasn’t much about Nadia, right?