Part 8 of 12
Date of airing: April 26, 1998 (HBO)
This was the first chapter of the show that didn’t feel like it was just ripped out of the history books, with the writers attempting to create one factoid after another, turning this miniseries into a scripted documentary with A and B-list actors from television and film. This was a chapter of the series that took part of the history and made it their own — or at least it’s what I would say, because I can’t quite imagine that the rivalry between Emmett Seaborn and Brett Hutchins was taken from history books, let alone do I not know whether or not those two characters really existed or if they were amalgamated from various real-life personalities who reported on the Apollo 13 mission during the fateful week in April of 1970. And since the Apollo 13 mission has already been depicted in great visuals only a couple of years prior to the production of this episode, the writers of FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON essentially had to find a way to get through this premise of their show without being repetitive. Depicting the mission from the point of view of the press and reporters was a great idea, and the tension between Emmett and Brett brought something to the show it didn’t have previously — actual tension between characters which you could have cut with a knife it was this dramatic. Besides that, this episode is not just about the Apollo 13 mission from the point of view of the reporters, but it’s also a story about two reporters on opposite ends of the journalism spectrum. One just wants to speak the truth and give the viewers what they need to hear, the other is out for emotionally manipulative and sensationalist pieces, void of depth and science, because that’s what the reporter thinks the viewers want to see and hear. In a way, it’s a story about Emmett who is stuck in the old world of reporting, and Brett who has found out how to get the viewers and more stories to report, because he doesn’t care about the rules.
I even felt a little emotional by the end, when Emmett realized that his network isn’t interested in him any longer, and that Brett’s pushy ways have made it to television. You can watch this episode during the “fake news” narrative one Orange Hitler Donald Trump has been pushing since 2016, and you will realize there are quite a few similarities of how certain groups of reporters and journalists get into action when they hear a certain story happening. And you get to realize that the reporters who follow the rules are punished for doing so, because when you follow the rules, you also don’t get the hooks the viewers are apparently interested in. And it’s understandable, too. Emmett was talking with science and tech words all this time, even if he tried to keep it as easily understandable as possible for his audience, but it’s an obvious fact that the network wasn’t interested in it, and that they preferred Brett’s way of climbing onto a tree and secretly filming the Lovell family (which is freaking creepy, by the way — NASA should have had every right to ice Brett out of the press room), because apparently that is the bigger story. It’s terrible to see news television behave that way, and now I’m learning it was as terrible back then as it is now, as the viewers aren’t even given the opportunity to face the complex vocabulary, which means the most truth. Folks, there is a reason shows like ER and THE WEST WING were a ratings success with their complex vocabulary and sheer focus on medicine and politics — which isn’t a field the average American television viewer is known to possess knowledge of. On the other hand, maybe these shows were a success, because of a person named John Wells, who just happens to be a great writer and producer.
At the end of the day, there isn’t much else to write about it, with the exception of me wondering how much of the radio chatter between the crew of Apollo 13 and mission control in Houston was the real deal, and how much was rerecorded with a cast of actors. The chatter sounded way too cleaned up to be real, so I figured for the sake of FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON being a scripted television drama, everything was essentially made for the series, with the exception of some pictures and video here and there (I mean, the live images of Neil Armstrong on the moon are legendary and part of history now, you can’t fake them or remake it to look a little better). But yeah, as exciting as this episode was, due to the different angle of how the Apollo 13 mission was depicted, there wasn’t much of a story here at all. You had the characters, you saw them tackle the story each in their own way, and you realized they were on opposite ends of the spectrum after the successful splashdown. Slightly dramatic, and definitely interesting, but due to the nature of FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON being more of a docu-fiction series, it’s almost certain that nothing this episode delivered in the way of character depth will be meaningful for future episodes.