EPISODE REVIEW: Defying Gravity: “Rubicon” (Episode 5)

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The show has been steadily getting better. I know some people have criticized the show as it tends towards melodrama more than SF, but the fact of the matter is that they’re living on a space ship, and they’ve got a lot of time to kill. Whether you want it or not, you’re going to get a lot of melodramatic crap, just ask anyone who’s ever lived in a Co-Ed dorm. This week in particular, the scale tilts in favor of the soap opera stuff, rather than the more traditional skiffy stuff, but truth be told, I actually kind of liked it. We learn a lot more about the characters than we knew last week, the dynamics between them are building, and this felt like a nice intermezzo between the initial batch and whatever’s coming next.


Shaw and Jen are dating, more or less openly it seems. The Antares cadets get their comparative rankings to see who’s in the top of the program and who isn’t, and we’re reminded that there’s more than just 8 cadets, there’s a whole slew of ‘em in addition to the ones we’re following. While this has always been the case, we really haven’t seen the others since the episode where Wassenfelder almost drowned. Our main characters don’t do well. Jen places high, but Zoe is 28th on the ranking, and Wassenfelder is dead last. Shaw and Donner come in 12th and 13th respectively. They realize that Goss is screwing with the results, and go to confront him. “I’ve been on Mars.”

“Yes, I know, I was there.”
“No, you were in the Zeus giving orders, I was actually on Mars, he was on Mars” [Points at Shaw.] “Now, I might be willing to tolerate second on that ranking because Ted Shaw is a hell of an astronaut, but there is no way in hell I’m thirteenth.”

Goss admits he’s handicapping them because he doesn’t want them on the mission, he doesn’t even want them connected to it. Too much baggage, he says, looking at Donner’s baseball. They leave. Eve, who was on hand for this, senses, something is wrong here, and pokes in to it. Donner heads back to his class, obviously upset, and can’t find the right materials. Finally, after flailing around looking for schematics for a while, he freaks out and hurls a baseball at the back of the room and storms out.

Zoe, meanwhile, is dejected about her position in the ranking, and contemplates leaving the program entirely, having the baby, and teaching high school geology or something lame like that. Jen keeps pushing her to have an abortion, and reluctantly she meets with a doctor. This is done on the sly, because, of course, abortion is illegal in 2047. He tells her that in Europe, only one woman in a thousand has a negative reaction to the procedure, but doesn’t actually say what the procedure is. She tells him she isn’t sure she wants to go ahead, he says ‘call me if you want to,’ and leaves.

While pondering what to do, Zoe’s mom shows up, just a shambling, alcoholic mess of a woman, railing on about astrology and her husband leaving her for a young lab assistant and blah blah blah. Zoe is frustrated by this, but her mom continues to auntie mame about the place with her outrageously bad plastic surgery and her outlandishly large nose and her entirely-too-young-for-her haircut. She’s a mess. She insists Zoe take her to Major Toms, so she does, and immediately embarrasses her daughter by introducing herself a s a friend and trying to do tarot readings in public. Zoe gets pissed and leaves.

Donner comes to the bar, and Zoe’s mom recognizes him. They get to talking and she gives him a tarot reading and talks to him about being haunted by his past. Then her husband calls and she leaves. Evram comes in and gives Donner back his baseball. Donner thanks him, and Evram says there’s a rumor that there were two astronauts dating against the rules. A few days before their mission, they went to a baseball game and the guy caught the ball, gave it to the girl. She took it with them to mars, and she didn’t make it back, and now the guy can’t bring himself to let go of it. Of course, that’s just the rumor. I might be wrong about it.
“You are. She caught the ball, not me.”

Eve, meanwhile, goes to inspect the Mars Mission records, and finds that the official video has been modified to remove Mike Goss panicking and ordering Shaw and Donner to leave the others behind.

Rollie makes a badly fumbled pass at Jen, and she apologetically blows him off. He says it wasn’t a pass, he just wants to talk about cyanobacteria, which she wrote a paper on, and she apologizes. They head to the bar and talk about it all friendly like. Shaw comes to pick her up, and the two of them leave to have sex or whatever, and as soon as they’re gone, Rollie’s face falls. He’s crushing on her bigtime.

Donner goes to see his dead girlfriend’s mother, who clearly doesn’t want to see him. He tells her that he stole the baseball from her daughter’s things, and shouldn’t have, and gives it to her. “Why would you think I’d want that?”
“Because it’s yours, it belonged to her, and meant something to her.”
“Well, it means nothing to me.”
His face falls, and he leaves, making a point of leaving the ball behind.

Zoe’s mom has figured out that Zoe’s pregnant, and asks what Zoe’s going to do. She admits she doesn’t know. It turns out that her dad isn’t leaving her mom, however, it’s just another of the woman’s periodic train-wreck freakouts.

Donner, feeling better about himself now that he’s let the ball - and all it represents - go, stops off at Zoes’ place and tells her not to quit the program, like her mom said she was thinking of doing. She asks why not, and he says, “Because you’ll make a great astronaut.” He leaves, and she smiles at this, then, hesitantly, she calls the doctor.

When he gets back to his apartment, he finds the ball in a box by the door. Reluctantly he takes it back inside. Meanwhile, Eve confronts Goss on what she’s seen, and demands that he stop handicapping Shaw and Donner. He reluctantly agrees, having no other choice.

Nadia, meanwhile, has been openly hitting on Donner the whole time, daring him to come by her apartment for some no-holds-barred no-strings sex. He finally gives in.


The Antares is now 30,000,000 kilometers from earth (18,641,135 miles) from earth, and they’re less than a day away from their “Point of No Return.” They need to make their final decision about whether they can go ahead with the mission, or if they head back to earth. They keep calling this their “Rubicon” point. Donner is still having hallucinations of the dead crew, but is mostly ignoring it, and playing with his baseball nervously. Rollie and Jen have an argument over the videophone about a stupid thing. Nadia is trying to seduce Donner, who hasn’t slept with her since before they left earth.

Shaw tells the crew that Goss is requiring them to have a Time Capsule - they each put in something that means a lot to them, it’s all about solidarity, sacrifice, teamwork, etc - and they’ll chuck it out of the ship at the Rubicon point. No one likes the idea. Paula, in particular, can’t bring herself to get rid of anything that she brought along. Wassenfelder makes fun of her about having a room full of religious stuff, and says “Your faith must be failing you if you need all this stuff to remind you of it.” She indignantly closes the door, but her face suggests that he’s right, she *is* having some kind of crisis of faith. Later on, we see her trying to decide which to get rid of and which to keep - a St. Somethingorother medal, or a collar belonging to her beloved dead dog, and the fact that both things mean the same amount to her is clearly bothering her.

Donner and Nadia are checking out the systems to determine if they’ll be go or no go at the Rubicon point, and the water purification system is showing sub-optimal. He and Shaw go to check it out. They open the first one, and Donner sees the tubes filthy with red martian dust. He ignores it, since the readouts all show optimal. They check all the other systems, and he debates telling Shaw about his problems, while Shaw more or less warns him not to tell him about his problems. Funny scene. None of the filters are going goofy, so Donner says “Just humor me,” and goes back to the one he saw soiled in halucin-o-vision, and tests the water. Sure enough, the PH is off, and sure enough, if he didn’t catch it, they’d all have been screwed. There’s no way Donner could have *Seen* the PH problem, it was invisible, but he won’t explain how he knew.

At the Time Capsule ceremony, everyone puts in something. Paula puts in her saint somethingorother medal, Evram puts in a medal he won during “The War,” Zoe puts in one of her mom’s tarrot cards, Wassenfelder puts in a girlie mag, and Donner drops in his baseball, and both Nadia and Zoe stare at him when he does, knowing full well what it means. Shaw chucks the capsule overboard through the airlock, then calls his wife and tells her about the filter thing.

They both realize - from the clues - that Donner is having hallucinations, but rather than be freaked out by this, they seem curious and somewhat relieved, like this kind of thing is commonplace from contact with Beta. Shaw wants to tell the crew, wants to tell Donner in particular, but Eve won’t let him. He sarcastically salutes and hangs up. Rollie contacts Jen and apologizes.

When he gets back to his room, Donner sees the damn baseball on his bunk. Shaw comes by and says “It occurred to me that the real point of the exercise was being willing to get rid of something that means a lot to you, not actually having to do it. So you all get to keep your stuff.”

“That’s not what Goss would have done.”

“Do I look like Goss to you?”

Donner suits up, takes the ball to the airlock, opens it, and pitches it in to the eternal night.



This is the first episode to spend more time on earth in 2047 than in space in 2052. While I found myself really enjoying it as a variation on a theme, I really don’t want them to do it again any time soon.

The scene between Donner and his girlfriend’s mom was very well played. When she rejected the baseball, the face acting from him is great, he honestly looks crestfallen, he honestly looks like he’s about to break in to tears. He looks only slightly less forlorn when the ball comes back in to his life.

I think it’s interesting that Donner has been carrying his girlfriend’s memory around with him for five years, but that he apparently desperately wanted to get rid of it the whole time, and tried repeatedly to do so. I mean, he actively gets rid of the fall four times in this episode, and it comes back to him three times. Will it come back a fourth? I certainly hope not. It would be really bad for him if it did. The baseball was a good metaphor for this, though, since the ball isn’t terribly obtrusive, and he’s been fiddling with it for a month now. It was nice to find out the significance of something we didn’t know had any significance until now, and it shows where this show has a lot of potential, taking little things like that and making them horribly important, and hiding them in plain sight. Well written all around.

I’m not sure how everyone else responded to getting their stuff back after they’d gone to the trouble of parting with it, but Evram in particular looked really unhappy to get his military decoration back. Shaken by it, in fact.

Among the Antares crew, it appears only Donner and Shaw have been in space before. Among the Antares crew, it appears that only Rollie wasn't a rookie, and Jen mentions his longest mission was only 34 days. That implies (A) that he's had more than one mission and (B) he's still way below Donner and Shaw on the totem pole, experience-wise. So in the flashbacks, Donner and Shaw are wearing blue jumpsuits, and the rest - including Rollie - are wearing red ones. I assumed this was to differentiate the experienced astronauts from the rookies, but evidently not. So what's the color difference mean, then?

This is the first episode not to have AJ in it at all, not in 2052 nor in 2047. There’s no explanation for his absence in either time period.

Of course we’ve already established that they’re just going to ignore the light speed time lag in this show, but if you’re interested, if they’re 18,641,135 miles from earth, as they say they are, it would take slightly more than 100 seconds for a signal from earth to get to the Antares and vice-versa. That means a simple “Hello Earth, how are you?” “We’re fine, Antares, how are you?” exchange would take 3.3 minutes.

In the previous episode, they were only 3,728,227 miles from earth. If they’re now more than 18,000,000 miles out, this episode must take place weeks or even months after the previous one.

Nadia claims she wants a no-strings relationship, but she actually seems increasingly jealous of Zoe.

The changes in Jen’s personality as they get further from earth are interesting. She was pushing Zoe to have an abortion on earth, and now she can’t bring herself to abort one of the rabbit embryos she’s been experimenting on.

They never actually *SAY* Zoe is having an abortion, and the doctor specifically avoids mentioning the name of “The Procedure” that’s being done in Europe. I think this is all one great big fakeout, as I said before. I don’t think Zoe actually had an abortion, I think she simply had the fetus removed and put on ice for re-implantation later. I’ve suspected this for some time - I mean, her name is “Zoe” fergoshsakes - it means “Life,” and there’s just no way for her to kill her kid and remain likeable in the context of the show we’ve seen so far - but her conversation with Donner about how he *eventually* wants a family, but not right now convinces me that I’m right. Her reaction was subtle, her posture mostly, and her smile after he leaves. I think that’s when she decided on an option, and I think a postponed pregnancy is the option she chose, rather than an actual termination of pregnancy.

So in 2047 the Great Barrier Reef is dead, and no longer entirely below water, and Cyanobacteria http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyanobacteria is effectively extinct in the wild. Rollie and Jen blame this on Global Warming, but this doesn’t make sense: if ocean levels are lower - which would seem to be what they meant by the Great Barrier Reef being no longer under water - that would seem to mean that there’s a new ice age going on. There would have to be in order to drop the oceans enough to put the reef substantially above water. Even if they’re being jocular, and it’s just a foot or so above water, you’re still talking about a major downturn in the earth’s temperature in order to freeze the hundreds of billions of gallons of water such a thing would require.

Nothing really moved forward much on the arc story involving Beta, or what their real mission is, but Shaw and Eve do now realize that Beta is in psychic contact with Donner, even though Donner himself doesn’t realize what’s going on.

And that’s it. Really looking forward to next week. I find I’m enjoying this show more and more.

EDIT 8/24/09: Astute reader nwkeys01 noticed that Jen's rabbit embryo was 27 days old, and nonexistent (As far as we know) in the previous episode, which strongly implies that this episode takes place a hair under 4 weeks after the last one. Since we're told it's 49 days to Venus from earth on this mission, that puts them not far away, even if the first batch of episodes all happened within a couple weeks. So they're not really that far from Venus anymore. Perhaps 20 days out, at the most, probably quite a bit less.