Let’s Go Back to ars PARADOXICA: “03: Trinity, Act I” & “03: Trinity, Act II”

Let’s Go Back to ars PARADOXICA is a relisten and recap series for season one of ars PARADOXICA released every Tuesday and Thursday. You can see the full series here.


“03: Trinity, Act I”

Transcript
Written by: Daniel Manning

“03: Trinity, Act II”

Transcript
Written by: Daniel Manning


So, what happens in these episodes?

“03: Trinity, Act I”

Dr. Grissom finds herself in a funding bind. She’s been trying to successfully build the Timepiece, but this wasn’t hat she was working on in 20XX; she was working on a device to make people levitate. As she, Esther Roberts, and Jack Wyatt try to explain how they’re going to present their device to a board of stakeholders–including soon-to-be-President General Eisenhower–to Director Donovan. None of them explain it successfully to someone who doesn’t have higher STEM education, though, which leaves all of them frustrated. Dr. Grissom briefly discusses The Grissom Mechanism, the phenomenon of events happening in a physical space backwards in time from the previous episode, which Donovan insists she not name after herself. (See Key Facts and Characters down below for what might possibly be an explanation for what this is, probably.)

In the conversation, Donovan brings up Manhattan–which Dr. Grissom realizes isn’t the place, but the code name. Roberts and Wyatt are left confused, but the two of them say the project is classified, Dr. Grissom knowing this is something she really can’t use her knowledge of the future to share. She does say that it’s the “worst thing we’ve ever done as a species,” prompting this exchange:

Donovan: “Just tell me: does it win the war?”
Dr. Grissom: “Sure! Fine, yeah, it ends the war. It ends your whole pre-conception of war. It turns war from a boxing match into a chess game, feigning stalemate from now until the end of time. You should feel right at home.”

The date in Dr. Grissom’s logs is currently July 9th, 1945. Fading in and out of interference, Dr. Grissom explains that they can snap everything back to Philadelphia in 1943, but testing whether or not her device works is next to impossible. She mulls over the situation with Partridge, explaining that there’s only really two options for her device:

  1. Either it does send something back, which effectively means it becomes erased from that timeline’s entire history–so it never would have been what they’d send back–or,
  2. It just seems like sleight of hand; they send something back, but they have no proof it was actually sent back instead of just cleverly disappeared.

Partridge suggests that Dr. Grissom gives herself a break, maybe gets out of Polvo for a little while–even though she’s not allowed outside of the town. Dr. Grissom says they don’t have enough time, that she, Roberts, and Wyatt have all been putting all of their waking moments into this project. At this, he insists they leave. He tells them all that they’re taking an impromptu road trip to Las Vegas, and that because he is calling it company business, they cannot refuse. Partridge says he’ll bring along his wife, Helen Partridge, and one of his assistants, Quentin Barlowe.

Hiding Dr. Grissom as best they can, the group heads off on their road trip. During the drive, Roberts asks more about Manhattan, but Dr. Grissom doesn’t give up any information. Dr. Grissom and Wyatt debate whether Superman or The Flash (Jay Garrick, naturally) is faster, and Helen Partridge sings. Eventually, Anthony Partridge talks about the time he was made to go to Dorney Parkeven though he had a paper due–and then was forgotten there for three hours by his grandmother. He didn’t have any epiphany while there; instead, the time crunch just helped him focus on the task at hand. Partridge assures them that they’ll be fine eventually, and that they shouldn’t be killing themselves with work.

The group spends the night in Las Vegas, Barlowe being essentially silent and Wyatt winding up too drunk to get to their hotel room by morning. Dr. Grissom teaches them card counting blackjack, which Roberts uses to win match after match. Using the winnings, Dr. Grissom goes to the bar , where she runs into a fellow physicist from New Mexico–though this one works at Los Alamos, the Polvo equivalent for Project Manhattan. Dr. Grissom tells him she knows what he’s working on, and he takes a moment to confide in her. Thinking about what he’s working on, he says:

“All those people. I see their faces in my dreams. Millions of voices engulfed by roaring flames. Their blood is on my hands. The silence weighs on me. So, I’m drinking. Drinking ’til I’m flat on my back or the world ends. Whichever comes first.”

The Trinity Test, the first test of a nuclear device, is scheduled for the next morning.

Drinks in hand, Dr. Grissom goes back to where her group was, only to find that they’re not there; the casino staff kicked them out after they loudly discussed their card counting methods. But this isn’t nearly as unfortunate as what happens next: Dr. Grissom is placed under arrest for violation of the Espionage Act.

“03: Trinity, Act II”

Switching between recordings from their next hotel room and the car on the way back to Polvo. Dr. Grissom realizes that the man who’s arresting her is Chet Whickman, the man who originally found and saved her on the USS Eldridge. Whickman’s moved from the ship to Polvo, like Dr. Grissom has. Dr. Grissom voices her frustration about her lack of autonomy, and Whickman points out there in Polvo, she has friends, a house, and good work. Had she landed anywhere else in 1943, she’d probably be institutionalized for saying she was a physicist time traveler. The two essentially agree to disagree on whether or not Dr. Grissom should be happy about her lot in life right now.

As they’re driving, the trucks get caught on a rock. Roberts, Wyatt, and Barlowe are allowed to leave–they don’t require the close monitoring that Dr. Grissom does–but Anthony and Helen Partridge stay. The group camps out under the stars, and Anthony Partridge finds a bottle of wine he bought on his first date with Helen Partridge, using his first government check to foot the bill. He explains that he bought the bottle of wine to commemorate making the world a better place with his work.

After everyone else goes to bed, Dr. Grissom and Partridge stay up later, talking about her dread for her upcoming presentation. She laments about her lack of any real computer–and lack of any real knowledge of time travel–but Partridge reaffirms that she’ll be fine.

The next morning, Whickman tells the group he feels guilty about their plan being cut short. He tells them he wants to show them something exciting to make up for it. Getting up onto a cliff, the group watches the Trinity Test. Dr. Grissom monologues about how horrific it is, but also how beautiful it is: the pictures, she says, only capture the white–not the beautiful colors therein. Dr. Grissom talks about the horror of seeing this and knowing how much it changes the world, about how weaponry only ever begets more weaponry, but given her unique position and knowledge of what’s to come, she can’t even commiserate with anyone.

As much as it distresses her, the event also inspires her. People love a spectacle. Using Partridge’s predictive algorithms, they run the numbers on a sports game coming later in the week. They write letters with exactly how the timepiece is, signed with forged signatures from everyone on the advisory committee, dated a week into the future. They also send blank copies of the letter for the advisory committee to sign and date once they realize it “worked.”

The scene cuts to a confrontation between Anthony and Helen Partridge–one of the earliest indications that everything in Polvo is bugged, not just coming from Dr. Grissom’s recorder, given she’s not present in the scene. Helen is furious with Anthony that his work is anything even similar to the Trinity Test. Anthony protests that it isn’t, and when Helen says she’s leaving, Anthony says he can’t go with her. She tells him that she’s disgusted he could use their “promise wine” to celebrate the opposite of what it stood for, and she leaves.

The scene cuts again to Whickman discussing Dr. Grissom’s plot with Director Donovan. Donovan is furious with her gambling so much on prediction, but Whickman points out that it did, ultimately, work. Whickman has something else to discuss with the Director, though. Explaining that Partridge was behind the excursion to Las Vegas, Whickman says that Partridge is trying to take down Dr. Grissom and her team.


Key facts and characters

  • The Grissom Mechanism: “Essentially, masses within the field localized to a spatially-consistent region are pulled along a timelike curve towards regions of spacetime with a high supersymmetric density.” After realizing I had no idea what this meant, I consulted my beloved colleagues on Radio Drama Revival, David Rheinstrom and Elena Fernández-Collins, as well as fellow critic Alex Hensley of Audiodramarama. Here is how our conversation unfolded:

Wil: okay so: “the Grissom mechanism. Essentially, masses within the field localized to a spatially-consistent region are pulled along a timelike curve towards regions of spacetime with a high supersymmetric density.”

what . . . the fuck this mean

AlexIsn’t that just saying that the things within the field are going to be pulled along through time

Elyknowing what I know now about closed timelike curves — timelike curves are closed loops that return to their starting points, and goes through an event horizon.

OMG

WIL

Wil: IS THAT FROM THE WIKI

Ely: YES

As a note: we were excited by a reference to Renée Minkowski of another landmark audio fiction, Wolf 359, which may also get a relisten series.

AlexYou know the continuum force actually talks about ctcs

Davidoh man are we talking about minkowski space and hilbert curves and shit

I am also Not A Science, but the way I understood the Grissom Mechanism is that, like that classic “bowling ball on a rubber sheet” explanation of gravitation is being analogized to spacetime. There’s a bowling ball that is the USS Eldridge, which is bending spacetime towards itself

WilOHHHHH

David:The ball is the Eldridge. Sally, by dint of her experiment, BECOMES a marble

and falls towards the, if you like, “gravitational field” of spacetime.
  • Helen Partridge: Anthony Partridge’s wife, a once-was singer in a jazz band. Helen Partridge is played by Susanna Kavee.
  • Quentin Barlowe: A sheepish assistant working for Anthony Partridge. Quentin Barlowe is played by Lee Satterwhite.

How does it hold up?

I’m a sucker for a road trip story, but I enjoyed these episodes a lot–with that enjoyment getting much more profound during Dr. Grissom’s monologues. The writing for Dr. Grissom and her ruminations on nuclear warfare in these episodes is haunting. In a post-9/11 world that has been filled with discussions of war, the perspective on nuclear testing when they were first happening feel especially poignant without feeling forced or navel-gazing. It helps that the prose has such a beautiful, sincere, but harrowed tone, both via the writing itself and, as always, DiMercurio’s masterful performance. When remembering ars PARADOXICA, I often think about how analytical and sharp Dr. Grissom is. It’s episodes like these that make me take a second to remember how deeply emotional and creative she is, too. There’s a certain science to the artistry of her words that feels poetic, but very in line with who she is as a character.

A nitpicky complaint for these episodes is Jack Wyatt’s audio quality, strangely tinny against the other characters, which does pull him out of the scene and works against the listener’s suspension of disbelief. This didn’t stop me when I first listened to ars PARADOXICA and thought I hated audio fiction, though, and it certainly wouldn’t stop me from listening now.


The Butterfly Effect

No changes in timeline for these episodes. Thank god.

Timeline 1

  • Starting time: Dr. Grissom is from a modern-day alternate timeline (see ODAR & You! for more on that) that she is pulled out of on August 14th, 20XX.
    • 20XX is sometime after 2014, a year that has not been redacted; 2014 is when Dr. Grissom received her PhD from MIT. If she started working at the SSC directly after graduating, 20XX would be 2016.
  • Jump back: On August 14th, 20XX, Dr. Grissom lands back in October 29th, 1943.
    • On October 29th, 1943, Dr. Grissom is brought to her new home of Polvo, New Mexico.
    • On January 17th, 1944, the blackout hits, but Dr. Grissom does not move forward with the test on the Timepiece.
    • On Wednesday, July 16th, 1945, Dr. Grissom, Anthony Partridge, Helen Partridge, and Chet Whickman witness The Trinity Test.

Timeline 2

  • Starting time: Dr. Grissom is from a modern-day alternate timeline (see ODAR & You! for more on that) that she is pulled out of on August 14th, 20XX.
    • 20XX is sometime after 2014, a year that has not been redacted; 2014 is when Dr. Grissom received her PhD from MIT. If she started working at the SSC directly after graduating, 20XX would be 2016.
  • Jump back: On August 14th, 20XX, Dr. Grissom lands back in October 29th, 1943.
    • On October 29th, 1943, Dr. Grissom is brought to her new home of Polvo, New Mexico.
    • On January 17th, 1944, the blackout hits, but Dr. Grissom moves forward with the test on the Timepiece, which then sends an electromagnetic pulse backwards in time into Timeline 1.

ODAR & You!

  • The Trinity Test was the first test of a nuclear object, called “Gadget.”
  • Using the July 16th, 1945 date, we can see the scores for the Cubs versus the Phillies the subsequent week:
    scores
    Partridge’s algorithm predicted a 7-3 win, but it looks like in our timeline, it was just a 5-3 win.
  • Whether or not Superman flies faster than the speed of light depends entirely on who’s writing Superman at the time. While I couldn’t find exact dates on the first time Superman could have canonically gone faster than lightspeed, I do want to agree with Jack Wyatt that Jay Garrick–the original iteration of The Flash, before Barry Allen’s start in October 1956–is very great and has a very cool helmet.
    Image result for jay garrick 1945
  • Time for more linguistic tracking! Dr. Grissom corrects herself after saying something should be on the “down-low.” The term first started being used in 1990’s AAVE, and was apparently a term for closeted or “secretive” queer men.
  • Partridge brings up his trip to Dorney Park, an amusement park in Pennsylvania that opened in 1884. Now, Dorney Park is called Dorney Park & Wildwater Kingdom, and it’s owned by Cedar Fair, the same company that owns properties like Cedar Park in Ohio and Knott’s Berry Farm in California.
  • Each episode ends with a color, a set of numbers, and an identification of the “weather in Tulsa.” Each of these is a Vigenere cipher, all of which have been solved on the podcast’s Wikia.
    • The weather in Tulsa today is: WINDY

On Tuesday (3/7/19), I’ll be recapping “04: Bullet.” For all of the ars PARADOXICA recaps, start with this post, or see all of the posts in the series here.


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  1. […] “03: Trinity, Act I” and “03: Trinity, Act II” […]

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  2. […] When Dr. Grissom’s narration starts back up, it’s March 1st, 1946–over a year later. The timepiece’s forward movement summarily did not, and will not, work. Dr. Grissom thinks there may be a way to add a signature to an electrical pulse tied to The Grissom Mechanism. […]

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