Let’s Go Back to ars PARADOXICA: “04: Bullet”

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.


“04: Bullet”

Transcript
Written by: Daniel Manning and Mischa Stanton


So, what happens in this episode?

Told in a very fitting media res, Dr. Grissom starts her log in a confused fluster, trying to explain what’s happened in the last week. The current date is September 21st, 1945, but the narrative quickly shifts back a few days. After some interference, the listener is put directly into the scene versus Dr. Grissom’s narration.

Dr. Grissom is working with Quentin Barlowe on the Timepiece, which keeps breaking down. Roberts and Wyatt are away for personal reasons, so Dr. Grissom’s brought Barlowe on to help. As Dr. Grissom explains the virtues of rock and roll and the electric guitar, she doesn’t notice the sound of a bullet appearing out of nowhere and hitting Barlowe. She keeps talking until she doesn’t hear a response to a question, turns around to see if he’s okay, and then knocks her head on something metal. When she comes to, she realizes he’s injured, and calls a medic–but it’s too late. Quentin Barlowe dies.

In her narration, Dr. Grissom laments not the death of a coworker, but losing another teammate on her project. After the medic leaves, Dr. Grissom is interrogated by Chet Whickman. He points out that Barlowe was struck by a bullet, and that while all security personnel on site do have a gun, Dr. Grissom was the only person in the room when it happened. Barlowe doesn’t seem too angry with Dr. Grissom, though he does make it at least seem like he thinks she killed him. Whickman also brings up June Barlowe, Quentin Barlowe’s wife, who Dr. Grissom has no memory of regardless of having met her many times.

Barlowe’s funeral is on September 16th, 1945. At the funeral, nobody really knows what to say; Barlowe was just so quiet and essentially inconsequential in Polvo that nobody has any real kind words to share. Partridge delivers a painfully awkward eulogy; Roberts does a bit better with hers. When Dr. Grissom volunteers to speak, she calls Barlowe “off-putting and a little bit creepy.” In her narration, Dr. Grissom can’t imagine why June Barlowe glared at her for any of this.

But Dr. Grissom still has to contend with being the top suspect in a murder case. On September 20th, 1945, she steals parts from another project to make the Tachyon Activity Projector (TAP). The TAP is, essentially, a TV screen on a cart that shows the space it’s in, but from a previous time as programmed. She sets the TAP to ten minutes ago and, lo and behold, sees the events in the room from ten minutes ago.

Dr. Grissom brings Chet Whickman down to see the TAP, and he’s initially skeptical, but then absolutely fascinated. He says that the device is going to change everything, especially surveillance. Dr. Grissom is frustrated when Whickman doesn’t understand her 1984 reference to “Bring Brother,” telling her he hasn’t read it yet, which is very frustrating for her–but what she cares about most here is proving her innocence. She sets the TAP back to Barlowe’s death and shows Whickman that the bullet came out of nowhere. Whickman’s impressed, but says she was never really on the hook for killing him anyway.

Now, though, they have a new dilemma. Where did the bullet come from? Dr. Grissom points out that the Timepiece isn’t exactly functional right now, so they have no idea who shot Barlowe or how. Whickman is frustrated by not being able to actively stop Barlowe’s death, but Dr. Grissom points out that Barlowe is already dead. Saving him in this universe, though, might save a Barlowe in a different timeline. For now, all they can do is wait to see how it happens.

Dr. Grissom ruminates on all of this in narration when she hears something stir in the lab. June Barlowe has come to confront her about Quentin’s death. June tells Dr. Grissom that earlier that morning, she got a package with $300, a key to a new house, and papers for the new identity she’s being forced to assume. With Quentin dead, there’s no reason for June to be in Polvo; they were only there for Quentin’s work. June is convinced Dr. Grissom killed Quentin, and then convinced Dr. Grissom was sleeping with Quentin. June says that she and Quentin were just more faces in the crowd to Dr. Grissom, and Dr. Grissom accidentally confirms this by not being able to tell her any important facts about either of them.

June demands that they use the Timepiece–which, yes, she did know about–to go back in time and save Quentin. Pulling out a gun, June demands Dr. Grissom bring him back. The two argue, and Dr. Grissom explains that saving him isn’t her responsibility; she shows June Quentin’s death through the TAP, proving she didn’t kill him. June argues that Dr. Grissom still has a responsibility to save him, because her existence is toying with causality anyway. As the argument gets heated, June accidentally fires at Dr. Grissom.

Unfortunately, the bullet is pulled through time as soon as it’s fired. June Barlowe has fired the bullet that kills her husband, Quentin Barlowe.

Whickman comes in just after she leaves. Dr. Grissom explains, and Whickman blames hubris. Dr. Grissom respond:

“Hubris is for kings. The rest of us just get cruel irony.”

Back in narration, Dr. Grissom ruminates in monologue on the concept of important events happening in slow motion–a myth, as the event is only remembered in slow motion. She then wonders how this time loop started. They know that June Barlowe shot this bullet, but she’d only have fired the round if Barlowe was already dead. So who shot the bullet that started the loop?

There’s a moment of interference, and the listener is put into a conversation between Chet Whickman and Quentin Barlowe. Whickman starts the conversation by apologizing, but then asks Barlowe questions like who the first girl he ever kissed was, who his enemy in school was, and what school he went to. When Barlowe can’t answer satisfactorily, Whickman reveals that he already knows Barlowe is lying. Quentin Barlowe, he says, doesn’t exist. Whickman has checked all of the records thoroughly and found out that Barlowe has been lying. Barlowe says he has been lying, but it’s not what it seems like, and he truly is devoted to ODAR. Whickman says he believes Barlowe, but shoots him anyway–firing the first bullet in the loop.


Key facts and characters

  • TAP: The Tachyon Activity Projector, essentially a TV that shows the events that happened where it’s located, but in the past.
  • June Barlowe: The window of Quentin Barlowe. June Barlowe is played by Hannah Trobaugh.

How does it hold up?

This was another incredible episode–maybe one of the best in the series overall, though it’s so early yet to say that. This is one of the most memorable episodes for me; the combination of Dr. Grissom’s characterization and the concept are just so perfect, not to mention how this winds up affecting so much of the subsequent plot. It’s the perfect mix of a self-contained story and plot relevance, showing off how fun and exciting the time travel mechanics can be without feeling self-indulgent.

What makes Dr. Grissom’s characterization really stand out here is just how deeply flawed she is, but how little she sees those aspects of herself as flaws. Dr. Grissom is deeply, truly, exactly who she is–and part of that identity is often a shockingly unempathetic, careless attitude towards others. Dr. Grissom has friends and attachments, but until someone has earned that respect from her, she seems to more or less consider them either a tool or a hindrance to her work, nothing more.


The Butterfly Effect

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.
    • On September on an unnamed date, Quentin Barlowe is killed by a bullet in a time loop:
      • Loop 1: Quentin Barlowe is shot by Chet Whickman.
      • Loop 2: Dr. Grissom is shot by June Barlowe, which is then sent back in time to kill Quentin Barlowe, also closing the loop.
    • Quentin Barlowe’s funeral occurs on September 16th, 1945.
    • Dr. Grissom invents the TAP on September 20th, 1945.

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!

  • Dr. Grissom is frustrated when Chet Whickman hasn’t read 1984. It seems like she isn’t aware that it wasn’t published until 1949.
  • June Barlowe is given $300 in her package when being evicted from Polvo. Accounting for inflation, this would be about $4200 in 2019.
  • 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: CLOUDY

On Tuesday (3/12/19), I’ll be recapping “05: Midnight.” 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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