Let’s Go Back to ars PARADOXICA: “05: Midnight”

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.

“05: Midnight”

Written by: Daniel Manning

So, what happens in this episode?

The episode opens with an out-of-breath Dr. Grissom on December 21st, 1945. Another episode told in media res, Dr. Grissom explains the events that happened previously that same night. She comments that things are in boxes, and that she’s only been flung back in time a few hours, but not in location–which means that right now, she’s found herself locked in a broom closet outside the ODAR Christmas party at about 9:30PM.

This Dr. Grissom–we’ll call her Dr. Grissom B for now, stick with me–has already experienced the Christmas Party once a few hours from now, back before she looped back in time with the timepiece–back when she was Dr. Grissom A.

The episode shifts from narration into the scene. Dr. Grissom A speaks with Victor Lambert, an employee on Project RAINBOW. Lambert explains that their goal was to bend light, but also capture it, storing it for later reuse. Polvo was wired with a massive copper grid, with two solar power collectors that absorb energy throughout the day to be distributed at night. Essentially, Polvo is entirely, eternally, solar-powered.

The party is interrupted by Agent Hank Cornish, who comes with thanks from himself, the government, and the President for all of their work. He also comes with the news that ODAR is being shut down immediately, everyone is fired, nobody can stay in Polvo, all of their projects are scrapped, and everything they’ve created will be seized.

Roberts, Wyatt, and Partridge commiserate. Partridge seems especially frustrated, and Wyatt immediately turns to drinking. Partridge tries to spin a tale about a buddy smuggling him a bottle of absinthe through the war, which his wife Helen expertly demolishes to smithereens, saying it’s dyed moonshine Partridge bought in Canada. Dr. Grissom A asks Wyatt to go grab another bottle, and then asks Helen what she’ll do now, and Helen says she might move somewhere calm and green, filled with trees. Helen asks what Dr. Grissom A will do if she can’t convince them to keep doing her work. Dr. Grissom A responds, “Fuck ’em.”

Dr. Grissom A notes the heavy thunder, but everyone shrugs it off. Helen leads Wyatt to a bathroom, as Wyatt is now absolutely plastered. After another crash of thunder, the power goes out, and Dr. Grissom A asks Lambert for his input. Lambert starts to answer, but then worries about his colleague, Ivan Maraczek, who has a bad history with projects and tends to get a emotional when things go south. When alarms start sounding, Lambert realizes this isn’t just a power outage. Their system is overloading, and things are about to get bad for everyone. Sobbing, he says they have half an hour to leave, maybe an hour before The Eldridge Effect rips spacetime asunder in Polvo.

Jumping back to narration, Dr. Grissom B furiously discusses how this Eldridge Effect could undo all of her work, maybe even undo her first jump back to the USS Eldridge in the first place. She runs to get her timepiece, and then has a moment of hesitation before running off to save the town. She almost takes the timepiece and leaves Polvo behind, but her guilt about the Barlowes motivates her to try to fix this.

At midnight, Dr. Grissom A jumps back in time, becoming Dr. Grissom B, locked in the broom closet. Again: stick with me here. At this point, the narrative has caught up with the in media res structure.

Dr. Grissom B is found by a very drunk Wyatt. He immediately knows she used the timepiece, given she’s soaking wet and standing in a broom closet that was locked from the outside. Wyatt says it’s 9:38, and Dr. Grissom B notes that they have about two and a half hours to save the town. When Dr. Grissom B asks Wyatt why he’s there, he mentions that she told him to go get a bottle, and Dr. Grissom B remembers herself as Dr. Grissom A asking Wyatt just that after Partridge poorly spun his absinthe lies. It’s only after congratulating herself that she tells Wyatt that the town is in danger, and that she needs his help. She tells him to go warn Lambert that the system is going to overload. Wyatt asks for a moment why Polvo is even worth saving, and Dr. Grissom B points out that they are currently inside of Polvo, and if it blows up, they too blow up.

Leaving the broom closet, Dr. Grissom B and Wyatt run into Helen Partridge, who seems to think they’ve just had sex in the broom closet. She notes that she just saw Dr. Grissom A in the other room, and the audio is layered with heavy interference.

While Wyatt goes to help Lambert, Dr. Grissom B goes to Maraczek’s station, RAINBOW A, to fix things. While en route, she sees what caused the overload: a bolt of lightning hits one of the antennae, sending way too much energy into it at once. She knows she has to flip a switch to unload the power, which she finds quickly enough, and flips successfully. She takes the remaining time to inspect Lambert’s work, remarking at how innovative and ahead of its time the solar grid is.

There’s another sound of thunder, some interference, and then Dr. Grissom–Dr. Grissom C, at 9:15PM, on her third loop–talks a panicked Maraczek down, explaining what’s going to happen soon.  Dr. Grissom C explains that she helped, but something happened to Lambert’s station, RAINBOW B, burning it down with Lambert and Wyatt inside. This means that while Dr. Grissom B may have succeeded, Dr. Grissom C now has to go help whatever happened to RAINBOW B.

At RAINBOW B, Dr. Grissom C confronts a furious Lambert. She finds Wyatt unconscious on the ground, and in another flashback, the listener hears Wyatt tell Lambert there’s n way ODAR is going to let him keep his patents. This leads to Lambert becoming furious, hitting Wyatt with a pipe, and then hitting the plant with a pipe until Dr. Grissom C interjects. Dr. Grissom C talks Lambert tries to talk him down, but when that doesn’t work, she tackles him and chokes him out.

The scene transitions to Donovan congratulating and thanking Dr. Grissom C for saving the town, “discreetly” telling her he’ll ignore the fact that she used government property–the timepiece–without authorization to do so. Donovan tells her that Cornish has options for her from here, but Dr. Grissom C says she doesn’t know if she’s really interested. As she leaves, she sees Cornish, but then she faints.

Dr. Grissom–who we’ll call simply Dr. Grissom now–wakes up, she’s greeted by Roberts, who calls her “Sally” before correcting herself. Roberts explains that Dr. Grissom saved the town, but Dr. Grissom doesn’t have any memory of it, either because of whatever caused her short coma or because this is just Dr. Grissom A. Roberts tells her she’s been asleep for a few days, as it’s currently Christmas Eve, but at least the timepiece team will be moved to Colorado to continue their work.

There’s more interference, and Donovan and Cornish discuss having killed two of the three Dr. Grissoms. Each iteration of Dr. Grissom survived their timeline, but Donovan and Cornish did away with the others–likely Dr. Grissom B and Dr. Grissom C, given they would have remembered saving the town–and ran autopsies on them. Cornish says that they, too, had the same lesions and nerve damage Donovan has.

Key facts and characters

  • Victor Lambert: An ODAR employee who worked on Project RAINBOW and attacked Jack Wyatt with a pipe. Victor Lambert is played by Eric Rafael Ibarra.
  • Ivan Maraczek: A longtime friend of Victor Lambert and an ODAR employee who worked on Project RAINBOW. Ivan Maraczek is played by Julian Mundy.
  • Hank Cornish: The CIA Agent who tells ODAR they’re being shut down and disposes of Dr. Grissom B and C. Hank Cornish is played by Dan Anderson.
  • The Eldridge Effect: A byproduct of Project RAINBOW, The Eldridge Effect is a tear in spacetime.

How does it hold up?

In concept, writing, and acting, this is another fantastic episode from ars PARADOXICA–but, shockingly, this was the first episode of any Whisperforge production in memory that had a few moments of iffy sound design for me. There were a few crowd gasps that seemed a little too canned, a few moments that felt a little too punctuated with a sound effect. I don’t think these moments would stand out much to most listeners, though, and they certainly didn’t stand out to me on my first listen.

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.
    • The ODAR Christmas party, and subsequent mass firing, is on December 21st, 1945.
      • Loop 1: When the Polvo power grid overloads, Dr. Grissom A uses the timepiece to help save Polvo.
      • Loop 2: Dr. Grissom B goes to RAINBOW A and pulls the lever to regulate the power. RAINBOW B explodes.
      • Loop 3: Dr. Grissom C chokes out Lambert and saves RAINBOW A, saving the town in conjunction with Dr. Grissom B or Maracek.
    • December 24th, 1945: Dr. Grissom A wakes up. Dr. Grissom B and C have been killed by Cornish and Donovan.

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 concept for this episode is paralleled in Christopher Nolan’s 2004 film The Prestige, though both works go about their concepts very differently, and for very different reasons.
  • Linguistics check! Dr. Grissom B uses the idiom “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire” to explain her plans to Maraczek, but Maraczek’s never heard the phrase. This isn’t due to timing: the idiom dates all the way back to the 1300s. However, it’s only been widely used in English-speaking countries, so Maraczek’s Eastern European background probably kept him from hearing.
  • Maraczek is played by Julian Mundy, ars PARADOXICA staff writer and creator of The Whisperforge’s StarTripper!!.
  • 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.

On Thursday (3/16/19), I’ll be recapping “06: Exile.” 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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2 thoughts on “Let’s Go Back to ars PARADOXICA: “05: Midnight”

  1. Kind of confused by the use of the “loop” terminology… As stated before Sally can’t change the past, so there should be no loops, just two new timelines.


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