Let’s Go Back to ars PARADOXICA: “06: Exile”

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.

“06: Exile”

Written by: Daniel Manning

So, what happens in this episode?

Opening not with narration by Dr. Grissom but in-scene audio, “06: Exile” is a transitional episode that establishes the timepiece team’s new placement. Donovan and Whickman drive Dr. Grissom, Roberts, Wyatt, Anthony, and Helen to their new home: Point of Exile, Colorado. Donovan and Whickman insist that regardless of its fake-sounding name, it is very real. Nobody seems happy to be leaving Polvo, nor joining Donovan on the continuation of their project. Dr. Grissom posits that Donovan is using them as a ploy to move up the ranks of the CIA, but Donovan quickly proves her wrong. Coughing, he tells the team that they’re not working for the government; they’re working directly for him. When Anthony asks why he was brought along, Donovan tells him he’ll be working under Dr. Grissom. This displeases everyone even more. When Dr. Grissom threatens leaving, Donovan says,

“I believe the work you’re doing was–will–change the world forever [. . .] I think the world needs us. And I think if you didn’t already believe me, you wouldn’t have come along to begin with.”

Dr. Grissom starts her diary back up on February 23rd, 1946. She says she feels refreshed here in the higher altitude, the clearer air. Roberts, Wyatt, and Anthony, meanwhile, seem worse than they’ve ever been. Wyatt is despondent and unenthusiastic. Anthony is upset with his demotion. Roberts is picking up both of their slack.

There’s a quick cut into a scene with an argument between Roberts and Wyatt. Wyatt asks why they don’t just let the whole project just rot given they won’t even be given credit for their work, but Roberts says she’s not in it for the credit; she’s in it for the project itself, for making a change in the world.

Helen and Anthony, meanwhile, continue arguing about the project, Anthony’s work, and his demotion. Anthony points out how much Donovan risked and lost to even get Anthony a job, but Helen is unimpressed. She compares his desire to end the war and bring good to the world to the same mindsets as war criminals and dictators, reminding him of the bomb test they watched. She just wants a normal life. Anthony says they can have a normal life here in Point of Exile, but she seems unconvinced.

The tensions, of course, are brought into the lab as well. Dr. Grissom builds a phone answering machine because she’s avoiding going into work; the lack of any morale or camaraderie is too stressful. The focus of the project, though, is exciting: they’re now trying to see if the timepiece can send things forward in time, meaning she might be able to return home–but it wouldn’t exactly be home given how much she’s changed everything. Dr. Grissom admits that she isn’t sure whether or not she wants to go back, or whether she’s just afraid of the others judging her for not taking the opportunity if she has it.

In what seems like an attempt to raise morale, Dr. Grissom, Roberts, and Wyatt go to a local diner together. They’re served by a waitress named Penny Wise, and Dr. Grissom ribs Wyatt for being so flustered around her. Roberts talks up her love of romantic comedies, and Dr. Grissom plays wingman for an honestly useless Wyatt, making he and Penny set up a date.

Dr. Grissom recounts the lunch to Partridge, who isn’t especially listening, and in his defense, Dr. Grissom doesn’t necessarily seem to care. After a few minutes, Partridge asks her why they’re there. Dr. Grissom responds with joking literalness, but Partridge keeps asking. He doesn’t understand why they’re still working on the project. He doesn’t understand why Donovan is funding them. He doesn’t understand how his life got to this point. He laments his demotion and Dr. Grissom being his boss, but Dr. Grissom objects, saying she’s anything but. She tells him:

“I need someone who looks ahead as I look behind. The miracle of the Timepiece isn’t just moving backwards, it’s the possibility of using it to change how we move forward.”

Anthony asks if she’ll go back to her time if they figure out forward time travel. She says she doesn’t know, but she at least wants the option.

When Dr. Grissom’s narration starts back up, it’s March 1st, 1946. 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.

The final scene of the episode cuts to a conversation between Partridge, Donovan, and Whickman. Partridge has found out why Donovan wants to fund their project: he is dying, and the existence of the timepiece has sped up his illness, a symptom of which is mixing up his verb tenses. Donovan tells Partridge that Dr. Grissom and the others can’t know, and Whickman pleads that Partridge use the device to find a way to cure Donovan.

Key facts and characters

  • Point of Exile, Colorado: The small Colorado town to where the timepiece team has been relocated.
  • Penny Wise: A charming waitress in Point of Exile who flirts with Jack Wyatt. Penny Wise is played by Charlotte Mary Wen.

How does it hold up?

This was a solid establishing episode that brought some much-needed breathing room to the plot so far, while still introducing new settings and plot moments. The pacing was really nice here, especially in the diner scene. That scene is something I remember so distinctly, I was shocked when I realized how early it was in the series’s run. It’s such a quiet scene, such a relaxed scene, but so much characterization comes through in each performance and line of dialogue.

This episode also reminded me one of the most unsung qualities of ars PARADOXICA: its “previously on” sections that start each episode. I cannot express how much these recap segments meant to me when I first listened and still mean to me now. For a story as complicated as this, they’re vital in making sure you’re keeping events straight, and they also help project what’s going to be important in the episode to come, giving the listener a way to set some expectations. They’re something I wish every long-form serialized audio fiction would implement.

There were moments in the episode where Kristen DiMercurio’s mic quality didn’t sound quite up to par with the rest of the production, but honestly, sometimes things happen. It isn’t something I’d really hold against this episode, let alone the podcast overall.

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.
    • February 1946: Dr. Grissom, Roberts, Wyatt, Anthony Partridge, and Helen Partridge are moved to Point of Exile, Colorado, by Donovan and Whickman.
    • March 1st, 1946: Dr. Grissom concludes that forward time travel using the timepiece is impossible.

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!

  • Point of Exile is not, in fact, a real town in Colorado. In elevation, it’s closest to Blanca, Colorado.
  • Linguistics check! Dr. Grissom says she’s getting the hang of everyone’s “keen jive.”
    • Keen is a fairly ancient word, dating back to about before 900, derived from the Old English cene–the same word from which “can” was derived. Its more modern usage as teen slang comes from about 1935, with its culmination as “peachy keen” dating to around 1948.
    • Jive was used to describe a way of speaking starting in 1938, and for a time, was used the same way as “agree,” as most people confused “jive” with “jibe,” an antiquated word for “agree.”
  • Dr. Grissom discusses how what she misses most aren’t the huge innovations, but the small things that make life easier. This reminds me of Firebringer, the Starkid musical with a heavily-memed musical number, in which a cavewoman aims to make scientific discoveries for the sole purpose of making her life easier so she can be lazier.
  • Everyone’s lunch orders, in case you missed them: turkey club piled high for Wyatt, a reuben for Roberts, and biscuits and gravy for Dr. Grissom.
  • Roberts references two romantic comedies at the diner: Holiday (1938) and The Shop Around the Corner (1940). Holiday is a Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant film about the difficulties of class disparity in a relationship, and The Shop Around the Corner is about two employees who hate each other, but fall in love through anonymous letters to each other.
  • Dr. Grissom doesn’t just benefit from being from the future in her knowledge of how things play out. She also benefits from making jokes that, to those in 40’s, aren’t extremely annoying for being so overdone.
    An animated gif of Nelson, an animated young male bully from "The Simpsons," pointing and saying "Ha-ha!" in a mocking fashion.
  • Dr. Grissom jokes that the timepiece won’t send her forward in time, except at a rate of 1sec/sec. It’s similar to a joke by comedian Demetri Martin that goes, “I have a time machine at home. It only goes forward at regular speed.” (Honestly? I prefer Dr. Grissom’s version.)
  • 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: FOGGY

On Tuesday (3/19/19), I’ll be recapping “07: Distraction.” 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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