Let’s Go Back to ars PARADOXICA: “08: Cage”

Let’s Go Back to ars PARADOXICA is a relisten and recap series for season one of ars PARADOXICA released every Tuesday and Thursday.

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.


“08: Cage”

An embed to RadioPublic’s direct link for the episode, which you can also find here.

Transcript
Written by: Daniel Manning


So, what happens in this episode?

The episode opens, jarringly, not with the podcast’s theme music, but with Partridge, Roberts, and Wyatt looking at something in confusion. It’s only after Dr. Grissom appears and faints that the music starts up.

The listener is thrown back into the scene with Dr. Grissom just coming to. Dr. Grissom talks about something being dark, about screaming for the others–but then, quickly, she asks for the date. Partridge tells her it’s August 2nd, 1946, and when Wyatt checks her watch, he sees she’s an hour and a half in the future. Dr. Grissom accidentally got herself in the time bubble they’d been testing.

While Dr. Grissom has clearly been traumatized by her hour-long panic in a pitch-black, freezing cold room, Roberts sees this discover as extremely exciting. As she predicted, the time bubble did block outside photons, and this is a huge jump forward in their work. Dr. Grissom is, understandably, not thrilled with this excitement from Roberts. Wyatt tries to convince Dr. Grissom to see a medic, but Dr. Grissom refuses and goes home. In Dr. Grissom’s narration the next day, she tries to process her experience through logic and a few dry jokes. She says that the time bubble can turn “99% electricity into 100% torture,” and then half-facetiously says Donovan might appreciate that aspect of it if he were around much anymore.

The episode jumps forward about a month to September 8th, 1946. After testing it more and more, Dr. Grissom has reconciled much of her trauma with how exciting the time bubble–which she’s now calling the Controlled Asynchronous Generator Environment, or CAGE–is for their research. Until now, they haven’t been able to show any real observable results to people like Donovan who need to evaluate their work. With the CAGE, others will be able to actually witness something happening.

Dr. Grissom, Partridge, Roberts, and Wyatt brainstorm a list of everything the CAGE could completely revolutionize, from agriculture to computing to entertainment. All of the industries that could use it, though, would need people in the CAGE for it to actually do its job, which means someone will have to be in it for testing, too. Roberts is randomly chosen but is more than happy to stay in the CAGE. They plan a test for her on September 9th, 1946. She’ll be in the CAGE for just about 24 hours. Dr. Grissom invites Whickman to observe the test, and he shows up just in time to see what’s happening, insist that they stop the test immediately, and then try to push Roberts out of the way–getting himself stuck in the CAGE with her.

Whickman panics, but Roberts doesn’t understand why. She’s got enough food and entertainment for 24 hours, even if she’s not going to share her crossword puzzles with him. Whickman tells her that time travel is “poisonous” to peoples’ brains. Roberts is initially curious about what this means before she realizes he’s known this and not told any of them, even though they work directly with the timepiece daily. Furious, she asks him to explain, but he remains tight-lipped.

As the two spend time together in the CAGE, the episode goes though a montage of Roberts checking in every few hours to ask him more details again, but each time, Whickman tells her nothing. It’s only when Roberts voices her worries about getting out of the CAGE that he opens up to her. Whickman tells her that he has faith in how brilliant she and her team are, and then tells her that he knows about what time travel can do to people because of Donovan’s symptoms. And then, he tells her everything.

He tells her:

  • Donovan’s been using the Timepiece, and it’s resulted in some kind of “Timepiece disease
  • He, Partridge, and people in Intelligence working on a cure
  • Donovan had his own personal Timepiece built while they were in Polvo
  • Dr. Grissom is from the future
  • Dr. Grissom is also exhibiting symptoms of “Timepiece disease”
  • Whickman killed Barlowe in another timeline after finding out that his paperwork was faked
  • Barlowe was actually a spy that Donovan from Timeline 3 (see “THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT” down below) sent to spy on Donovan in Timeline 1

Roberts asks why he’s telling her all of this, and Whickman is fairly direct about saying he’ll kill her if she tells anyone–but he also tells her that he needs someone like her to help him. He knows he’s going to use the Timepiece, and he needs someone like Roberts in his corner to keep him in check. He tells Roberts that this is her moment to really do something nobody else has ever done, to really help the world. Eventually, she agrees.

And then, the two pop out of the CAGE. For them, it’s been just under a full day; for the others, it’s just been a moment. The test was successful, and after a few jokes from Roberts, Wyatt incredulously asked what happened in the CAGE. Roberts says they just made small talk and played some card games, nothing more.


Key facts and characters

  • The CAGE: The Controlled Asynchronous Generator Environment. A bubble in which people experience time passing normally, but time outside the bubble is, essentially, stopped. The CAGE travels back in time continually in loops to keep it stuck in a single moment. It is freezing cold and pitch black inside.
  • Timepiece Disease: The illness that Donovan and, to a lesser degree, Dr. Grissom have contracted due to their experiences with time travel. While there are some physical symptoms such as lesions on the brain, the most notable symptom is tense-specific aphasia. (Don’t get too comfortable with this name for the disease, though. It gets a much better name down the line.)

How does it hold up?

“08: Cage” is one of the simplest episode of ars PARADOXICA we’ve had since maybe the trip to Las Vegas, but this episode absolutely shines. It feels similar to “02: Blackout” in its structure of pairing two seemingly opposed characters together for the main stretch of the episode, a format that works very well with Manning’s writing style. The simple setup allows the nuance of character to really come through in each line. It’s impressive how Manning can switch between conversation-heavy episodes like this one, focusing only on conversation, and the type of meticulous work that goes into the more heavily-plotted episodes. In my experience, most writers tend to work better with one or the other, and the first aspect to get overlooked is usually character. I love that this just isn’t the case for ars PARADOXICA, and every aspect just gets richer as the team of writers grows, starting next episode.

Something else that stuck out in this episode was the dialogue editing. ars PARADOXICA has had a natural flow in its dialogue since the first episode, but it feels even more lived-in here. The pacing of dialogue has some overlap between line deliveries, some minimal responses, and some overtalk, giving it a natural feel without losing Manning’s very specific, polished lines.


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 from Timeline 3.
      • 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 Maraczek.
    • 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.
    • August 2nd, 1946: Dr. Grissom accidentally gets stuck in the CAGE for an hour and a half.
    • August 18th, 1946: Helen Partridge’s jazz performance.
    • September 9th, 1946: Roberts and Whickman stay in the CAGE for just over 22 hours.

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.

Timeline 3

  • 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, and Dr. Grissom does not go forward with the test on the Timepiece.
  • On September on an unnamed date, Quentin Barlowe is killed by Chet Whickman after Whickman finds out that Barlowe’s records are fake. The bullet is sent through a rift in time to Timeline 1.

ODAR & You!

  • Roberts brings stacks of two different comic books into the CAGE:
    • Astonishing Tales, a Marvel series following a Tarzan-like hero named Ka-Zar. While Ka-Zar did exist in magazines of the 1930s, Astonishing Tales itself debuted first in 1970.
    • Detective Comics, the origins of Batman and, eventually, the namesake for DC itself. Like Astonishing Tales, though, this has some interesting questions in its history. Detective Comics #1 wasn’t published until 1937, but National Allied Publications–which would later become DC–had published two comic anthologies, New Fun: The Big Comic Magazine and New Comics before 1946.

And with this, let’s actually take a moment to discuss the purpose of tracking these anachronisms. In my opinion, it is not only somewhat unfair but also extraordinarily boring to hold every single writer to every single anachronism while writing a period piece. This is a matter of opinion for every individual member of the audience, but personally, I care much more about what the writing is trying to say than what it’s trying to get “right.” I like tracking anachronisms because it gives me an opportunity to research things I wouldn’t have otherwise; now, I know who Ka-Zar is. Not only would I never want to “Well, actually” a creator, it’s also extremely likely that Manning and/or Stanton did do the research, and are using these anachronisms for fans like me who get excited by the possibility of how time shenanigans could have altered events like publishing dates.

Now, back to other observations:

  • Listen, when we talk about media in which people have the power to be outside of time, most people will bring up the terrible Adam Sandler vehicle Click. Nobody gives enough credit to the real MVP of awful time-stopping movies.
  • 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: SHOWERS

On Tuesday (3/26/19), I’ll be recapping “09: Decay,” the first episode in the series that isn’t written by Daniel Manning and/or Mischa Stanton. For all of the ars PARADOXICA recaps, start with this post, or see all of the posts in the series here.


Listen to ars PARADOXICAApple | SpotifyStitcher RSS

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: