Let’s Go Back to ars PARADOXICA: “09: Decay”

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.


“09: Decay”

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

Transcript
Written by: Julian Mundy


So, what happens in this episode?

It’s December 23rd, 1946–Christmas again, a specifically grim and ominous time in ars PARADOXICA so far. This year, Dr. Grissom is excited about their work on the CAGE: with computers inside, they can get data immediately, even faster than in 20XX. The problem is that there’s inaccuracies with the data, and they can’t find out why. Dr. Grissom wants to improve the computers with transistors and program them an operating system–which Dr. Grissom says she’ll call NostradamOS–but for now, she and Partridge are working tirelessly on just trying to figure out why the errors are happening at all.

Dr. Grissom mentions that more and more new faces have been spotted in town, all of them looking like soldiers. She admits she may just be paranoid, but as their year in Point of Exile is coming to an end, it seems like they’re being watched even more closely.

The narration switches to a scene with Anthony Partridge. He asks Dr. Grissom if Helen ever talks to her about their marriage, but Dr. Grissom says she doesn’t–but she says that his marital woes are likely due to his obsession with finishing their work. Anthony says Helen doesn’t understand how important their work is, especially after seeing the bomb test, but Dr. Grissom says she definitely understands. The two argue, with Anthony becoming more and more defensive. Dr. Grissom says he’s so afraid of having to consider the ramifications of devoting himself to his work that he won’t even take the advice he asked her for. Wyatt and Roberts enter, breaking some of the tension, but Anthony and Dr. Grissom are still obviously frustrated with each other. The tension is only truly broken when Anthony tries to name a device and only comes up with the terrible acronym “SLURP,” and all of them laugh.

There’s a scene change, and Wyatt asks Roberts if she and Whickman are an item after being stuck in the CAGE, but Roberts protests. Wyatt does realize that she was given confidential information during their stay, though, and tries to get it out of her. The two start arguing, with Roberts saying she can’t tell him and Wyatt telling her she’s just like the government officials they both hate working with. Wyatt says he and Penny plan on leaving as soon as they can, but for now, he decides that he should invite Dr. Grissom over for Christmas.

Meanwhile, Dr. Grissom and Partridge resume their fight as Dr. Grissom tells him that he should go home for Christmas. Partridge wants to keep working, and Dr. Grissom leaves, the two still angry at each other. Later, Partridge is forced out of the lab by an agent who says he needs to lock the lab up–but that Partridge should leave everything exactly where it is.

In narration, Dr. Grissom talks about how Christmas has always made her feel lonely, but the people in this era have such genuine Christmas cheer. She says people really want to be around each other, which makes her start crying. There’s a knock on the door, and Dr. Grissom cleans herself up before letting Roberts and Wyatt in. They explain that it just seems depressing to let her celebrate Christmas alone, and Dr. Grissom starts crying more–but then she tells them who she is and when she’s from. She’s surprised to find out that neither of them are really surprised. They invite her back to celebrate Christmas (though, technically, Roberts is Jewish and celebrates Hanukkah), but there’s a surge of noise with repeated interference. Dr. Grissom realizes that the audio is decaying along the tachyon wave. She wants to go to the lab instead.

She’s cut off by a call from Helen Partridge, who’s furious with her. Helen says that Dr. Grissom’s intrusion in her life is what ruined her marriage and made things fall apart. She tells Dr. Grissom that she’s leaving to pursue singing, but tells Dr. Grissom that she can’t tell Anthony where she went–she wants Dr. Grissom to have to look Anthony in the face and lie to him about something he loves.

Dr. Grissom does go to the lab, though. Partridge has left, so she leaves him a note, and then goes to spend Christmas Eve with Wyatt and Roberts. Partridge, meanwhile, finally goes home to find his house empty. He starts sobbing, realizing he’s waited too late to change.

The scene shifts to Donovan speaking in even worse condition than before. Whickman and Cornish argue about the project’s feasibility, but Whickman threatens that he can either “tear it all down or save it.” The two try to one-up each others’ egos and power, but luckily, they’re interrupted by Partridge. Partridge read Dr. Grissom’s note and now understands what’s happening to Donovan: the data in his head is decaying along the tachyon wave. He says putting Donovan in the CAGE might reverse his symptoms.

But then, Partridge finds the tapes Donovan’s been keeping of everyone’s conversations.


Key facts and characters

  • Not much, unless you count NostradomOS, Dr. Grissom’s proposed operating system.

How does it hold up?

The fact that this was Julian Mundy’s first episode is wild.

“09: Decay” is one of the most emotional episodes in the first season. It’s the breaking point for Dr. Grissom trying to pretend she isn’t lonely in a world that isn’t really hers, or terrified by what her life’s become. It’s the episode in which she’s honest with two of the only friends she has. It’s the breaking point for Partridge’s marriage, too, and the first genuine, important schism he has with Dr. Grissom.

Every single beat, whether it be pacing, characterization, or just the general feel of ars PARADOXICA is so perfectly in line with the rest of the podcast up to this point. If you weren’t paying attention to who wrote what, you likely wouldn’t even realize this was done by a different writer–and you almost definitely wouldn’t think it was their first episode for the show.

With that emotional weight in the writing comes the emotional weight in the acting, notably from DiMercurio and Gabrielli in this episode. The two each have breakdown scenes that feel very different, but beautifully paralleled. Both of them sound so genuine in their different forms of despair. The performances are so nuanced and heartbreaking.

With each episode, I’m reminded again and again why ars PARADOXICA is required listening for people who want to not only understand this medium, but also understand how to construct a narrative.


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.
    • December 23rd, 1946: Helen Partridge leaves Point of Exile.
    • December 24th, 1946: Partridge discovers Donovan’s tapes.

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!

  • Time for lingusitics! Dr. Grissom tells Roberts and Wyatt that she’d been “Shanghaied.” The origins of this word are, unsurprisingly, fairly racist–but not anachronistic. The term originated in the 1850s.
  • Julian Mundy, the writer for this episode, is now the showrunner for another Whisperforge production: 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.
    • The weather in Tulsa today is: SHOWERS

On Tuesday (3/28/19), I’ll be recapping “10: Consequence, Act I” and “10: Consequence, Act II.” 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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