Let’s Go Back to ars PARADOXICA: “11: Blackroom”

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.


“11: Blackroom”

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 these episodes?

Instead of starting with Dr. Grissom’s narration, the episode opens to narration from Anthony Partridge, who has been trapped inside The Blackroom–a CAGE positioned in time specifically to the timeline’s anchor point, October 28th, 1943. The Blackroom is mostly featureless, a small void of darkness, but it does have a floor, rations, a bookshelf, a recorder, and a modern computer. His job here is, essentially, to be a mailman: he’s supposed to facilitate communications back and forth through time.

The episode shifts to a conversation between Whickman and Cornish, who are arguing about what to do with Dr. Grissom, who’s in a coma after meeting her future self. Cornish argues that Dr. Grissom is a “subversive,” and they’ll never be able to rely on her to be compliant. Whickman defends not only Dr. Grissom’s integrity, but her extremely unique position to help them with their projects. Cornish begrudgingly agrees.

When Dr. Grissom wakes up, she’s incapable of speaking coherently. Slowly, she’s retrained to speak, though she still has some issues keeping her tenses straight. Roberts, Cornish, and Whickman listen to Dr. Grissom’s retraining, where she’s essentially being gaslit about being from the future. Like Whickman, Roberts throws her support behind Dr. Grissom, saying they can’t keep lying to her like this. Roberts also points out how expensive and frustrating support for The Blackroom is: it’s tricky getting things to Partridge, and when they arrive, they’ll all seem like they’d always been there for him, no matter when they were sent back. This is why Partridge has a modern computer upon his entry to The Blackroom.

When Roberts wakes Dr. Grissom up, she reveals that Dr. Grissom has been in a coma for three years–though, just one year, from the perspective of Roberts, given Dr. Grissom’s recovery has taken place inside the CAGE. Dr. Grissom remembers very little: something about pumpkins, something about butterflies. Roberts tells her that ODAR exists again, as an underground part of the CIA. Dr. Grissom, hearing all of this and seeing the fake hospital room they’ve had her recover in, says she’s not coming back to them; she’s going on sabbatical.

When the episode finally gets to Dr. Grissom’s narration, she’s recording–but back in the diner. She feels lost and alone. She considers going to her family’s farm, being more anonymous. She’s at a loss for what to do, and she can no longer rely on the people she’s come to trust most.

Partridge, meanwhile, is avoiding doing his job. He doesn’t want Donovan to posthumously “win,” so instead, when he gets some correspondence to pass through the timeline, he reads Stephen King novels. Partridge falls into a philosophical spiral about what time, in contrast to the self, is, quoting Heidegger before stopping himself. He finds that he has to weigh his options between eternal isolation with no contact against not helping Donovan. He thinks that if he sends these pieces of correspondence, he can also send his own correspondence as long as it’s going to the same year. He misses Dr. Grissom, calling her “a bright star in an ocean of black.” When he sees that a piece of correspondence alludes that Dr. Grissom is in trouble, he sees this as his excuse to help Donovan after all.

Dr. Grissom comes home and listens to her answering machine, which is all filled with unimportant messages. But then, she comes across a message via messaging service. The message is from Partridge, styled like a telegraph, which reads:

Disc jockey in Philly now STOP please come visit STOP bring your finest watches STOP would love to hear you again FULL STOP


Key facts and characters

  • The Blackroom: Anthony Partridge’s new confinement, a CAGE-like room stuck at October 28th, 1943.

How does it hold up?

This episode is a little heavy on the recap, especially in Partridge’s initial narration, but it makes sense: there’s a good chance people might have just jump into the series for its second season premier versus starting from the beginning. It helps that this narration is given by Partridge versus Dr. Grissom: the new perspective helps it feel less like specific exposition, unless you’re thinking about the purpose those moments of narration serve.

As always, the writing and acting in this episode are phenomenal. Taking a step back from the focus on Dr. Grissom had me missing her, but I appreciated the time given to the other characters, all of whom will solidify as more and more important as the series goes on.


Butterfly Syndrome

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.
  • October 28th, 1943: Anthony Partridge’s fixed place in the Blackroom.
  • 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 A1: Quentin Barlowe is shot by Chet Whickman from Timeline 3.
      • Loop A2: 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 B1: When the Polvo power grid overloads, Dr. Grissom A uses the timepiece to help save Polvo.
      • Loop B2: Dr. Grissom B goes to RAINBOW A and pulls the lever to regulate the power. RAINBOW B explodes.
      • Loop B3: 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 and kills Donovan. He is put in the Blackroom to be stuck in October 28th, 1943.

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.

Fragment Timelines

Throughout the series, there are fragmented timelines that the audience is never given the full details of. Instead of trying to factor these into the main timelines, they’ll be given their own sections.

Bill Donovan’s Tapes

In the first season, Partridge finds the tapes that Donovan has been sending to himself from the future using his own Timepiece to make sure he gets his way. Only certain tapes were played in the episode, “10: Consequence, Act I.”

  • Tape 1: Recorded August 1st, 1945; sent back to July 10th, 1945. Donovan tells himself to let Partridge take the others to Las Vegas. He tells his past self that J. Edgar Hoover is gay.
  • Tape 2: Recorded July 17th 1945; sent back to July 10th, 1945. Donovan tells his past self that the intel on J. Edgar Hoover wasn’t sufficient.
  • Tape 5: Recorded July 26th, 1945; sent back to July 18th, 1945. Donovan tells his past self that Winston Churchill lost the United Kingdom general election and that they should call in a favor.
  • Tape 7: Recorded August 10th, 1945; sent back to August 4th, 1945. Donovan tells his past self that Truman still will not fund their work until he sees good evidence that it’s going towards something.
  • Tape 12: Recorded September 12th, 1945; no date listed for when it was sent back. Donovan says that he found the tape of Chet Whickman from Timeline 1, Loop A1, shooting Quentin Barlowe.
  • Tape 16: Recorded December 3rd, 1945; sent back to November 28th, 1945. Donovan tells his past self that Hank Cornish has arrived in town.
  • Tape 19: Recorded December 12th, 1945; sent back to December 11th, 1945. Donovan tells his past self how to avoid being hit by a car.
  • Tape 20: Recorded December 12th, 1945; sent back to December 11th, 1945. Donovan tries again to tell his past self how to avoid being hit by a car.
  • Tape 21: Recorded December 12th, 1945; sent back to December 11th, 1945. Donovan tells his past self to not go outside.
  • Tape 26: No dates given. Donovan tells his past self to tell “her” how much she means to him.
  • Tapes 29-33: Recorded December 21st, 1945; sent back to December 20th, 1945. Donovan tells his past self how to trigger the explosion in Polvo, make sure Dr. Grissom uses the Timepiece to create duplicates of herself, and then use those duplicates as physical proof that the timepiece is working to get their funding.
  • Donovan’s final tape: Recorded December 10th/15th/18th, 1946: Donovan tells his past self that his illness is getting worse, but he receives the tapes.

ODAR & You!

  • Partridge refers to The Blackroom as being named for the room in which Napoleon’s people read letters. I don’t know much about French history, and all I could find on a search of “Napoleon” and “Black Room” is a 1999 biography, Black Room at Longwood. If you’re more knowledgeable than I, please share in the comments!
  • While Dr. Grissom is re-learning how to speak, she grows increasingly more frustrated. As confirmed by the transcript, she starts by just mumbling sounds, but then eventually tries to say, “You’re a dick,” and “Fuck you.”
  • 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 Thursday (4/4/19), I’ll be recapping “12: Asset.” 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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  1. I love that Dr. Grissom’s first few mumbled lines are to correct her doctor, who keeps calling her “Miss,!”

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