Let’s Go Back to ars PARADOXICA: “12: Asset”

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.


“12: Asset”

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 these episodes?

The episode opens with two men playing chess: Lou Gaines and David Marian. Gaines is helping Marian practice for a tournament, but Marian says he can’t enter; the people running the event were racist, and while he pushed back, he could feel the confrontation leading towards violence and left. Gaines, meanwhile, finds himself similarly despondent: he’s been forced onto a sabbatical during his professorship at Delaware State for suggesting that American use propaganda just like the Soviets do.

As Marian leaves, Gaines is approached by Hank Cornish, using the name “Francis Beck.” Cornish says he has an offer for Gaines: he knows Gaines was honorably discharged from the military, that Soviet spies keep cropping up, and that Gaines can’t fall back on his job at the university. Gaines agrees to work with him, but suggests that Marian should be brought on too.

The episode shifts to Partridge in The Blackroom. Partridge wonders how exactly The Blackroom works, frustrated that he’ll never really know. He also says that in 1949, Cornish is terrified of Soviet spies and hiring as many people as he can to work for ODAR.

Gaines and Marian, it seems, are two such hires. Switching back and forth between their separate interviews, Gaines and Marian tell Cornish that they served in the same unit in World War II. Early on, Gaines saved Marian during a mission, and the two became close. Gaines is confronted about his perceived Communist sympathies, but Gaines says he doesn’t have an energy; he’s just a believer in the “know thine enemy” credo. Marian, meanwhile, confirms that yes, he will do anything for his country.

Gaines and Marian start their training under the guidance of Ray Vico. Vico tells them all that their job is top-secret, that not even the other members of their unit will know their individual missions. They’re spies of a very specific purpose and caliber. They’re introduced to the Timepiece Field Kit, their own personal Timepieces for helping their timeline be the best possible timeline for ODAR’s purposes. One fellow new recruit, Sugimura, goes through some tests, and the strain upon him is evident. Those who pass through training are given a specific ID card with the current date listed on it so all other ODAR members will be able to identify them.

Partridge, meanwhile, gets correspondence that a timeline needs fixing. It seems that one of Cornish’s new recruits, one Lou Gaines, went rogue and delivered pictures of the Timepiece schematics to the Soviets. Partridge has to send correspondence out to someone to fix it.

While the new recruits are celebrating graduating their training, Cornish pulls Marian aside. He delivers Partridge’s correspondence: using the Timepiece, Marian has to eliminate the version of Gaines who gives the pictures of the Timepiece to the Soviets. Marian accepts without much question. Marian goes back to the day they got their acceptance letters and throws it in the fire. When he returns, he tells Cornish to have Joseph McCarthy’s people keep an eye on Gaines.


Key facts and characters

  • The Timepiece Field Kit: The Timepiece each ODAR agent uses to reconcile timelines.
  • The ODAR Agents: The full list of agents who completed their training in this episode are as follows:
    • Agent Brian Edmonds
    • Agent Louis Gaines
    • Agent Frank Hollis
    • Agent David Marian
    • Agent Kenzo Sugimura
  • Lou Gaines: A veteran and professor at the University of Delaware who is recruited into ODAR in one timeline, but did not receive the approval letter in its second loop.
  • David Marian: A veteran and friend to Lou Gaines who is recruited into ODAR and burns Gaines’s acceptance letter.
  • Ray Vico: The ODAR agent who trained Lou Gaines, David Marian, and the other ODAR agents.
  • Francis Beck: The pseudonym Hank Cornish uses for the ODAR agents.

How does it hold up?

Julian Mundy’s episodes are always surprising changes in the trajectory of ars PARADOXICA. In his first episode, Mundy gave us Dr. Grissom’s first deeply human breakdown; now, Mundy focuses on completely new characters save for Partridge and Cornish, leaving Dr. Grissom out of the narrative entirely. It’s maybe a jarring episode in its shift initially, but it works so well in the series overall for a few key reasons: first, it’s cemented in the narrative by Cornish, but even moreso, Partridge, who has shepherded these early episodes in season two; second, because the writing works so well with the feel of ars PARADOXICA, and the characters seem so baked into the world; and third, because these characters are so important in the rest of the story.

This is also one of the episodes in which I found myself rewinding and listening to passages over and over again–not to comprehend them, but to just steep in how effortlessly Mischa Stanton’s sound design work set a scene. The combination of a cigarette, some wind, and some chatter immediately transports the listener to where Lou Gaines is. As the new recruits fight, you can hear exactly who is grappling who and how. It’s the moments you wouldn’t notice if you’re listening for enjoyment versus dissecting craft; they’re too natural to notice, which is what makes them perfect.

But the episode does have some flaws. Two episodes in, the near lack of Dr. Grissom does feel a little untethered from the rest of the show’s run. This felt especially true in “12: Asset,” not just because she wasn’t present at all, but because of how much men dominated the episode. All of the speaking characters in the episode were men, which also became problematic when many of them sounded similar in timbre. There’s often complaints about having too many women on a podcast–people say they sound the same–but here, I actually found this true for many of the men. This is likely just a problem I encountered, but I didn’t even realize Beck was Cornish until a second listen-through and a check of the transcript. I assumed he was just another guy who sounded pretty similar to Cornish.


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.
    • 1949:
      • Loop 1: Lou Gaines and David Marian A are recruited into ODAR. Once they graduate, Marian A is told to reconcile the timeline so that Gaines cannot give pictures of the Timepiece to the Soviets.
      • Loop 2: Lou Gaines and David Marian B are recruited into ODAR, but David Marian A burns Gaines’s acceptance letter before he can receive it.

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!

  • At the end of the episode, Marian tells “Beck” to have McCarthy’s men watch Gaines. McCarthy, here, is of course the infamous Joseph McCarthy, who spent 10 years in Senate fear-mongering about Communism and its sympathizers–as well as fear-mongering about queer people. McCarthy started a blacklist in entertainment for creators who should not be given work due to their sympathies, whether real or just accused. “McCarthyism” is now a term used for, essentially, making radical conjectures about someone that could hurt their reputation or careers based on some sociological fear. Here’s a nice, quick video on McCarthy:
  • But if you’ve ever read or seen The Crucible, you might actually know more about McCarthy–or, at least, the specific breed of fear McCarthy instilled in people. Arthur Miller wrote the play as an allegory for McCarthy’s reign.
  • 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: CLOUDY

On Thursday (4/9/19), I’ll be recapping “13: Signal.” 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. […] first episode of ars PARADOXICA feels similar to Julian Mundy’s second episode, “12: Asset” in certain ways. Both episodes fit seamlessly into the greater narrative and voice of the show […]

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