Let’s Go Back to ars PARADOXICA: “13: Signal”

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.


“13: Signal”

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?

Picking up directly from the last episode, Dr. Grissom plays the recording on her answering machine over and over again, baffled at how she could have received a message from Partridge. Dr. Grissom calls the message service, but they seem to be confused about her getting a message from them. The service hangs up on Dr. Grissom abruptly, but then call her back, seemingly with a new representative. This representative gets Dr. Grissom Partridge’s number.

The next segment of the episode switches rapidly between Dr. Grissom and Partridge, with the two sometimes completing the other’s sentences or, in a few instances, speaking in unison. Partridge is relieved that she got the message, and the two start corresponding somewhat frequently–though, of course, the timeline is inconsistent, spotty, and confusing. Still, they both find that trying to puzzle it out and having someone to talk to reinvigorates them both. They say, in unison:

“It’s so nice to have something to do again.”

But, of course, this is Dr. Grissom and Partridge we’re talking about. They can’t be in perfect unison sometimes without also being complete opposite sometimes. Dr. Grissom and Partridge both think the other has it better: Dr. Grissom can be around people, actually work on things, be a part of things; Partridge can observe the growth and discoveries of time without being bothered by anyone. There’s one thing, though, that unites them better than anything else:

“I’m just . . . so . . . lonely.”

Dr. Grissom develops an answering machine for The Blackroom, but she needs to find an antenna that existed in 1943 as well as the current day in order to actually use it. She knows where she needs to go: Philadelphia, to the radio tower by the U.S.S. Eldridge.

Dr. Grissom talks to Roberts, who’s planning a trip to New York to inspect a job site that she thinks is being managed poorly. It’s here that the listener realizes for the first time just how much influence Roberts has in ODAR and how high she is on its hierarchy. Dr. Grissom convinces Roberts to let her come to the east coast, saying she needs to get out, and eventually, Roberts agrees.

Hiding in an airport bathroom, Dr. Grissom narrates that she really has no idea how to think about Roberts anymore. It’s hard to tell whether Roberts really is kind, or if she’s just good at acting kind. Dr. Grissom points out that Roberts put her career over her best friend, Jack Wyatt–and that she can’t really ask Roberts about any of this, because Dr. Grissom is terrible at discussing feelings.

When she finally leaves the bathroom, Roberts continually asks Dr. Grissom if she’s going to be okay fending for herself in New York so soon after her recovery. Initially, it might seem like Roberts is trying to keep an eye on Dr. Grissom, but then Roberts becomes–perhaps–more vulnerable and authentic. She tells Dr. Grissom that nobody knew if she’d survive or wake up from her coma, and she’s worried about losing her again. Dr. Grissom assuages her fears and then heads off to Philadelphia. Prepared with a lockpick set, she scales the radio tower to finalize the answering machine for Partridge.

Roberts, meanwhile, checks out the site. She gives directions to the manager, who says he can make the changes for “her boss,” Chet Whickman. Roberts puts him in his place immediately, saying that actually, she’s in charge here. After the site visit, Roberts calls a friend from her past: Bridget Dreyfuss, who she refers to as “Bridge” after introducing herself as “Ettie.”

The two meet for a drink and get caught up. Dreyfuss is married, which seems to confuse Roberts. Roberts is cagey about her work, eventually lying about having worked on the bomb. As the two talk, Roberts’s confusion becomes fairly clear: their friendly conversation slips into flirtation very quickly, and the two wind up at Dreyfuss’s place. After a post-coital cigarette, Roberts asked why the two of them never worked out, and the conversation quickly spirals into an argument. Dreyfuss says that Roberts was never going to care more about her than her job–and she also points out that they wouldn’t really be able to get away with being together for too long, given the societal climate around queer couples. Roberts defends herself saying that Dreyfuss never communicated her concerns, but this all gets worse when Roberts offers Dreyfuss a job. Dreyfuss, feeling rightfully manipulated, kicks Roberts out.

The recording keeps going, though. Roberts seems to be right about Dreyfuss not communicating in at least one way: she’s secretly recorded the entire evening to give as evidence that Roberts was trying to recruit her to an unnamed source.

The scene cuts back to Dr. Grissom and Partridge, who have found that the system does work. Dr. Grissom calls the answering machine from a payphone, and Partridge calls her back immediately (or, what seems like immediately to Dr. Grissom). Relieved, Dr. Grissom looks at the U.S.S. Eldridge and realizes it’s been six years to the day that all of this started. She says she deserves a cake, but then she’s cut off by someone falling into the water.


Key facts and characters

  • Bridget Dreyfuss: Esther Robert’s past significant other, who Roberts meets up with again–only for Dreyfuss to record her for evidence. Bridget Dreyfuss is played by Preston Max Allen.

How does it hold up?

This episode is stunning. “13: Signal” manages to do many things that films attempt, but it executes them so much better. Primarily, the editing in the conversation that switches between Dr. Grissom and Partridge is a typical film trope that’s often used for comedic purposes–usually interrogation scenes–but here, it doesn’t feel like a cheap tactic for laughs. While I was listening, I kept thinking of team pieces in spoken word poetry, how the poems, when done well, overlap certain words or phrases to create heightened meaning. Take, for instance, this absolute masterpiece (though a quick content warning for #MeToo and everything therein):

(Watch the whole video, if you can. Trust me.)

This episode also conveys a queer relationship and just basic flirtation better than so many films, too. The understanding of a queer relationship isn’t surprising, given most creators in The Whisperforge are queer. The flirtation here, though, was so refreshing. It wasn’t forced. It wasn’t awkward. The chemistry was completely authentic–and so was the fight that followed.


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.
  • 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.
    • October 27th, 1949: Dr. Grissom establishes the answering machine in The Blackroom, and Esther Roberts reunites with Bridget Dreyfuss.

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!

  • Dr. Grissom talks a bit about travelling before the TSA, which is something younger listeners might not necessarily think about. Interesting thing: the TSA, or Transport Security Administration, is an administration if the Department of Homeland Security that was only established in 2001 as part of the Aviation and Transportation Security Act. Like many, many other facets of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, this act was a direct response to 9/11, which means that the TSA is relatively new.
  • 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 (4/11/19), I’ll be recapping “14: Anchor,” the first episode written by Tau Zaman. 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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