Let’s Go Back to ars PARADOXICA: “14: Anchor”

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.


“14: Anchor”

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

Transcript
Written by: Tau Zaman


So, what happens in this episode?

Dr. Grissom saves the man who fell into the water and finds that he recognizes her as Dr. Sally Grissom immediately. Dr. Grissom tries to get answers out of him, but he’s too busy throwing up to answer. When Dr. Grissom realizes he’s wearing a recording device from her time, she seizes the opportunity to dramatically ask:

“Where are you from? Or should I say . . . when are you from?”

The man reveals himself to be Dr. Nikhil Sharma, an ODAR agent from around the time that Dr. Grissom was sent back. Dr. Sharma posits that while sent back in time on his mission, something went wrong: his coordinates malfunctioned, so he was put in the physical space of the anchor–and he’s lost the memory of what his mission is at all. Dr. Sharma is excited to be in Dr. Grissom’s time, though. He seems to be aware of her life and work, excitedly asking for details of where they are like a tourist.

Dr. Grissom goes back to the payphone and sends Partridge a message about Dr. Sharma, and then calls the hotel to get a hold of Roberts. Roberts seems concerned about where Dr. Grissom has been, but when Dr. Grissom makes poor excuses, Roberts seems hurt but resigned. Dr. Grissom says she’ll be returning, and Roberts allows it. She shrugs Dr. Grissom off and hangs up.

Dr. Grissom and Dr. Sharma go to a bar to talk. Dr. Sharma says he’s glad to be back in this time period, but Dr. Grissom says he’ll miss the little things like handheld calculators and ambient noise. Dr. Grissom notices that a woman is glaring at him, and then remembers that racism exists very much in this time period. The two bond over understanding their now-future, referencing internet comment sections and terrible movies. By the time they get to their hotel, Dr. Sharma makes a move on Dr. Grissom, saying they should turn their recording devices off for a bit, but Dr. Grissom turns him down.

On October 30th, 1949, Dr. Grissom and Dr. Sharma start their road trip from Philadelphia to Point of Exile. Dr. Sharma keeps insisting that they visit “roadside attractions,” and while it seems like they’ve become fast friends, nothing gold can stay: their windshield is hit by one glass bottle, and then another. Dr. Grissom drives the assailant’s car off the road, and Dr. Sharma admits he’s been lying to her. After a quick scene transition, he explains that he knows why he was sent back to this time period: he’s supposed to be on a mission to kill Dr. Grissom. He says that in his future, he doesn’t know who Esther Roberts is, and Chet Whickman is already dead. He tells her, though, that he’s not going to: he’s working with a group that plans to take ODAR down. For this group, he’s supposed to take Dr. Grissom back to the future (pun intended, naturally) with him. All they need is a second anchor point.

On November 2nd, 1949, the two arrive back in Point of Exile to execute Dr. Sharma’s plan. Dr. Grissom distracts a guard watching over a generator by saying it’s about to blow up and they need to get Whickman. Dr. Grissom and Dr. Sharma make their way to the generator and start setting up the Timepiece to make a new anchor point. All Dr. Grissom has to do is close a circuit and they should be fine. At the last minute, though, Dr. Grissom says she can’t. She can’t just leave behind this time and her friends and her work. She needs to stay here and make sure things get better.

Whickman arrives earlier than anticipated, breaks into the room, and shoots Dr. Sharma. Dr. Sharma dies painfully slowly, telling Dr. Grissom he knew he couldn’t kill her from the first time he saw her. He says he can “see the beacons dotting the arc of time, lighting the way to dawn.” He jokes, “Some road trip, huh?” and dies.

Th episode cuts back to Partridge after having received Dr. Grissom’s message about this confusing stranger. Partridge does research on who he could have been but comes up with nothing. Partridge says that he can only see along Dr. Grissom’s timeline, but something in the 2000’s must have happened to make ODAR go radio silent.

Dr. Grissom finally returns Partridge’s messages to her. She gives little information, other than saying she’s not in a good place, and will be seeking help from a therapist.


Key facts and characters

  • Dr. Nikhil Sharma: An ODAR agent from XXXX who is sent back in time for two contradictory missions: either kill Dr. Grissom or bring her back to the future. Dr. Nikhil Sharma is played by Arjun Gupta.

How does it hold up?

This episode is phenomenal.

Tau Zaman’s 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 while also heightening emotional stakes and introducing new characters. Juggling all of these at once is a feat, and both writers succeeded with seeming effortlessness.

Dr. Nikhil Sharma is, in my opinion, one of the single most underrated characters in audio fiction, and I was so happy to be reminded why. Even in this first episode, in which he is introduced and killed, there was such a deep sense of understanding that came to the character, both from Zaman and Gupta. His chemistry and rhythm with Dr. Grissom and, likewise, DiMercurio, were as natural and immersive as most of the conversations between Dr. Grissom and Anthony Partridge.

Knowing how the episode factors into the rest of the plot does give it some additional weight, admittedly: this isn’t the last time we’ll hear Dr. Nikhil Sharma, and his development only gets better and better. On its own, without any follow-up or continuation of Dr. Sharma’s story, the episode could have felt unnecessary and even manipulative–though probably still excusable for its quality.

In the greater scope of the story, though, this episode is a masterful move, making “14: Anchor” one of the most memorable in the series.


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.
    • XXXX: Dr. Nikhil Sharma goes back in time with two conflict missions: kill Dr. Grissom or bring her back to the current year.
  • 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. Dr. Nikhil Sharma is brought back from XXXX.
    • Novembe 2nd, 1949: Dr. Nikhil Sharma is killed by Chet Whickman.

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!

  • The writer for this episode, Tau Zaman, created The Whisperforge’s weird west audio fiction CARAVAN. You can read my interview with Zaman here.
  • Arjun Gupta, the actor who plays Dr. Nikhil Sharma, can be found on many TV shows, but he’s most known for his ongoing role as Penny in The Magicians, where he continues his streak of being one of the most underrated actors playing one of the most underrated characters.
  • Let’s do some American pop culture history:
    • Dr. Sharma references Crossroads, a 2002 film starring–in Dr. Grissom’s universe and our own–pop star Britney Spears. The film was critically panned and mostly forgotten in the zeitgeist. While Britney Spears did pursue some acting roles, they were largely guest spots on TV shows like How I Met Your Mother, and better shows, like Jane the Virgin. Instead of acting, Britney Spears focused on her music.
    • In Dr. Sharma’s universe, though, Britney Spears’s role is played by pop star Mandy Moore. Mandy Moore in our universe has largely transitioned away from music and towards acting, landing roles in films like The Princess Diaries, A Walk to RememberSaved!, and most notably, Tangled, where she starred as Disney princess Rapunzel.
    • All of which is to say: Is Dr. Sharma’s Britney Spears a Disney princess?
  • During Dr. Grissom and Dr. Sharma’s road trip, a song can be heard playing underneath their conversation. The song is a recording of a traditional hymn, “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?”–a song featured heavily in 2013’s BioShock: Infinite, which, like ars PARADOXICA, deals heavily with time travel and multiple universes. In BioShock: Infinite, the song carries specific meaning regarding time loops, causality, etc.
  • 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: RAINY

On Tuesday (4/16/19), I’ll be recapping “15: Butterfly,” 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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