Let’s Go Back to ars PARADOXICA: “15: Butterfly”

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.


“15: Butterfly”

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

Transcript
Written by: Daniel Manning and Mischa Stanton


So, what happens in this episode?

“15: Butterfly” is mostly broken down between two storylines: Dr. Grissom starting therapy and the tapes of research assistant Maggie Elbourne. While the episodes jump back and forth between the two narratives, I’m going to separate them out here for clarity.

Dr. Grissom

After the death of Dr. Sharma, Dr. Grissom has struggled with agoraphobia and the unshakable fear that her presence will continue to destroy less nightmarish timelines. Following the advice of Esther Roberts, Dr. Grissom starts seeing a therapist, Dr. Fitzgerald. Initially, Dr. Grissom has a hard time opening up to Dr. Fitzgerald because she’s worried she’ll accidentally tell him too much, dooming him on this timeline, but eventually Roberts informs Dr. Fitzgerald of Dr. Grissom’s situation, and Dr. Grissom starts seeing him regularly.

The two try to combat Dr. Grissom’s fear of cursing those around her. Dr. Fitzgerald points out that if she hadn’t been present for an event, the alternate timeline’s events may have been even worse–there’s no way for her to know or control that. Dr. Fitzgerald compares Dr. Grissom’s struggles to an immigrant narrative: she’s in a place that’s unfamiliar to her, where she doesn’t quite speak the language or understand the culture, and she feels isolated and unmoored from her identity. He explains that while her situation is unique, her psychological responses to it are just human.

But Dr. Fitzgerald’s progress isn’t without protest from Dr. Grissom. Always the scientist, Dr. Grissom points to the evidence of how her presence has made things worse in peoples’ lives. Dr. Fitzgerald says that Dr. Grissom could not have stopped the conflict between Anthony Partridge and Bill Donovan, but Dr. Grissom insists that she at least “catalyzes harm.”

Dr. Grissom finally admits that the Timepiece is a burden to her, and then her other problems start unraveling during her sessions. She laments her confusing friendship with Chet Whickman, saying she can’t understand why he’d kill Dr. Sharma for seemingly no reason. She’s afraid of missing things like she did when she was in a coma, saying time acts like she’s its enemy. She’s frustrated with the lack of answers she’ll get about what happened, or could happen, or is happening. Dr. Fitzgerald tells her that her obsession with answers is holding her back, especially since she doesn’t even process them as things are: she hasn’t considered, for instance, what a massive breach of trust it was to Whickman for Dr. Grissom bringing a stranger to Point of Exile and trying to escape. Dr. Fitzgerald suggests she forgets finding answers and finds a hobby, like gardening.

At the end of the episode, Esther Roberts and Hank Cornish are listening to the tapes of Dr. Grissom’s sessions–as well as the tapes from Maggie Elbourne, but more on that later. Roberts and Cornish agree to let Dr. Grissom take up gardening, saying her boredom will eventually drive her back to ODAR.

Maggie Elbourne

Starting December 14th, 1949, research assistant Maggie Elbourne begins her audio notes on a research project for ODAR regarding the Timepiece’s effect on the psyche. Her tests, which she performs under Dr. Aldous Carling, will examine how mice react to different uses of the Timepiece.

The first test is on a mouse named Kronos. Using the Timepiece, one Kronos will receive his food an hour after he pushes a button. A Kronos in another timeline will have his food appear when he pushes the button, as sent back through the Timepiece. The test does not appear to have a negative effect on Kronos.

The second set of tests measures whether loops in the Timepiece will help a mouse named Hermes gets through a maze. Hermes‘s time through the maze gets worse and worse with each loop, until eventually, after 7 loops, Hermes dies.

 

The third test is created to measure how a future and past version of the same mouse reacts to itself from the opposite side of its timeline. The test uses three mice: ClothoLachesis, and Atropos. Adult versions of each mice are sent back to cages adjacent to the cages with their past selves. When the future mice push a button, they receive food, but their past selves receive a shock. Future Clotho pushed the button to receive food, not giving much acknowledgement of Past Clotho’s pain. Future Lachesis refused to push the button, starving herself. Future Atropos pushed the button tirelessly, ignoring the food, until Elbourne had to intervene.

The fourth and final test involves a Mother, a Child, and the Future Child as an adult. The Mother raises the Child in isolation in Loop 1, but then raises the Child with the Future Child in Loop 2. Elbourne hopes that the Future Child will protect the Child, but finds that instead, she has to immediately intervene as the Future Child starts attacking its past self.

During the tests, Elbourne becomes more and more uncomfortable with what she’s made to do. She talks about how she is being coerced into continuing the tests despite her protests; if she doesn’t, Dr. Carling will blacklist her, and she won’t be able to find any more work. After the fourth test, though, she leaves her position entirely. They had asked her to make a colony of copies of twelve mice, forcing them to live together, and she couldn’t abide.

At the end of the episode, Esther Roberts and Hank Cornish discuss Elbourne’s tapes. The listener finds out that Roberts commissioned all the tests, and neither she nor Cornish seem to have much empathy for Elbourne or the mice.


Key facts and characters

  • Maggie Elbourne: Maggie Elbourne is the research assistant to Dr. Aldous Carling at ODAR. Maggie Elbourne conducted, and delivered notes on, various experiments using the Timepiece on mice. Maggie Elbourne is played by Lauren Shippen.
  • Dr. Aldous Carling: Dr. Aldous Carling is Maggie Elbourne’s supervisor at ODAR, who blackmails her into continuing her tests by saying her will blacklist her if she doesn’t.
  • Dr. Ftizgerald: Dr. Fitzgerald is Dr. Grissom’s therapist, as recommended to her by Esther Roberts. Dr. Fitzgerald is played by Richard Penner.

How does it hold up?

The use of timelines in this episode is fascinating–as is diving into Dr. Grissom’s psyche. Having Dr. Grissom see a therapist is not only an important move, but also needed in the narrative. With nobody to immediately jump off of, Dr. Grissom has a tendency of feeling tight and wound up in herself, reluctant to express any real emotions, and only doing so accidentally. Dr. Fitzgerald’s presence is welcome not only because of the fantastic performance from the very underrated Richard Penner, but also because of how he plays off of Dr. Grissom.

With Dr. Fitzgerald, though, thinking he so easily bought that Dr. Grissom is from the future gave me some pause. Initially, this seemed like it was leading to the “revelation” that he was working alongside Roberts and Cornish. While this was somewhat the case, it’s unclear how much he was working alongside them. The episode seems to suggest that he only disclosed information to them, not that he was in on the information the entire time. Leaning into this a bit more might have resulted in some narrative hurdles being easier to jump.

Shippen’s performance as Elbourne worked very well, but as we’ll see soon, it does cause some confusion in a few episodes, when Shippen plays a different character who still sounds very similar.


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.

Elbourne’s experiments

  • Experiment 1: Food is sent to a mouse back through the Timepiece.
    • Loop 1: The mouse, Kronos, pushes a button, and receives his food an hour later. Food is brought back to Loop 2 through the Timepiece.
    • Loop 2: Kronos receives his food as soon as he pushes the button. The food is received from an hour into the future via the Timepiece.
  • Experiment 2: A mouse is sent back through the Timepiece many times to complete a maze.
    • Loops 1-6: The mouse, Hermes, attempts to complete the maze with quickly declining proficiency.
    • Loop 7: Hermes is dead at the start of the maze.
  • Experiment 3: Three mice are sent back to their past selves. Pushing a button, the future mice will receive food but shock their past selves.
    • Loop 1: The mice–Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos–are raised to adulthood. They are trained to receive food by pushing a button.
    • Loop 2: The adult mice are sent back through the Timepiece to adjoining cages to their past selves.
      • Future Clotho pushes the button, indifferent to the pain of Past Clotho.
      • Future Lachesis refuses to push the button, starving herself.
      • Future Atropos attempts to kill Past Atropos by abusing the button, regardless of receiving food.
  • Experiment 4: A mouse will be sent to raise itself in the past with its mother.
    • Loop 1: A mother mouse raises a child mouse in isolation.
    • Loop 2: The child mouse, now an adult, is sent back through the Timepiece to raise itself with the mother. The adult mouse attempts to kill its past self.

ODAR & You!

  • Maggie Elbourne is played by Lauren Shippen, creator of The Bright Sessions, another cornerstone work of the audio fiction medium.
  • Dr. Fitzgerald is played by Richard Penner, creator of The Infinite Now, another long-running and highly acclaimed audio fiction. Richard Penner is also the mind behind the fantastic TIMESCANNER twitter account.
  • Let’s talk about those mouse names! All of the mice were named for figures from Greek mythology.
    • Kronos is named for the Greek titan, father of Zeus, Poseidon, Hades, Hera, and other gods and goddesses. Kronos was overthrown by Zeus, but ate his other children as soon as they were born. Kronos is the subject of a famous–and horrifying–painting by Goya, Saturn Devouring His Sons.
    • Hermes is named for the Greek god of messages, roads, and travelers.
    • Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos are named for the Fates, three goddesses who rule over the thread of life. Clotho spins the thread of life, Lachesis measures it, and Atropos cuts it.
  • 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: WINDY

On Thursday (4/18/19), I’ll be recapping “16: Greenhouse,” the first episode written by Danielle Shemaiah. 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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