Let’s Go Back to ars PARADOXICA: “18: Boundary”

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.


“18: Boundary”

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

Transcript
Written by: Mischa Stanton (with story concepts by Erin Bark)


So, what happens in this episode?

“18: Boundary” focuses on Anthony Partridge in the Blackroom. Leaving a message for Dr. Grissom, Partridge talks about making a rubber band ball to pass the time. Out of boredom and curiosity, he throws the rubber band ball at the boundary of the Blackroom–a wall that Partridge describes as a little too organic-feeling–only to find that it bounces back at his face with pricely the same force and speed. Partridge concludes that the boundary must perfectly reflective inwards, which he says makes sense. Excited, Anthony thinks about what sorts of experiments he could run with this knowledge.

Dr. Grissom replies quickly, but is cut off by an unexpected visit from Esther Roberts, who still doesn’t know Dr. Grissom is speaking with Partridge.

Back in the Blackroom, Partridge contemplates his own death. No matter what he does, no matter how fit he stays, he will die in the Blackroom, alone. He talks about his “cat boxes,” their name a reference to Schrodinger’s cat: there are 16 wooden boxes that contain one item each per his request from ODAR. The brilliance of the boxes is that due to how the Blackroom works, the item he requests from ODAR will appear in the box as soon as he needs it. The item, until the box is opened, both does and does not exist inside the box. On one hand, the boxes are exciting and enticing, given he could ask for anything. On the other hand, the boxes are terrifying. What catastrophe might they be used to stop? Does one potentially contain the thing that will one day kill him?

Partridge tells Dr. Grissom he doesn’t want to die alone. He tells her that she might be able to help free him, but Dr. Grissom is hesitant. She says she has no idea what breaking Partridge out of the Blackrom would mean, given he’d reappear at the anchor, and she knows he wasn’t there when she arrived. She says she’s worried that pulling that string of time might “unravel everything.” Instead of breaking him out, Dr. Grissom tells Partridge to call her in his final moments so he won’t be alone.

This, both understandably and not, infuriates Partridge. He’s alarmed at her, saying the Dr. Grissom he first met never would have been so quick to turn down an opportunity for such an exciting experiment. He tells her she’s gotten cold. Dr. Grissom calls back, saying Roberts had to learn to prioritize herself the hard way, and Dr. Grissom needs to prioritize herself, too. She asks him not to ask her again. When he calls back, she doesn’t answer.

Speaking to Dr. Fitzgerald, Dr. Grissom says that Partridge is at least a little right. In the past, she definitely wouldn’t have turned him down. Dr. Fitzgerald says that she should see this as an improvement: instead of her previous wildly impulsive, self-sacrificing tendencies, she’s actually caring about people–including herself. It’s a big step. Dr. Fitzgerald talks her into admitting that she has worth out side of her brain, something she seems to understand logically but not emotionally.

But of course, Dr. Grissom is still ultimately Dr. Grissom. She mulls over Partridge’s idea and puts together some blueprints. When she’s interrupted by another surprise visit from Roberts, she tries to hide the blueprints and lie to Roberts, but Roberts sees right through her. Roberts doesn’t pry, saying Dr. Grissom can have her secrets.

Later, Dr. Grissom gets Partridge the blueprints for a gluon emitter. In order to get it to work, he’ll have to use another cat box; he already used the first for a Gameboy, on which he plays a lot of Tetris. He understands the massive risk the gluon emitter poses not just to himself, but everyone. He holds off, but he’s grateful to have the option.

And, of course, Roberts is still Roberts. She meets with Dr. Fitzgerald, asking him to tell her what Dr. Grissom is up to. Dr. Fitzgerald is not subtle about his contempt for Roberts and how she treats Dr. Grissom, but Roberts is the reason Dr. Fitgzerald’s daughter is getting medical treatment. He tells Roberts that Dr. Grissom and Partridge have been speaking, and Dr. Grissom has built something that might help him escape.

Partridge thinks more on the gluon emitter, but says that because the boundary reflects inwards, he wouldn’t be able to use it anyway. But Partridge comes up with another theory: he thinks he might be able to be broken out if a second anchor point is made, weakening the tie between the Blackroom and the current anchor is weakened. It’s an adaptation of the theory posited by Dr. Nikhil Sharma.

The episode shifts to a conversation between Agent Marian and Chet Whickman. Setting out on another mission, Marian is planning to get information from Elizabeth Bentley on the Soviet Union and the Communist Party. The two are interrupted by Roberts, and Marian leaves so she can talk to Whickman. The two discuss Partridge wanting to break out of the Blackroom, and Whickman suggests they simply tell Partridge what would happen if he tried.

Partridge, meanwhile, asks Dr. Grissom how much she trusted Dr. Sharma, and she says she trusted the time he’d have to test his theory and do the math–she didn’t check it herself. Later, Partridge is contacted in the Blackroom by Esther Roberts. She tells him that if he were to make a second anchor, everything that had ever time traveled would be constantly stuck between the two anchors, triggering a set of events that would lead to “an endgame scenario,” a complete annihilation of the world. She says they’re not even sure that wasn’t Dr. Sharma’s plan the whole time.

Dr. Partridge is baffled at how Dr. Grissom could have missed this information, frustrated with her–and when he tells her to drop the idea, she becomes frustrated with him. He doesn’t know how to explain it to her, but he tells her to “Be well.”

In late October of 1950, Dr. Grissom narrates that she’s done with Partridge and his manipulative, self-serving antics for a while.

The episode cuts back once more to Partridge, who says Dr. Sharma was not the only person to attempt a second anchor. He issues a severe, urgent warning to ODAR.


Key facts and characters

  • The Cat Boxes: Inspired by Schrodinger’s Cat, the cat boxes are boxes that can be filled with one item of Partridge’s request. There are 16 boxes total. The first was used on a Nintendo Gameboy.
  • The Gluon Emitter: The gluon emitter is a device that could, theoretically, help Partridge escape from the Blackroom; however, it is not used.
  • A Second Anchor Point: Creating a second anchor point would cause an “endgame scenario,” destroying the world.

How does it hold up?

What makes this episode excel so much is not just the lovely characterization in the tragic friendship of Dr. Grissom and Partridge, but also the way it weaves so many new concepts and characters together. Something I did not appreciate on my first listen of ars PARADOXICA is how well episodes like this weave together new characters with the ongoing continuity and cohesion of the podcast as a whole. This episode focused on the characters the listener cares about most, but still managed to weave in both Dr. Sharma and Agent Marian in ways that were not only logical, but also felt extremely elegant.

The episode, I realize now, also scaffolded so much of the plot to come. It’s extremely exciting seeing how much foreshadowing was baked into the plot this early on.


Butterfly Syndrome

Timeline 1

  • May 19th, 1985: Petra, Carmen, the other children, and Van arrive after travelling back in time.
    • Loop 1: Liam travels back in time ten minutes to see himself.
    • Loop 2: Liam A meets Liam B from 10 minutes in the future, giving him severe Butterfly Syndrome.
  • December 13th, 1990: Petra, Carmen, the other children, and Van travel back in time to May 19th, 1985.
  • 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.
    • November 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!

  • Agent Marian hopes to get information out of Elizabeth Bentley, a real Soviet spy who later defected and gave the information of over 40 other spies to the American government.
  • Dr. Fitzgerald says that Dr. Grissom has a “breakfast Rube Goldberg machine”–something Dr. Grissom stole from countless movies, most notably Back to the Future.
    • Surprisingly, Rube Goldberg machines and their name are old enough for Dr. Fitzgerald to be able to give that reference.
  • In his existential spiral, Partridge says he can’t not “rage against the dying of the light.” The phrase is an allusion to the Dylan Thomas poem, “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night.” The poem is a villanelle, which includes several refrains. In this poem, the refrains are, “Do not go gentle into that good night / Rage, rage against the dying of the light,” phrases Thomas wrote in regards to his dying father.
  • Because the Blackroom’s timeline stops in the 1990s, Partridge does not have access to the best Nintendo Gameboy games, Pokemon Red and Pokemon Yellow. (Pokemon Blue is just fine.) He does, however, have access to Tetris, and . . . very little else.
    • Tetris is, of course, a Russian game, originally developed in the Soviet Academy of Sciences.
  • Partridge uses the imagery of a Newton’s Cradle as a metaphor for his life that will inevitably end. A Newton’s Cradle is one of these:

Image result for newtons cradle

  • 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.

On Thursday (5/2/19), I’ll be recapping “19: Gumshoe.” 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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