Let’s Go Back to ars PARADOXICA: “The Recorder of Dr. Nikhil Sharma”

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.


“The Recorder of Dr. Nikhil Sharma”

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?

This special episode of ars PARADOXICA follows the events leading to Dr. Nikhil Sharma jumping back in time to kill Dr. Sally Grissom. The episode begins with Dr. Sharma explaining his discomfort with ODAR to his supervisor. He explains that while his last mission was successful, he couldn’t stop thinking about the ramifications it had for his target’s family. Dr. Sharma’s supervisor halfheartedly listens, but then explains that his dissent has been noticed. She puts him on a few weeks of forced vacation.

During his vacation, Dr. Sharma spends much of his time training with Mateo Morales, another ODAR agent. The two spar and Dr. Sharma demands a rematch when he loses; the two job in the rain and then decide to call it quits even though they’re supposed to be doing more. The two immediately have chemistry evident to the listener, and they start flirting more and more with each recording. During one sparring match, Dr. Sharma accidentally breaks Morales’s nose, and in another, they wind up sharing a quick kiss.

Later, Dr. Sharma is recording for his audio diary when Morales walks into the room and excitedly exclaims when he sees Dr. Sharma. Morales says he’s missed Dr. Sharma, which confuses Dr. Sharma, because the two just saw each other two days ago. Dr. Sharma notices that Morales’s nose is healed and that he has a new scar, and eventually Morales tells him the truth: he’s been travelling back in time on missions for ODAR. Shocked, Dr. Sharma says he didn’t think ODAR still had people travelling back in time because of how dangerous it is. Morales says that they do, but for no more than a year in the past–meaning Morales traveled to the past one year and then waited through the whole year to catch up to this point in the timeline, hence why he missed Dr. Sharma.

Morales also tells Dr. Sharma that he didn’t just go back in time for ODAR, though–he also went on his own mission, to stop ODAR. Morales, in conversation with Anchorites, a group of people trying to take down ODAR, was trying to track down the schematics for a second anchor point in the future. Morales explains that while it has to be built in the past, using the original Rainbow generator in Polvo, it can be given the coordinates for the future, stopping ODAR.

Morales tells Dr. Sharma that ODAR is going to send someone on a mission to kill Dr. Sally Grissom, who died one year ago in their current timeline. Morales explains that they need Dr. Grissom dead sooner, because she poses some threat to them. Morales can’t do it himself, though: he’s traveled back in time too often, and he’s going to be retired from those missions. Instead, he wants Dr. Sharma to go for him. Dr. Sharma is cautious about every part of the plan, but specifically in not knowing how to build the mechanism. Morales says that they will practice until he can.

Morales also stresses the importance of Dr. Sharma having the appearance of still being on the ODAR mission so as to not give them away–as in, killing Dr. Grissom. Dr. Sharma is even more hesitant of this plan, but Morales assures him that Dr. Grissom won’t be necessary to their plan. Morales also gives Dr. Sharma the last words Dr. Sharma will say before he dies: “I see the beacons dotting the arc of time, lighting the way home”–a quote from, apparently, June Barlowe.

When Dr. Sharma’s supervisor approaches him about the mission, she says that she knows he and Morales are “close,” and that by not accepting the mission, Dr. Sharma will essentially be sending Morales to his death. Dr. Sharma agrees to go back to kill Dr. Grissom himself.


Key facts and characters

  • Mateo Morales: A future ODAR agent, and the significant other of Dr. Nikhil Sharma. Mateo Morales is played by Bernardo Cubría.
  • Anchorites: The group of rebels trying to take down ODAR by creating a second anchor point.

How does it hold up?

This episode is one of the episodes I remember most from my initial listen of ars PARADOXICA. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Dr. Nikhil Sharma is the most underrated character in audio fiction, and this episode helps cement that thesis.

Dr. Sharma’s empathy comes through at several points in ars PARADOXICA, but his tenderness is especially tangible in this episode. The combination of Tau Zaman’s writing and Arjun Gupta’s performance feels so lived in, so thoroughly organic in Dr. Nikhil Sharma. His chemistry with series newcomer Bernardo Cubría is so believably sweet without being too twee or saccharine.

The main, tragic star of this episode, though, is the dramatic irony. Unless this is in a different timeline–which, of course, it always could be–the listener knows that not only is Dr. Sharma unsuccessful, he never does get to see Morales again.


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.
    • November 2nd, 1949: Dr. Nikhil Sharma is killed by Chet Whickman.
    • 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.

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.

The Recruitment of Gaines and Marian

In a version of the current timeline, both Gaines and Marian are recruited into ODAR. Sometime after October 28th, 1943, Marian is given the order to stop Gaines from joining ODAR.

  • Loop 1: Both Gaines and Marian are recruited by ODAR.
  • Loop 2: The current timeline, Marian destroys Gaines’s offer letter to work for ODAR.

The Multiple Petras

In order to execute the jailbreak plan for Maraczeck and Lambert, an infinite number of Petras traveled to the past, to other Petras’ timelines, to help them learn from their mistakes.

  • Petra 1: Taught by all the iterations before herself, Petra’s mission fails, so she uses the Timepiece to travel to the timeline of Petra 2.
  • Petra 2: Taught by Petra 1, she attempts the jailbreak plan and fails. Petra 1 dies, and Petra 2 travels to the timeline of Petra 3.
  • Petra 3: Taught by Petra 2, she attempts the jailbreak plan. Petra 3 is the Timeline 1 Petra, and she is currently still joined by Petra 2.

ODAR & You!

  • In conversation with Morales about his past selves, Dr. Nikhil Sharma references The Prestige, a 2006 Christopher Nolan film about two competing magicians. The parallel might not seem clear unless you’ve seen the film and know about its ending twist. (If you just want spoilers, you can go here.)

On Thursday (5/16/19), I’ll be recapping episode “22: Dawn.” 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. […] Special episode: “The Recorder of Dr. Nikhil Sharma” […]

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