Let’s Go Back to ars PARADOXICA: “24: Dilemma”

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.


“24: Dilemma”

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

Transcript
Written by: Danielle Shemaiah


So, what happens in this episode?

Dr. Esther Roberts’s trial has arrived.

The episode opens with Dr. Roberts and Bridget Chambers discussing how they expect the proceeding will go. As the two talk, Dr. Roberts becomes defensive and then frustrated with Chambers–but Chambers understands she’s just lashing out and knows how to calm her down. Dr. Roberts tells Chambers that she understood fully what she was doing every step of the way, but did it anyway. It isn’t that she has regrets; it’s that she wishes she did. Dr. Roberts says that at this point, she doesn’t even know what her job is, or who she answers to, or what ODAR is even supposed to accomplish anymore.

In the trial, Hank Cornish is representing the CIA in the prosecution of Dr. Esther Roberts. His claim is that Dr. Roberts is a communist who has been conspiring to release United States intelligence.

The episode cuts to Dr. Grissom’s audio journal, dated March 3rd, 1953. Dr. Grissom talks about how Dr. Roberts was taken out of custody to D.C. in a four-car-long transport, and Dr. Grissom naturally followed. She’s worried about Dr. Roberts giving how authorities usually handle marginalized voices, and Dr. Roberts hits at least three intersections of marginalization as a queer Jewish woman. Dr. Grissom does have some worries about Dr. Roberts’s ethics, but she firmly believes that Dr. Roberts did everything she did for the United States.

Back in the trial, Hank Cornish begins interrogating Dr. Roberts:

Hank Cornish: Good Morning, Esther.

Dr. Roberts: Hank.

Hank Cornish: The sooner we start, the sooner this will all be over.

Dr. Roberts: That is how time works. I’m something of an expert.

Even though the information is redundant, given Hank Cornish was present when all of this happened, Dr. Roberts confirms that she did work on different versions of the Timepiece. She also confirms that yes, while in the CAGE with Chet Whickman, she did conceive of and then effect a plan to usurp Bill Donovan’s power in ODAR.

Outside the courtroom, Dr. Grissom talks with Petra. They haven’t been allowed into the trial, and Petra says that in her case, it’s because they want her to testify. Dr. Grissom is surprised that she wasn’t asked, given she’s known this version of Dr. Roberts for so long, but Petra says that familiarity is likely part of it; Dr. Grissom is too biased towards her fried. Dr. Grissom asks Petra if she’ll testify against Dr. Roberts, and Petra says that she just plans on telling the truth. When the two are joined by Bridget Chambers and Lou Gaines, Petra leaves. Chambers is debating whether or not she should testify. She says she hasn’t been around Dr. Roberts for long enough recently to be very helpful. Dr. Grissom grows increasingly frustrated by nobody wanting to help Dr. Roberts, and she calls Chambers a coward.

 

Back in the trial, Cornish asks Dr. Roberts about Jack Wyatt. When asked if she trusts him and his opinion, Dr. Roberts says she does. Cornish has the jury and judge turn to a page in their evidence packets in which there’s a transcript of Dr. Roberts telling Jack Wyatt to flee, and telling him she won’t tell ODAR where he is. Cornish points out that Dr. Roberts knew he was breaking contract and potentially leaving with ODAR secrets, but she protected him regardless.

During a recess, Cornish confronts Chambers about testifying. He tells says that there are discrepancies in the timeline of when she was recruited, and he asks how exactly she reunited with Dr. Roberts. As he asks more questions about what they talked about, if they spoke the entire night, etc., it’s clear Cornish knows about the relationship between the two. He corners her in his wording, and then says he’s going to corner her again like this if she does testify.

When the trial resumes, it’s time for Chet Whickman’s testimony. Whickman says that Dr. Roberts is absolutely brilliant, and that she is trustworthy. In her job duties, he says she exceeded all expectations. However, when pushed, he does admit that he had to force himself into trusting her several, several times. The value of his trust is heavy, and he explains that for his team to work smoothly, he had to give that trust to Dr. Roberts, but he always had questions nagging at him.

As he speaks, he sounds more vulnerable and hurt than he has in the entire series, and it’s clear he’s been repressing a good deal of his emotions the entire show so far. He says he doesn’t understand why the two prisoners’ cells would have been programmed together, and that he doesn’t necessarily buy that she was hurt that night. He doesn’t understand why she had to go to the site visit in New York alone, let alone bring Dr. Grissom, who then brought Dr. Sharma back with her. He doesn’t understand why she didn’t stop Donovan when she knew what he was doing. He worries that she staged being trapped in the CAGE with him to have time to manipulate him into trusting her.

When the judge asks him again if he trusts her, Whickman says, “Not without reservation.”

Next on the stand is Petra, who gives her name as Petra Marquez, a name she’s given herself. When questioned by Cornish on why, she gives him flippant responses that lead to more questions, but eventually she says that she isn’t a character witness, she’s evidence. Cornish asks her about her past–their future–focusing on how her “classmates” died. Petra responds that they died in “colorful and varied ways,” and when Cornish focuses on the death of Liam, he says it must have been psychologically damaging on her:

Hank Cornish: Page 47c of the evidence packet. According to that report, Liam was no older than 15. How did watching your friend die affect you emotionally, Petra?

Petra Marquez: Probably a lot, I’m not a shrink.

Hank Cornish: Have you ever seen one?

Petra Marquez: Have you?

Cornish interrogates her about Dr. Roberts’s name being on the paperwork signing off on the experiments on the children. Petra points out that the Dr. Roberts who signed those papers is specifically not this Dr. Roberts–that this Dr. Roberts could not sign the papers in the future. When Cornish asks if Petra resents this Dr. Roberts, though, Petra says that she does, even if they’re not the same Dr. Roberts.

At this point, even Dr. Grissom is wondering if maybe Dr. Roberts really has done the things she’s accused of doing. She sends Partridge a message asking for him to send anything to help her out that he can, but she doesn’t get a response.

Cornish calls Dr. Roberts back up onto the stand to interrogate her. In a line of incredibly uncomfortably and antisemitic questioning, he eventually gets to his point that Dr. Roberts has no real ties to her religion, to her family, to her friends, to her God, to her religious community, or anyone but herself.

Later, in the bathroom, Dr. Roberts confides in Chambers how upset she is by all of this–especially by Cornish bringing her family into it. Dr. Roberts asks Chambers to testify, but Chambers says that if she’s being held to the truth, testifying might not even work in Dr. Roberts’s favor. Dr. Roberts asks Chambers to give a note to her mother if she gets locked up, but Chambers is immediately suspicious–especially since the letter is written in Yiddish. Chambers asks Dr. Roberts to read the letter out loud to her, but Dr. Roberts won’t.

When they get back to the courtroom, Hank Cornish says that not only does he believe that Dr. Roberts has been conspiring with the communists, but also that the entirety of ODAR needs to be shut down. The judge, however, wants to hear from Dr. Roberts.


Key facts and characters

  • Chairman Allen Dulles: Allen Dulles was the head of the CIA from 1953 – 1961. He was a lawyer, and the first civilian Director of Central Intelligence. Allen Dulles is played by Todd Faulkner.

How does it hold up?

This episode was phenomenal.

This was the first episode in a while during which I had to pause to laugh, read over a line again, or mull over something that was just said. Danielle Shemaiah’s record as an ars PARADOXICA writer continues to be so impressive. Not only did this episode feel like a neatly-tied bow around so many of the loose threads throughout the series–especially during Whickman’s testimony–there were so many exchanges and individual lines that hit so hard, felt so correct for the character, and are lines I remembered and recognized upon hearing them again. Shemaiah’s writing stays with you in several layers. This episode had me consistently yearning for an audio drama with Shemaiah as the showrunner.

The sound design in the episode also stood out as exemplary. There’s very little dialogue to differentiate people being in the courtroom, in the hallway, in a bathroom, or outside, but each distinct setting is immediately apparent to the listener regardless. Stanton continues displaying their knack not just for designed sounds like the Timepiece whirr, but also the textures of each individual pace.


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.
    • February 27th, 1953: Dr. Roberts is put in house arrest.
    • March 3rd, 1953: Dr. Roberts’s trial.
    • 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!

  • Allen Dulles was a very real person who did conduct investigations during the Cold War. Dulles eventually resigned after being held responsible for the Bay of Pigs by President John F. Kennedy.
  • The mystery of the numbers station at the end of each episode is. If you’ve been decoding them–or, like me, just reading them on the Wiki–you can see that they become clearer and clearer messages for characters in the story, sent back through time by Morales and Dr. Sharma.
    • The weather in Tulsa today is: DROUGHT

On Tuesday (5/28/19), I’ll be recapping episode “25: Absence.” 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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