Let’s Go Back to ars PARADOXICA: “33: Home”

Let’s Go Back to ars PARADOXICA is a relisten and recap series for season one of ars PARADOXICA released every week. You can see the full series here.

“33: Home”

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

Written by: Mischa Stanton and Danielle Shemaiah

So, what happens in this episode?

In this timeline’s past, Director Donovan and Chet Whickman discuss the urgency of creating the Blackroom. They’ve found that the Soviets still have some of their intel despite their best efforts, solidifying their presence in Paris. Donovan is frustrated; they’re the time travelers, which means they’re supposed to be better than this.

Dr. Grissom gives a quick summary and rumination of everything that happened in Germany, including the confirmation that David Marian did die.

Meanwhile, Dr. Esther Roberts finally visits her family–but only her sister, Miriam Roberts, is home. Miriam is understandably frustrated to see Dr. Roberts, but Dr. Roberts quickly says she’s there to apologize. Miriam tells her that she knows Esther was on trial for treason; people from the government came and told them, but they were never told whether or not she’d been convicted–or whether or not she’d been executed. Again, Esther tries to apologize, but Miriam is angry that they weren’t even warned. Esther blames this tendency of running towards her ambition on her upbringing, but Miriam says she was raised the same way and that she could have helped. Esther tells her that her purpose for being here is to tell Miriam that her life wasn’t worth it, that she has regrets–but Miriam says it shouldn’t have been Esther’s choice to make that Miriam didn’t have a chance to leave.

Miriam: This year? Why not two years ago, or three, or ten, or twelve, or more? I’ve been consigned to rot with this place while you walked among giants, and I have moved past it–without you. If you’re forging yourself a new path, if you are looking for absolution, then I grant it, but I have nothing more to offer you. You left us far behind a long time ago.

Esther: I miss you, Miri.

Miriam: I miss you too. I miss you when you’re standing right in front of me.

Petra talks to Dr. Nikhil Sharma about Dr. Roberts giving the Soviets the Plasticity reports. Dr. Sharma tries to get her to calm down, but to no avail–until he tells her that he knows how to decrypt the hard drive, because it was sent by Mateo Morales. The two listen to the recording from Morales, who coughs a few times in the message but tells them to find Dr. Maggie Elbourne; she’s working on a cure for Butterfly Syndrome. The plan, Dr. Sharma posits, is to find Dr. Elbourne, get Morales to their time from the future, and then work on dismantling ODAR; now that they have the entire archive of recordings, they should be able to figure it out. Petra wants something immediate, though, and doesn’t care about Morales. She suggests they hold a metaphorical gun to ODAR’s head to stop them. The two argue, Dr. Sharma saying he’s had to wait for this for years, and Petra saying she’s had to wait her whole life. Petra makes it clear that she intends on threatening ODAR with the Russian doomsday device, and she’s going to do it with or without his help. Dr. Sharma says it’ll either be him and Morales, or neither of them.

Stopping by the office, Dr. Grissom runs into Helen Partridge. The two have a reunion that is awkward at first, but it seems like both understand that their conflicts are so irrelevant in the grand scheme of things; Partridge says she’s here to have Anthony Partridge declared dead because she’s engaged, and Dr. Grissom says she was kidnapped by Russians. Dr. Grissom tells Partridge that she’s having a party to celebrate not dying and asks her to come and sing. Partridge agrees.

Director LeMartine gets Dr. Roberts’s report on what happened in Germany. Dr. Roberts explains that the doomsday device, which Dr. Grissom has dubbed the Weaponized Entropy for Large Targets or WELT, operates by trapping large areas in CAGEs and “[aging] them into dust.” Director LeMartine asks what the trade was, and when Dr. Roberts tells her, she doesn’t seem necessarily surprised or angry–just resigned to the playing field being level, like the Russians said. Dr. Roberts, meanwhile, is devastated that she would make this choice, and is not comforted when LeMartine says the version of her in LeMartine’s future would have done the same. When LeMartine tells Dr. Roberts that sometimes, no good choice exists, Dr. Roberts says she’s sick of being the one to make the choices. Dr. Roberts wants to leave, and for a little while, LeMartine acts like ODAR is going to keep hunting her down, keeping her captive–but by the end of the scene, the two are morbidly joking about LeMartine imprisoning her before LeMartine wishes her the best and lets her go.

Bridget Chambers visits Lou Gaines, who tells her about seeing David Marian in Germany before Marian died. Gaines says that Marian didn’t say anything incorrect, but Chambers says he’s bought into the lie that Communism is a party of the people. Chambers tells Gaines about how the smallest things can lead to massive changes, that the thing about putting change in motion is that you rarely see the real end result. Gaines tells her that she’s right–but that this doesn’t matter to the people who need help now.

Gaines: Funny how every move we make helps white people, hmm? How come Gossner got to sit on his ass while his countrymen slaughtered people like me, and makes one speech and we’re all supposed to give a damn, but black boys and girls in Kansas don’t get heat in their classrooms? When’s their turn, Bridget? When does that little item reach the top of ODAR’s priority list?

Chambers: I don’t know.

Gaines: Not soon enough. It’s never soon enough. And that’s what David was saying. That ODAR . . . Sure, they’ll give me an inch, as long as I’m useful to them, but the minute I try to help anyone who looks like me, just wait and see how fast I fall.

Gaines says that he won’t defect, but he isn’t going to stay here either. Chambers, meanwhile, says that she’s too tied to the slivers of hope that ODAR–or Dr. Roberts–will truly change. They’re interrupted by Dr. Grissom, who invites them both to her party.

At the party, Dr. Grissom speaks to the crowd using a microphone. She says that she wouldn’t trade her time at Point of Exile for anything, but that her time here is done. This isn’t just a homecoming party; it’s also a going away party.

And then Dr. Grissom tells everyone at the party about ODAR, about how she is from the future, and about how ODAR has been working on time travel since she accidentally invented it. And then she lets Helen Partridge to take over to sing.

First, Dr. Grissom talks to LeMartine. Dr. Grissom is surprised that LeMartine didn’t stop her, but LeMartine says that nothing really worked for ODAR in any other timelines, so hey, maybe this might just be what they need. She says that if it doesn’t work, she’ll just have someone come back to stop her anyway. Dr. Grissom is, as always, unsettled by her honesty, but the two settle into a joking rapport similar to between LeMartine and Dr. Roberts.

Next, Dr. Grissom talks to Dr. Sharma. Dr. Sharma agrees that she’s making the right choice and that she needs to leave. Dr. Grissom finally confronts him about being sad that he didn’t go to Germany just to save her, and he admits that while this was a big motivator, they also did have ulterior motives. He tells her that he plans on bringing Morales back, assuaging Dr. Grissom’s fears about a second anchor point. They say they’re going to stay in touch somehow, and they give a sweet “I love you” to each other, hugging.

Dr. Roberts goes up to Chambers, and the two go for a walk to talk; Dr. Roberts says she owes Chambers an apology, to which Chambers quips, “Just the one?” Dr. Roberts says that the first time she left Chambers, it was because she was in love with Chambers and with changing the world, and she knew having Chambers as a moral compass would hold her back. She says that now, she doesn’t want to be the person everyone “knows” she will be in the future. She wants to be someone better. She says that she left ODAR and that she doesn’t expect anything from Chambers, but Chambers cuts her off with a kiss. The two plan to bail, and they want to take Dr. Grissom with them.

Dr. Grissom is happy for them, but she declines. She says that she really does need to go off on her own, to which Dr. Roberts says, “Sally, I love you, but that’s fucking stupid.”

After the party, Dr. Roberts is cornered by Petra. Dr. Roberts asks Petra to please just kill her if she plans on killing her; she doesn’t feel like wasting the time on philosophizing over her imminent death. Petra gives her 30 seconds to give her a reason not to shoot, but is unimpressed when Dr. Roberts says she’s leaving ODAR. Dr. Roberts goes on to say that they have the same goals in common and asks Petra to join her. Petra outright refuses, saying that even if they have something in common, she would never work with Dr. Roberts. Dr. Roberts says she hopes Petra finds what she’s looking for; Petra responds, “Honestly, Esther, you should probably pray that I don’t.”

Key facts and characters

  • Miriam Roberts: Miriam Roberts is Dr. Esther Roberts’s sister. Miriam Roberts is played by Sammi Lappin.
  • The WELT: The WELT is the Russian doomsday device that can trap large areas in CAGEs and age them rapidly to “dust.”

How does it hold up?

This is, in my opinion, the single best episode of ars PARADOXICA.

Clocking in at almost an hour, the episode never drags. It feels like the culmination of every single character arc to this point (with the understandable exception of Jack Wyatt, June Barlowe, and Chet Whickman). On its own, the episode would have been incredible; the writing for each character is so nuanced and honest, the acting solid, the pacing perfect. Each arc fills not just fulfilled but also continually complicated: Dr. Sharma still doesn’t have Mateo back yet; Lou Gaines has grown and changed and learned, but at a weighty cost; Dr. Roberts and Bridget Chambers are back together, but can never be how they used to be, and Dr. Roberts can never again be who she has been; Dr. Grissom realizes that what she needs is to stop lying and figure out what she needs in life.

But what makes it the best episode is that while this could have, in less skilled hands, been a perfectly serviceable finale episode, it isn’t. There are still three episodes of ars PARADOXICA left. The creators of ars PARADOXICA understand that the end of some character arcs is important, but it isn’t as important as so much of what the podcast is about: justice, doing what’s right, and the collective versus the individual.

Because the most important arc isn’t Dr. Grissom’s. It isn’t Dr. Roberts’s, or Gaines’s. It’s Petra’s, and it’s ODAR’s, and those are the stakes this episode raises while still putting other stakes finally at ease.

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. Grissom and Dr. Sharma break into the ODAR HQ.
      • Loop A: Dr. Nikhil Sharma is killed by Chet Whickman.
      • Loop B: Petra revives Dr. Nikhil Sharma.
    • November 1950: Hank Cornish starts working with Andrew Thurston to cover with tracks with the KTNK.
    • 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.
    • 20XX: Director LeMartine travels back in time to take over for Dr. Roberts as Director of ODAR.

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.

The Death of Cornish

In Timeline 1, Hank Cornish almost escapes after being revealed as ODAR’s mole. Partridge, from the Blackroom, rips him out of time and lands him in another timeline, where his corpse washes ashore and is found by that timeline’s Chet Whickman.

ODAR & You!

  • Dr. Nikhil says that he plans on being a little less The Time Traveler’s Wife, a little more Red Dawn.
    • Listen, I read the synopsis for The Time Traveler’s Wife to explain it here, and I still have no idea what the hell it’s about or what it means. Someone please explain this in the comments.
  • 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: queer

Next week, I’ll be recapping episode “34: Path.” 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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