Let’s Go Back to ars PARADOXICA: “35: Tangent”

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 week. You can see the full series here.


“35: Tangent”

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

Transcript
Written by: Daniel Manning, Mischa Stanton, and Eli Barraza


So, what happens in this episode?

Dr. Sally Grissom has followed in the footsteps of the Dr. Sally Grissom before her–almost literally. In “35: Tangent,” Dr. Grissom travels back in time to warn, and help, a different version of herself against Petra.

But before that, we hear the life of this other timeline’s Dr. Grissom, who we’ll call Dr. Grissom D (see ODAR & You! below for why she’s not Dr. Grissom B). Like Dr. Grissom A (aka “our” Dr. Grissom), Dr. Grissom D accidentally invented time travel and fell back into 1943, but with some important changes. First, she was expected by Bill Donovan. Second, NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) is NACA (National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics) in this timeline–and it’s spearheaded by Anthony Partridge. Third, there’s an artificial satellite orbiting the earth, ready to blow things up.

NACA has sped up the Space Race to the 1940s and is now prepping to put a man on the moon. Efforts are going to that, not to ODAR–and not to any war, either, given treaties were just signed. This means that when Dr. Grissom goes to the party and demonstration for the nuclear bomb, the Manhattan Project employee she met in “our” timeline is now drunk not only because he helped build something so destructive, but because there isn’t even any real purpose without a war going on.

The episode cuts to Dr. Grissom D being taught Dilemma by Dr. Esther Roberts–and Sylvia Pureboot. Petra Prime.

Later, Dr. Grissom D gets a letter from her “Aunt Margie,” impossible given . . . everything. The letter reads, “92145 BARLOWE DIES IN LAB FROM MAGIC BULLET.” Dr. Grissom D doesn’t understand the code until, surprisingly, a bullet flies through a time rift, almost hitting Pureboot–her lab assistant instead of Barlowe in this timeline.

At the Christmas party where Los Alamos is jeopardized, Pureboot brings absinthe to the party, and Dr. Roberts gets a letter from her sister, Miriam (though clearly intercepted by Pureboot). Pureboot asks Dr. Roberts about Miriam, and Pureboot says that she had a sister, but her sister is “gone.” Dr. Roberts apologizes with deep sincerity.

When Dr. Grissom D moves to Point of Exile, Donovan doesn’t join (nor has he been murdered by Anthony Partridge, given Partridge isn’t even working for ODAR). Dr. Roberts is put in charge, and is congratulated across timelines by Karla.

Dr. Grissom D is narrating some discussion about “Anthony Patreon” being fired from NACA when there’s the familiar sound of the Timepiece and Dr. Grissom D is met by an older version of herself: Dr. Grissom A. Dr. Grissom A immunizes Dr. Grissom D against Butterfly Syndrome and the two start talking.

Dr. Grissom A explains that in her time, she was also visited by a Dr. Grissom, but because she didn’t have the immunization, she lost three months and most of the conversation. She realizes now that the “pumpkin papers” probably would have led her directly to Hank Cornish as the mole if she’d remembered what they were. Dr. Grissom A explains that she’s been in this timeline, following along–having abandoned her own timeline–to help Dr. Grissom D out along the way. She’s Aunt Margie. When Dr. Grissom D asks what was so important that Dr. Grissom A had to do this, Dr. Grissom A tells her that she came to warn her about Petra, or as Dr. Grissom D knows her, Sylvia Pureboot.

The episode ends with Dr. Grissom D rallying Dr. Grissom A, Dr. Roberts, and Jack Wyatt together to hatch a plan to stop the Petras.


Key facts and characters

  • Dr. Grissom D: The Dr. Grissom that Dr. Grissom A (“our” Dr. Grissom) leaves her timeline to help.

How does it hold up?

This episode is maybe a masterpiece.

Satisfyingly confusing at times, meticulously and lovingly crafted, “35: Tangent” plays on the conventions of time travel media while still completely reinventing the form. Having someone meet their older version from a different timeline is standard; having the older version be the pot agonist, who has given everything up to help the younger version, is inspired. Having an episode with differences in the timeline is a fairly common trope; having that episode be massively plot-relevant is brilliant. The callbacks to previous episodes have a fulfilling payoff while remaining meaningful, both within the world building and in what the podcast is trying to say.

But the highlight of the episode is, of course, the conversations between the two Dr. Grissoms. In visual media, having two of the same character interact is easy, especially if there’s an age difference. Put them both on screen and give them different clothes, bing bang boom. In audio, though, your one indication of the differences between the two, the visual, is taken away–but the writing and acting for both Dr. Grissoms is so well done, you can still tell them apart. Both the writing and the performance capture the excitement, energy, and dash of chaos of a younger Dr. Grissom. Dr. Grissom D is a Dr. Grissom who’s still more interested in knowledge of the external than her internal processing. She’s a Dr. Grissom who will still exclaim, “Wizard!” when she’s thrilled. But the writing and acting also capture the tenderness, the edges and the softness, of an older Dr. Grissom. Dr. Grissom A is more reserved but more pointedly motivated. She’s sometimes resigned, sometimes apologetic, but still has herself set on her goal.

If it were possible without the context of the rest of the show, this is the single episode I’d have people listen to in order to convince them to engage with fiction podcasts.


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 28th, 1955: Mateo Morales is brought back from the future. The cure for Butterfly Syndrome is completed.
    • Unnamed date: Dr. Grissom A uses the Timepiece to enter the timeline of Dr. Grissom D (Timeline 4).
    • 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.

Timeline 4

  • Starting time: Dr. Grissom D 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 D 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 D lands back in October 29th, 1943.
    • On October 29th, 1943, Dr. Grissom D is brought to her new home of Polvo, New Mexico.
  • December 25th, 1946: Dr. Grissom D is joined in her timeline by Dr. Grissom A, who immunizes Dr. Grissom D against Buttefly Syndrome.

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!

  • “Pull the lever, Kronk!”
  • 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 MEMPHIS today is: spooky

Next week, I’ll be recapping the final episode, “36: Release.” 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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