Someone cut a bolt. A president declined to have a supervillain whacked for fear of protesters. We spent some time with Alexis Carrington and Looten Plunder as they cackle over their plans to defeat Captains Planet and/or Kirk. Also, someone sabotaged Orion-1 and the crew didn’t bother reporting this or looking into it or thinking about it at all.
In case you were worried that narrator would be a one-off, he’s back after the Rimbauch segment to tell us that we’re skipping ahead a few days. I just checked, and the movie Apollo 13 doesn’t come out until June of ’95, which surprises me, because the next scene feels inspired by it. And maybe it was anyway; it’s not a direct parallel or anything, so it could be that the writers saw the press for the upcoming movie and it shaped some of their presentation. A Colonel Stryker (Stryker? Stryker…. Stryker!) from NASA drops in on Nancy Ferris at home, just as she’s getting off the phone with her mother. He’s got bad fake news: their cover story for the Mars mission is that a navigational fault developed on Orion-1 which means they’re stuck around the back of the moon until they either fix it or get rescued. Nancy is not happy. I think. I mean, she says things which indicate anger, but her tone never changes from tired, bored and slightly annoyed. Also, her voice actor sounds so much like Tweak from The Octonauts that I am continually disappointed that she never proposes fixing the problem on the shuttle faster’n you can say, “Buncha munchy crunchy carrots.”
This is another super-clunky dialogue scene too. You know how in TV and movies, sometimes someone will take a phone call, and since we’re only hearing one side of it, the other person will repeat back everything that’s said to them in a questioning tone? Nancy basically does that, only we can hear both sides. “I’m hear to talk to you about the mission,” Stryker would say. “The mission?” Nancy would respond. “Your husband’s mission to the moon.” “The moon? What is it?” “It’s a nickel-iron ball that orbits the Earth about a quarter of a million miles away, but that’s not important right now.” “There’s been a navigational fault.” “A navigational fault?” “It might take them weeks to get back.” “It might take them weeks to get back?” Stryker claims that NASA’s got the ground crew working on a solution, but Nancy blows him off, insisting that, “You mean the ground crew is going to sit around a desk and eat pizza while trying to figure out how to dodge the blame,” and that she’s been, “Making excuses for the military ever since I met Johnathan.” When she warns him that she’ll speak her mind to any reporters that make it into her presence, Stryker borrows her phone (It’s next to the credenza. For some reason, I find the transition from her angry ranting about NASA incompetence to the phrase, “It’s over by the credenza” to be the single funniest thing in this entire episode. “Credenza” feels like a very 1950s word to me. And if you image search “credenza”, most of the hits are for mid-century styled furniture. It contributes to the recurring feeling I’ve had that the Ferris family and their side of the plot are living in a silver-age sci-fi movie, unlike the political side of the plot, which is a bad ’90s political comedy, or the Ratkin side, which is an ’80s cartoon) to call his boss, who sends out dozens of military policemen to set up a cordon around her house.
Well, at least having the military cut off a suburban neighborhood won’t lead to protests from those annoying pacifists or special interest groups. It’s not like having a paper-wrapped sandwich delivered via motorbike. The narrator tells us that they have MPs stationed “every few feet” to keep out anyone unauthorized, including Nancy’s mother, who is turned away “glibly” by Stryker. We hop over to DC, where DeWitt is meeting with Ed and her “political scientist” (Scare quotes here because although “political scientist” is actually a thing, I’ve never heard of it being used as a White House job title) Marcia Weiss. They’ve caught wind of Rimbauch’s upcoming broadcast, set to blow the lid off the Mars mission, and have to act quickly. Unfortunately, no one involved in this production has anything resembling a penchant for acting.
I do not like this whole thing where Rimbauch early on insists that the administration is obsessed with him and fears him as the guardian of truth and reality… And it turns out that he’s exactly right and the administration makes important policy decisions specifically to undermine him. I would say that it’s unrealistic and in any story with any resemblance to reality, a conservative pundit would indeed think himself to be a major mover-and-shaker, but the actual White House would consider him an annoyance at best and largely ignore him. Except, y’know. It’s 2017 and you can google “Catheter Cowboy”. Fuckity-fuck. But it drives home how bad War of the Worlds II is: it is as unbelievable and ridiculous as the world we are all living in now. Only somehow, despite the fact that the real-world White House and congressional majority are enacting policies that will literally kill thousands of the most vulnerable Americans, reality is also funnier.
DeWitt was always planning to tell the public about the Mars mission eventually, but she’s got to let the cat out of the bag now to avoid letting Rimbauch scoop her. The reason for the secrecy in the first place turns out to be that they’re worried about other countries or private interests launching their own competing Mars missions. The discussion about Rimbauch is weird and meandering; Rimbauch got his information from a mole, and they think the mole is at NASA, but the mole isn’t leaking to journalists, but to Ratkin (The world’s richest man, in case you’ve forgotten). This leads them off on a tangent about how Ratkin has bought an aftermarket Soviet space ship, and how he’s always wanted to be, this is the actual phrase they use, “Emperor of the Universe”. Apparently, it’s a well-known public fact that that Ratkin has always wanted to own a planet. “Yeah, but Mars?” Marcia challenges, as though the choice to focus on the only planet that is even remotely plausible for this sort of thing is the most unbelievable aspect of a wealthy asshole’s plan to privately fund a mission to colonize another — Jesus fucking Christ 2017. (No one ever questions Ratkin’s motivations, because “He wants to conquer Mars and become King of Space” is a perfectly ordinary sort of thing for an evil trillionaire to do. When Elon Musk announced his plans to go to Mars, no one questioned his choice of planet; the actual question was, “Yeah, but for altruistic reasons based on wanting to improve the odds of the long-term survival of the human race, and not just so you could declare yourself god-king of space?”)
DeWitt already knows Jessica Storm is working for Ratkin, which is symptomatic of the plot structure clusterfuck we’re going through. There is no point in this story when something that should be a secret is actually unknown to the people it’s being kept secret from. At this point, the only people who don’t already know where Orion-1 is going are on Orion-1.
Marcia advises DeWitt to give an unscheduled TV address right after the Sunday Football game (“Football?” DeWitt asks. It’s a team sport where opposing groups of large men attempt to move a prolate spheroid from one end of a field to the other, but that’s not important right now), when most of America will be watching TV, and shortly before Rimbauch’s show. “But football?” DeWitt asks, “Isn’t that a little sexist?” Oh come the fuck on. It actually is Terrance Dicks writing this, isn’t it? And worse, Marcia’s response isn’t, “No, there is nothing sexist about giving your address after a football game, at the last possible minute you could give it without having the news you want to break scooped.” Instead, she says, “Political realism and sexism often go hand in hand,” which is irrelevant and also gibberish.
Since it might be vaguely interesting to hear the tense scene in the writer’s bullpen as Sandra’s best writers try to come up with a speech for her, that’s relegated to the narrator, who tells us that the process, “lacks the usual camaraderie,” because of the tension and tight deadline, and that the writers decide that an “inculpatory” speech wouldn’t work, because the American people don’t like when their leaders admit to faults even though they claim to want candor. Notice how even the narrator gets in on this program’s favorite game of calling the public a bunch of hypocritical jerks?
Before DeWitt gives her big speech, we switch back to Orion-1 so that the crew can learn what their mission is a few minutes before the rest of the free world does. Ferris plays a tape from the president, which reveals that they’ve got a secret mission. The tape does not disclose it because the mission is so secret that, “It could never be reduced to a recording,” for fear of discovery, as that might lead to someone trying to sabotage their mission. Good thing that no one found out what their mission was or tried to sabotage it. Oh, wait.
Ferris tells everyone that they’re going to Mars, and everyone’s immediate reaction is to spend five minutes explaining how Orion-1 is not capable of making the trip. I know that we need an explanation for how it is that a space shuttle — a vehicle designed for LEO — can now travel all the way to Mars. But the tone of the conversation is weird. They’re already in space. The shuttle got launched with this as its destination. Yet everyone approaches it as though they’re contributing new information to say, as Rutherford does, that, “The moon is two-hundred and forty thousand miles from Earth. Mars is slightly farther,” and that it’s beyond the capacity of their shuttle to get them there. Skepticism makes sense, but they all start from the position of, “No, not possible. NASA sent us on this mission somehow overlooking that they had not equipped us in a way that makes it even slightly possible,” rather than, “Well clearly the people who set this up have some trick up their sleeves to make this mission possible; what did they do?”
The answer to what they did was that they refitted Orion-1 using a new tissue-thin metal that had recently been reverse-engineered from Martian craft recovered after the 1938 invasion. This made the ship 40% lighter, and gave them the extra space needed for hibernation chambers and extra fuel (Don’t worry about the hibernation chambers; they’re not mentioned again). Everyone’s real shaken about the idea of going to Mars (“Mars?” Rutherford asks. It’s the last of the inner, rocky planets, named for the Roman god of war, but that’s not important right now), especially Rutherford, who can’t see any sense in their mission. Townsend, the geologist, quickly guesses that they’re being sent there to look for water. And, you should be used to this by now, they spend five minutes reminding us how it’s the general public and the useless politicians and the self-serving scientists who are to blame for the water crisis. Rutherford can’t see how it makes economic sense to import water from Mars, and Ferris reacts as though he’s suggesting they should import it from somewhere else instead. Rutherford also jumps really quickly to, “Why don’t we just use our military to protect our water?” Ferris dismisses this on the basis that the military is apparently incompetent in their world, and couldn’t stop “some terrorist” from poisoning the water supply with a toxin or radiation. Everyone but Rutherford very quickly gets on-board with the idea of going to Mars to find water. They clearly want Rutherford to be the stick-in-the-mud, which is why after starting out strong with such arguments as, “There’s a good chance that there isn’t any water on Mars,” or “Importing water from another planet is not a sustainable business model,” or “We’re all going to die,” he quickly starts tossing out strawman arguments. When Ferris says that without a new water source, governments will be forced to choose for some to live while others die, his incredibly weird response is, “But isn’t that what we’re doing? By being on this mission, we’re choosing to live, so someone else must die.” What?
They wander around the topic, saying how the public won’t stand for draconian rationing (Finally, someone gets around to calling the public “bleating sheep”), and how they can’t wait for a political solution because politicians are useless, and they can’t wait for a scientific solution because scientists are greedy and self-serving. Yeah, scientists suck, especially astronauts. And politicians suck, you’d never catch a politician planning a mission like this. The conversation wanders around even more; when Rutherford asks how they intend to stop the “fat cats” from ending up in control of the water they bring back from Mars, Ferris explains that their mission includes setting up a permanent Mars base… In case there’s a nuclear war on Earth and they have to abandon ship. Ferris declares that they’ll have a secret ballot to decide whether to continue to Mars, or turn back, because the mission is too important to bring along any dissenters. But before that, the president’s speech.
Honestly, I have spent a lot of time in these past few articles wanting to just dump long blocks of transcript instead of actually commenting on what horrors I have beheld. I’ve resisted that urge, but I think now it’s finally time. I’m just going to quote you DeWitt’s speech, because I think it is instructive as to what we’re really in for here:
My fellow Americans, I come to you tonight to make an admission that some time ago, when I urged congress to provide the necessary funds to rebuild the space shuttle Orion-1, I told congress and you only half the story. You were told by me, once Orion-1 was successfully re-outfitted, its destination would be the dark side of the moon. While this is true [“True” here in the sense of “Mars is in the same general direction,” but I can’t complain given that saying “the moon” when you mean “Mars” is closer to the truth than anything the current administration has promised], it is only half the story [Second “only half the story” in as many sentences]. I am here now to tell you the whole story. The world is in dire straits. Our natural water resources are so polluted, they will remain unfit for human use well into the year two-thousand fifteen [Oddly specific]. As a consequence, ice sectioning was chosen as an alternative, to provide water to the people on this planet. The truth is, we know nothing about the long term impact of harvesting glaciers and polar ice caps. Sea levels could rise, and flood coastal cities [Or whatever. Funny, you’d think this would be a thing that scientists could actually determine]. The drastic reduction of polar ice could adversely affect global weather patterns. Scientists have not provided us with reliable answers to complex environmental question. Yet most of us smugly go about our daily lives as if they had [DeWitt is explicitly a Democrat, which is weird because I’m pretty sure this bit is cribbed from an Intelligent Design textbook]. Each day, we allow scientists to engage in more endless debate,[This comma makes no gramatical sense, but it’s here all the same] over ethereal solutions, another six thousand tons of ice are hewn [I know this is a word. Why doesn’t my spellcheck know it?] from ice caps and glaciers that required hundreds of thousands of years to accumulate. At the present rate of consumption, our glaciers and polar ice caps will be totally depleted in less than a decade [Based on DeWitt’s numbers, it would take 100 million years to deplete the Arctic ice cap]. We cannot survive without water. Yet the fact is, we have chosen to sit idly by on the sideline of life, and watch our wells run dry [Your metaphor is coming dangerously close to, um, “phor”]. What the majority of you balk at [Yes, tell the public what jerks they are. They’ll like that], and adamantly consider unacceptable water rationing alternatives today will soon appear very generous. Statistics tell us that in less than twenty years, the Earth’s population will increase by two billion four hundred million people [Because global water shortages aren’t going to reduce the birth rate or increase the infant mortality rate or anything]. Will you, or your future children, be willing to share what precious water remains with the less fortunate? Or like you treat the starving people today, will you opt to turn your back and in silence deny them? [Ya jerks] The sands of the hourglass have run out [And like sands through the hourglass, these are the Days of Our Lives]. Endless debates over solutions that will satisfy every conceivable special interest group [Stupid people who care about specific things. ALL beverages matter!] have become ludicrously circuitous [Like this speech!]. As president, I have two basic options: pass the buck, and let the scientists continue to search for the impossible [Stupid scientists, always trying to discover new things that don’t exist yet], or implement a draconian plan that many of you will find reprehensible. Our history tells us that drastic measures rarely set well with the American people [Unless they target minorities]. Our population consists of smaller fragmented components of self-serving individuals [Good thing that as a female politician, she doesn’t have to worry about being pilloried for being shrill or preachy] whose credo has unfortunately become, “If it’s good for me, do it.” We have become accustomed to pointing the finger of blame at everyone else. Well, tonight, my fellow Americans, you can point your finger at me [Oh, I’m sure a humblebrag like this will work and “You can blame me” won’t become the GOP’s sound-bite for the next year]. I will take full responsibility for enacting a plan set in motion when Orion-1 left its launch pad. But first, before I tell you what I have done [FOR THE LOVE OF FUCK JUST GET ON WITH IT!], let me assure you, the crew of Orion-1 is doing fine, and its reported navigational problems never existed, but was a simple ploy to cover Orion-1’s true mission [My plan was elegant in its simplicity…]. Orion-1 needed adequate time to get safely on its way and out of the reach of those here on Earth who would sabotage the Orion-1 shuttle if they had known its true destination, the planet Mars [Talk about burying the lede]. Yes, Mars: [Some say… It enjoys the gentle massage of rovers driving over its surface. Some say the reason its astrological symbol is the male symbol because its two moons retract when it’s cold out. All we know is, it’s called The Stig] the red planet that is about half the size of our Earth [There’s no particular reason for this factoid to be here; she just needed a list of Mars Facts to make her, “Yes, Mars colon” list sound ponderous and weighty], and in space terms, but a mere hop skip and jump from here [But that’s not important right now]. Mars, the crimson planet that sent ships here to invade us in 1938. But since that infamous date [A date I do not need to give with any more specificity than the year], there has never been a shred of evidence that any kind of life exists on the planet [Shouldn’t there be a “still” in this sentence? This is part of that weird thing where they presume a scientifically accurate Mars except for the exact moment they mention the invasion]. However, studies do show Mars to be unique [I mean, except for Earth, to which we are explicitly likening it] among the planets of our solar system. Some planets are geologically inert, while others are so active, clouds of vapor [What does this even mean?] obfuscate their own histories [Much as how word choice obfuscates what this sentence is about]. But Mars’s planetary history shares the spectrum of Earth’s own history, and evidences water was crucial in its evolution. Yes, water: [Second “Yes, <thing I just said>, colon:” euphuism in the space of five sentences] the precious liquid each and every living thing on Earth needs to sustain life [Ah, life-giving water, nectar of the gods]. Like Earth, Mars bears the scars of water erosion. But its erosion was so so powerful it carved a ninety mile wide canyon whose discharge rate was a thousand times greater than that of the mighty Mississippi river. If Mars did have water in the past, what happened to it? Traces of water have been detected in the great polar ice caps and as water vapor in the atmosphere. There is the possibility that great water reservoirs lay trapped beneath the scabrous [Only time I have ever heard this word spoken in my life. Protip: If you use the word “scabrous” ever, you’re trying too hard] Martian surface, or underneath the sixteen-mile-high mountain of frozen CO2. If Orion-1’s crew finds water on Mars, it could be brought back to us [Cargo capacity of the shuttle is about 25 tons, or 4 days’ ice sectioning]. The Earth’s water shortage is neither a dream nor a slick Madison Avenue ad campaign [Why… would anyone think this? What does it even mean? What the hell is she talking about?]. It is a reality, and so too is Mission Red…
Holy shit, that is all the fuck over the place. And it’s characteristic of all the dialogue in this audio drama: full of rambling, repetitive speeches that always blame the same four things: “special interests” who won’t let the powers that be do what they have to; scientists who falsify results out of greed; politicians who are too cravenly to bring the people to heel; and the general public that’s only out for themselves. It’s a confused mess politically and philosophically, with a weird mix of alarmist, populist luddism which sounds frighteningly familiar to someone living in Trump’s America. But it’s mixed with a disdain for both capitalism and libertarian individualism that borders on promoting anarcho-socialism. It’s like it was written by the Bernie-Bro wing of the Flat Earth society.
And in spite of how overwrought it is and all the forced gravitas, the speech sounds especially goofy because DeWitt’s voice actor basically sounds like Mary Steenburgen on tranquilizers, and she pauses in weird places, I am guessing, based on where the line breaks in her script were.
Also, this is an obscure one, but somehow, we came into possession of a Read-Along Book tying into an obscure girl-targeted ’80s property based around a poodle who wrote an advice column for a newspaper. Just a little more than DeWitt sounds like Mary Steenburgen, she sounds like Poochie (I don’t know how we came to own a Poochie book, and I don’t remember anything specific about Poochie except that for a while when I was very small, there were stickers and stamps and pencil erasers with her theming on them). No relation to the Simpsons character, now deceased.
Tosh Rimbauch missed the president’s speech. See, despite being a paragon of manly male masculine masculinity, he hates football, even to the point of pooh-poohing Seth when he comes in to warn him that something important happened on TV. Rimbauch rages for a moment at DeWitt for ruining his big show. According to the PA, the public’s response to being insulted and lied to by the president is “surprisingly positive” — they’re glad to see someone “do something” about the water crisis, and reckon that politicians always lie anyway so it’s no big deal. Rimbauch gets his act together and declares that he’s not beaten yet, and can still turn this thing around.
After that pointless interlude, we jump to Ratkin and Jessica. The world’s richest man is annoyed that DeWitt let the cat out of the bag, since he’s now in competition with the world’s space agencies to get his ship launched. He even, surprisingly, concedes that DeWitt is, “in her own way”, as smart as he is. And he calls all the other politicians eunuchs, because it’s only 1995, and therefore too early to call them cucks instead.
This is the end of side 3. Please flip the cassette over and continue with side 4.