You know what? It doesn’t matter. Side two is a really shocking amount of filler and backstory, since that bit with Ohm and Ari and the Tor was too much interesting happening too fast, so let’s slow the plot down for the next forty-five minutes.
At Mount Doom, Ratkin’s pet boy comes in to say goodnight. Ever since Nurse Mary “accepted another position mua ha ha,” he’s been having nightmares about being torn from the arms of a beautiful, singing woman who is thrown to the ground violently as his father watches. Ratkin panics briefly when it becomes clear that the boy is remembering how Ratkin got rid of Ethan’s mother. This scene takes much longer than I’m making it sound, but nothing of substance happens.
Jump-cut to an insane asylum nearby, where one of the patients is a nameless woman the staff refer to as “Mrs. Rochester” after the character from Jane Eyre. She’s kept sedated into a state of catatonia because, on her admission a dozen years earlier, they were told that she became violent during her lucid periods. And they’re being paid a huge amount of money to never ever reevaluate her or do any sort of psychiatric treatment to try to improve her condition, and they are cool with it, except possibly the optimistic young doctor who’s just started here and thinks he sees hints of intelligence in her eyes, and possibly in some later episode help break her out to confront Ratkin, provided Sharah Thomas can keep all these stupid, pointless plot threads going. This scene takes much longer than I’m making it sound, but nothing of substance happens.
“Mrs. Rochester” carries around a baby doll and sings lullabies to it, to make sure the audience gets that she’s connected to the woman in Ethan’s dream even if they missed the segue about how Ratkin’s secretary was making out a check to the asylum (“Mrs. Rochester”‘s story is kinda inconsistent; they claim she was found catatonic and soaking wet from falling off a bridge, with no ID, and no one ever claimed her… But someone is also regularly sending them massive checks for her upkeep. Untraceable anonymous checks, which identify whose upkeep they’re paying for without revealing her name… Never mind.). The only thing that stirs her to action is if someone tries to take the doll from her, as an orderly found out earlier that day. Though she also gets riled up while Optimistic Young Doctor Who’s Just Started Here meets her, due to what’s on the TV. Segue!
What’s on TV is The Obvious Expy For Geraldo Rivera Show. Yes, Geraldo Rivera. The Fox News Person. Back in the ’90s, he was best known for hosting a trashy daytime talk show in the vein of Jerry Springer. His show today is on Husbands Who Carry Out Needlessly Complex Agatha Christie-esque Plots to Kill Their Wives. This scene takes much longer than I’m making it sound, but nothing of substance happens.
I hope they actually give some reason why Ratkin, who has shown absolutely no qualms about murdering people even when he’s doing it so obviously that there could be absolutely no doubt of his culpability, had his wife drugged and institutionalized at great expense rather than just killing her. But I’m not optimistic.
The “Renaldo” show is interrupted by a CNB news special report (Aww. It’s adorable. They’ve learned how to do a segue between scenes. So grown-up!). The water purification plant in Detroit has just closed up shop, and at least six people are dead in the resulting riots. The Water Refinery (Is “refinery” the right word here? It’s the word they use) had been bought years ago to produce potable water. But after outfitting the plant at great cost, the owners had been forced to operate at only minimal levels due to “bureaucratic debate”. This is that thing they kept banging the gong about in the previous episode, about how water purification was a non-started because of “bureaucratic gridlock”. What was this debate about? Who cares! Bureaucracy, amirite? Arguments aren’t about things; they’re just useless government officials wasting time. After years of losing money hand over fist, the owners of the water refinery have gone bankrupt. Despite not actually doing anything, the refinery was the largest employer in the city, so twenty-thousand people are out of work, hence the riots.
The CNB reporter hands over to a press conference by President DeWitt. In her usual, stilted fashion, she repeats what we already know and sort of vaguely blames greed. She also announces that she’s brokered a deal with the former Soviet block to buy ice from them, and sent in the National Guard to put down the riots in Detroit. Questions from the press corps go all over the place. There’s a rumor — and DeWitt confirms it — that the White House indoor pool hasn’t been drained, though she maintains it hasn’t been filled either. They’re just, y’know, storing it. Fun fact: the White House doesn’t have an indoor pool. It used to. The press briefing room, the room in which this scene is set, was built over it. Someone else asks about reports of a five billion dollar earmark for submarines to collect water from undersea freshwater pockets, and what impact it would have on the environment. DeWitt denies that any funds have been allocated, but does say that they’re still looking into it. (Turns out that undersea freshwater pockets are a thing, and might actually be a more realistic way to provide potable water in the future than ice mining or flying the fuck to Mars. Five billion does seem pretty steep, though, given that it’s the same cost as Mission Red)
There’s a properly salient question about the events in Detroit snuck in there too, though: yes, DeWitt says, they’re working on a bill to provide economic relief to the thousands put out of work, and Sorry, water filtration is done by private business, and the government can’t intervene much, which is why they couldn’t just let the water refinery get on with water refining. This strikes me as a load of crap. If the problem was, as this stupid show has kept repeating at five-minute-intervals for four and a half hours now, “bureaucratic gridlock”, that has to actually mean something. DeWitt would be within her authority to order the relevant federal offices, presumably the EPA, the CDC, maybe OSHA, to grant waivers or fast-track things. She does say that the government had tried to help in the negotiations, but “Each time we came close to striking a deal, something else would go wrong.” No examples, of course. She hints that opportunistic private interests have been manipulating the situation to enrich themselves despite the “inconvenience” it causes the public. No one ever brings up the tragically awful choice of words there in calling it “inconvenient”, despite the fact that in the real world, a female Democrat calling critical water shortages “inconvenient” would have Ted Nugent out there expressing his first amendment right to call for her to be shot in the street which is totally reasonable and not at all crossing a line like it would be if a female comedian made an off-color decapitation joke.
God, I hate this year.
She’s asked about Artemis as well. There are rumors that it is a “publicity stunt” by the government, which she denies. Mentions of greedy cartoon supervillains prompts someone to ask her if she’s blaming Ratkin, either for the failure of the water refinery or for Artemis, and DeWitt gives the shockingly obvious dodge, “I can not say for certain, so I should not say at all.” She’s also asked about the rumors that the commander of Artemis was involved in a love triangle with two of the Orion crew, which she doesn’t know anything about.
Just to be clear here, it is now apparently public knowledge what the name of the second shuttle is, and who’s piloting it, and her love life, but no one knows who sent the shuttle, some people think DeWitt secretly funded a whole second Mars mission as a “publicity stunt”, and Ratkin still fully expects to get away with this because not even bothering to try to hide that you are planning to murder a NASA crew and take over Mars can’t bring any repercussions. Because of something about protesting pacifists. The thing is, if Ratkin is really as powerful as the narrative presumes him to be, none of his actions make any sense, since he should be able to just declare himself Emperor of the World right now. If he hasn’t crossed the line where the solution to the problem is Seal Team Six, then there is no line.
Tosh Rimbauch provides color commentary on DeWitt’s speech, offering to translate it from “gibberish girl talk”. He accuses her of lying about the pool and slandering Ratkin, a “good businessman”, praise be his name, who would never do anything evil. He ignores all the obvious material she offered, and instead does a tidy bit of self-contradiction: despite going out of his way to dismiss the environmental concerns over deep-sea water freshwater extraction as coming from “pinko environmentalists”, he accuses her of being cagey about the damage the project would do to sea life, simultaneously decrying the very concept of caring about environmental damage, and also lambasting DeWitt for threatening to cause environmental damage. Rimbauch knows enough about the Orion and Artemis crews to explain about the love triangle between Mark, Nikki and Jessica, and his objection zeroes in on the possibility that Nikki and Mark are having exciting Mars-sex on the government’s dime. Given his extreme misogyny, it’s a little odd that he has nothing but praise for Jessica Storm, but hey, when has consistency been a misogynist’s strong suit.
In Texas, Nancy Ferris turns off her radio in anger (Segues man. This show may suck on ice, but they have got the segues between the far-too-many disparate and boring plot threads down) and complains to her psychologist mother, who encourages her to express her anger toward Johnathan for lying about his mission. This scene takes much longer than I’m making it sound, but nothing of substance happens.
They spy someone lurking through the window and run outside to accost him. He escapes via car, but Nancy uses the trip to pick up her mail, which contains a threatening letter. As she’s about to rejoin her mother, there is an air strike in a distant city. At least, that’s what the sound effect says. The narrative wants us to believe that the lurker had planted a bomb in front of Nancy’s house and just blew up her mother.
Nancy’s mother survives the explosion, but is left unconscious and hospitalized. Colonel Stryker shows up to protect Nancy, as the families of other Mission Red crewmembers have also been threatened. I think Stryker’s been recast too, as he now sounds like a cheap knock-off of David Hayder’s Solid Snake. This scene takes much longer than I’m making it sound, but nothing of substance happens.
They finally have to give in and let the narrator handle the next transition, which is back to space, where Jessica Storm contemplates her past aboard Artemis. Only the transition isn’t really there, because we don’t stop in to hear from her before we slip into a flashback, which presents college-aged Nikki Jackson, Jessica Storm, and Mark Rutherford. And because I am so fucking tired of being irate (I don’t just mean writing these articles. I’ve been angry and upset pretty much continuously for seven months now), I’ll try to say something nice. They actually change up how Jessica acts in the flashback. She’s still arrogant and vindictive, but she presents herself as more of a human being, and less like she’s competing with Susan Lucci for a Daytime Emmy. There’s none of that haughtiness and mugging for the “camera” in her presentation. She even compliments Nikki on her fencing, saying she’s the only opponent who can actually present her with a challenge. Though you still get the sense that their friendship is contingent on Jessica always being the dominant partner, and that’s about to be thrown into disarray. Mark, now Jessica’s boyfriend, arrives, and spills the beans that Nikki’s won a prestigious fellowship that both women were up for. Nikki hadn’t told her yet for fear of how she’d react — Nikki’s never known Jessica to lose at anything before. She asserts that it was a close competition, and suggests that she won only because Jessica’s submission, while more theoretically advanced, didn’t have the practical application aspect the committee was looking for.
That’s another really nice touch. We’ve been told repeatedly that Jessica is a better pilot than Ferris on the simulator, but lacks his practical experience. So here we have a concrete example of that expanding out into being Jessica’s general weakness: that she is a brilliant theoretician, but considers practical applications to be beneath her.
I mean, her weakness other than the one where she’s a sociopath. Jessica, of course, is offended that Nikki wouldn’t tell her, and also jealous of her victory and instantly starts plotting to destroy her. Her jealousy expands out to cover her friendship with Mark. Mark and Nikki are revealed to be childhood friends and Nikki may have played a role in getting Mark and Jessica together, though Mark also mentions later that Nikki had warned him about Jessica’s sociopathy. Now, though, Jessica wants Mark to choose sides. She begrudgingly attends the awards ceremony, where she sabotages Nikki’s project, a holographic television. It explodes on stage, ruining Nikki’s prospects of impressing important contacts in the business world. Backstage, Jessica offers her condolences, but an assistant with the same ’30s gangster voice as Hoover from last week quickly discovers signs of technologically advanced sabotage, and I guess Jessica’s shocked response is meant to be delivered with air-quotes because Nikki instantly figures it out. Mark too, since Jessica had basically been mua-ha-ha-ing through dinner.
Nikki declares their friendship over and swears vengeance against Jessica, who she declares “psychotic”. She also claims to have been letting Jessica win at fencing all this time. Jessica lashes out at Mark, claiming that he’d always been more interested in Nikki. Mark realizes that he was being tested, and by not joining in with Jessica in her betrayal of Nikki, he’s proved himself insufficiently sociopathic for Jessica’s tastes. They break up, Mark maintaining that he kinda wishes she’d just dumped him like a sane person.
This, then, is the backstory to Jessica’s vendetta against her former friends. Which is weird, because she’s the one who deliberately ended the relationship, so if anything, it should really be Nikki who’s holding a grudge against Jessica, but I don’t think it counts as a flaw in the writing per se, because the whole point here is that Jessica is Crazy With Evil.
In an odd sense, this is pretty much the best scene in the entire thing so far. On the one hand, it’s pretty banal, forced high-school drama. But there’s an actual hint of something human here in these characters. I wouldn’t have imagined Nikki and Mark having been old childhood friends back in the previous episode — they’re more antagonistic, in a sitcom “coworkers who don’t get along until they get drunk one night and bang” sort of way. This scene, though, actually does make me believe them as old friends. And it does it without feeling like it came out of nowhere, since they’ve been slowly building up to it with Nikki’s frequent references to Mark’s various unadvertised quirks (Even if Nikki presents them here not in the manner of an old friend, but in the manner of a friendly rival who enjoys watching him squirm. But hey, maybe there’ll be more backstory to come?).
Jessica is handled especially well. Again, still evil beyond the bounds of reasonability, enough that it’s hard to believe she was able to keep the mask on long enough to establish a friendship in the first place. But college-Jessica certainly does come off as consistent with the character we’ve seen so far, while also being different. Her traits are all on display, but are less developed. She has a bit of an Episode 2 Annikin Skywalker thing going on where you can see the qualities that will lead her to the dark side, but she hasn’t put on the helmet and started breathing heavy yet.
The big failing of it is that the story they tell in this flashback doesn’t really feel like Jessica’s Start of Darkness; it feels like Nikki‘s. We don’t actually part with Jessica swearing vengeance; she seems on balance glad to be rid of the dead weight. Also, there’s a complete failure to really sell why Mark and Nikki would like Jessica in the first place; she seems utterly unlikable.
There’s also a structural cohesiveness to this forty-five minutes of story that we haven’t seen before, with each scene flowing logically to the next. But it’s wasted on scenes that add little to the plot and feel like they exist only because the episode was running short. That talk show scene goes on for about four minutes, with a woman not otherwise involved in the story explaining at great length how her husband had turned on her during her pregnancy, isolated her from their newborn child, took out a massive insurance policy on her, and started poisoning her. The scene at the mental hospital includes a lengthy diversion where the new doctor meets with a famous psychic from the ’70s who’d killed her family on orders from The Voices, who warned her of a massive conspiracy.
And that’s real weird when you consider just how much is going on right now. We’ve got this plot with Ethan and his mother being drugged up in a mental hospital, and this other thing about rioting in Detroit, and now there’s this thing with recovering undersea freshwater pockets, and this other thing about someone trying to kill Nancy Ferris, and this backstory vendetta about Jessica, Mark and Nikki. Plus we’ve still got the thing with Artemis planning to hunt down and kill Orion’s crew. And we’ve gone a whole forty-five minutes without checking in on what’s actually happening on Mars, the actual nominal subject of the story. There’s this whole story going on under the surface of Mars with the Martians and the Tor, and we still haven’t seen what became of Mark and Gloria. And while we’re at it, we’ve left Doctor Morgan in the middle of a dust storm on the Martian surface. Maybe if they didn’t keep slowing down the plot with these sideshows, we could get on with that.
But don’t count on it.
This is end of cassette one. The story continues on side A of cassette two.