I watched this episode twice or three times and I’m still not sure what I want to say.
Early on, I said the premise of this series bore a strong resemblance to my own stories, and although this is true in more than one detail, it is really hard to see that anymore. In some ways I wanted this to follow more closely to Stormhaven Rising, if for no other reason than to point at it and say, see I told you there was a good story there.
But three episodes in it feels like someone took the original idea, and packed it into a clown-car and ran it down with a circus train.
There is a lot my novel has in common with where the story started (too much in fact to be a coincidence), but after shellacking it with layers of Hollywood-style “everyone has to be young, sexy, and full of emotional angst” varnish, the core elements that would make this a good story have been buried.
There was big potential in this episode but they totally whiffed it. Here’s why:
In any story the strength of the plot is based directly on the strength of the antagonist. Who is the bad guy and how bad is he/she? In Stormhaven Rising I made the bad guy not a person, but an object. An Asteroid. A huge relentless and unstoppable adversary that can’t be reasoned with and will not grant mercy. This is the huge elephant that my entire story hurls itself against. Scientific reality is the weapon that my antagonist wields, and it gives it every advantage. It also makes the story compelling.
But in Salvation the enemy is the relationship dynamics that plague every moment with petty personal intrigue and deception. The asteroid is there, but they’ve turned it into the circus train that’s coming to run down their clown-car full of very pretty, and dreadfully shallow, people. As the story goes on it feels more like a pillow-fight than a crisis. Sure there are several instances in the dialog where you can feel the emotions the characters feel, but the power in these moments is not fear of everyone dying, but of someone missing a moment with a lover.
The real failing in this particular episode is that they set up a wonderful emotional crisis with the idea that they have an option to save the world, but that using it comes with a huge price. They think they can divert the asteroid and fragment it with that small space probe they have out near Jupiter. Unfortunately the impact won’t stop it. It will however slow it down so instead of hitting off the east coast of the US, it will hit in pieces over China, Russia, and Mongolia.
Yay! America is saved, but 1.1 BILLION people on the other side of the world get to pay the ultimate price for us dodging the bullet.
There’s great moral meat to be chewed on here … and they do deliver a couple profound lines to support both sides of the argument, but the people that ultimately will be the ones to choose, aren’t even part of the story. Instead we’re treated to extended scenes of parenting problems.
Why don’t we get to see what the president is thinking about? What advice is she getting, and how is she tormented by the choice to kill entire nations to save the eastern US?
Why? Because the writers think it is more important to show us that the Undersecretary of Defense has a problem with his son, and ex wife, and now with a former home-wrecking ex girlfriend who shows up and practically throws herself over his desk and begs for sex (she also happens to be the biggest bitch in the pool so far, and carries the title of Advisor to the President). Oh and rather than saying NO to her advances because she’s the woman that cost him his marriage, he turned her down because he’s more worried about his current lover walking in and being jealous.
WTF are they doing?
All we get, after slogging through the nearly thirty minutes of pretty people dancing around each other, is a call from the President that is taken by the new queen bitch, who simply says, “do it.”
Then on top of feeling like I was robbed of a good story, I get to my next frustration … the magical science I mentioned earlier.
After a setback in the development of the EM Drive about midway through this episode, the government decides to go ahead and go with Ugly Plan B (For those of you who haven’t been keeping up, that’s the plan to clobber the flying mountain with the gnat sized Io Probe). The scientist in charge of planning this mission announces that they believe doing it will shatter the asteroid into several chunks, and slow it down by 0.002% (I am rolling my eyes so hard by this point that I am watching the show out of my left ear). This declaration though is what set up the moral problem.
Anyway, after the president casually gives the order that will obliterate over a billion people, they send the signal to the probe and it instantly warps out of Jupiter’s orbit (complete with real time images from the probe’s onboard cameras). That isn’t what they call it of course, but anyone looking at the pretty pictures can tell that the probe is moving bat-shit fast as it changes heading and zooms away from a rapidly shrinking Jupiter.
Oh and in case you missed it, it responded INSTANTLY. Really. They sent the command and it just took off. The writers apparently have never realized that there is a limit for radio signals in the universe … it’s called the speed of light.
Depending on where the planets in the solar system are, it takes thirty-five to fifty-two minutes for a radio signal to travel to Jupiter. EACH WAY. So we wouldn’t have a signal back to say that the probe was moving for at least one hour and ten minutes (of course this mistake might have been a blessing because they probably would have filled the extra time for propagation delay with more insufferable parenting angst).
The science was so bad in this installment that I literally got up and walked out. I know I’m more than a little picky about accuracy, but come on please… if you don’t know science well enough to at least keep the basic rules of reality in place, hire someone to give you advice before you spend the money producing a show that you intend to call science fiction.
So now lets look at where the score stands: After three episodes, the acting is still ok (though the dialog is starting to flounder a bit). I’d give it about a 3.5 star rating. The story writing has slipped a lot in my mind, mostly because they wrote it completely from the wrong perspective, and lost a chance to tell a much better story. But the science tanked out in this episode and so I am being generous to give it 1 star.
Hope dies hard, but if they keep stomping on it I’ll be forced to give up (and the ratings this week show I am not the only one feeling hopeless).
- Episode Four/Five: “The Human Strain/Keeping the Faith (air date: 8/2/2017)