Review: Defying Gravity 1.01 – “Pilot” / 1.02 – “Natural Selection”
Original Air Date: August 2, 2009
Rating: TV-14 (Recommended for people 14 or older)
Caps from lore_85 at LiveJournal.
The moment we have all been waiting for is here: a show that satisfies both the Star Trek fans AND the Grey’s Anatomy fans. At least, a show that attempts to satisfy them.
First, let me whip out a quick list of the major characters:
The Mission Control Commander (head of the ground crew, and bureaucratic jerk) is Mike Goss (Andrew Airlie). Then, you’ve got the crew of the space mission, which consists of biologist Jen Crane (Christina Cox), pilot (and annoying person who has to document everything with a home video camera and show that this is an international crew by speaking Spanish every third sentence) Paula Morales (Paula Garces), ship’s geologist (and Donnor’s love interest) Zoe Barnes (Laura Harris), pilot Nadia Schilling (Florentine Lahme), Eve Shaw (Karen LeBlanc), flight engineer Maddux Donner (Ron Livingston), psychiatrist and medical officer (I’m hoping for some “Bones” jokes) Evram Mintz (Eyal Podell), theoretical physicist Steve Wassenfelder (Dylan Taylor), Ted Shaw (Malik Yoba), and Claire Dereux (Maxim Roy).
The premise of the show is that, in the near future, there is a mission into space. The crew of eight (four men, four women) will spend the next six years visiting various planets throughout the solar system and conducting experiments, and probably having a lot of torrid love affairs.
There are two crew members who get grounded: Rollie Crane (Ty Olsson, who was an awesome Sheriff Andy in this episode of Eureka that I reviewed), and Ajay Sharma (Zahf Paroo). Ajay Sharma will totally flip out from being taken off the mission, so I don’t know what the deal is with him. They’ll probably try to fake us out that he’s washed out of the astronaut corps (and the show), only to bring him back later. He keeps talking about fate, too, so it will probably have something to do with fate. I suspect somebody has been watching a little too much Battlestar Galactica. If a long-haired guy with a British accent starts hallucinating that a super hot, super tall blonde chick is talking to him, and the chick turns out in the series finale to be an angel and not a hallucination, then I’ll be really disappointed.
Anyway, our pilot episode starts off with a scene of Donnor watching footage on TV of a space mission with his dad. His dad, it turns out, doesn’t approve of this space astronaut thing his son is doing and, more than that, thinks his son is a failure because of his disastrous mission to Mars.
Let me cut in here and point out that we learn a lot on this show through flashbacks. We also get treated (or subjected, depending on your mood) to some flash-forwards, too. This is a great way to build tension and foreboding (and by “great” I mean cheap trick), especially when your writing team has been up all night trying to write this darn thing, and the Red Bulls are running low, and everyone is like “screw it, let’s make a flash-forward and pretend that’s what Shakespeare would do.”
We also get a lot of narrating. I already knew there would be a lot of narrating, because this show is being billed as Grey’s Anatomy in space. Grey’s Anatomy has made obsessive use of narration and music-laden montage, and this outer-space version is determined to continue the tradition.
One more background factoid: There is a constant dancing around the edges about some “thing.” The ground crew mission commanders — the ones choosing the crew and giving the orders — obviously know something the astronauts don’t know. Eventually, they start calling it Beta. The plan, apparently, is to explain it all to the crew when they arrive at Venus. But whatever “it” is, it is interfering with the mission, via “fate” and “destiny” and weird, unexplainable events. Maybe it’s God (Battlestar Galactica, anyone?). Maybe it’s an alien. Maybe it’s just coincidence. We’ll presumably find out when they get to Venus.
Okay, enough of that, let’s get back to the story: Through a combination of Donnor’s narrating, and flashbacks, and music-laden montages, we find out that Donnor went to Mars, but he had to leave behind two of his crew members. There’s a huge amount of speculation (even by Donnor) about whether he did what he had to do, or whether he simply panicked and unnecessarily sacrificed his teammates.
We also learn that Donnor seduced Zoe Barnes. He doesn’t date astronauts (since he is such an astronaut hero/anti-hero), but this was before he realized she was an astronaut, and before she learned she was admitted into the program. It was also before he realized that his vasectomy didn’t work. So, she got pregnant, but aborted it with some magic pills so she could continue in the astronaut program and eventually get chosen for this cool space mission. She also gets to think he’s a jerk because he lied about the vasectomy thing. But we audience members will get a chance to find out that it wasn’t his fault. It’s the fault of the Beta fate thingy interfering with the crew.
In case you didn’t get it in the first three flashbacks, there is history between Barnes and Donnor.
Okay, so Donnor is training the crew, but he’s not going on the mission (he’s an alternate for the mission), because of the whole abandoning fellow astronauts back on Mars thing.
The crew launches into space, and sits in orbit for a while to shake out the kinks. During this time, Barnes hallucinates that she heard a baby, but the others convince her to assume it was just part of the ship settling. She’s not convinced, but she agrees to stick to that story so she can be part of the mission.
We also learn this show’s explanation of how the astronauts could be in a spaceship and walk around all the time instead of floating everywhere. It turns out their uniforms have an electromagnetic nanotechnology that pulls them towards the floor. Anything not wearing a uniform — like a tomato — will float around. This is a really lame, completely ridiculous explanation. I would have gone with a spinning ship that would create centrifugal force like in the movie 2001. But I give them points for originality.
Anyway, back on Earth, the ground crew is having trouble with the EKG feed that measures the health of Rollie and Ajay. They are having exactly the same heart arrhythmia, which is completely impossible for them both to have the same problem, but whatever, the tests don’t lie. So they have to be recalled, and the alternates are going on the mission. That means Donnor gets to go. He’s got a lot to say in the narration about fate and destiny, and also about his father’s opinion about space travel.
Ajay, on the other hand, can’t handle the rejection. He’s really into his Hindu beliefs about predestination, and he can’t handle the idea that his destiny is not in space. He goes on a space walk, probably to die in space. Donnor talks him down, though.
Okay, so Donnor is on the mission, Ajay and Rollie are out, and the mission is ready to go. Cue more cool music, and don’t forget a montage (which is actually pretty cool for a geek like me because there are plenty of shots of the spaceship).
So, that’s the end of the first hour.
The second hour doesn’t have a lot of action. Basically, they have to test the pressure suit that is going to be used for their first planet: Venus. They are going to put Barnes in the suit, and put her in the airlock, lower the pressure, and see if there are any leaks. No problem, right? If there are no leaks, then the pressure suit is safe for Venus. But if the suit does leak, then they’ll patch up the leaks. So they will do this test in the airlock, instead of outer space or on the surface of Venus, because it’s a controlled environment. What could go wrong?
Also, down at mission control, Rollie takes his position with the ground crew, while Ajay gets washed out, and has to deal with the disappointment of not going on the space mission, but also being kicked out of the entire astronaut corps! So, his life pretty much sucks.
Okay, back on the ship, Barnes gets shot out the airlock (which we didn’t see coming, of course), despite all the safety protocols. Luckily, Donnor had secured her to a tether line (just in case, you know? It’s not that it was going to be needed, right? I mean, there is no way this could go wrong). So she’s not totally lost. Unfortunately, the line is like 500 feet long, so even though she is attached to the ship, she is WAYYY out there. And it turns out there is a leak, and she starts losing air pressure. Will they be able to pull her back in time?
Yes, they will. But it takes forever. And in the process (through flashbacks and narration and nervous conversation), we learn more history about Barnes and Donnor, more talk about fate, and more foreshadowing about pregnancy, and babies, and that mysterious thing that’s out there.
That’s the end of part 1. Not too bad.
Some thoughts: It’s too early to tell whether this is going to be a solid series. Some of the plot points are weak. Not just the scientific stuff, like the lame excuse for why they aren’t floating around in the spaceship all the time. But also some of the relationships and characterizations are obviously forced. That’s okay at this point, though. They have to establish not only the relationships (the Grey’s Anatomy part) but also the science fiction stuff (the “in space” part). So using a few shortcuts and forced dialogue is forgivable. At least in the beginning.
This potentially could be the setup for a powerful combination: geeks and romantics. Basically, it’s a chick show that the geek boyfriends can get into. It’s about time, too. How many beauty-and-the-geek relationships have been strained because the shows targeted either the beauty or the geek, but not both? I don’t know, but I’ll bet it’s a lot. But now, if we’re lucky, maybe there’s a show with some common ground for both. Let true love blossom.