Review: Defying Gravity 1.03 – “Threshold”
Original Air Date: August 9, 2009
Rating: TV-14 (Recommended for people 14 or older)
Caps from lore_85 at LiveJournal.
The best part of this episode is the opening narration. It’s supposed to be deep, and profound, but really it’s just bizarre: “I’ve always believed doors were meant to be open. That’s why they have hinges and knobs.”
Yep, that’s the opening line. It’s all downhill from there. Last week, when I watched the pilot, I had some high hopes. The concept is great: Grey’s Anatomy in space. This way, you get the people who like night-time soaps (Grey’s Anatomy, for example), and also the people who like science fiction (Battlestar Galactica, for example). And this is a good time for this type of concept to succeed. You’ve got science fiction audiences embracing ongoing story arcs (Farscape, BSG, Stargate, Lost, Fringe, etc.), and you’ve got audiences in general opening up to science fiction stories. All you need to do to take advantage of these trends is produce a decent show.
And that is where Defying Gravity blew it. They forgot the part about making a show that anyone would want to watch.
The acting is good (except for Laura Harris as Zoe), and Ron Livingston (from Office Space) was brilliant casting. But the story is forced, the characters’ relationships are contrived, and the drama doesn’t qualify as drama, although it might qualify as comedy. So let’s get started with the synopsis, and you’ll see what I mean.
As the opening narration so comedically established, the theme of this episode is opening doors. Or, less metaphorically, whether it is better to investigate things and find out stuff, or to just stay ignorant and happy. If you’ll remember from last week’s installment, Ted (the mission commander aboard the spaceship) was instructed to go check out “Pod 4.” He opened the door, and hallucinated that he was walking onto the surface of Mars. This is a big deal, not only because Mars is really scary if you’re not wearing a space suit, but also because of the backstory, which is that Ted Shaw and Maddux Donner abandoned two crewmates on a mission to Mars about ten years back, and they still haven’t gotten over it.
So Ted opens the door, expecting Pod 4, and instead almost walks onto the surface of Mars. The hallucination has something to do with “It” or “Beta” or “MacGuffin,” or whatever they are calling the mysterious thingy that’s messing with the mission. Maybe it’s that weird thing from 2001 that made Hal go crazy. We’ll find out later, but in the meantime, it’s getting its kicks by making Ted hallucinate. This causes Ted to flip out and basically spend the entire episode avoiding his responsibilities, staring off into space, and generally acting like a self-indulgent jerk.
His first step, though, is to call his wife back on Earth, Eve Shaw. She’s not just Ted’s wife, but also the number two person back at headquarters who is in charge of this mission. She’s also apparently the lead person in charge of dropping hints and innuendos about “Beta,” so that we viewers can get a feeling of foreboding and mystery about it. At least, we’re supposed to get a sense of foreboding. Instead, we simply ask ourselves why she’s such a bitch.
Eve doesn’t care very much about Ted’s problems, and tells him to go back to Pod 4, and see the vision, because Beta is trying to communicate with him (or maybe just because she likes to see people suffer. It’s hard to tell for sure), and Ted realizes he married the wrong person. Well, Ted doesn’t realize it, but the rest of us do. So he goes back to moping around the ship. Meanwhile, the rest of the crew is hanging around, trying to figure out what to do while their leader acts like Molly Ringwald in Sixteen Candles.
Paula Morales, for example, keeps inserting random Spanish phrases into her conversations for no apparent reason, and then pukes all over the spaceship. Apparently, she is getting space sickness. At the end of the episode, she nearly dies of dehydration, but none of us viewers worries about it, because the writers didn’t spend any time trying to make us care about this character.
Now for the first flashback: the crew is heading to some training session or Disney World, or something. Donner tries to get cordial with Barnes, but she she has adopted his “no dating fellow astronauts” rule (just to remind you, during the pilot Donner had seduced Barnes and then dumped her when he realized she was an astronaut).
Then, we cut to a classroom. The astronauts are listening to some crusty old doctor tell them about the HALOs. HALO is an acronym for Hormone Activated Libido Oppressors. These are little patches used to inhibit sexual urges. The astronauts are going on a six year mission together, and all the astronauts are sexy and hot, and there are four men and four women, so the space bosses decided to make the crew use these HALOs. As the doctor explains, when it comes to close working quarters, “relationships are toxic.”
Then back at headquarters, we have a brief scene where Eve goes into a secret room, and she has those same Mars hallucinations that Ted was having at the end of the last episode. It’s hard to tell for sure, but I think this was still in flashback time, so basically we are being told (again) that Eve has known about this Beta thing all along, which confirms our suspicions that she’s a secretive jerk. I don’t think we are supposed to draw this conclusion. I’m pretty sure we are supposed to conclude that “Beta” has big plans and it’s really important that she not reveal “Beta’s” secrets too soon, or else the universe will blow up or whatever. But the effect is to make the audience hope she gets hit by a bus.
Back on the space ship in present time, Paula keeps puking. The good news is that she has decided to stick to one language for the rest of the episode, and spends the rest of the show in her quarters. She gets all mad at Wassenfelder for walking in on her, too, without knocking. That’s why he doesn’t give her water later in the episode, causing her to nearly die from dehydration. So now we have two characters that we want to punch in the neck.
Then we cut to a lab where Barnes and Jen Crane get to complain about relationships and men and how horrible this week’s script is. Obviously, Jen had a relationship with Ted, but she claims to have moved on. Barnes claims to have gotten over Donner, but obviously she’s still into him, which is a good thing, or else our primary source of sexual tension would disappear. Cut to a random hallway. Donner confronts Ted about being a total space cadet in the middle of the mission he’s supposed to be commanding. Ted has this great thought (and by “great” I mean stupid): “they are so concerned about our libidos, what about everything else?”
Now it’s time for another flashback. We are in the locker room. It must be shortly after the crew was instructed to start using their HALO patches, because the ladies are saying things like “I don’t need chemical castration to do my job. But the men do,” and the men are gathered in the corner, glancing at the ladies, looking like it’s their first high school dance. So, there’s more tension, but now it’s because everyone is annoyed that their libidos are being messed with. So Nadia Schilling (who apparently will be the mission horndog) convinces the women to bet the men that none of them can get it up while they are on the the HALO. So, now things should get interesting, because we basically have a Seinfeld-in-space episode.
But first, we have to cut to the present day: Barnes and Donner are trying to prepare the lander for their upcoming mission to Venus. This scene is supposed to show Donner and Barnes being in close quarters, which makes Barnes hot for Donner, because he’s always reaching around her, or over her, and being so close is making her really want him. But instead, it just looks like maybe Donner forgot to take a shower. The other point of this scene is to show that the computer keeps messing up, and (in the simulations) trying to make them land in a different place that they are supposed to. Darn that “Beta!” Always trying to be ominous and mysterious. Darn him!
Donner wants to take over and do a manual check, but the folks back on the ground don’t want Donner digging around in the lander’s code, and mess up their secret plans to keep an ominous secret, so they shut down the lander. Donner then tracks down Ted to get him to help out (he is the mission commander, after all), but that Mars hallucination still has him messed up in the head, so he just whines like a little girl and annoys the viewers and tries not to curse his agent for getting him mixed up in this stupid show.
What could break up that funk? A flashback to a strip club, of course. Remember that bet that the guys couldn’t get it up while they were on the HALO patch? Unfortunately for us viewers, the entire crew decided to go to a strip club as a result. Creeped out yet? Don’t worry, it gets creepier. The girls are lined up at the bar, while the guys are lined up at the stage, watching the strippers. Suddenly, Nadia (remember, she’s the official sex-crazed crew member), takes her shirt off and gives Donner a lap dance.
I have to insert a snark here. The first problem is that this show has Nadia betting the men that they can’t “perform” while they are on the HALO drug, and then it has her doing the one thing that will assure she’ll lose that bet (not the ONE thing. But the one thing you can show on T.V.). That’s the first problem.
The second problem is that this bet is really weird, and it’s kind of creepy. As I said above, it’s the kind of thing you’d see in a Seinfeld episode. Actually, Seinfeld probably considered doing this sort of episode, and then changed his mind and said something like “instead of that, let’s do something that’s entertaining. For example, Elaine could bet that she can go longer than the men without… you know…” And then the guy that plays George was like “that’s much better. Betting a man that he can’t get it up isn’t good television. It’s, I don’t know, what’s the word?” And then the girl who plays Elaine was like “Creepy?” And they all nodded their heads, and decided not to go with that story.
But Defying Gravity went with it. Yep, that was the story they decided would make great television.
The third problem is that this scene makes it obvious that the writers have never been to a strip club. In real life, when Nadia took off her shirt, she would have received a major beat-down, and the entire crew would have been kicked out of the club. Think about it; the strippers don’t get naked every night for their health. They do it because they are trying to make money. Having a girl do all that stuff for free cuts into their profits. I can handle the ridiculous explanation for why the astronauts don’t float around in the spaceship (nanobytes in their clothes are attracted to the floor), and I can deal with the ground crew talking to the space ship without any time delays (the Apollo astronauts, for example, had a good 10 minutes to wait before Earth and Moon communications could be heard). But a girl giving a free lap dance in a club without the strippers rearranging her face? That’s going too far, even for a guy like me who is REALLY willing to suspend his disbelief.
Not that I know from personal experience. I’m just using everyday logic here.
But the producers of this show don’t care about being entertaining, so Nadia gives Donner a lap dance, the rest of the club thinks it’s great, Donner rejects Nadia, but not before Ajay looks on like a creepy peeping Tom and wins the bet. Yes, he got a stiffy by watching his boss get a lap dance. But even creepier is that Rollie, another dude, notices his Mr. Happy.* So, the girl who proposed the bet is the one who caused them to lose the bet, and the guy who won the bet did it by watching his buddy get a lap dance, and the guy who noticed he was turned on was his other boss.
The good news is that we get the point that the HALO doesn’t work, and thankfully this flashback is over. Back to the present time:
There’s a scene with Ajay whining about not being an astronaut any more (in the pilot, they took him off the mission for medical reasons, and then he went temporarily insane, so they booted him from the astronaut corps), then a scene that makes it obvious Jen and Ted are getting it on, and then a scene where Rollie talks Ted into snapping out of it. The pep-talk is really bad, but it works, and Ted gets back to commanding the mission. Back on Earth, the medical staff has been monitoring the astronauts. The head doctor figures out that the astronauts’ DNA is being altered. Their DNA is converging. She also figures out that Eve is having the same DNA convergence thingy happen to her. Apparently, “Beta” has some mad skills.
The best thing about the last scene, apart from the fact that it means this one-hour waste of time is over, is Donner’s voiceover: “It’s obvious some doors are best left unopened. But you usually don’t understand that until they’re open.”
*Objectively speaking, there is nothing wrong with a guy getting turned on by another guy dry-humping a girl, and having a third guy notice that his soldier is saluting. But this isn’t Torchwood. So, within the expectations set by this show, it does tend to give one the hee-bee-jee-bees.