Previously… Nancy Ferris got kidnapped, the gang on Mars got reunited, and a guy names Jefferson Davis Clark is totally not going to do anything rash or dangerous…
Side four, like the preceding one, begins with Jessica Storm aboard Artemis. She receives a message from Ratkin, informing her of Nancy Ferris’s kidnapping, so that she can use it to compel surrender out of her husband. He cautions her that Commander Ferris will undoubtedly threaten her life in an attempt to force her to send a message back to Ratkin. His confidence of this is bizarre given that there’s nothing we’ve seen of Ferris that indicates as much. Probably projection. The point of saying it is so that Ratkin can subtly threaten Jessica, hinting that he’ll pretty much have her rubbed out if she were to cave under pressure. This in turn prompts Jessica to allude to the fact that Ratkin had his first two wifes murdered. Whenever Ratkin makes a point about how he seriously wants Jessica to make sure the entire Orion crew is good and murdered, she always responds with an oddly robotic, “I will do what I must.” Halfway through the call, she has to change encrypted channels, because someone is trying to intercept their signal. As far as I know, this never comes up again and never has any payoff.
At Castle Volcania, Doctor Evans cautions Ratkin that Jessica is, “Not your typical woman,” and that Ratkin underestimates her at his peril. Ratkin assures Evans that Jessica can’t possibly prove anything. Doctor Evans, in case you’ve forgotten, is Ratkin’s personal physician from his very first appearance. Why is Ratkin letting his doctor — who, don’t forget, hates him and is blackmailing him — listen in as he confesses to abduction, conspiracy, attempted murder, murder for hire, and crimes against humanity? Because it’s fun to listen to Ratkin insist to Jessica that there must not under any circumstances be any witnesses while he’s telling his plans in detail to basically every person he has ever interacted with?
Nah, it’s actually an excuse to segue into a flashback of Ratkin and Evans at the funeral for said first wife. Well, I assume it’s the funeral because there’s organ music in the background, though their dialogue would make more sense by her hospital bed, since the scene seems to take place within moments of her death. Literally every line of dialogue sounds like a threat out of a gangster movie, whether the line makes sense that way or not, with those drawn-out pauses in the middle to punctuate a euphemism or a threat. “The nature of her ailment was so… mysterious. It’s so hard to predict the course of such a… wasting disease.” Ratkin, for his part, sounds genuinely mournful, despite his words conveying a far more mercenary tone. “If only we’d caught it earlier. She might still be… alive.”
The “mysterious wasting disease” instantly gets changed into a series of miscarriages. Evans says that she was too small to carry a child to term, which Ratkin blames on her “aristocratic” breeding, but Evans points out that, “Chronic anorexia can make it almost… impossible to bear a child.” Ratkin swears off the aristocrats and promises that his next wife will be “pure peasant stock” with good birthing hips. Evans suggests Ratkin’s personal assistant, but hopes she’ll be able to fulfill his… requirements, because it would be a… real crime if she, “Had to end up like the first Mrs. Ratkin.”
This scene, like all the flashbacks, is pointless and stupid. Okay. Ratkin killed his first two wives. This is not exactly news. We already know the broad strokes of what he did to his third wife, and we know he had the nanny offed, and we know that he’s ordered the murder of the Orion crew. There is nothing in particular new or exciting that we learn from having a flashback to his wife’s death, unless possibly the point is so that we’ll know Evans was involved. But that isn’t much of a revelation either.
Ohm appears to the Orion crew on Mars, and after the obligatory moment where everyone other than Townsend mistakes him for Ari, they ask him to help fix their rover. Ohm is happy to help, and lets them know that there’s no hurry: Tor is running late, so they’ll have plenty of time to explore and look for water and whatever. More than that, they should have Orion land and bring everyone else down here, and this is not suspicious at all and he totally is not delaying them as part of a trap. They ask about the fact that they’ve only met a grand total of two Martians. Ohm explains
that the budget will only stretch to do that flange voice effect for two actors that they decided to minimize their contact with the others to reduce their chance of discovery by the Tor.
Ari shows up and they barely have time to tell him that Ohm wanted them to stick around longer when he up and kills Ohm, who disappears with a flanged “Eeeee!” Sure enough, Ohm had betrayed the humans under Tor mind-probing. The humans are at first horrified by this, but Ari explains rationally that the death penalty for people who do things you don’t like against their own will is actually the rational thing to do, and locking Ohm up for the rest of his life so he could become embittered and vengeful would actually be less humane than just offing him. Everyone sees the wisdom of this because it is a view shared by the author, I’m guessing.
With the Tor now aware of the humans, and certain to move fast once they notice Ohm’s death, Ari pressures the Orion crew to leave quickly. Besides — and here’s another thing that seems like it should be important but as far as I know will not come up again — there’s unrest among the Martians, and the possibility of an uprising fomenting. Mark casually drops the possibility that the unrest is related to the Martian warship he saw the previous day and didn’t think to mention until now. Without any indication of anything new having happened that would cause this warship to suddenly be a point of contention after sixty years. Or why they left their only remaining warship where Mark could just happen upon it by accident, especially in light of the fact that the Martians don’t have doors; they just open and close holes in the walls to travel between disconnected chambers, so either someone let Mark into the chamber where the ship was, or there was an open path he could just walk down to get there.
According to Ari, it’s the only remaining ship the Martians have, and even Ohm didn’t know about it, meaning it’s a secret from the Tor as well. But between Tor’s extermination of all of their pilots and the need to keep it a secret from the unwilling Tor collaborators, no one knows anything about operating it. Rutherford’s hero complex plays up again and he starts getting starry-eyed about the possibility that he could figure out the controls himself. Nikki gets snippy with him over it. Ari agrees to fix the rover for them, but warns that they have very little time before the Tor come looking for them.
DeWitt engages in a hopelessly padded scene before her address to the Ice Sectioners. Her Secret Service head briefs her on security arrangements because they’ve found the building impossible to completely secure. DeWitt can’t back out in spite of the elevated risk, since polling shows that most Americans will decide who to vote for based on how she handles the strike. She hopes that if she plays up the idea that the strike is hurting Americans, they’ll make their congressmen’s phones, “Ring so loud the congressmen won’t be able to hear the NAIS lobbyists.” They can’t pay the ice sectioners any more because the people won’t stand for a tax increase, but somehow they could force the ice sectioners back to work if it weren’t for the lobbyists, and congress is more interested in fellating wealthy donors than in protecting their constituents, to the point that they are literally letting a comic book super villain charge ten dollars an once for the only potable water in the world and hundreds of people are dying daily from dehydration. The level of contempt that the government shows for its duty to promote the general welfare would be completely fantastical except that it’s 2017 and the actual government is basically doing the exact same thing in order to redirect billions of dollars away from Medicare and into tax cuts for the super-rich and now I’m angry again.
The only time DeWitt will actually be vulnerable is on the walk out to the bulletproofed podium, so of course she takes about two steps out onto the stage when Clark shouts “Down with the tyrant!” from the audience and fires off a volley of gunfire, killing the Secret Service head and hitting DeWitt twice. As she lingers in critical condition, a series of news briefs explain that Clark was a former janitor at the auditorium, and had retained a key to an “obscure basement entrance.” I know that technically, “obscure” could be a legitimate word to use here, but that phrase does not scan like something an actual English speaker would say.
Clark is captured alive, which sounds unrealistic until you remember that with a name like “Jefferson Davis”, this insurrectionist is absolutely, positively white, so really they’re just ahead of the curve with the whole “White terrorist commits insurrection and gets away with it,” thing. The media picks up on his membership in Rimbauch’s “Depose DeWitt” club, and Clark even brags that he had Rimbauch’s personal blessing to carry out the assassination.
Rimbauch releases a statement admitting to having met Clark and denying that he had any idea about the assassination. Being himself, of course, he can’t help but frame it as, “Mostly we talked about how awesome I am,” but is realistically Shocked, shocked that anyone could possibly take his rhetoric about “getting rid of” DeWitt seriously.
Frida Cohen goes on an unnamed show that is obviously Larry King, where she speaks of Rimbauch’s extreme misogyny and generalized anger and hatred toward women, and insists that reading a violent message out of Rimbauch’s political philosophy isn’t a misinterpretation. Or a “misinterpitation”, since both Frida and the Larry King expy pronounce it “misinterpit” multiple times.
The FBI is even looking into the possibility of pursuing Rimbauch as an accessory. And in this series about cartoon super-villains and ice mining and matter-manipulating Martians, this is the single most fantastical thing we’ve heard, because who ever heard of a white conservative pundit facing any consequences whatsoever for repeated acts of stochastic terrorism? It’s not like he got caught openly committing sexual harassment for twenty years as his employers covered it up or something.
Speaking of which, the station execs order Tosh to take a long vacation. I’m not making this up. They literally Bill O’Reilly him. Rimbauch is quick to realize he’s being gotten rid of, though the exec claims this is just until the furor dies down. Tosh’s public relations guy warns him that things could get even worse if the feds decide to pursue this because, “The feds can do whatever they want,” which would normally be a reasonable piece of conspiracy theory scaremongering, except that they’ve spent the past six hours telling us over and over how the federal government is basically powerless in all things due to “bureaucracy”. You know, for a series where the big bads are literally slavedriving space lizards, there’s a strange sort of pro-authoritarian dictatorship vibe from a lot of War of the Worlds II, a constant sense that things would be better if the President wasn’t beholden to the whims of the people and could just rule through executive fiat. Reminds me a lot of the boring political parts in the Star Wars prequels, where George Lucas put Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine on the anti-democracy side but still couldn’t manage to make a better argument for democracy than, “But come on. The people, am I right?” Tosh swears that his enemies had better not take him on, because his allies are, “Far more powerful than the FBI, CIA, IRA or FDA combined!” Good lord, man, don’t taunt the FDA like that! You don’t know what they’re capable of!
Townsend collects samples of both Quorium and the Martian hydrated rock, which are now different things I guess, in the hopes that they can find a way to extract the water using Orion’s instruments. “Wasn’t there an old saying that you can’t squeeze water from a stone?” Pierelli asks. “I thought it was ‘You can’t squeeze blood from a turnip,'” Townsend replies. Um. Rover-1 is repaired, but Rutherford’s wandered off, presumably to look into stealing that Martian warship.
Ari zaps Townsend with directions to the elevator back to the surface, and also gives her the power to make that piano sound that manipulates the walls, though they’ll only have half an hour before it wears off, leaving her exhausted. When she thanks him for his help, the Martian makes a point of calling her by her first name. Because Gloria gets along good with the Martians. With the clock ticking, and over Pierelli’s protests, Jackson declares that they’ll have to leave Rutherford behind.
Back on the Zorin Industries Private Blimp, Ratkin laments to Hoover Jones that the assassination attempt is threatening to ruin his plans of world domination, since getting shot has done wonders for DeWitt’s poll numbers. She’s viewed as a hero who was tragically assaulted while boldly defending the needs of the public, and Ratkin’s even in danger of losing control over the Ice Sectioners. This seems pretty reasonable to me, given that in the past two months, there have been at least two incidents of lawmakers getting caught predicting that recent terror attacks would help them win elections, and it worked at least fifty percent of the time. Ratkin warns Hoover that they’ll have to lay low and hope DeWitt pulls through, since her death would make her a martyr.
“Speaking of which,” Ratkin says, even though they weren’t speaking of which, he asks about Nancy Ferris. “Her accommodations are spacious, but she seems restless,” Hoover says. That “but” bothers me. Like he’s genuinely surprised that she’s still upset about being kidnapped when they put her up in such a nice comfy room. “No one should be looking for her for a long time,” he claims, since they forced her to call her friends and family and tell them she was taking a vacation. Alone. With no way to be contacted. After disappearing one night in front of witnesses. Under orders from a fake general.
As to how Nancy’s holding up in captivity, I’ll let her tell it in her own words:
They feed me with a mechanical dumbwaiter. I can’t believe they’re just keeping me here without any human contact. It’s ridiculous. At least my rooms are nice. Nice? They’re gorgeous. It’s like a luxury hotel. I’m talkin’ to myself. Well, who else to I have to talk to? There’s nothing to do here except watch TV. And even the TV is strange. Nothin’ but educational channels. The food’s fantastic. How long have I been here? It seems like forever. If I hadn’t discovered this exercise channel, I might have gotten really fat.
Her pointless babbling is interrupted when Ethan, who now refers to himself as “Ethan Allen”, comes in. Yes. Ratkin is holding Nancy Ferris at his own private residence. Ethan at first assumes Nancy is his new nanny, but panics and runs off when she tries to explain about her abduction. Fortunately, he leaves the door open when he flees, so Nancy follows him, eventually cornering him in Ratkin’s estate room. There, she notices a pile of canceled checks for half-a-million each to the Steinmetz Psychiatric Hospital, and sees that they are signed by Ronald Ratkin. Okay. More explanation for millennials. A “check” is a kind of analog version of direct deposit. And if you were really old, after they processed it, they would “cancel” it and mail it back to you — “mail” here being basically an analog version of texting — as a receipt. And then you’d stick the canceled check in a box and keep it until the end of time, though I don’t know why. Yes, Ratkin has a pile of canceled checks from the secret payments he’s been making for the anonymous care of his secret wife who he has hidden and certainly doesn’t want anyone tracing back to him, which are drawn on his regular bank account in his own name. Hoover Jones, having been listening in as she tripped a series of silent alarms, decides that it’s a dramatically appropriate time to confront her, since it’s most… unfortunate that she now knows who’s behind her kidnapping and put them in a very… awkward position. Also, Jones is still in disguise, but Ethan has no problem recognizing him.
Jones is dismissive of Nancy, even when she takes Ethan hostage with a letter opener. According to her file, she’s “too soft-hearted” to harm a child. Nancy insists that she’s “a survivor” and will do what she has to. Jones calls her bluff, but Ratkin isn’t willing to take the risk, and calls off the guards. Knowing that Ratkin is behind her abduction, Nancy works out quickly, though not nearly quickly enough, that she was taken to blackmail her husband. “You would’ve made a great sleuth,” Ratkin admits. She’s certain that Ferris wouldn’t betray his crew and country for her, which Ratkin says would be most… inconvenient.
Would Jonathan really sacrifice his wife for the sake of the mission? Man, that would be a tense and dramatic scene, with him fighting off Jessica and her assassins, only to be given the choice between surrender and the death of his wife. How would he decide? What would the others think? This scene would be of such drama and excitement that there is no way they could possibly be bothered to actually dramatize it so the capture of Orion and the surrender of its commander happen off-screen between scenes. Yay.
The gang on Mars reaches the Rover just as Gloria’s powers wear off. Despite having gone long past its 72-hour battery life, the rover has enough power left to see them to the surface since it’s been switched off for most of the time. Nikki has Gus leave behind a spare oxygen tank and food in case Mark shows up, and they drive into the elevator beam.
When they get to the surface, Commander Ferris orders them back to Orion at once, and we get to the bit we’ve seen before, but right-side-up this time:
The narrator tells us that three of the four Orion astronauts return from Mars in Rover 2 (this is a mistake; in context, its clearly Rover 1). Rutherford isn’t with them, and Commander Ferris doesn’t give them time to explain his absence, ordering them back to the ship as urgently as he can without actually showing emotion, because, after all, its still Ferris. The Rover docks with Orion, and once aboard, Townsend gives a little speech about how she’s come to think of the crew as family. Gus suddenly declares, “Jessica Storm,” for reasons which will sort-of become clear in about seventy-five seconds. Nikki launches into a monologue about how she wouldn’t have joined the Orion crew had Jessica accepted the job, and gives us a quick recap of the events of that flashback we just heard (I mean an hour ago now), with Gus frequently trying and failing to interrupt her. The reason, of course, is that Jessica Storm is standing right behind her. This doesn’t really explain Gus’s tone, and having Nikki decide to spend seventy-five seconds badmouthing Jessica Storm for no reason says little for her character. Ferris confesses that he’d been forced to surrender to her because Ratkin has kidnapped his wife. Jessica spends a minute taunting Nikki about how, “Every test we’ve ever taken, I get the best score. Every game we’ve ever played, I’m on the winning team. Everything you’ve ever wanted, Nikki, I’ve had first. College, career, even men… I’ve alway beaten you. Always.” “Only in theory, Jess,” Nikki counters. “In practice, you’re a little slow on the uptake. I always beat you in practice. And this is more than practice; this is real.”
Jessica drops the bombshell about DeWitt’s brush with death, prompting Doctor Morgan to insist that DeWitt can’t possibly die since presidents only die in office during a Jupiter-Saturn conjunction. I’m not making that up. That is the actual argument they make for DeWitt’s survival. The only counterargument anyone offers is Talbert saying that Reagan broke the pattern. What the everloving fuck?
Anyway, doesn’t really matter. Jessica had promised to spare the lives of the Orion crew to get their surrender, but she recants, and despite earlier having made a point of wanting to kill Nikki herself, personally, just orders her team of assassins to shoot the lot of them…
To be continued…
Gah. This is actively painful. I will grant that on a purely structural level, episode 2 flows much better than episode 1. The transitions are pretty solid and the scenes are mostly short. But on the other hand, these three hours of story have been incredibly padded out with weird, pointless digressions. I mean, the Jupiter-Saturn conjunction? Really? There’s just scene after scene of nonsense and padding and repeating things we already know or contradicting things we already know. And there is way too much going on. Which might be livable if it was interesting, but really only the Mars plot is worthwhile; all the other plot threads are stupid and ridiculous and composed mostly of over-the-top comic book clichés. What’s really happened in the past three hours of story? Nancy’s mother exploded and she got kidnapped. Jessica Storm captured Orion-1. Nikki, Gus, Gloria and Mark met some Martians. DeWitt got shot. And while that should, in fact, be plenty of plot for a three hour episode of an audio drama series, those events only take up a grand total of what, fiteen minutes of the total running time? All the time is spent in the worst possible places in this episode, and I’ll let you in on a little secret: episode 3 is no better. Hell, even less happens in that one. But that’s a tale for another day…
A day when I have recovered from desperately trying to scrub everything I’ve heard so far from my memory.