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'Defying Gravity' and crossing 'Rubicons'

Passing the point of no return doesn’t just happen. It’s a choice that we make, a line we decide to cross. And we live with the consequences. There are no promises of a positive outcome. No guarantees that like Caesar we’ll wind up with an empire. All we can really count on is the things we change, and that we’ll have to live with the results. And that’s the hard part, because we are defined by our past. We can rethink our choices a million times, but what we decide we own. It becomes a part of who we are. And while we may be crossing the river, our footprints will always remain on the other side.

--Maddox Donnor’s voiceover at the end of the “Rubicon” episode of Defying Gravity, which you can see here
Okay, dang it. I’m officially going to miss Defying Gravity, ABC’s sci-fi series about a group of astronauts on a mission through the solar system. Yeah, I know. It’s not cancelled—yet. But its ratings aren’t good. And, as past experience has taught me, that can get good stories cancelled. While critics aren’t overly fond of the series, I have found it consistently delivers themes and issues that explore why we are the way we are and what it means to be human—and that brings God-talk into open spaces.

Like the “Rubicon” episode Donnor's voiceover comes from above. Named after the famous river Caesar crossed in taking Rome, this episode finds the crew passing the “point of no return” in their mission as well as exploring the personal Rubicons of the crew. This episode puts into story the truth that we are defined by our choices—a favorite theme of this blogger.

And underlying this exploration (and another theme in the series) is also the yearning and struggle these characters have for redemption—and an entity (which characters in the know call “Beta”) that appears to be involved in that. And I’m beginning to wonder if this entity, as frighteningly powerful as it seems to be, isn’t more benevolent than I originally thought.

In this episode, Donnor is having more visions associated with his past choices on a previous mission to Mars that resulted in the death of two crew members, one of whom he deeply loved. These are painful memories for him and the visions unsettle him. But then, at one point, he and the mission commander are checking out some equipment that is showing up in systems checks as defective, yet they can find nothing wrong it. When Donnor looks at one section, however, he sees the machinery covered in Martian dust. He shakes off the visions at first, but when they come to the end of their inspections and still can’t find the problem, Donnor goes back to those Martian-dust-covered hallucinations and looks again. He realizes that section must be the problem. Sure enough, he runs extra tests that reveal the problem and prevents what would have been the end of the mission and sure death of them all.

If the entity's goal is to keep the ship running (which definitely seems to be a primary goal), why use and thrust visions on Donnor that conjure up such painful memories and remind him of bad choices? Maybe it’s punishing him—or could it be that this entity, in working its goal of keeping the ship going, is also redeeming Donnor’s past by using it to help it solve the problems of the present? If so, that’s a striking echo of another biblical truth: how God works all things to good for those that love him, even our bad choices and past experiences. How he takes what was meant for evil and makes good out of it. How he is at work redeeming everything.

As I’ve said before, I’m betting we discover that whatever entity is at work in this series is as flawed as we human beings (though Battlestar Galactica certainly went against the grain on that one, didn’t it). But here, in the middle part of Defying Gravity’s story, I can’t help but be struck by the echoes of God-talk above. It encourages me to at once accept and face the weighty truth that we do indeed own our past choices—but also that God is there at every step, redeeming us, our lives, our very footprints on the sand lining the banks of those rivers. Indeed, there is no other name under heaven by which we can be saved—and I am still in awe of the kingdom into which I’ve tread and the unbelievable freedom and joy that sears into my heart.

At this point in the series, I’m saddened at the likelihood that I’ll not swim in such a story much longer. Yes, it can be heavy handed and I’m still irritated by its inconsistent physics and irritating flashbacks. And, yeah, I’m probably reaching in my plumbing of God-talk in its themes. But I like these guys and I like the story—and I like being reminded of the truths and God-talk it’s bringing into these open spaces.

(Images: ABC)


Lalo said…
i'm gonna miss it too, and i just found out about it. snif, snif.... given, it's still missing something, i can't put my finger on; but as most series on their first season needs to grow and know where it's going...

I loved this episode btw.