“Hard Sci-Fi” Edition

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S1: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate plus membership. I’m Stephen Metcalf in the City Slate Culture Gabfest, hard sci fi edition. It’s Wednesday, May 5th, 2021 on Today Show. Stowaway is the new Netflix movie about a mission to Mars that’s been badly compromised by the presence of a stowaway. It’s a twist on a classic sci fi short story we will discuss with Slate’s Laura Miller. And then Christmas is here. At last we discuss call my agent the burbling and spicy French TV show. I love it. Oh, my God. We’ll be joined by a media podcast and New Yorker writer Lauren Collins. And finally, if ever you needed proof that the culture wars are as a nation as they are inexorable, we will discuss the politics of mass squaring. Joining me today is Julia Turner, the deputy managing editor of the L.A. Times. Hey, Julia.

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S2: Hello. Hello.

S1: And of course, Dana Stephens, a film critic from Slate. Hey, Dana.

S3: Hello, Stephen.

S1: All right, let’s dig in. A skeleton crew of three astronauts has been launched on a two year mission to Mars. The trio features an experienced commander played by the just always delightful Toni Collette, this time speaking with her native Australian accent, a sober, straight laced scientist played by Daniel Day Kim and a doctor slash researcher played by Anna Kendrick. Three of them are going to Mars. As it turns out, however, there’s a fourth a stowaway played by Shamir Anderson. Not only is he unaccounted for in their food and oxygen supplies, he’s gone and broken the ship’s critical little CO2 thingy. And as the simple plot unfolds, this goes from being an engineering problem. How can we somehow rejigger the ship and its contents in order to all of us survive to being basically the trolley problem? Who’s going to be shoved off here, sacrificed here so the others can survive? The movie is co-written and directed by Joe Pena, who is also a Brazilian guitar. God Say what now? Does anyone know about this?

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S4: And I was Brazilian, but not the guitar part. What’s the story?

S1: If you go to his Wikipedia page, like the first two thirds of it are about how many hundreds of millions of views as a musician he’s gotten. And then there’s this afterthought. Oh, he directs, you know, A-list Hollywood movies. Anyway, I didn’t know that. But let’s let’s listen to a clip from the film, OK?

S5: Exactly how much time do we have before it’s too late? Technically twenty days. OK, then we should take that time. No, we need as much of that margin of error as possible in case anything else happens. Margin of error. What hypothetical situation could be worse than the one we’re in right now? Worst case scenario is he still dies, but we die along with him. How what’s left of the algae is hanging on by a thread as it is. So you’re fine just giving up on a person.

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S3: So realistically, every day he’s still here. It’s a danger

S6: to all of us. I am telling you, Hyperion has anyone with a

S3: PhD and they’re trying to work this out and they’re

S5: not here. And maybe we can think of something that they haven’t. They built the ship. They have one to one replicas of the EMTs. They know every inch of this place. We didn’t know Michael was in here. So we that’s not the same thing. Twenty days, Commander. I mean, if there’s really nothing we can do, you have to take someone’s life.

S1: All right. Well, we’re joined by Laura Miller, of course, Slate’s book critic and all around culture critic. Laura, welcome back to the show.

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S6: Thanks. It’s great to be here.

S1: I want to get to the subject of your very good piece about the origins of this story in a 1950s sci fi kind of classic sci fi short story. But I want to start with the movie itself. What do you make of it as a film?

S6: I thought it was pretty slow going and I definitely my attention drifted away, but I think at many moments. But I think that that’s partly because it’s a it’s a it’s a movie about like I think they’re striving for a certain kind of mundane realism. So there’s a lot of stuff about the technology of the spacecraft. And I think we’re meant to, you know, to feel that it’s not like your typical science fiction movie where everything so far in the future that we can’t really even hope to understand it, where we’re supposed to think of it as being relatable. You know, like this would would be like what it’s like in maybe 20 years or something. And so my guess is, although I’m no expert, that the technology is fairly plausible and and that that’s sort of the attraction of are meant to be the attraction of the film. But given that it has this incredibly intense, dramatic premise, which is like, are we going to have to throw this guy out the airlock? I thought it was on the on the kind of slow and and little dull side.

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S1: Yeah, Dana would. But I you know, you’re the film critic. I want to hear what what do you make of the what do you make of the movie is a movie basically Wylye.

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S4: Enjoyed it, and I have a couple of things to say, positive things to say about it, this should have been an hour long episode. It’s like a Twilight Zone, really, right. I mean, it’s a little morality play set in space chamber drama. Only four characters, all in one little, you know, jittery can floating through the universe. It really didn’t need quite as much dreamy staring at the earth as it floats by. I could have stayed more just with the characters in this basic moral dilemma that they’re trapped in, because all four of the actors are so good. I still I still cared about this story, but it felt extremely contrived to me, like the idea of whatever company it is or organization it is. Hyperion that sent them up into space. Right. The movie is very unclear about exactly who they represent or who is sending them up into space or what kind of slightly futuristic universe we live in where this is possible. But the company has done some serious under engineering on their ship, like it makes it very hard to take the moral dilemma seriously when it would have been possible for this guy to stow away in the first place. And there wouldn’t have been any extra oxygen for this situation. And I won’t get into any spoilers. But, you know, the solution that they find seems so far fetched that anything could have been designed in such a way. Not that I know anything about aerospace design, but I think they should have put me in charge of this this mission. It might have gone better.

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S2: All right. I will raise a counterpoint, which is I’m like tired of space movies.

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S3: I think we’ve had so many

S2: space movies in the last 10 years. We’ve had Gravity, we’ve had The Martian, we have an Interstellar. We’ve had first man. We’ve had the well, what was the one last year where somebody went and Tommy Lee Jones was their dad

S4: had Astra that Brad Pitt

S2: had after

S3: that. Right. Tommy Lee Jones was there in space.

S2: Like, you know, there’s just been a lot of space movies. And I assume it has something to do with the combination of special effects. But maybe it’s actually cheap because the real stuff you have to build is just the small set with all the white knobs and doors and stuff. But I wish all my space dramas were hard. Sci fi guaranteed, no aliens love, no aliens definitely don’t want aliens in my space movies. I guess I went into this with low expectations because I assumed that I read nothing and assumed that the titular stowaway was going to be some sort of like brain eating algae that turned them into zombies. And I was so relieved. It was just that nice guy out of the ceiling and I wasn’t going to have to be in for Spook’s and scarers. And then, you know, the moral dilemma was relatively interesting. I mean, I am just completely a creature of expectations. I went into this being like, oh, I don’t want to watch this movie. And then was, um, just interested in the performances, which I thought were great of all of them. I mean, Toni Collette seriously can do anything. And just watching her as this hyper competent captain who’s crumbling as she realizes the gravity of their fate and their predicament,

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S3: I don’t know. I I liked it. I mean,

S2: I guess maybe I also kind of liked having the space movie on the small screen. It just contained it and made it feel more like a chamber drama. But but it’s but but that’s sort of what’s funny about it is the claustrophobia and the vastness in.

S1: Yeah, yeah. I don’t disagree, Julia. It’s as if you read off of my notes. I mean, I just had all those same titles written down. I just can’t take another one of these movies. I like this significantly less than you did. How did the guy get into the ceiling without anybody noticing? I mean, they just gloss.

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S3: Why is he stuck behind a panel like I would like if you what was he doing locked up behind a second panel?

S1: I mean, it’s like I get it that sometimes you just have to let your disbelief go, you know, or whatever. I mean, but there’s suspended disbelief and there’s suspended disbelief. It’s just preposterous. And the way in the clip that we heard, they try to gloss over it. Oh, that’s different. It’s like it’s not that different. Like there was a significantly large, you know, adult male inside of the pit. I mean, it just it’s just I found that very hard to get over. I these movies have become so familiar. I was like, when do we get the space? When do we get the space walk interrupted by the space storm? I’m sorry if that’s a spoiler. You’ve been, you know, not watching video content for the last twenty years. I mean, you know, it’s going to happen. And it’s like, oh,

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S3: there’s no sure

S2: there’s no sure indicator of a solar storm that someone deciding it’s finally time to get out of the shed. You’re completely

S3: right.

S4: It’s like it’s like when you forget your umbrella, it rains. Yeah. You got to have that solar

S1: storm right then. All right. Pivot now to Laura. Your piece is great because you trace the DNA of this, the premise of this movie back to a, I believe, 1950s, uh, science fiction short story that’s become iconic, very widely anthologised, called The Cold Equations. Talk a little bit about the relationship between that and this film.

S6: OK, well, I should be clear that this is not the only, you know, Cold Equations was not the first science fiction story, even with exactly this premise, there was something called a plunge into space that appeared in the late 19th century. It was one of those kind of early Jules Verne era things where they had to make this sort of decision. You know, somebody had to be sacrificed so they had enough fuel to get back. And I think that there is a Tanton comic that has the same premise. So it’s not it wasn’t a completely unprecedented use of this idea, but it is the sort of most iconic one. And in fact, it was made into an episode of The Twilight Zone called The Cold Equations. It called Equations Came. It’s a story that was written by Tom Godwyn, a not very important science fiction writer beyond the story. And it was published in the 1954 edition of Astounding Magazine, which was edited by John W. Campbell Jr., who was an incredibly influential editor of science fiction. And in particular, he helped sort of consolidate the idea of hard science fiction, which is what Cold Equations is sometimes held up as the ultimate example of that. In this story, there’s a guy and he’s flying a sort of small craft to deliver some serum’s to a planetary colony where there is a fever that’s kind of a lethal fever. And he has exactly enough fuel to get himself and the craft and the serum to the colony. And then he discovers that this teenage girl has stowed away because her brother is on the colony and she wants to visit him. And the company that he works for has this ironclad rule that if someone is found stowing away on one of these crafts, they have to be ejected immediately. And it takes them a little longer than that. And he tries to sort of find a solution. But eventually, you know, the cold equations are what determines this girl’s fate, the cold equations of just, you know, how much fuel and how far they have to go. And it’s mostly about the landing. But but but the idea is that in this version of hard science fiction, the sort of hard realities of of physics and technology sort of trump the sort of softer human dimension or that desire to, like, pull the wind out of the out of the hat at the last minute. And so it’s been used over the years. One of the reasons why it’s so anthologised is not because it’s particularly well written, because it is not, but because it almost exemplifies the sort of ethos of like this is a genre where what matters, what’s decisive is the technology, not people’s feelings.

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S2: I will say just endorsed party down last week, and there’s a character in it who’s an aspiring sci fi screenwriter whose sci fi obsessed and one of the recurring gags of the show is that he’s into hard sci fi. So he and he’s very disdainful of all other kinds, which was a joke that seemed funny without my really, truly understanding the distinction. And so it’s very convenient to watch this the next week and read your essay and learn a little bit about the difference and also realize that I should just stick with hard sci fi if I don’t want to be scared by aliens popping out of weird cabinets. So I will I will take that with me as news I can use

S4: if I understand. Right. Like the Martian would also fall into this category, right?

S6: Yes. That is a classic example of hard stuff because it’s it’s so much about can we really, you know, like it’s like a thought experiment and how this could be done

S1: when it comes to science fiction and me softer the better. I mean, I think Close Encounters is one of the greatest movies ever made. And it’s nothing if not incredibly, incredibly soft. But obviously, Lorik almost goes without saying it’s just heavily, heavily gendered.

S6: Yes. And I mean, it’s not insignificant as I am far from the first person to remark. It’s not insignificant that the person who is ejected is a teenage girl who is acting on this sort of emotional impulse. You know, she misses her brother and who is not paying attention to the rules and who believes that the rules can be bent. The defenders of this story tend to say that its argument is about how stupid people die in space. So so, you know, she’s basically stupid on the understanding of of of this particular version of the genre, although many other people have pointed out how from an engineering standpoint, the whole mission is on the stupid side.

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S2: I just want to contest the I mean, we don’t know what Hyperion is. It’s very clearly not NASA, maybe because it’s so badly designed they couldn’t get permission. But like the notion that people trying to solve a complicated engineering problem would cut corners and actually not totally prepare properly for financial or efficiency reasons like that squares, if we’re looking at the cold, the cold equations of life that you might not be properly resourced as you embark on a mission seems like a fairly consonant with the human physics of economics that I’m familiar with. So I don’t know that it’s so ridiculous.

S1: Yeah, no. OK, fair enough. I but yeah. Sort of returning to the original story, right. There’s this fantasy that the laws of physics and the laws that human beings must obey in order to thrive are very parallel to one another and that there will be Darwinian consequences if you go soft in the face of them is a very highly masculinised worldview. And it does seem as though this movie, whatever its virtues or flaws, is designed as something of a corrective to the original story.

S6: Well, I don’t know that how how much the this movie is in dialogue with the original story, which is much simpler. You know, it’s basically he explains the the deal. He finds the girl and then they realize that there’s nothing they can do.

S4: Yeah. Laura, I was interested in how your your piece on the story and the movie, which, by the way, is not explicitly based on the story that Joe Paterno, the director, said he did not know the story until he rewrote the script after somebody had pointed out the story to him. But the movie goes out of its way to avoid the sexism that you’re talking about, whereby, you know, the Manly mission is kept going by chucking the girl out the airlock. And I think we should maybe talk in a spoiler filled segment about the ways that it does and doesn’t succeed at that. But something that I appreciate about this movie, though, is that there’s not a white man in it. Everybody in this ship, you know, has is there are two white women. The is a black man, Daniel Day. Kim is an Asian man. And so we don’t get this this situation of, you know, the white guy authority deciding who lives and who dies. There is an unseen person named Jim back on Earth who, funnily enough, of course, evokes. Damn it, Jim, I’m a doctor from the original Star Trek, but we don’t know anything about Jim story. And at any rate, it isn’t Jim who calls the shots. It’s ultimately Toni Collette who commands the ship.

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S1: All right. Well, there’s, I think, more to be said about the status of this movie as an allegory, a moral allegory. It involves so it’s so involved the ending which one shouldn’t know about going into it. So we won’t spoil it. We’ll save that for the plus. If you if you want to hear our spoiler deconstructions of the allegorical ending, just sign up and listen to our plus. All right, Laura, thanks for coming on and stick around. We’ll talk.

S6: Plus, it’s been. Pleasure.

S1: All right, well, before we go any further, this is where we typically in the podcast talk business. Dana, what do we have?

S4: Steve, our only business these days in the pandemic is basically saying our slate plus this segment. It makes me sad that we don’t have any future upcoming live shows to announce, but one day, hopefully sometime in 2021. But for now, businesses only Slate plus and in Slate plus today we have one of our overflow spoiler segments. These sometimes happen when we talk about a movie, book show, whatever that we can’t spoil in the main show because people might not have seen it yet. But if you have seen it and you want to stick around and hear us get into the ending twists, we talk about them there. And that sort of happened in our in our discussion of Stowaway Away, the Netflix movie with Anna Kendrick. We had Laura Miller on to discuss it. And because this movie is so spoiler dependent, I mean, essentially the spoilers start about half an hour in. We thought that we would take some time to talk about the final many twists with her. So if you’ve seen stowaway and you want to hear us debate its ethics and its final twist, you can listen to the Slate plus segment today. If you are not a Slate plus member, as always, you can sign up at Slate dotcom culture. Plus, it only costs a dollar for your first month and it gives you all kinds of great benefits, including plus only content like today’s spoiler discussion, ad free podcasts and lots of other benefits. You can go and learn more at Slate Dotcom Culture Plus. And if you’re already a slate plus member, please do keep sending us those questions that you have for Slate plus segments in the future. We have lots of them on tap. We almost did one this week until we overflowed with Laura on spoilers for a listener question. So if you have something you’d like us to discuss in plus please send us an email at Culture Fest at Slate Dotcom. All right. All with the show.

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S1: Call my agent is the French TV show on Netflix, this finely drawn comedy of manners has become a huge international hit. No sooner had it ended after Four Seasons, surely in part because America awoke to its charms during covid, they were forced to announce more of it. Thankfully, a 90 minute movie is supposedly on its way, plus a fifth season. This person is the French title. Anyway, the show follows the fate of a boutique but very powerful talent agency in the wake of the death of its founder. And it features. For example, the Larry Sanders Show are 30 Rock cameos from iconic French film and TV stars Isabella Ajani, Juliette Binoche, Fabrice Luchini just to name a few. I mean, there’s one at least one per episode. But there I think the comparisons to, say, Larry Sanders and the show is less self-congratulatory about show biz than its American equivalents and far less self consciously dark and sardonic. It’s way more tender and humane. Each of its four main protagonists is fighting to keep his or her soul alive in a cutthroat world. Added to this is a tartly observed upstairs downstairs aspect to sort of be plot, some of which become over time a plots in which the assistants in the office struggle to move up and become agents themselves. OK, in the clip we’re about to hear, the show is overwhelmingly, almost completely in French as it would be. But there is a cameo in the fourth season with Sigourney Weaver. So this one at least features some English. And one of the jokes in the episode is that Sigourney Weaver fancies herself a Francophone, but she may or may not be quite up to it. But anyway, let’s listen, Sigourney.

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S3: I am so, so, so sorry I couldn’t meet you at the airport. We just say, look, they build a new new for the moment. It gives a dynasty.

S6: They believe it’s OK. Tell me everything. Yes. Don’t lie to us. But I know you want to go and get in that they’ll go to Los Angeles.

S3: Oh, Kenny, be a darling and cut up this meat, please. Of course.

S1: All right. Well, blissfully, we’re joined once again by Lauren Collins, staff writer for The New Yorker. And our can I say you’re now our prison correspondent or David Remnick. Send me a voicemail tomorrow.

S7: Yeah, no, I want to be Francophone friend

S3: of Foppish

S1: and the podcast. Lauren, I mean, there are so many things to ask you about this show, but first, just talk to me about how much you love it.

S7: I love it a lot. I was a little bit late to it, to be very honest. I don’t know. I like blazed through the bureau lupine. I had, you know, all the kind of like great Franco crossover hits of the moment. And then finally I thought, well, I guess I should call my agent. I’m really into it. I’m kind of deep into season three right now, so I can’t speak to for and don’t know how it all ends. But no, I’m like grabbing every forty seven minute slot of life that I can to to just keep watching.

S1: Oh my God. As did I. And explain to us maybe a little bit about how possibly a workplace comedy in Paris has a very specific cultural resonance in France where a relationship to work relationship to capitalism or neoliberalism or just one’s own personal identity to professional identity are different than here. I know this

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S7: sounds so pat and culturally stereotyped,

S3: but I would say that’s what I start

S7: to get ready for it. Braze But I mean, the show that it brought to mind for me obviously was Entourage, just because it’s set in the world of, you know, entertainment, acting, film, movies, television, negotiation. But I mean, I think what’s different is like if Entourage is fundamentally about money, call my agent is fundamentally about art. And that sounds so pretentious and like that, you know, just a little bit too obvious for a friendship. But I mean, you know, you mentioned capitalism. It’s funny how infrequently money even comes up in the show.

S4: I mean, first of all, I just want to say Julia is probably going to have to come along and pull something out from under us because all three of us are waxing so rapturous about this show. This is just one of my shows. Now, I don’t even care that it has flaws or if it’s, you know, the fourth season falls off a bit. I’m willing to stick with it. It just has done that thing, which is pretty hard to get a TV show to do for me, which is just, you know, I can’t wait for the next one. I want to binge it. And I wake up and think about the characters and then wonder whether they made bad decisions in the episode I saw the night before. It’s done that thing where it’s kind of jumped, jumped over into my reality brain. So I really love it. But I wanted to just shout out something we haven’t really talked about yet, which is just the show’s structure. It’s just so beautifully written. I find myself kind of marveling at each episode at at. The way there are, you know, things start out in the first half that get called back in the second half, there’s sort of there’s an arc to each episode, which Steve and I have discussed this in a separate text conversation with with another friend. But you could say that the show is predictable in the sense that it’s arcs tend to resemble each other. I mean, it’s got a kind of formula, right? There’s there’s a guest star who’s a who plays themself and every show, Sigourney Weaver in the clip we heard, but usually a French movie star. And this person at the beginning of the episode gets himself into some sort of a pickle. Right. In Isabelle Hooper’s case, she’s overcommitted to two projects at once. And so there’s this great, farcical, you know, evening where they have to sneak her from one movie shoot to another or, you know, somebody else wants to get out of a movie that they wish that they hadn’t committed to. And so their agent has to lie and sneak to get them out of it. And so every episode basically has this problem that set up at the beginning and then a bunch of farcical obstacles that come along that have to be solved by by the agent. And so there are ethical dilemmas and also kind of logistical dilemmas that they’re solving. But what I love is that predictability in a way. And I was thinking about how many great shows, great comedies in particular, have this kind of formulaic structure where part of the pleasure is that you see things getting set up right. You see someone make a mistake and you are thinking like a chess player, like what’s going to happen, four moves down the line that, you know, this person gets into some kind of ridiculous situation at the Cannes Film Festival or whatever it is. So I really I admire the show’s commitment to that kind of I wouldn’t call it a pure but it has these farcical elements, including physical comedy elements. And every single one of the four main agents gets at least one scene of true physical comedy in the course of, you know, every every season or episode. And that’s really, really fun to watch as well.

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S2: Well, it is funny trying to put your finger on exactly what type of drama slash comedy is happening here. And some of that, I think is just watching through the scrim of the French, which makes it all seem very sophisticated. But I mean, it’s an office soap. It’s a comedic, dramatic office soap. It has some things in common with Mad Men and I don’t know, Parks and Recreation and I mean just a few, if you like, if you get West Wing, if you like, where ongoing workplace comedic dramas, you will you will definitely like call my agent. But it’s also your use of the word farcical sparks something for me, Dana, because it’s very silly. Like it was scratching a Mad Men itch for me, but minus the self seriousness of Mad Men. And it’s it’s it’s it’s very goofy. The other thing I really like about it is it’s it takes acting seriously as a craft. Like the actors are sort of silly and they’re often the butt of the joke of whatever the conceit of the episode is. But, um, I think your point, Laurin, that the point here is the art and that they’re all very seriously engaged with what kind of films they’re helping to be made through their agenting feels does feel very French about it. But I’m curious to hear more about Steve’s question about the the the way this lands in France. I mean, you know, they’re all workaholics. They’re there. And and they also treat Paris as a film capital, which I guess it is. But from Los Angeles, sort of like there’s in the very first episode, Tarantino’s producer just happens to be coming through town and you’re like, wait a

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S3: minute, why are

S2: they having an in-person meeting at a lush French bar with this producer? I don’t think that’s actually how the film industry works. So I’m sort of just curious for, you know, the role of the workplace drama in French culture and how this fits into it.

S7: I have a secret weapon in my pocket, which is an article I found it very much that showed the real life, you know, duos. It was like the actors that play the real life agents. And so, I mean, what’s interesting about the show is it’s a huge hit in France, but it was made originally for France de France, too, which is, you know, just a very middlebrow, like it’s a public broadcaster. And so it wasn’t made to be an edgy kind of auteur type show, which is, I think, more how it comes across watching it probably in another language on Netflix. But what’s interesting is, like there seems to have been a lot of kind of, you know, very call my agent like behind the scenes drama, just about what the show is going to be like. It took a you know, I was reading some about it. It’s like an incredibly long time to go from concept to pilot. There was a woman named Fanny Herero who. Was basically what they were, they call it French, the show runners, but she was the show runner and she ended up leaving the show after three seasons because she said she spent like not only three years. I mean, she was doing it from the very beginning, but she spent years and years of her life just trying to like, you know, keep the train on the tracks, like give the show some coherence. And after three seasons, she asked them to hire someone to help her out because she apparently had a tremendous amount of work and they said it would have to come out of her salary if they were going to do that. So anyway, she then went and started sort of an advocacy group for screenwriters in France, which I just I found that very interesting because of the way that, you know, but just the themes of the show and the actual making of it collided. And it’s interesting to think about how some of those things might have made their way in their.

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S1: I just have to say quickly how much I love the show and why, or at least give a couple of reasons and a couple of reasons why to what you guys have beautifully said already. I mean, I think the cameos are very, very well handled there. They in in my estimation, in American shows about Hollywood or showbiz, they tend to be very shit eating and and an overly ironic. But here they’re very careful about and precise in some sense about how it’s the vulnerability that makes this person a star. Right. Not just talented, but somehow unique as a human being. And it’s that uniqueness that made them a star and how that threatens to overwhelm them all the time as a human being, that fragility and vulnerability. And so it’s not just that they’re playing with the star image of the person. They’re going another layer deeper and saying it’s this immense insecurity, really, that keeps them both, keeps them human and threatens to swallow them up all the time. And therefore, they need to turn repeatedly to their agent, not just to put out fires as a client server, but to act in all of these multiple and very ambiguous roles as a sounding board, a therapist, a sort of pseudo or faux sibling or parent figure. And that brings out what I think is one of the great themes of the show, which is is is, you know, how do you exist in an overwhelmingly transactional world as a person who wants to retain some humanity and and an agent relationship or my wife is an entertainment lawyer. These are deeply confusing professional roles in some sense, because you are asked to be an actual human being for this person as part of serving them as a client and therefore taking 10 percent of what they earn. And it’s an at will in many instances, most instances essentially, and at will relationship that could be terminated on a moment’s notice. Like you didn’t really put out that fire. Like you stocked my fridge with Pepsi, not Coke. You’re fired. Like, that’s the other weird flip side of it. And I just thought the show for being partially, if not substantially invented by someone who was an agent, spoke to the real life experience of someone who who’d been through that with talent.

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S7: I was again reading an interview with the showrunner and, you know, people are always like, was it X or Y or Z that inspired you? She was like, no, it was actually Friday Night Lights more than anything. And in that show, there was a they constructed a family in the arena of sports. And like here, you know, it’s it’s this chosen you know, it’s the chosen family in the arena of the office and the arena of the workplace. And so, yeah, I think you’re right that that’s where the real emotion is in the show.

S1: Lauren, it’s always just a delight to have the French need to produce more good TV shows for the sake of the culture gabfest in your new role as our Paris correspondent.

S7: Well, looking forward to my next assignment. It’s always wonderful to talk with you guys. Thanks for having me, Gloria.

S1: Thank you so much. Take care. All right, well, if call my agent is a comedy of manners, America is a tragedy of manners. We don’t have any anymore or any common manners anymore, to wit mask’s. You would have thought that these were not just the courtesy or a cultural signifier, but a matter of saving lives. And yet they were almost instantly, inefficiently absorbed into our idiotic, decades long culture war, especially the beginning of the pandemic. And it was very clear where those lines were drawn, you know, six, eight, 10, 12 months ago. Blue state science and reason and basic concern for the other. Wear a mask, red state fill in the blank. Right. Don’t get me started. We all know how the rest of that sentence goes, but things have now changed. We’re entering a new phase. Vaccines are widely available. We’ve learned a lot more about the biomechanics of transmission. Our risk outdoors appears to be exceedingly low, maybe even vanishingly small. Maybe we don’t need to wear them, at least not outdoors at this point. A PC Hardan named Chuck notes. Dana Stevens notes that Stevens, with a V very, very suspicious, proclaimed her allegiance to the mask in a tweet. And Dana, we happen to have you on the show. Oh, all hell broke loose and I’d love it if we could just start there. I just cannot believe maybe read your tweet or reiterated substance, but I just cannot believe that that tweet led to the idiocy that you were then faced with.

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S4: Yeah, I mean, by the standards of my Twitter life, it was sort of, you know, crazy backlashed situation. Honestly, it was just, you know, a few people arguing in the mentions. But still, the amount of pushback that it created surprised me. So, yeah, it was the day that that news broke that the CDC had updated mass guidance and said that, you know, if you’re vaccinated, you can now go without a mask outdoors, except for and then they had various carve outs, like if you’re in a crowd, et cetera. And and I just quoted that. And then above I wrote, I’m going to say my exact words so that, you know, you can you can see how little it takes to get called out on this. I will keep wearing a mask in public settings to make people around me feel safe. What if you walk past an older or immunocompromised person who’s going outside for the first time in months? They have no way of knowing your Baxt. A mask shows that you take the virus seriously. And so this got this got some pushback saying, you know, that I’m finger wagging and telling people who where you choose to go on mask now CDC guidance that they’re bad and that I’m not paying attention to the science, et cetera, along with a lot of support. And, you know, people who agreed and in general, there was a lot of you know, there was a lot of flap that day on on Twitter and I’m sure other social media networks about masking and whether people would keep on doing it and why. There were also two opposing pieces in Slate, one by Shannon Palis saying, you know, let’s go ahead and take off our masks outside. We didn’t need to be wearing them anyway. And one by Tom Skorka essentially agreeing with me and sort of saying, you know, it’s part of the social contract to signal to others that you are trying to keep them alive. And he had other arguments as well. But I just wanted to talk about the origin, a little bit of me writing that, which was actually an experience I’d had a couple of days before before the CDC announcement I was in between vaccinations had had the first one, but not the second. Now, I’ve had both. And I had just gotten a coffee and was sitting on a bench drinking my coffee outside. And I just saw this car pull up and this very old man get out, like really frail, probably in his 90s or so with an older woman also and a younger woman. Maybe it was his wife and his daughter, I don’t know. But they were sort of helping him walk, get out of the car and walk along the sidewalk very slowly and just encouraging him to go. And there was just this sense I just had this feeling that he had not been outside in a long time and that he was getting this kind of rare outing, you know, and I stopped drinking my coffee and put my mask on because even though I was probably 10 feet away from them, because my idea was like, why should this guy look outside of this car where he’s going out to the street for the first time in who knows how long and see a bunch of unmasked people not know if they’re vaccinated and not know what it means? You know, I mean, I just remember the feeling before there was any vaccine, what it felt like to walk down a street of crowded people and think who who here is breathing covid on me or who am I breathing covid on? Right. And if there are still people out there as there are, because less than half the country is vaccinated and no kids are, if there’s still people out there that are in that vulnerable state, why should we scare them? So this is not me finger wagging or saying this is what everyone should do, but it is what I plan to do until I start seeing like 80 percent of the country being vaccinated, until I start seeing schools opening up again. I’m just going to put a piece of cloth in front of my face because it’s easy and maybe it’ll help someone.

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S1: Well, Julia Davis is 80 percent that The New York Times has just reported that it seems unlikely we’ll get to herd immunity, which is, as I understand it, 70 percent, simply because so many opt outs, especially one among white conservative men, will prevent us from ever getting there. What’s your mask policy and how do you regard this debate?

S3: Well, I think it’s so interesting, Dana,

S2: because I just keep thinking about geography in this. And I’m you know, Dana lives in the city. I live in L.A., but like basically the suburbs. But I get to call it a city because L.A. and still lives in the. And as a suburban mouse who’s evening walks, take her along like sidewalk streets with trees and, you know, houses, I haven’t been wearing a mask outside for months for those walks. And, you know, the pace at which I see people is like one person every three or four blocks. And, you know, I carry a mask with me and I put one on if I’m getting close to someone. But it’s so low trafficked, it’s pretty easy to just, like, cross the street when you see someone at the end of the block and you never get within a few feet of each other. So just the like all of I could imagine, all of New York feeling like social distancing is impossible, especially as, you know, as the as the city comes to life a bit more. And, you know, the numbers in New York are not great. The numbers in L.A. right now are, you know, California has the lowest incidence of covered in the country, you know, after a really, really hard winter. Just the the numbers are good here. So and I think the other place in L.A. where masks are kind of pull them up when you see someone rather than wear them by default or hiking trails like a lot of people sort of hike, you know, it is uncomfortable to hike in a mask. You’re breathing heavily, you’re going uphill. Um, and then the place where you wear masks is like going to a shopping district or going to a store. You’re going to do curbside pickup. You’re going in. So I just found myself not. Really recognizing this debate from from from my geography and I wonder, Steve, if you have a similar thing in the country of like I mean, I’ve been to your house, you go running down that road. You’re not wearing a mask running, are you?

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S1: No, no, no, not at all. And, you know, we’re so still so populations past that, you know, by and large, I mean, the overwhelming majority, if not all of your outdoor activities can be done massless. There’s a sculpture park nearby that does bring a lot of people up from the city and other places. So it’s more populous on weekends. You would certainly you couldn’t go there without or you shouldn’t and couldn’t go there without a mask. You’d want to have it at the ready. Would you wear it every minute that you’re there? Maybe. Maybe not. I mean, that’s sort of sort of up to you and your own personal habits. I think one thing that I find very interesting about this debate, correct me if I’m wrong, is that it has two separate but related elements, one of which is an actual factual, you know, statistically based risk assessment about whether or not you should simply wear a mask in order to prevent either catching or maybe even more importantly, transmitting the disease and under what circumstances you do and under what circumstances you might not. And then there’s the cultural signification aspect of it, which isn’t merely frivolous, I think, as Dana points to, it’s it’s you’re you’re signaling a degree of seriousness. And public purpose in the face of people who refused to do so, who have taken the other side of this in a way that’s so aggressive and so Trumpy, in that in a sense, you do want to make a public statement saying, I owe something to the commonweal, like I owe something to humanity. You know, Julia, we read an Atlantic Monthly piece as preparation that seems to go in the direction of saying this is another sort of liberal left fallacy, like, you know, like GMOs and inability to look at the actual science and behave accordingly. And that, in fact, we’re now turning we being, I guess, left significantly left of center people are now turning into the cultural neurotics who refuse to obey science. What do you make of that argument?

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S2: I found the particulars of the article unpersuasive for a couple of reasons. For one thing, the article is published like mere days after the CDC relaxed its mask mandate. So on the question of masking, you know, it’s like everybody’s been through a trauma for 14 months. Maybe give people a minute to, like, adjust and figure out how to adapt to the new normal before assuming that they’re being liberal idiots. But, you know, the piece actually focuses fundamentally on schools that are remaining closed and that are that are not reopening for in-person instruction, despite substantial evidence suggesting that the risks are relatively low and the benefits to children in society of and and families and working parents and and and and and of having schools be open is incredibly high. And. I felt that the piece sort of misdiagnosed that dynamic or it failed to prove its case because it didn’t really establish that schools are failing to reopen primarily in the most progressive districts in America. I think you probably could do a really interesting piece that tried to look in a systematic way where schools are not not open, what the political leanings of those in those areas are, and tried to make that case more systematically. I don’t think this piece did that right.

S1: It’s almost like, Dana, it’s like a law of journalism that if you’re making fun of dumb liberals and their inability to grok science, you can be as anecdotal as you want.

S4: Now, this piece, I’m glad you mentioned it, because I don’t even want to mention the authors who people don’t go to it. I feel like it comes close to being misinformation. It is so full of confirmation bias and so eager to prove it’s the idea going in that somehow liberals with their crazy neurotic, the word neurotic is used, you know, insistence on clinging to the pandemic are going to ruin us all. I mean, for one thing, it is so incredibly blinkered to the United States, like all over the world and India and Brazil, the virus is still raging, like we are still in the plum in the midst of this pandemic, even though we happen to be lucky enough to live in a country with resources to start addressing it. But I mean, as someone who like you, Steve is the parent of an adolescent who’s now in this group of people that are supposedly going to be vaccinated, but we don’t know when and we’re still waiting for it to be OK. I mean, stuff doesn’t feel over at all to me. You know, we still can’t get on a plane and go see my parents for the first time in two years because, you know, my daughter is just below the age of being able to be vaccinated. So these questions are all still very alive. And they’re affecting people’s decision making about their jobs, about their school, about their health, their family’s health every single day. And the idea that there’s now going to be some frame placed on this in by some part of the media, that sort of saying, like these crazy liberals pretending we’re still in a pandemic. I mean, Anthony Fauci himself has said he’s double vaccinated, of course, that he’s not going to be dining inside for a while. I don’t know if that’s out of, you know, just setting an example or why he’s making those choices. But I don’t know. I mean, this whole brutal last 14 months. Right. We’ve been so traumatized. We’ve been so buffeted around by lies. I mean, when I think about the fact that for, what, 10, 11 months of this pandemic, Trump was also president, like the amount of daily trauma that the entire country was going through and the idea that people who are now still alarmed and confused and don’t understand why their kids aren’t in school and why you don’t know who is going to get sick when that we are all supposed to be shamed for our neurosis. Just it fills me with rage.

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S1: I have to say, of all the things that really, really peeved me, like pev me really deeply, I mean, I don’t want to say that I find it despicable because that’s overstating it. But I am really peeved by centrist journalists proving their bona fides by trying to claim there’s an equivalence between neurotic liberals and anti GMO and boxers with what the right is doing to the entire fucking planet, which is incinerating it and disabling democratic politics so we can do anything about it. So desperate to prove your publication’s bona fides, you’ll find some anecdote about some idiot emailing, some prof and calling, you know, you know, you using the word genocide. I’m sorry, I it really, really bothers me because it’s pretenses to objectivity and responsibility, and it is the exact opposite of both of those things.

S3: Yeah. I mean it if you

S2: want to take the provocateur stance, you got to come correct in this piece. I like applaud the notion of this headline at this point because I think I’m probably more sympathetic to, um, centrist journalists trying to make us think differently about some of our assumptions as a as a putting of potential value in society. But you you’ve got to deliver if you’re going to do it. And I mean, just the fact of this argument being out just a few days after the CDC changed its guidance, like if you’re trying to follow the science, one thing a reasonable science loving American might might think is why don’t I see if the CDC sticks by its new guidance for more than a month since the CDC told us not to wear masks at the beginning and the CDC told us not to worry about it being airborne for a while. I mean, science, it’s not like the science of this brand new global death causing phenomenon is like known. And everybody knows what the answers are and have the whole time and continue to like the science of the vaccines is evolving. The science of who can take them is evolving. The science of what we know about transmission is evolving. And so, I don’t know, giving everyone a breath to absorb the changing world as it changes before they get pounced on. It seems a worthwhile.

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S1: All right, well, PC Haratin Dennis Stephens wins the day as well. Oh, yes, you did. You don’t have to walk out of the airlock. All right. Well, this is one of those ones. It would be great to hear from listeners because opinions on this are pointed and varied and you know, you know who’s right and who’s wrong. We don’t really know at this point in any precise way. So would love to hear from you on this one. E-mail us. All right. Moving on. All right, now is the moment in our podcast when we endorse Dana. What do you have?

S4: I’m going to do two quick endorsements. The first one is really just more of a notification that our beloved podcast, which I still pride myself in having discovered for the Slate Culture Gabfest back in its early days, you must remember, this is back for a new season, and I’m really excited about that. It dropped today will have been yesterday by the time you guys hear this, but this season is going to be all about to Hollywood gossip mavens Louella Parsons and Hedda Hopper and about how they sort of, you know, manipulated and represented Hollywood behind the scenes in the 20th century. So I’m super fascinated by this podcast and this topic. And so if you haven’t listened to, you must remember this or you didn’t realize it was back. Go and listen to the Gossip Girls episode one, which is just dropped. My other endorsement is in memoriam of Jack d’Amboise, who was a great ballet dancer, a choreographer, a dance teacher. He died this week at the age of 86. There’s all kinds of wonderful, fascinating obituaries of him out there that I recommend. People read and watch some clips of him dancing. He had a very unique athletic kind of magnetic, sexy style. And but I think of him primarily as a teacher because I came to know him through this documentary about him, an hour long documentary that aired on HBO, and I believe it was in 2007 that later on became a big, big favorite of my daughters when she was little and taking dance classes. That shows him traveling to China to to teach a bunch of kids who were selected for this dance program. He brings some American kids over and he teaches them with Chinese kids some dances that bring in Chinese dance and and American ballet together. There’s also an incredible Chinese professional dancer who works with them named Dodo Wang, who’s one of the one of the most charismatic dancers I’ve ever seen. And even when Jack d’Amboise was teaching this class back in 2007, he was an old guy, but he was an extraordinary teacher. And you know how I mean, even if you don’t know how to do something at all, like dancing, in my case, you can tell when someone is an amazing teacher of that thing. And that, to me, is the best part of this documentary is just watching an extraordinary teacher in action who loves his work so much. So you can you can find this documentary on YouTube, which will put a link to it. But in general, I guess my endorsement is sort of Jack Daniels. We’ll miss him. He was he was a great man.

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S2: Oh, I love that endorsement. And I have never I’ve never I don’t think I’ve ever seen video of him dancing. So I’ll I’ll I’ll check that.

S4: I think your boys would love it because there’s some really athletic male dancing that just makes you want to go and do ballet right away. Uh, I

S2: remember that feeling. My grandmother used to take me to ballet. I went to see the ballet when I was little and like the hour and a half afterwards where you come home and just, like, pretend your body can do that. And like you

S4: said, a good night and dance if you. Yeah, you come dancing totally.

S2: Um, I today am endorsing a book I just finished called The Mirage Factory Illusion, Imagination and the Invention of Los Angeles by Gary Krist, which is a really interesting popular history of Los Angeles, centering on the figures of William Mulholland, the water engineer who gave L.A. Water and Mulholland Drive. Well, I don’t know if he gave it Mulholland Drive hard. I was named in his honor, uh, Deputy Griffiths, the director and pioneer of the film industry, and Aimee Semple McPherson, the evangelist. And it’s it

S3: it has a slightly, um, skeptical

S2: toward the whole existence of Los Angeles tone in its intro. That turned me off a little bit at the beginning. But having finished it, it’s just a great read, well constructed book and a really interesting introduction to, you know, some of the founding figures of the city and legends of the city. And I learned a ton about the early film industry. I learned a ton about the the Los Angeles Water Wars. And then the story of Aimee Semple McPherson is bananas. And I didn’t know anything about that. Um, so I would recommend it. It’s a it’s a quick read and full it’s the kind of it’s the best kind of popular history where upon reading it, you then want to read like ten more books about each thing it mentions. So I endorse The Mirage Factory by Gary Krist I.

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S1: I want to endorse a really, I thought, quite intriguing essay in the Chronicle of Higher Ed called The Abiding Scandal of College Admissions by Matt Feeney. Someone has written for Slate, among many other places, and, uh, the subtitle of it will give away some of its content. The process has become an intrusive and morally presumptuous inquisition of an applicant soul. So I’ll lay my cards on the table. My daughter just went through the process. It was relatively painless for her and turned out well. She got into a college she very much wants to go to, so there’s no bitterness being expressed here. But nonetheless, as a parent, you there’s a mania to it. It’s as if, you know, there was an arc and on the. There’s, you know, a professional career and class status and on and on and on and off the arc is the rest of America. You better get on that friggin arc. I mean, there’s just a craziness to it right now. And people may who didn’t have kids going through it this year might not know applications were way up for a variety of reasons. And so admission rates were so incredibly far down. Harvard admitted three point four percent of applicants, Yale four point six, Duke, five point eight percent. Admissions officers tell and this is one hears it over and over again, but they tell him quite candidly, we could take the people that we just let in, scrap them, reject them and take the next cohort. And there’d be no difference in quality between our freshman classes, our first year classes. We could at Harvard, you can do that, something crazy like 12 times over. So at a certain point, the process is totally arbitrary. Feeny makes the way more perceptive and brilliant point, which is that this has taken on a kind of faculty and aspect because it reshapes the lives and the inner lives of young people in the middle and and professional classes of this country, essentially because they’re part of a tournament, this depressingly zero sum and intense meritocratic tournament whose cost of, you know, the cost of losing it has just risen so steeply over the past generation. And so their entire lives get shaped from a very early point onward to win the tournament, to triumph in the tournament. And and he brilliantly brings in the work of Fuyuko unexpectedly. And he says Fuyuko is the genius of telling us how something that we merely take for granted actually is a historical contingency and features of what we think of abiding or even maybe even transcendent aspects of the self, in fact, are completely only epiphenomenon of power, in essence. And he says this is a new form of power, this and he’s not at all derisive. But he says, you know, essentially a team of bureaucrats at each one of these schools has by implication, shaped the lives of your kids virtually from the beginning to the point where they get a yay or nay from a particular college. In other words, we have so internalized the expectations of these admissions officers and what they are looking for, that we parent accordingly and and shape the reality of our children. And they think of as intrinsic to themselves, a longing for excellence, you know, an ability to perform in certain ways, you know, all of which, by the way, I don’t entirely gainsay. I think that those first of all, a lot to be said on behalf of of meritocratic excellence and academic excellence and academic striving. I don’t think of these things as trivial aspects of a person’s character, but it’s gotten so out of control. And I thought that it was a beautiful, beautifully presented argument about the relationship of this social fact to our inner lives and how responsive to it our inner lives have become and the inner lives of the young to game this ridiculous competition anyway. It’s called The Abiding Scandal of College Admissions by Mazzini, highly recommended. Thank you, Julia.

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S4: Thank you.

S1: Thank you, Dana. Thanks. You can find links to some of the things we talked about today at our show page, that Slate Dotcom Culture Fest. And we love it. We really do. When you email us at Culture Fest, at Slate Dotcom, the introductory music to our shows by the wonderful Nechvatal. My producer is Cameron Drus. Our production assistant is Rachel Allen for Dana Stevens and Julia Turner, thank you so much for joining us.

S8: We will see you soon.

S2: Hello and welcome to this Slate plus segment of the Slate Culture Gabfest. Today, we continue our conversation of the stowaway and in particular, its gender politics and whether it manages to move past the, uh, soft women can’t go to space problems with the original Cold Equation story or not. Laura, tell us what you made of the gender politics of the film. And I think this goes without saying, but we’re going to spoil the ending of the story. And so if you want to see it unspoiled, don’t don’t keep listening or just keep listening. If you don’t care

S6: in in many ways, the the film. Improves on that element of the story by making the the girl who ultimately must die to save the mission at the end into this very competent, capable, brave person in the story. She’s just she is kind of a clueless girl, but she does resign herself to the fact that she she must die and, you know, conducts herself with dignity as opposed to having to be, you know, thrown out against her will. Because ultimately, she has to submit to the cold equations like all of us, but I do think that there is a a weird. As sort of a similarity that maybe perhaps the filmmaker did not quite realize in that in that the character played by Anna Kendrick, the doctor, insists that insisted that they delay as long as possible in deciding who has to who has to die, or rather in rejecting the character. Michael, because for all the obvious reasons, you know, there you know, it’s it goes against morality and human feeling. They’ve sort of befriended the guy, but she is the one. The other two are resigned to this, to having to eject this guy. And she’s the one who convinces them that they should keep trying to find a way to make it work. And because she does that in a way, she ends up dying in the end. So I feel like it doesn’t exactly abandon the rationale that the kind of the hope that there’s that that you can wriggle out of the rules, that some amazing solution will come by at the end or we don’t really have to do this, which is embodied in the girl in cold equations, also exists in the Anna Kendrick character.

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S3: I guess the one challenge I would

S2: have I mean, I think you’re right. Fundamentally, the girl must die in the end. And and maybe that has some of the same gender problems. But I guess

S3: to me, her

S2: efforts to wrestle with the cold equations are presented here as like heroic rather than the futile, dim witted ness of an emotional woman. And and, in fact, the the her the problem is not math. The problem is that she dropped the canister like she was right. Yeah. They they fought with the cold equations or she she convinced them to spend a little bit more time fighting with the cold equations. They tried to figure out if there was a way to get oxygen that they had calculated. It’s too much of a risk they go on this mission. And if it hadn’t been for a solar storm, Steve, and

S3: they would be

S2: great, they’d have enough oxygen to go to Mars. So she was the humanist was right in the face of the physics. I mean, I guess I guess you could also say that the cold equation was the risk of that mission is too great and it won’t work. And the people who argued that down at ground control, Jim, were correct and someone would have to die anyway. Um, but I do feel like. I feel like it matters that it’s not like they go up there and they’re like, well, there’s no oxygen here that was dumb. And it also, I think, matters that she chooses it like which, you know, I guess self-sacrifice is still some of the same textural problems that you’ve pointed out. But I don’t

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S3: know, I came away

S2: not feeling like this was just a complicated modernization of the soft woman must die plot. I think it’s more complicated than that.

S4: I also think I mean, the alternative is, is that one of the men solves the problem and sacrifices himself. And that would have posed the problem again of men saving the universe. So I don’t know. I mean, I think that the movie, the ending of this movie is quite weak the very last 15 minutes or so, including the fact this is not really related to the cold equations problem. But why does Michael get to say goodbye to the Anna Kendrick character? She has these emotional goodbyes with everybody else. And the guy who’s causing the entire thing to happen and whose life she’s already saved by stitching him up never has a last moment with her. It seemed like a very strange omission. But anyway, I don’t know that there’s a way to avoid the problem, that the person who saves the ship and sacrifices themselves is going to is going to be the hero of the movie. And at the same time, the sap who decided that their life was worth sacrificing to save the ship. So I guess I didn’t have any problem with the morality or the sexism of the ending. It just it was just simply sort of emotionally and intellectually unsatisfying.

S2: The one sexist thing I didn’t love was that as they’re all negotiating, who’s going to go? It’s like, well, Michael has the sister and Daniel has this wife and she’s just a single doctor lady with a little bit of a like, well, we got the breadwinners have to go to Mars and back, but I’m just a lady, single lady who can die. So that that part did strike me as sexist.

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S4: Can I just say something else about the ending, about how it loses tension? I wonder if you guys felt this, too. But there’s too is a sense of that long kind of whatever it is, ladder thing to the to the never explained distant. Other thing is the oxygen tanks on it. And by the way, for a hard science sci fi film, this really doesn’t explain very well at all why they have that set up with a bunch of oxygen tanks at the end of a completely inaccessible thing, I suppose, for us for after they land and they reload or something like that. But the first time. Sure, Robbinsville,

S2: it’s the

S3: rockets supposed

S2: to take them back and clear.

S4: There’s just a storage facility at the end of a long tunnel. Maybe that’s what gives them the fake gravity. It’s a rocket that they’re climbing to the other end. Yeah, it’s the king.

S2: Sorry, I really am turning into a hard sci fi. What the

S3: what the movie posits

S2: is that the kingfisher is the big fancy rocket. And you see when they dock to the thing in the middle that the the the rocket becomes part of it and their ship becomes part of it. And then it’s it’s doing that spinny thing, which I think is making the gravity maybe I don’t know.

S6: Anyway, the thing is I usually how you do that.

S2: Yeah I yeah. It’s, it’s, it’s a they’re using it as a big weight and but it has the oxygen left over from the launch. It’s the thing that launched them at at the end of the tether. Right.

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S3: Clearly I got to say thank you, Janice. You going to see this

S1: explains why there’s suddenly gravity on the surface of one of the things, because they’re on the exterior and all of a sudden there’s an up and a down and and they’re weighted to it as if it

S6: was I think there’s mostly there’s a

S2: city. That’s it. But not in the middle.

S1: Right, there’s gravity, it’s

S3: very

S4: hard science. Yes, I know you guys are really busy planning your next launch with all your

S3: Ph.D. and

S1: whatnot, Dana. In case you don’t know, you’re the one going out the airlock.

S3: Now, my school is going to be

S4: that we get the most suspenseful part of the movie is not the climax of the movie. There’s this kind of structural flaw where there’s a really suspenseful climb with her and Daniel de Kim going. And then, you know, that’s a failure. And then almost immediately she heads out on her next climb. And the way that’s filmed is like, did you do? Here she goes. She’s half way now. She’s there. Got the you got the tank. Now she’s back. So the moment that we should be thinking about her moral dilemma is just, you know, oh, remember that thing that happened. So that happened again. And it was just very, very poor kind of, you know, structuring of the story. But it was

S3: my

S6: main complaint with the ending is that they seem to want to be you know, they want to be ending on a note where the sort of wonder that she felt when she was looking out the window at Earth is repeated as she sits there on the that ledge sort of thing and looks out towards Mars and the rest of the universe. And it’s supposed to be, well, she’s going to die, but she is. You know, she’s doing it in this really meaningful way because there’s this voiceover that repeats something that she said earlier about the mission giving her life meaning, and there’s this incredible thing that she’s seeing that hardly anybody has ever seen or, you know, whatever. I kind of thought she was going to end up floating off into space, sort of detached from the ship. That would have been a dramatic ending where we knew she was going to die, but she was just sort of blown away by how beautiful it was. But instead, the the field of stars that she looks at is just so unremarkable looking. You know, it’s like a black screen with like a few tiny little dots of light on it. And it doesn’t really get across the sort of what I think they were trying to convey in that scene. Maybe she’s standing there looking or sitting there looking at Mars, thinking, I guess I’ll never get there. But it’s just I. I thought that they wanted us to see her her death as sort of elevated in some way by, you know, this incredible experience that she’d had.

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S4: Yeah. You say in your in your write up of the book and movie, Laura, that the ending is I remember the exact word you used, but there’s there’s an anticlimactic and very abrupt feeling to the ending. And I think that that comes out in her not saying goodbye properly to Michael. Also, like I said, in the very rapid editing of that second ascent of the you know, to get the oxygen tanks and then. Yeah, in in what the meaning of the last shot is supposed to be. I mean, maybe I’m an idiot, but I wasn’t even completely clear why she didn’t go back inside the spaceship to die. Like we’ve we’ve already established that there’s a completely painless means of death inside the spaceship. She could have just gone back in. Right. Or whatever she wanted to have that that more heroic and kind of lonely death outside, which is which is a legitimate choice. But then we kind of want to know what’s going on at that moment that that makes that worthwhile.

S1: I mean, I guess also if you’re going to die in space, you know, do you want anyway, whatever. I mean, you just don’t want the decomposing body. What are you going to do with that body in such a tiny little craft? I mean.

S4: Well, then you just chuck it out.

S2: My understanding, too, from from close watching of Chernobyl, my other source of scientific information now that I’m a scientist, is death by radiation poisoning is not like so hot. Yeah, she’s. Yeah, the whole the whole. And I agree, the spectacle. She’s got

S6: a couple little scrapes and that’s it, you know, but otherwise she seems to be doing

S2: OK. She looks like a little zedi at the end and tired, little sweaty, little clammy anyway. OK, well now that we’ve solved gender and sci fi once and for all. You’re welcome. What a value your slate plus description is. Thank you so much, Laura, for joining the show. Thank you, sleepless members for supporting Slate. And our show will see you next week.