Timeless: Party at Castle Varlar
October 25, 2016 3:30 PM - Season 1, Episode 4 - Subscribe

The trio follow Flynn to 1944 Germany and team up with a famous British spy.

AV Club recap - On Timeless, Lucy’s shaken (but not stirred)

Vulture - Timeless Recap: Quantum Leap of Solace

Ian Flemming: I swear, you Americans, you couldn't stand out more if you tried. [Rufus enters] I stand corrected.
posted by oh yeah! (14 comments total)
 
On the plus side, there's a new Sean Connery James Bond film.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 5:24 PM on October 25, 2016 [1 favorite]


On the plus side, there's a new Sean Connery James Bond film.

Loved how excited Wyatt was by that factoid; I hope if we ever see his home there's a giant poster of the movie.
posted by oh yeah! at 6:41 PM on October 25, 2016 [1 favorite]


Exactly. It was nice to see both of the guys excited by something historical. Usually it's Lucy fan-girling over the people they meet.

They seem to be working the character development strings with all of the main cast members, which isn't absolutely necessary in a show like this, but it's definitely a plus.

Did the plot make sense or am I missing something? Wouldn't it be a better decision to take the uranium core/atomic weapon/whatever it is directly to wherever it needs to be rather than stopping off in Germany to pull a bait and switch with von Braun? Or was it implied that whatever was needed to make the long-life battery could only be picked up 1944 Germany?
posted by sardonyx at 8:58 PM on October 25, 2016


I'm still watching this which says something since I still find myself nitpicking it so much. Like... it's not enough to speak German, he would have to have a plausible German accent. Otherwise you're like Chekhov showing up in San Francisco during the Cold War and asking for "the way to the nuclear wessels".

Also, giving the Nazis an atomic core in December 1944 would have absolutely no effect on the war. The Nazis problem was an inability to produce the material needed for working weapons. Oh look, you gave me a core with a tiny amount of fissionable material! Thanks. We can now basically do the equivalent of one mass bomber raid from the Allies. One. And then they have to enrich more U-235. Which they can do... never. Wheeee.
posted by Justinian at 11:19 PM on October 25, 2016


I'm glad Abigail Spencer demanded work on getting her sister back. I still think the long term organize conflict in the the team needs to be a tension between getting the sister back and getting Captain McSquarejaw's wife back.
posted by Justinian at 11:20 PM on October 25, 2016


that should be ORGANIC conflict, not organize conflict!
posted by Justinian at 11:27 PM on October 25, 2016


Or was it implied that whatever was needed to make the long-life battery could only be picked up 1944 Germany?

I don't think they needed anything from Germany to make the battery, they just needed to skedaddle away from the warehouse being raided and going to Germany to give Braun to the Russians was the next stop on Flynn's itinerary. Once back in the present, Anthony finished building the battery and installed it.
posted by oh yeah! at 7:06 AM on October 26, 2016


"And then they have to enrich more U-235. Which they can do... never."

Don't even get me started on that whole thing. That small sphere had to be Pu-239 and therefore was a sub-critical mass that is useless without the fabulously difficult theoretical/engineering controlled conventional implosion high-explosive surrounding it. With a breeder reactor, it's pretty easy to (slowly) produce Pu-239, but it can only be made into a fission bomb by a controlled implosion of a sub-critical mass to briefly make it a compressed super-critical mass. The "gun" type U-235 device, on the other hand, is just two sub-critical masses of U-235 that are separated by some (minimal but significant) distance which are explosively collided against each other, causing a super-critical mass runaway fission explosion. You can't do this with Pu-239 because it's too radioactive -- you can't physically shoot two sub-critical masses of Pu-239 against each other without them going critical too early, before they actually collide, causing premature criticality and something that would be more like a dud of a "dirty" bomb than what is desired. The difficulty with the implosion bomb is the implosive theory (reflecting waves and whatnot) and the engineering required to make such a mechanism. We didn't know it would work -- that's what they tested at Trinity. We had enough Pu-239 for two bombs, but we didn't know if they would work. We had only enough U-235 for one bomb (because it's incredibly difficult and slow to separate the U-238 and U-235 isotopes and requires a huge separation industrial structure) which we knew would work and didn't need to test. So we tested the implosion device at Trinity, used the single U-235 weapon on Hiroshima, and the remaining implosive Pu-239 weapon on Nagasaki.

A critical mass of U-235 would weigh about 93 pounds, something you wouldn't be able to carry around easily. A sub-critical mass of Pu-239 would weight only about 22 pounds and would be a sphere.

So that was plutonium and from an implosion weapon. They got that right. Except that a simple sub-critical sphere of Pu-239 is mostly dangerous when used to bludgeon someone. You could toss that thing around, drop it from a tall building, and nothing is going to happen. And you'd probably best wear gloves, but Pu-239 produces mostly alpha particles, which don't even penetrate the skin -- unlike U-235, which you wouldn't want to handle without shielding. And, in theory, you could have those two sub-critical masses of U-235 and handle them badly and cause them to go critical or, possibly, super-critical if you handle them really badly and under certain conditions, but even that is pretty unlikely. The fissionable fuel of a nuclear weapon is not "explosive" in the same way that, say, TNT is. That whole thing was dumb. If it had been U-235, it would have been less dumb, but then he wouldn't be handling two 47 pound masses of uranium in his hands, either.

Either type of weapon, as a complete weapon, can be dangerous beyond the obvious sense. A uranium gun-type device could inadvertently have the two masses get too close to each other, in a plane crash, say, but they really still need to be fired at each other directly at a sufficiently high velocity under controlled conditions to cause a super-critical fission explosion, so at worst in such a situation you'd probably get something more like a fizzle and a dirty bomb. An implosion device might have its high explosive casing explode in a crash or something, and that would be bad, and you might get a little vaporization of some plutonium, which would be bad, but not like an explosion. But even the prototype and early weapons had armed and disarmed states where in the disarmed state, as it normally is, any mishandling of the weapon, even a plane crash or an accidentally dropped bomb, isn't going to do much of anything other than what the rest of the debris does. I know of at least one accidentally dropped unarmed weapon and one plane crash containing an unarmed weapon, and the former was just a secret embarrassment and the latter was mostly a problem because of radiation contamination.

The ethical implications of the invention of a time machine make the ethical considerations of a nuclear bomb insignificant by comparison, and rocketry even more so. What does it mean to kill someone? Can't you argue that Lucy's sister was "killed" by the timeline alteration? How many people are erased from existence every time they kill someone in the past, or just change it? I can't even begin to untangle the ethics of using a time machine, except to argue that the effects of changing the past are essentially unknowable (in most versions of SF time-travel) and therefore an incredibly, terrifyingly enormously morally risky thing to do at all. When I've thought about writing time-travel stories, my preferred paradigm is one in which events in time are the turbulent flow of water that, in a sufficiently large mass, tends toward the mean. So no real butterfly effects in this scheme, time "self-corrects", as they say. And not intentionally or weirdly, as in some stories, but just the same way that throwing a boulder in a river briefly changes the flow around the boulder but otherwise farther downstream everything is apparently the same, at least on average. That seems workable as a premise because the other, more typical schemes are either incoherent or just terrifying in their implications.

That said, I'm obviously a sucker for time-travel stories and while I really would like the internal logic to be consistent (and am deeply satisfied by the very, very few examples where this is the case), I end up enjoying the typical incoherent time-travel story just because, I dunno, it's just so inherently interesting to me.

I like the structure they're setting up in this show -- my guess is that we're going to be presented with the same conundrum that someone like the show's Ian Fleming would have faced, had they told him the truth -- why should he care about their "real" future? That raises the question of why these time-travelers are so certain that the world they began with is itself preferred and "correct". Perhaps it is not. Perhaps Rittenhouse changed history first. Does that make Flynn right for possibly wanting to change it back? If Flynn is wrong, then why is Rittenhouse wrong when our heroes are not? It's a very interesting thing to deconstruct and subvert this whole time-travel trope by having our heroes slowly realize that they are attempting to protect an already altered (and arguably much worse) history than their antagonists. We still identify with them, though, because...why? Because our history is ours, like our nation of birth is ours and therefore, for many people, inherently preferable? That's questionable.

I would be a terrible character in a time-travel story. I'd be Chidi from "The Good Place" as a (reluctant) time-traveler. I'd argue that we'd ought to spend a lifetime studying the ethics of time-travel before doing anything.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 8:08 AM on October 27, 2016 [13 favorites]


And, in theory, you could have those two sub-critical masses of U-235 and handle them badly and cause them to go critical or, possibly, super-critical if you handle them really badly and under certain conditions, but even that is pretty unlikely.

You'd think, but didn't they manage to do it twice at Los Alamos in less than two years? I guess working on subcritical masses with nothing but the blade of a screwdriver preventing criticality isn't such a great idea.
posted by Justinian at 10:09 AM on October 27, 2016 [1 favorite]


I hope they are indeed heading towards the idea that Lucy & co are engaged in protecting an already-engineered Rittenhouse timeline. That would lead to the question of why exactly Flynn hasn't simply come right out and told Lucy that in their meetings, though. It's not like it takes very long to say "your timeline has already been altered; Rittenhouse has engineered it." Boom.
posted by Justinian at 10:16 AM on October 27, 2016 [2 favorites]


"You'd think, but didn't they manage to do it twice at Los Alamos in less than two years?"

"Tickling the dragon's tale". Yeah, but just critical and not super-critical, so a hell of a lot of radiation but no explosion. So yeah, if you were screwing around with two slightly sub-critical masses of U-235 (or worse, Pu-239, as Slotin was) you are asking for trouble in terms of a criticality accident. But what I had in mind was a) super-critical fission explosion, and b) within the context of an actual bomb. That is to say, even a gun-type weapon, when unarmed, isn't that dangerous. You can (and we did) accidentally drop one from a bomber a few miles from a large city and keep it a secret for many years.

"It's not like it takes very long to say 'your timeline has already been altered; Rittenhouse has engineered it.' Boom."

Would that be persuasive to you? If someone said that history as we know it was already altered and killing all the people involved in the Reconstruction, or giving von Braun to the USSR in 1942 were ways to "fix" it, would you go along with that?

I'm sympathetic to the viewpoint that when actually time-traveling in a particular time and place and you are faced directly with something terrible (like a murder), it makes sense to say, fuck it, this isn't right and I'm going to stop a murder. But the larger argument for completely altering history as we know it to "restore" it to a state that isn't my own life and history? Big NOPE on that. I'd need a much more complete explanation why history and possibly everyone I know has to be sacrificed for something supposedly better (or to avoid something terrible). I'm not saying that I couldn't be convinced, just that it wouldn't be easy going.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 9:00 PM on October 27, 2016 [1 favorite]


It wouldn't instantly persuade me, no. But it would get me thinking about the situation and looking at or for evidence since it is absolutely plausible once you have a time machine like the one depicted. At the very least it would be a way to start sowing seeds for the future.

Certainly it seems more likely to have some kind of positive result (from Flynn's viewpoint) than the gnomic nothings he has said so far. "Stop getting in my way!". Ok, Flynn, you've convinced me.
posted by Justinian at 9:28 PM on October 27, 2016


Yeah. Well, that's TV logic. People not telling each other obvious things to keep the plot going. I think the show can't reveal much about what Rittenhouse is doing because, as the show has hinted, it possibly involves a future version of Lucy and her desire to save her sister. The writers are attempting to be very clever about this, I think, and it's working so far (when allowing for TV logic), but it might start to fall apart later.

I want this show to succeed primarily because of Abigail Spencer. She's a tremendously talented actor, she's a bit wasted on this, but she's got a starring role on a broadcast network show and that's a really big deal and I want things to go well for her. She (along with everyone else) has been absolutely riveting to watch on Rectify and she's just so good. I think on this show she's elevated some mediocre dialogue and scenes above what another actor would have managed. But it's pretty average genre broadcast network fare and she's not given that much to work with, really.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 9:44 PM on October 27, 2016


Perhaps Rittenhouse changed history first. Does that make Flynn right for possibly wanting to change it back?

I know you guys probably already know the answer, but I really, really hope this is the ultimate dilemma, and that the world Flynn and Anthony came from is like a post scarcity utopia.
posted by corb at 2:06 PM on April 30, 2017 [2 favorites]


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