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Episode 11: Tight Rope

 

Review by Dustin Corallo

June 13, 2006

 

Summary

After a long trip from Earth, the Ender begins its approach towards Mars. In the cockpit, James sips a beer and speaks out to Rachel to keep waiting for them as the red planet draws closer. Noel speaks up and says it’s nice to be able to see it, but she asks how they are going to get down there. She points out the Ender can’t re-enter the atmosphere, and James tells her he knows that already. James explains that will call for Plan D: sneaking into Deimos. Leon reminds him that there is a surveillance system around Deimos and asks how James is going to get past it, but James tells him not to worry. James explains there is a loophole commonly used by cargo haulers, but Noel says it sounds fishy, to which James replies that hauling is a dangerous job too. Noel comes back with even if they do manage to get down to Mars, they don’t know for sure if Rachel is still in Vascilia County, but Leon tells her if something happened in the back country of Mars, that event would become a rumor, so they may come across a clue soon. James asks what Leon’s interpretation of Mars is, and Leon says it’s a planet with two moons, a desert as far as the eye can see and farmland with giant six legged pigs. James quips that’s something a child would come up with, but he tells Leon that he’ll learn Mars for real once they get down to the surface. In the Ender’s cargo bay, Dolores sits down on a container while Pete floats to her with a book in his mouth. Dolores asks what kind of book Pete brought for her today, so Pete flips it around and reveals the title “How To Love.” Something floats out from the inside of the book, so Dolores looks it over with one of her wire cameras. It turns out to be a video photo of James when he was younger and still in the UNSF. The video plays out with James in full uniform and rose in hand, quaking as the person recording tells him to relax. The recorder also tells him if he keeps that up, she’ll turn him down, and James reluctantly tells him he’ll work it out. Dolores finds the picture cute, but she wonders what the rose is for, so she decides to read the book and find out. As the Ender closes in on Mars, it gets detected by a surveillance satellite. The satellite computer demands the ship’s identification and affiliation while a mounted beam cannon is trained on the ship. Noel yells at James over the so-called loophole, and James frustratingly explains they changed search pattern while he was gone. Leon, however, points out the satellite is over 20 years old and tells James to stall while he works on his laptop. With a suitable distraction in mind, James floats to the cargo section and to Dolores, where he asks her if she can intercept electromagnetic waves. Dolores answers yes, so James asks her if she can do it quickly. Dolores explains that she formed an electromagnetic deflection field with a radius of ten kilometers. With that information, James tells Leon they won’t have to worry about any other satellites for a while, just the one. The satellite again demands the ship’s ID and affiliation, and Leon replies, claiming the ship’s name is the Don Torres and that it’s affiliated to the UNSF. He also informs the satellite that the proper IFF codes haven’t been transmitted yet. However, the operator is unable to properly identify the ship, but Leon tells the computer that’s its problem and that they’re flying through anyway. When the Ender’s right cargo container opens up and Dolores floats out, the satellite narrows its beam cannon and fires shots across the Ender. Leon laughs and explains while the satellite cannot identify them, it can’t hit them either, and then tells James that the satellite is vulnerable to heat-based weapons, so anything from plasma to microwaves will be enough. Noel just tells James to blow it up, but Leon points out that the other satellites will detect the explosion. James smirks and tells Dolores to power up the microwave cannon, the weapon that she used at Kudoshu. Dolores acknowledges, forms the cannon from her chest and fires it at the satellite. Leon laughs at the name “microwave cannon,” and Noel quips it’d be nice if it could warm up dinner while they were at it. The satellite attempts to take defensive action, but the excessive heat causes a power surge and it starts to shoot wildly. James moves Dolores in front of the Ender so it doesn’t get hit, but the satellite soon shuts down anyway. With the satellite out of the way, the Ender can now move into orbit, but Leon wonders where they will go to avoid the other satellites. James tells him there should be an “SG7” in the navigational computer and that they will head for there. When Noel asks what it is, James explains it’s Planet Seven, Sargasso. As it turns out, “Sargasso” is an orbiting garbage dump, with the SG meaning “Space Garbage.” James explains by Martian law, all large scale waste was to be destroyed by incineration upon re-entry, but small business would go out of business from the costs of labor and expense, so they just dump their garbage (illegally) into orbit and leave it there. Leon states it’s a good place for hiding, but he still doesn’t understand how they are going to get down to Mars. Noel points out they can’t get to Deimos from there, but James tells them that with all the garbage floating around, there’s got to be something that can survive reentry, like insulator boards, metals and ceramics. Noel thinks they can make a reentry capsule from such junk, and James compliments her for catching on quick. This shocks Noel as she realizes James is serious. James explains it’s Plan Z: modifying some of the junk into a landing capsule. Neither Leon nor Noel are taken by this plan, and Noel points out that’s not how an adult over the age of 50 thinks. James annoyingly reminds her he’s still 49, but then remembers advice from his book: “to win the respect of your children, you must become a model and show them how to act.” James then tells Leon that he’ll be in charge of the design, but Leon exclaims he doesn’t have any experience. Noel, now becoming aggravated, unbuckles herself and floats over to the pilot’s side so she’s looking at Dolores’ cockpit directly, then flatly reminds James that if they make one mistake they’re dead. James folds his arms and claims there are one or two times in life that a man must put his being at stake, but Noel points out that she’s a woman. The siblings continue to ramble, but James simply picks his nose and ignores them, much to Dolores’ distaste. Noel wonders if they can just ride Dolores into the atmosphere, but Leon remembers there are other surveillance satellites looking over the planet’s surface. James then finishes with this being the only chance they have, and Noel yells out in frustration she doesn’t want to do it. A short time later, a re-entry capsule is completed, one that vaguely looks like a capsule from the old Apollo missions on Earth, and the Links family begin their descent into the atmosphere. Noel haphazardly asks Leon if they will be able to make it to the surface, and Leon says if it all goes to plan, but James reminds them their craft is made of garbage, so anything can happen. The capsule hits the atmosphere and shoots down in a brilliant red light, but then one of the insulator plates breaks off. Noel worries, but James explains that he used a lot of heat resisting materials for the construction, so they’re still safe. That is, until the rest of the plates break off. Leon remembers that Mars’ atmosphere is three times thicker than Earth’s, and James wishes that the capsule would hold out until the end. Noel suggests having Dolores push them up to decelerate them and decrease the friction, but Leon tells her the capsule doesn’t have that type of stability, and that they’d just end up getting crushed by Dolores instead. Things get worse as two more layers peel off at the same time, and the capsule continues to break apart. As the remains of the capsule rain down onto the Martian surface, “TRY AGAIN?” flashes across the screen.

 

As it turns out, the Links family were simply practicing a VR simulation with the Ender’s computer, one that they didn’t survive. Leon sighs and exclaims even this plan was no good, and Noel states this is the fifth time they had died. Leon wonders if he has to change the way he thinks over this, but James reassures him that he has high hopes. Leon sighs again and remembers back at Rozen, they didn’t have high hopes for him at all. Elsewhere, James and Noel exit the Ender and meet up with Dolores who is sitting on some junk. James tells her that they’re back to collecting garbage and all three spread out. As James looks through the field, he doesn’t come across any insulator materials, but Noel comes across some chemical tanks that contain a styrofoam-like ceramic. James compliments her on the find, and Noel reminds him she was boss on a construction site before this all started, and that James should leave the construction materials to her. James agrees it does sound promising, and the search continues. On the next simulation, the capsule does touch down onto the surface intact, and James compliments Leon on his success as well, but Noel tells both of them that the real thing is different from a simulation. James tells her if she keeps being a pessimist things won’t go as well as they can, but Noel retorts that she doesn’t want to become a shooting star as Pete floats into her arms. James tells her they’re going to build the capsule now, and Noel states disdainfully that he’d do it even if she doesn’t like it. Some time later, the starboard side cargo container is unlatched from the Ender and all three Links family members exit the ship. James explains that they’ll begin attaching insulator plates to the container, but Noel is still unconvinced about the whole thing. James states that he understands this more than she does and claims he can’t leave it to baby chickens like them. Leon flatly reminds him he designed it and that he doesn’t want to be called a baby chicken. James lets it go and says he’ll do the construction while Leon and Noel direct, but both siblings think that if they leave it to James they’ll wind up in a tighter spot, which has been happening since they left Earth. James, being overwhelmed, allows the siblings to help with the construction. As they work, James looks at Dolores and wonders what she is doing, and Noel tells James that he ordered Dolores to stand guard earlier. However, on closer inspection, it appears Dolores is wielding something together, which makes James and the siblings wonder. Before they can contemplate it, James berates them to get back to work. Later, James looks over the container, which is coming closer to being a reentry capsule. He then realizes that once it was finished, he’d have to leave the Ender behind. When the capsule is finally complete, James is amazed that they actually finished it, but Noel is still pessimistic, quipping that it looks like their tombstone. Leon tells her it’s the best they can do with the materials they had while James says she’s worrying too much again. She then calls out to Dolores and tells her to come back, but as she flies towards them, she seems to be grasping something. It turns out the thing in her hand is a giant, metallic rose made out of the scrap Dolores wielded together earlier. She hands it over to James and asks him to take it. James wonders what it is at first, but Dolores tells him it’s a rose, much to James’ shock and embarrassment. She explains that humans give a rose to someone they love as a present. This causes James to smile and remember when he gave Rachel a rose, in front of an entire crowd no less. The flashback ends with Rachel planting a kiss on James’ cheek and the crowd cheering. Back in reality, James is thankful for the rose, but he explains they can’t take it with them, so it’s best to leave the rose in its “natural habitat,” the junkyard. Both Leon and Noel think the gesture is cute, amusingly. With no choice, James has Dolores let go of the rose, and they all watch as it spins through space among the rest of the scrap. James looks over the rose and finds it very well made under the circumstances. He then gets an idea and tells Leon and Dolores he’s going to make a few of his own designs to the capsule as well. After the capsule is completed, the Links family members return to the Ender. In the cockpit, James holds out two wires and explains one person can descend in Dolores’ cockpit, and to determine that person, Leon and Noel must draw the longest wire from his hand. Leon asks about James, but James states the one in charge of construction is ineligible. Noel moves to pick first, but she can’t decide fast enough, and Pete floats by and picks the winning wire. Noel complains that Pete doesn’t count, but Leon says Pete’s a family member, so it works. It ends with Noel crying out that she wants to be a cat. The time soon comes and the Links family prepares to descend. Before they do, James says one last goodbye to his ship and asks it not to hold a grudge for being left behind. Leon thinks the display is pathetic, but he reassures his father that if it remains in Sargasso, the Ender will be overlooked by the UNSF, so they can recover it later. He then grabs James and pulls him toward the capsule, explaining they don’t have much time. Everyone then gets into the capsule and Leon, ignoring the cries from his sister, starts the deceleration sequence. The charge activates, and James exclaims at the large amount of shock. Leon explains that instead of a retrorocket, they’re using an exploding spray gun for deceleration. James sighs as he watches his ship grow smaller in the distance, and Noel demands to be let off, that she’ll wait in the Ender. James states resignation is important in a man, but again Noel reminds him she’s a woman. As the capsule and Dolores begin their descent, Leon activates the second charges and Noel screams out again. Leon demands that she not do that every phase, but Noel cries she doesn’t want to die. The capsule soon enters the atmosphere, and James wonders if Dolores is keeping up, but Leon tells him there’s no way of knowing. The capsule then quakes and some of the insulator plates are peeled off, making Noel scream again. James says they lost a layer, and Leon starts to remind him if they’re wrong, but James reminds Leon he made it so it’d break off from the fixed area first to retain balance, and tells him not to panic. Noel becomes more and more nervous each second, as she starts to pray to God, Buddha or Lady Dolores, and James smiles and says he wouldn’t mind Dolores hearing the last one. Another layer peels off and the capsule starts to accelerate further, causing even more panic among the Links family. However, the capsule makes it through to the lower stratosphere of Mars without a hitch, and James smiles at their accomplishment. He asks Noel if she’s alright now, but she doesn’t answer, having passed out. James sighs and tells Leon she’s a girl after all, but it turns out Leon also has passed out. A little disappointed, James pulls up a monitor and contacts Dolores, telling her it’s her turn. A pod on the back of the capsule then opens up and a parachute deploys, with Dolores grabbing the cable attached and using thrusters as retrorockets. James, feeling the remaining insulator plates break off, tells Dolores to be gentle or the capsule will come apart. All goes well at first, but then the parachute cable snaps off the capsule and it begins to accelerate again. In a last ditch, James activates a propeller blade at the top of the capsule, which provides a stable drop. He thanks Dolores for the rose again, saying that if he hadn’t seen it, he would’ve been dead by now. But right before touch down, the propeller blades break, leading to a rough landing. Leon and Noel awaken to find the capsule crumpled and taking on water, as they have landed in one of Mars’ oceans. James calms them down by informing them they survived the drop, but now they have to stop the water flow or they’ll sink. Leon haphazardly asks James about the air bags he put into absorb the impact, but James tells them they haven’t deployed. After a moment, the capsule sinks underwater, with Dolores diving in after them. James tries to open the hatch, but the water pressure is too great for him, and the capsule sinks further. Leon panics as the water flow increases, but James tells him if the inside floods entirely, then they’ll be able to open the hatch. Suddenly, the capsule seems to stop in the water. Leon wonders if they hit the ocean floor, but James states it’s not that shallow. It turns out the capsule has landed on a gigantic blade of seaweed, which in turn produces massive bubbles and the capsule which make it float up. The capsule breaks the surface and James deploys the air bags to keep it floating. Now landed, Noel breaks open the battered hatch, wondering what caused them to float up. James tells her it’s the Mars Wheeze: giant bio-engineered seaweed transplanted into Mars’ ocean, which grew larger than estimated due to Mars’ lower gravity. He states that they’re a lucky family, and congratulates Leon on his designing. But Noel reminds them that they’re in the middle of nowhere, just as Dolores surfaces and exclaims happily that everyone is safe. When she looks at the horizon though, she sees a group of strange structures sitting on the ocean.

 

Commentary

 

Y’know, the first thing that I thought after this episode was “this feels more like Planetes than anything else.” We have a subplot focused on collecting junk from an orbiting garbage dump, lots of character drama and tension with James trying to manage his son and daughter into a construction effort, and the occasional doses of comedy on the side. I wouldn’t be surprised if one or more of the staff members from Planetes saw this episode and got ideas from it, but I doubt it. Anyway, this episode addresses a unique problem you don’t usually see in futuristic anime: now that the Links family has gotten to Mars, how are they going to get down to the surface? In the usual case, you either have a spaceship that can survive reentry and fly in the atmosphere or you have a special vehicle attached to said spaceship that can transport people to and from the planet. The Ender falls short of both, so that leaves the Links family to collect junk and construct a reentry capsule out of said junk. One prominent thing I noticed in this episode was Leon and Noel actually listening to James for once. Sure, they didn’t like his “Plan Z” at first, but they didn’t flat out ignore him like in episode 9, which was not too long ago. Thanks to his direction and the siblings following it, the family managed to get down to Mars without too much of a hitch. Seems that James’ efforts to win back his family are starting to pay off, slowly of course. Another interesting change from this episode is the comedy element: instead of focusing on James’ dumb luck, the comedy is supplied from Noel’s almost-epidemic fear of re-entry and her efforts to get out of James’ plan. I especially find it funny that she had to constantly remind James that she was a woman every time he said something about “a Man’s ____”; you’d think he of all people would know that. Then there were her hilarious expressions every time something bad happened, although the whining and screaming got annoying after a while. With her tomboyish attitude and rough exterior, it’s a little strange to see Noel act so childish, but it still worked out here. Much like episode 9, this one is an ‘okay’ episode; enjoyable, but I expected better especially after the last episode.

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Overall Rating

Full StarFull StarFull StarHalf StarNo Star

3 out of 5 stars
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ZOE Dolores, i Episode 11 ZOE Dolores, i Episode 11

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