Debris season 1, episode 4 recap – “In Universe” the truth comes out

March 23, 2021
Jonathon Wilson 0
Weekly TV
2.5

Summary

“In Universe” felt like a turning point episode for Finola and Bryan, but it still has the same storytelling problems holding it back.

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2.5

Summary

“In Universe” felt like a turning point episode for Finola and Bryan, but it still has the same storytelling problems holding it back.

This recap of Debris season 1, episode 4, “In Universe”, contains spoilers.


As a classic turning point episode, Debris episode 4, “In Universe”, feels like the best one yet. It certainly does the best job of muddying the dynamic between the leads, clueing Finola into Bryan’s secret, and putting their ideologies more starkly at odds regarding how the alien debris should be handled. But it’s also symptomatic of some of the show’s most pernicious problems. It still rigidly adheres to the same weekly formula of blending extra-terrestrial weirdness with human drama, and still in a way that feels a bit obvious. It still raises many more questions than it bothers to answer about the debris and its implications. Everyone is still alarmingly blasé about the potential effects of this errant space junk, and I’m still of a mind that the procedural format only exacerbates this issue. And despite letting Finola in on not just her father’s survival but Bryan’s knowledge of it, it keeps the inevitable confrontation between them on the back burner for now. Finola is explicitly told by her superiors to keep her knowledge of what the CIA has been doing to herself, and who knows how long that might go on for?

Some of these problems are inherent in network television storytelling – shelving plot points for later is nothing new, and a good way to keep people tuning in each week. But I find it more distracting in Debris than I do in most shows because the underlying premise isn’t suited to it. The wreckage in “In Universe” creates a very localized storm in the midst of rural America and completely terraforms the atmosphere, changing not just its chemical makeup but the biology of those living inside it. It flips carbon-based, oxygen-breathing lifeforms into ones reliant on chlorine, like the Kloros in Isaac Asimov’s classic short story C-Chute. That’s quite important! It should be of pretty major concern to a supranational task force dedicated entirely to investigating the debris’s effects. But because we’re doing the procedural thing, there will essentially be a soft reset between this episode and next week’s, and aside from oblique references in all likelihood, everyone will forget all about it. That just doesn’t sit right with me.

The reality, of course, is that the scenario is designed first and foremost to emphasize the ideological schism between Finola and Bryan since the solution eventually comes down to saving the farmers who were caught in the storm, or the entire surrounding community (this is because the two atmospheres are kept separate by a forcefield which, if removed, will cause one group to suffocate and die). Finola once again argues on behalf of the individual, and Bryan the group; idealism versus pragmatism, if you like. Both characters make their points well, but I’m not sure Debris episode 4 supports either of their arguments as efficiently as it could. The point of a debate like this is to have both sides seem equally plausible, but “In Universe” writes itself into a corner. With no other conceivable solution, saving the few over the many seems a lot less justifiable, and Finola’s ardent defense of it seems silly. Her eventual compromise, which is to reveal to a grieving surrogate father that his family is going to be indefinitely held in stasis, basically guaranteeing that he’ll allow himself to be contaminated in order to be with them, doesn’t allow her to achieve her stated goal. And it comes on the back of the revelation that Bryan has been hiding information about her father, so it just ends up looking like a slightly petty response to that news – a way to get one up on Bryan, who believed that ignorance was the best path to the prolonged safety of these people. If the whole Suspension gimmick works out, and these people eventually re-emerge into the world feeling as if only a second has passed, the guy she allowed to run in there is going to recall everything she told him. He’ll tell everyone and completely undermine the point of the Suspension in the first place. This is the kind of short-sightedness that continues to blight the show.

Inevitably, Debris season 1, episode 4 is a consequence of tying the show’s themes too tightly to its plot; the machinery can’t operate without shaking the knots loose. We already know that Finola believes in the sanctity of family and trust and that when she talks about people having the right to the truth about those they love, she’s talking about her father. I’m not sure we needed the week’s case to be a metaphorical representation of that idea.

After several episodes of development, what we need now is more serialization. We need Finola and Bryan to have it out with each other directly, not through contrasting reactions to each case. And we need those cases to matter going forwards, especially if they’re going to be as obviously significant as the ability of an alien race to terraform Earth’s atmosphere. Trust is at the center of Debris, thematically – it’s about time the show put some of that in its audience.

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