“A Message from Ground Control” takes Bryan and Finola inside Orbital itself in this penultimate episode.
This recap of Debris season 1, episode 12, “A Message from Ground Control”, contains spoilers.
“A Message From Ground Control” was the penultimate episode of Debris, but it didn’t particularly feel like it. The usual format – which felt a bit of a step-down, emotionally, after that great two-parter and last week’s Bryan-focused outing – is present and correct, with George going about his business while Bryan and Finola are summoned to a mysterious case. The big difference, though, is that this particular case was within Orbital itself, and eventually brought Finola and Maddox face to face.
There are also plenty of callbacks to previous episodes, ideas, and themes. The piece of debris inside Orbital is putting people into a trance and pulling objects through an invisible dimensional portal, neither of which are new concepts to this show. Likewise, after the recent theorizing about the interconnectedness of the debris itself, there’s plenty of awestruck chatter about the stuff being “bigger” and “greater” than humankind. Here, the science and mystery are rubbing up against a flimsy emotionality that doesn’t quite work as well as previous episodes have.
This all manifests particularly in a turn involving Bryan, who is once again brought face-to-face with the schoolteacher who allowed him to regain his connection to Asalah, and this time they’re able to join hands and exchange some knowledge. But Debris episode 12 elects not to share that knowledge with its audience. In an instant, the determinedly rational Bryan becomes a nutcase hippy who keeps babbling about the debris’ mission, its greater purpose, and the potentially terrible consequences of interfering with what it’s up to.
None of this works quite as well as “A Message From Ground Control” thinks, and nor does the moment when the debris emerges as that talked-about ball of light, that floats up and into the air as Orbital’s puzzled, almost reverent staffers look on. It’s clearly supposed to be a momentous development, but it reads as being a bit silly. Like Bryan’s sudden turn, it hinges on the audience being possessed of a very out-there mindset. After nearly a full season of relatively hard sci-fi, it’s a strange way in which to present the developments here.
As well as coinciding with George’s mission, there are a couple of other subplots running parallel here. One is Anson Ash’s escape, which was teased weeks ago and finally comes to fruition here. It’s a bit perplexing that anyone would buy the dude’s claims that he has taken ill given his history, but his escape through space and time via a portal was good value. Then there’s the discovery that Orbital have been using George’s research to weaponize the debris while pinning the blame on Influx, which Finola takes straight to Maddox, who rationalizes it in the usual way – just America doing what’s necessary to prevent its enemies from doing the same to them.
This loops back to something George said earlier in Debris season 1, episode 12, about governments always being fundamentally self-serving. It, too, is not a new idea for the show to be peddling, so it’s on-brand if nothing else. From what we know about Maddox, though, the self-interests of the U.S. aren’t the only thing on his agenda – would he be able to rationalize his own backroom deals with the Russians quite so easily? One assumes not.
With just one episode to go, there’s still everything to play for and plenty to make sense of. Hopefully, after so many episodes devoted to pieces of something, they’ll all start coming together.