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After 2 Seasons: No ‘Salvation’ for CBS series

Spoiler Alert:
CBS’ “Salvation” illustrates the problem of a countdown. When a show has a significant, world-ending event on the calendar, it can only end poorly. The asteroid is coming and for two seasons of “Salvation” the main thrust of action comes from the reaction of people to the asteroid and the ineffectual efforts of the government, a rogue hacker organization and a genius billionaire to divert the asteroid from its course. There are plenty of amazing, thought-provoking episodes, especially in the first season. And then there are the dumb actions, mostly in the second season.

By the penultimate episode, none of that matters. Humans are doomed by the incoming asteroid. Old rich and evil people have made off with the show’s namesake spaceship/lifeboat for humanity and there’s nothing left to do but tie up loose ends, except “Salvation” is a TV show and needed a way to continue if it were picked up for a third season. (It wasn’t.) That’s when the writers decided it wasn’t an asteroid.

If you’re writing a series with an asteroid and you’ve built it up to the point of impact, you either need to end it with a bang or with the success of people over nature. In this case, “Salvation” decided to offer a vote of no winner and scuttle everything it had built up to the last episode, which was unfortunate because they could’ve gone out with a bang.

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13 episodes in: ‘Salvation’ Won’t Come from Shoddy Work

After 13 episodes of “Salvation” the most unforgivable action came from an assassin. He shoots his target at close range in the shoulder, then shoots a bystander in the chest and head. He had surprise on his side, so this should have been an easy task. Instead of checking on his target to see if she was still alive or dead, he douses everything in flammable liquids and starts a fire.

Dude. Seriously? You’re an assassin. Your next move after shooting the bystander would’ve been to go around the desk and finish off the target. Morgan Freeman in “Nurse Betty” said it best, “Three in the head, you know their dead.” (I use the quote in “The Pirate Union.”)

Because this professional killer and cleaner didn’t do his job, the target was able to send an incriminating email and accomplish the task, her death was supposed to prevent. We aren’t 100 percent sure that she’s dead, so it might be that this assassin did not complete his mission at all.

Maybe, this makes the story more interesting, but come on. All I want is for people to do their jobs well. Whatever your profession, whatever work you do, do it well. Even if you don’t like it. Until you quit, you need to instill in yourself the habits that will transfer to any other work you choose. Doing the job correctly should be a top priority for everyone who is employed.

And, I guess, I also want a story that’s a little more believable. The fate of the world is in question; this assassin knew that the target needed to be eliminated. He should’ve completed the job correctly.

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Nine Episodes in: ‘Salvation’ requires trust

“Trust is the most valuable commodity in the world” – paraphrased from the Russian Defense Minister Toporov on “Salvation.”

In fewer than six months, the world will end. All it would take to save the world is to launch a gravity tractor equipped with the newly developed EM drive into space. It seems like it should be a relatively simple thing to accomplish. The biggest issue is that no one trusts each other enough to let anyone else do his or her thing, and it starts at the top with the governments of Russia and the U.S.

REM: It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)

Russia cuts off all diplomatic ties to the U.S. and threatens war. They know the asteroid is coming, and they don’t have the ability to build an EM drive, in spite of having kidnapped one of the scientists responsible for its invention. Russia threatens to shoot down anything shot into space and has already destroyed any satellite capable of crashing into the asteroid (which they should do, because if the asteroid is blown to pieces, it will result in a lot of meteors raining down on Russia and other countries in the Eastern Hemisphere rather than an extinction level event.) Russia threatens these things because they found that the U.S. has already dropped one asteroid on them (using the real-life Chelyabinsk meteor as part of its story).

Kaa the Python: Trust in Me

The U.S. president refuses to acknowledge the action, and the only way to move forward with a launch is for billionaire Darius Tanz to take PR official Grace Barrows to Moscow. Barrows is friends with the former ambassador, who may be able to arrange a meeting with the Minister of Defense. Pointless shenanigans (meaning the death of Barrows’ friend and the frame-up of Tanz and Barrows for her murder by polonium) ensue and the two meet with Toporov, who demands a test of their trust. Barrows and Tanz drink the tea laced with SP-117, which is not sodium pentothal, and tell the truth about what they want and how they propose to get it.

Russia still doesn’t trust the U.S., but it trusts Tanz and Barrows. The launch is a go. Yay! We’re going to save the world with a joint operation between the U.S. and Russia… Scrap that. The world learns about the asteroid, and Russia withdraws its people again. The Secretary of Defense sends up the rocket with the only EM drive, as far as he knows, and it gets shot down. The world will be destroyed because government officials couldn’t do the right thing. The only plan anyone has left is to shoot nuclear missiles at the asteroid as it gets closer, and every scientist has already said that plan won’t work. (Tanz has a secret plan, but the Secretary of Defense doesn’t know this at the time he makes his stupid decision.)

Liam, the kid scientist responsible for the discovery of the asteroid and calling its attention to Tanz and then develops the EM drive, finally gets his ex-girlfriend Jillian back to Tanz Industries to do a job she’s uniquely qualified for. She may be willing to get back together with Liam; after all, she had to keep the secret from her family and discovered how difficult it was. Then, the reporter shows up, attempts to blackmail Liam and reveals to Jillian that they kissed. Liam is dumbstruck.

First of all, this is not how a good reporter behaves. However, it’s the second time that this particular reporter attempted to blackmail someone. She has also made friends with people who could provide her with information for her story. She’s going to get the story regardless of the morality involved in the methods to get it. Her story is the reason the Russians pull out of the launch deal. She is also the reason why Liam and Jillian have more trust issues than before.

Billy Joel: A Matter of Trust

While in Russia, Barrows and Tanz engage in a tete-a-tete, which results in an SP-117 kiss. Barrows is dating Harris Edwards, her boss at the Department of Defense. This action would likely undermine their relationship by destroying the trust they have in one another, but back in the states, it’s clear that Edwards doesn’t trust her. Professionally, he revokes her security clearance; personally, he goes to a bar and has sex in the bathroom with the bartender. When Barrows gets back to the U.S., he arrests her and then accuses her of sleeping with Tanz. Dude, that ship sailed when you went to the bathroom with the bartender. What gives him that right? Oh, and he’s being set up by someone to make it look like he ordered Barrows to be assassinated.

Fleetwood Mac: Little Lies

Barrows daughter doesn’t trust her and ends up in Re/Syst. Tanz makes a deal with RE/SYST, who tack on a malware program to monitor Tanz’ work from here on out. With all of the lies and deception, it’s hard to see how anyone will gain another person’s trust.

Instead of people trusting in each other, we’re stuck with a bunch of egos, lies, and the inability to let it go for the sake of saving the human race. Everyone is involved in making shady deals and shadier decisions that work to undermine what little trust they’ve built up. Worse, everyone is ready to believe the worst of someone else; they turn on a dime regardless of their confessed feelings. If this show is any indication of the truth about people and trust, there is little difficulty in believing that a few people at the top will wind up destroying the Earth for petty reasons and because they lack the humanity, intelligence, and moral compass required to do the right thing for everyone rather than the right thing for themselves. If people facing the end of the world can’t trust each other, how can normal people in everyday life expect to do so?

Trust isn’t an easy thing to rebuild. Once it’s broken, there are few people who are big enough to build it back up, and few people who change for the better in order to justify rebuilding the relationship. Human beings are creatures of habit. If a person engages in behavior that destroys trust he or she will probably engage in the same behavior again no matter the good intentions the person may have. The point is: Trust is the most important commodity in the world. The world is ending for someone every day; inspire trust and help make it easier to face.

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Seven Episodes in: ‘Salvation’ and the last days

“I get to decide how I spend my last days.” Jillian storms off after her boyfriend, Liam, reveals the details of the work that he is doing at Tanz Industries to save the world. These are details that only 41 Americans at the Pentagon know and just a few outside of the Pentagon. She’s angry because Liam has revealed this information after about a month of knowing which coincides with a month into their relationship, and he made the decision for her.

“I get to decide how I spend my last days.” What Jillian doesn’t get, and she’s not the only one, is that these are our last days. We don’t have any more than we have. Whether it’s one because someone decides to shoot us or 146 because of an impending asteroid strike or 186 when the asteroid was just discovered or it’s a year or five years or 20 years, these are all our last days.

We don’t know how many days we have here; even if we did, it shouldn’t change anything. We should be living our lives like today is one of our last days. It’s certainly the last Jan. 31, 2019, I’ll ever see. If you look at your calendar, it’s the last date with that number designation that you’ll ever see. No one wants to face their mortality. We have to plan for our future even if there’s the possibility that it never happens, but these are our last days.

“I get to decide how I spend my last days.” Yes, you, too, get to decide how you spend your last days. Today is your last day. Tomorrow is your last day. Three days from now is your last day. Maybe you have more or fewer, you don’t know. The only thing that you do know is that these are your last days and you choose how you’re going to spend them. Spend them with friends, spend them with family. Spend them making life better for the rest of the world. Then when someone or something tells you your time is up, you won’t have to worry about getting mad at someone you love because they withheld a truth from you, especially if that truth is about the number of days left for the rest of the planet.

For more about our last days, check out the essay “The Last Good Day” in “Penguinate: Essays and Short Stories.”

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Four episodes in: ‘Salvation’ and the MVP

Now at over 7.5 billion people the world’s population is staggering large. It’s an incomprehensible number; as people, we aren’t equipped to understand what that number means. Now, imagine having to whittle that number down to 160 people who would carry on the human race on Mars or elsewhere in space. That is one of the premises of the series “Salvation.” According to the show, 160 people is the minimum viable population to ensure that the species can continue.

In order for this small number to work, the chosen travelers would need to be genetically diverse, fertile, and heterosexual. The population would need to include 80 men and 80 women. There’s a good chance that marriages would need to be arranged and monitored as time went on in order to prevent in-breeding.

Engineers skilled in spaceship repairs, survivalists with skills in establishing camps and places to live, and doctors skilled in combat medicine would be some of the people the program could consider. Creative types may be desirable for their ability to solve problems in unique ways, but they would need to have more than just their artistic skills.

With this set of criteria, old people and children wouldn’t make the cut. Poorly educated people wouldn’t get on the ship. People who claim a sexual identity, other than hetero, would be left behind. Those with genetic diseases or genetic disease history in their families wouldn’t be able to take the trip. If it would be a true choosing of the best of the best, every person would face a battery of tests that would eliminate him or her or allow that person to move on to the next level.

The question that this type of plan demands is how would the influential people who don’t meet the criteria be kept off the ship. Would the inventor be allowed to travel, regardless of any other quality? Would the president of the U.S. or the ruler of the country be allowed to go? If this ark were a last-ditch effort to save the human race and Earth was facing destruction, would the billion-dollar investor have a spot on the ark with no further testing? Would a country like the U.S. reach out to other countries to find the best people to put on the ark, or would it only save Americans?

Another thing to consider is that genetic diversity would entail finding people that don’t resemble each other. This would make everyone uncomfortable since human beings like to hang with people who resemble themselves. It would also make it possible for people on the ark to form groups of like with like, which could sabotage the genetic diversity of the group. “Salvation” has a group of number crunchers on a committee with an unknown science fiction writer to provide the heart; It’ll be interesting to see how they decide who lives and who dies.

So, how would you go about selecting 160 people to board a space ark? If you were able to save 1600 people in ten arks, how would you divvy them up? Assuming there were a clear 160 best and 160 second best would you mix them or would you keep the best with the best and the second best with the second best and so on?

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Three Episodes in: ‘Salvation’ Decreases Faith in Humanity

Three episodes into “Salvation” and I can’t believe how stupid the characters are. The premise of the show is there is a planet killing asteroid on a collision course with the Earth. It has a 97 percent chance of colliding with our planet creating and extinction level event. The U.S. government has known about it for three months, and ordered a rocket from the Tanz company to send up a gravity tractor. The rocket has to retrofitted to work for what the government wants, and in testing, the retrofits don’t work right and the rocket blows up. The gravity tractor is out as far as the government is concerned.

In the meantime, a college student’s algorithm found the asteroid. The student informs his professor, who disappears. The student gets close to Darius Tanz, head of the Tanz company, and tells him what’s going on. Tanz contacts the Department of Defense. Both the student and Tanz get added to the secret group that is trying to find ways to deal with the asteroid. With the gravity tractor out, one of the men has proposed running the IO satellite into the asteroid to knock it off course.

The student and Tanz point out that doing so won’t move the asteroid. It would instead create a lot of meteorites that would rain down on Earth with no telling where they would land. The man, who proposed the idea, concedes the point and asks if Tanz has a better idea. Tanz proposes the invention of an electromagnetic engine which doesn’t exist. They agree on that solution for the moment.

Flash forward to the next meeting because the president is getting nervous and wants an update. The man, who proposed the ramming of the asteroid, comes back with the same proposal, but this time, he’s done the calculations: the created meteors would rain down on Russia, China and Korea killing an estimated 1.4 billion people. They have two windows. The first is in seven days, the next is in 60 days. Rather than give Tanz and his team 60 days to build and perfect their EM engine, they decide to go with the first window because it gives them two chances to get it right.

What? The false logic here is that they have two chances. Unless they have two satellites in orbit around IO, they have only one chance. Waiting for the second window wouldn’t change anything. If they didn’t get it right the first time, there is no second chance. The IO satellite would be careening into space, and there’s no backup. You have one satellite and one chance. Wait for the second window.

However, there’s a larger problem. Russia and China have active space programs. Chances are they’re going to find out about this asteroid and what the U.S. did. If they do, there’s a good chance, they’ll see the destruction of the asteroid as an act of war and decide to use their missiles to blow the U.S. up. The political wonks and military people should understand that’s the natural reaction of any person in power and that this secret asteroid information is going to get out. At the very least, some spy is going to find out. More likely someone’s going to let something slip.

If colliding with the asteroid is the only choice, this group needs to make sure it has a plan to evacuate the countries that are going to be affected before it decides on this plan of action. That means the information about the asteroid needs to be brought before the United Nations and nations need to know what’s coming. Even more importantly, the U.S. doesn’t have a monopoly on “smart” people or space. In fact, with the defunding of NASA, the U.S. isn’t the leader in space exploration any more. The asteroid could be used to bring countries together; instead of as a way to fill the American ego.