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.
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
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.
“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.
“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
“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
“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.
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
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?
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