Tuesday, 6 June 2017

The Week in Stories: Strange Attractors

All Strange Attractors Recaps 

Episode 3: "Nulla Mundo Fides" 

The evening opened with a flashback to Peter playing hooky from school as a 12-year-old on Coney Island. On a beautiful September day, he watched a grifter play three-card monte, then stepped up to try his luck, finding the red queen twice in a row. The conman invited him to play again, but Peter said he could keep the money if he showed his moves. Thus started a wonderful day (from Peter's perspective) of learning to con people, being shown different ways of drawing in a mark, and separating them from their money.

At the end of the day, the grifter told Peter that when the young man got home, he was going to get some bad news. But his dad would be okay for a while - just long enough to rack up hospital bills. And that Peter should remember, when his father died, and his mother had to sell the house to deal with the debt, that that was what happened when you played by the rules. Peter was shocked, and then realized that the man never had paid him the money he'd said he was going to.

Back in 1976, it was the day of the bicentennial, a hot and hazy July 4th. Millie asked Peter to help her find someone in the Bronx, and after some hilarity about phone books, which Peter described as a kind of computer, which led her to asking Jack for help with the phone book, and also having some problem with two-dimensional maps, they came up with an address.

The Count - also the grifter from the flashback
Meanwhile, Gerald, Jack, and Walter were questioning the Comte de St. Germain, whom they found not in a cell but in a hot tub, surrounded by other giggling TimeWatch employees. After dropping some hints that he'd known Jesus, the Comte also said that his enemies in the Black Chamber were after him, and that this meeting would probably ever happen - when you had time travel, you always had to assume the other side had already won, because what had been could always be erased.

Jack scribbled some math on the back of an envelope that had weirded Millie out a bit, and the Comte seemed to get some of it, but did not offer a lot of insight into what it meant about strange attractors, and pieces of history that recurred despite all the changes. (It had weirded Millie out because it suggested her brother/lover Miles that she was trying to find was such a strange attractor - there was no way he should have been born again.)

New York proper was hot and very hazy, and while Peter and Millie caught some side-eye for their extreme whiteness while walking through the Bronx, they made it to the address without incident. Behind the apartment building was a vacant lot, bounded on the far side by empty buildings. One of them had a mural on it that took Millie's breath away - it looked exactly like the world she had come from, the world she had amputated, the world in which Miles had died in an unprecedented murder-suicide. It was signed "Nommo."

They went inside and found the apartment that Miles lived in with his mother and younger siblings. (I sort of feel like Millie should find the idea of siblings with a variety of ages strange.) He wasn't home, but by giving some bafflegab about Miles having won a scholarship, they managed to get a picture. Miles in the picture was just as Millie remembered him from that point in their lives (he'd be 8 years younger than she was now), except with a large Afro. She emotionally said that perhaps they should go.

But as they left the apartment, she came face to face with this timeline's version of her brother. (It seems weird to keep typing brother/lover every time, so can we just take it for granted that when Millie says brother she uses the word in a way that includes sex and romantic love with her non-biologically related crechemates?) He was skeptical about the idea of having won a scholarship, but played along, then took them into his bedroom to ask what the hell was going on. The walls were filled with Afrofuturist posters. Peter left the two of them alone, and Millie asked about the mural, which Miles said had been inspired by an album cover, which it was, but still startlingly and exactly like their former timeline. (Miles showed absolutely no sign of recognizing Millie.) Millie asked what Nommo meant, and Miles told her about an alternate timeline where Black people were in charge, that had been altered by white people with time travel.

Millie asked where he'd travel if he were a time traveller, and he said back to that place where the change had happened. (Internally, this was to some degree her trying to ask without being able to ask what had driven the alternate him to murder.) She couldn't answer his questions about why she was there, but told him to keep the "scholarship" money Peter had given him, and that she hoped that he was happy.

After that, she met Peter's girlfriend Fran, a tall Black punk woman, and rode with them back to Manhattan, before leaving to go back to Montauk. In the meantime, the Comte had almost convinced Gerald to give him a time machine, possibly Gerald's old prototype or maybe an Autochron. Just then, Millie entered the room, saying she wanted to speak to the Comte alone. Gerald, cued by the Comte's insistence that someone would likely try to kill him, immediately accused her of assassination. (Which very likely may have been true, but we don't know when this Millie was from or why she was there.)

She went off to call Commander Heinlein, intent on following if the others took the Comte to his own time machine, or possibly ducking further back in time and assassinating him before they'd met. Heinlein told her to stop the Comte leaving by any means necessary, including killing him if needed. She came back into the room just as Gerald was reaching for his own Autochron, but she pulled a laser, and light-speed wins every time. However, her aim was a little off, and she winged Gerald instead of hitting the Comte, as she'd been intending. The Comte grabbed for the Autochron, and she took another shot. Both Gerald and the Comte disappeared in time.

We cut from then to Millie arriving back at Montauk and meeting Einstein, the female Admonitory who she'd known in her own timeline. The woman warned her that she shouldn't have done what she'd just done. Millie tried to come up with a lie, but failed utterly, saying miserably that she'd just wanted to see him. The Admonitory told her that she'd put Miles in danger, but that there was something she could do.....

And there we ended.

Character Thoughts

Playing all the bits with finding Miles' address was funny, but also gave the opportunity to explore what were the base assumptions she shared with the others, and which she didn't, leading to one moment where someone talked about family, and she jumped on that, but then a few minutes later had to fake that yes, she'd totally had a mother. Of course.

This gave a chance to get some of the chipper on the table, which is her default mode, and that was a lot of fun. And then we went right into the tense character drama that was Millie coming face to face with someone she'd lost - and someone she'd lost even before she made her choice to sacrifice everyone she loved to save them greater pain later. Knowing that there were answers she needed that she couldn't get, but also that love and attraction and connection that was there and not there with this younger version of her brother.

But the biggest thing I discovered is how very shit Millie is at lying. I've played a lot of glib, smooth characters, and I think Millie can lie okay when it's something she doesn't care about, but bring emotion into it, and she just falls to pieces, more likely to stand there with her mouth opening trying to find words than anything else. She can't do it, and really, really can't hide it.

Of course, now she's maybe trying to kill the Comte, but I'm sure she thinks she's doing it for good reason - because she always thinks she's doing things for good reasons. Or more precisely, she's been told very persuasively why what she's doing is going to be the right thing, and she believes that, because she needs to.

That's what I'm finding most interesting about this character - it's fascinating to play someone who I think is a good person, but who is so blinded by belief that she is doing bad things. And doing them believing they are right. It's not a religious ideology, but it's pernicious and dangerous nonetheless. Having her judgment blurred by grief and loss got her into this mess, but she still doesn't realize it. Yet.

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