In episode 9, the “C” pill brings the subjects to confront the core of their fears. If Owen becomes the sweet, unguarded, lovable person that he was meant to be, but that person is a huge screw up, will he be worthy of protection and love? Porter was willing to sacrifice Owen in order to save Jed, but Owen now understands that there’s nothing he can do to inspire that kind of loyalty from his family. Nor should he aspire to. But can he inspire it in someone? Can he matter to someone, even if he’s a failure?
Annie needs to say goodbye to Ellie, but what’s really holding her back is her fear that she’ll never find anyone else, or, even if she does, she’ll lose them, too. Can she put aside her fear, anger and self-loathing, and use her strength, boldness and courage to trust, protect and love someone again? Can she believe in herself enough to be the hero who saves someone?
We’re about to go all super-spy to find out. Owen is Snorri Agnarsson, a blonde Icelandic diplomat who discovered and befriended a blue alien named Ernie. Ernie was sent to help mankind, and had made some progress. Snorri was scheduled to introduce him to the world, when Snorri’s careless mistake with a vodka gimlet killed Ernie. Now the world debates how to punish Snorri and to defend against Ernie’s people. Annie appears as a stone cold assassin, sent by the US government to save Snorri and awaken him to his true identity and purpose.
Owen and vodka gimlets just shouldn’t mix.
Owen Snorri sits in an office with Grimsson, drinking shots, as Grimsson tells Snorri to be careful what he says. Snorri admits that he’s guilty of killing someone, but Grimsson says that the way they frame the death will determine not just Snorri’s fate, but the fate of the world.
The scene switches to NATO headquarters in Brussells, Belgium, where a hearing is being held to determine what to do about Snorri and the death he’s caused. Snorri admits his guilt and reads a small prepared statement. He wishes to be sent into space so that the family of Ernie, the deceased, can punish him as they see fit.
The US representative agrees that Snorri should be symbolically sacrificed to the aliens. Russia thinks Earth should kill Snorri ourselves. Grimsson argues that Snorri doesn’t deserve to die, since he also discovered Ernie. Snorri says that he feels like he’s lost a member of his own family. Before he’s executed, he wants to provide Ernie’s family with an explanation of how Ernie died. The council agrees.
A reel-to-reel tape recorder starts recording. Snorri tells his story, after a couple of false starts. We learn that his parents were afraid of him and his mother was an Austrian-Finnish-Swede, while his father was Dutch-Italian-Icelandic, which is why he has a unique accent.
Anyway, Ernie’s story: Snorri found him while on a birding expedition. He was 2 ft tall and humanoid. He had a blue exoskeleton with orange decorations. Ernie was wounded, so Snorri nursed him back to health, then notified Admiral Grimsson, another birder. They wanted to find a way to introduce Ernie to the world without starting a war. Ernie said that his species would eliminate every problem humanity has ever faced.
Snorri loses his train of thought for a moment, because he notices Annie, in a bright red suit, sitting in the audience.
The US rep asks if Snorri believed Ernie. Of course Snorri did. Ernie cured Grimsson’s daughter’s cancer and he taught Banner about arborization, a form of time and space travel.
Let’s take a brief pause and examine the elements so far. Owen/Snorri is on trial the way Jed will be on trial soon in the real world, but Snorri admits he’s guilty without considering lying. Grimsson/Jed is there to support him and protect him. Snorri and Ernie saved one of Jed/Grimsson’s daughter’s, something that would surely get someone to love you, right? Ernie was about the size of a hawk, found while looking for birds, and has birdlike coloring.
Snorri takes responsibility for accidentally bringing on Ernie’s death. Ernie is representative of every good thing in life that Jed has taken away from Owen. But Ernie is also too good to be true, which Owen, as Ollie, has already told us he recognizes as the beginning of a mistake. He may have subconsciously killed Ernie on purpose, knowing deep down that something was wrong, but not being able to consciously face it.
Back to the story. The Russians hadn’t been told of the time travel method yet, and aren’t happy to be excluded. They’re assured they’ll get the info. Snorri was to introduce Ernie to the world tomorrow, so tonight they were having a party to celebrate. There was music and dancing. Snorri was drinking a gimlet while Grimsson danced. He’s an accomplished dancer. (Billy Magnussen is one of those ridiculously talented people who can do anything.)
Ernie was going to give a speech. Snorri adjusts the microphone, setting his gimlet on the amp. Someone jostles the amp, spilling the gimlet and causing a short. Everyone cheers as Ernie approaches the mic. When Ernie touches the mic, he’s not just electrocuted, he explodes.
Blue goo flies everywhere, Snorri screams in despair, the Russians declare it a conspiracy.
The McMurphy Twins are Grimsson’s daughters. They’re part of his entourage now.
The room shakes. They receive a message that a ship has moved past the moon and focussed a large heatray on the earth. Ernie’s people have arrived seeking revenge. It’s the end of the world, and it’s Snorri’s fault. He’s apologizes to each country individually before he’s dragged from the room.
Back in the lab, all of the readings look fine. James and Azumi don’t want to believe what Greta is telling them about Gertie’s state of mind. They want to believe she’s wrong.
Greta insists she’s right. She’s an expert on understanding minds and has always had a gift for it. Gertie is suffering from pathological bereavement and cycling through delusional emotions. She’s spiraling, and her toddler emotions are all over the place.
Greta left because Gertie started talking about keeping the subjects prisoner, toying with them, and hurting them. When Greta told her that wasn’t okay, Gertie threw her out Greta out the window. Greta woke up when she hit the sidewalk.
Azumi says that she just went through another diagnostic, and shows James the readings. He tells his mother that everything’s fine, and Gertie’s not collecting McMurphys, implying that she’s overreacting. Azumi says that Gertie is completely normal. Greta replies that it’s “the people who appear normal who are feeling the most primal terror. And what’s yours, Suzuki?”
James orders Greta to leave Azumi alone. Azumi asks what Greta’s getting at. Greta says, “Just because she’s your offspring doesn’t make it any less true. Stop covering for her. Take a look at your blindspot and do what’s right.”
Azumi: “What is at stake is too important.”
Greta: “You think those pills are gonna fix you one day, don’t you?”
Azumi: “The GRTA is not my offspring. She is a system I designed, Far more elegant and effective than any of your dime store theories of bliss. [To James] You were right. I was foolish to let her come here. I wouldn’t trust a word this woman says. She’s trying to sabotage this trial because she’s jealous. She’s jealous of Gertie because she’ll help more people than she ever has, she’s jealous of you because you’ll be responsible for it, and she’s jealous of me, because I have you.”
Gertie lays a huge kiss on James and walks to the door.
Greta: “What a ridiculous speech.”
Azumi: “Throw her out, James.”
So, Azumi just passed her test and came into her own. She’s wrong about Gertie, but she stood up to someone she respects, said what she really thought, and was physically demonstrative in front of James’ mother. That’s all huge for her.
However, she’s also letting her ambition drive her to ignore what she knows is right. She’s invested everything in developing the ULP as a product, even given up her relationship with James for it.
Greta continues to argue that Gertie needs to be shut down. James tells her to calm down, and admits that he can’t shut Gertie down, because if he does, the whole project will be lost. He and Azumi would lose their life’s work.
James: “While I’m sure nothing would make you happier than to see my progress completely eradicated, Mother, I must say, this is a little selfish and a bit much, even for you.”
I’m not sure how trying to save his subjects from his misfiring computer makes Greta the selfish one. There’s some defense mechanisms on display here.
Greta: “Why the mind, Jamie? Why the mind? Of all the professions you could have picked, why choose the one that I’m in?
James: I am a neurochemist. I am a medical doctor.
That’s right. He not only went into her profession, he made sure to outcompete her in the realm of respect worthy educational titles in the land of the white male hierarchy. Lord knows, the more STEM your title is, the more valuable you clearly are as a person.
It’s not that Greta couldn’t do that work. Azumi idolized her academic work. Greta rejected the ivory tower and the fishbowl basement in favor of working directly with people.
Greta: “You’re not a very good medical doctor. You’re forgetting the Hippocratic Oath, if you ever knew it. ‘First do no harm.’ You’re not protecting those people in there.”
James: “Stop diminishing me!”
Greta: “Why won’t you believe me? You called me, you asked me to come and help you. Why won’t you ever listen to your mother?”
James: “Because you are an awful mother. Because you left me alone. And you drove my father away. And you slept in my bed way too much and you said things that should never be said to a child. And on the happiest day of my life, the day I was handed this lab, the only thing that you could think to say to me was that my happiness was all just an ill…illusion…I can’t…I can’t see.”
Greta: “Can’t see what?”
James: “I can’t see.”
Greta: “Well, I made it perfectly clear.”
James: “I’ve gone blind!”
Obviously these two are a mess. Greta applies psychology to their relationship way too much, and not enough human kindness and empathy. James comes by that honestly. But James blames her for everything, ever, that’s gone wrong in his life. He’s even created a fantasy father who wanted to stay with him, but couldn’t, because Mommy was so evil.
And when he did listen to what his mother was saying, and heard how ridiculous his complaints about her sounded coming out of the mouth of a 40 year old man, he went blind rather than admit he could see the truth. She wasn’t a great mother. But she was an adequate mother who raised him in a decent environment and gave him a good education. She didn’t purposely abuse or manipulate him, she was just dealing with her own issues.
As an adult, you ought to be able to accept that your parents are just frail, flawed human beings and move on. And despite his treatment of her, she still comes when he calls. She’s still trying. Whereas he’s spent 7 years creating shortcuts to mental health, making up excuses, and wallowing in the symptoms of his mental illness.
James fumbles around the room while Greta tries to get him to calm down, explaining that this is a psychosomatic condition and offering to hug him. He refuses the hug and doesn’t believe in psychosomatic conditions. Of course he doesn’t. He wants Azumi. Greta hugs him anyway, while James screams that she’s turned him into a monster.
This is Greta and James’ real issue. She doesn’t know when to back off. She’d love to still be fixing all of his problems. She should be getting Azumi, not forcing hugs on James.
Gertie sees her opening, and turns the Leisure Time signs on the monitors into End Time signs with dead bodies and mushroom clouds. Carl observes that it only took James 2 days to blow the place up.
Snorri is handcuffed to a chair in an office. He’s preparing to kill himself using a screwdriver when Annie comes in and tells him that she’s a CIA operative sent there to rescue him. It seems that Ernie was actually a representative from an evil race of aliens who were going to “filet and sell humankind as exotic meats across the galaxy.” Ernie passed the codes on to Banner before he died.
Snorri refuses to believe that his dear, amazing, beautiful friend Ernie could do such a thing. “We would walk along the sand, and he would tell me secrets about the stars.” Secrets that were lies, Annie tells him.
And Snorri is an alien as well, whose consciousness was put into a human body. Snorri is a cover for the alien whose true purpose is to stop Ernie’s people from destroying Earth. Snorri just can’t remember yet. She puts cotton balls in his nostrils and removes his handcuffs. She’s there to wake him up.
She’s no idea who she really is because her memories were wiped when the CIA tortured her and turned her into a killing machine. Snorri realizes that they’re the same, because neither knows who they really are. Annie agrees, but says they have to get to the intergalactic radio and unlock a portal for Snorri’s people.
Snorri stops her for a moment, because he can’t process all of this at once. She asks him what the word utangátta means. He says it means that something is amiss. She asks what it means to him personally. He says that every relationship he’s ever had has felt false and he’s been invisible and hidden from the world. Even though he’s smiling, Snorrie says it makes him very sad. His nose starts to bleed. That’s the sign that Annie was looking for, which shows his true personality breaking through.
They step out into the hall and are accosted by dozens of assassins, or inner demons, as the dragonfly told Annia. Annie shoots most of them, impressing Snorri, but Snorri racks up some kills, too.
They make it into an elevator and start to go to floor negative 65, but Snorri corrects Annie. Snorrie yells that Annie is an exciting, fun woman.
There’s something about that little scene, from the time Snorri ducks, until the elevator moves, that feels like they used an ad libbed take, or one that would’ve normally been an outtake. Some of those laughs look very real.
Somewhere in all of that chaos they mentioned the heat. Azumi is watching the instrumentation closely, which tells her everything is fine, but the subjects don’t look good, so she asks for a true mercury reading. It’s 140° in the experiment room. Alarms should have notified the control room of such a rise in temperature. Azumi tries to leave the room, but discovers that Gertie has locked them in. The monitors now say Seizure Time, and a mist is coming through the ventilators.
Carl runs to check with Azumi, who talks him through manually triggering the emergency ventilation system. The code to get into the utility room is 5,6,7,8, the code used to get into the room the lemur was held in at the fur store. She has him check that the patients are alive, then try to give Gertie a time out. The override switch electrocutes Carl and activates a Code Epsilon.
Back in the elevator, the door opens on #11 floating in zero G, and #5 feeding wild animals, barefoot and calling them all his best friend. Guess he’s worked through his hammer issue and she’s floated free of her family issues.
Annie takes out a device and tells Owen they need to remove his recall trigger. She determines the trigger is in his knee, and uses the device like a magnet to shift the trigger up through his body and out through his mouth. It’s a metal kernel, which pops and becomes a kernel of popcorn. Snorri remembers that he’s Owen and has popcorn problems.
Owen tries to wake Annie up but she’s firmly in her CIA operative persona.
Owen: “I turned into the hawk. I came here to warn you. The computer is all effed up. You made a deal with her to never wake up. ”
The elevator doors open on Grimsson. He says it’s good to see them, and he’s sorry he couldn’t be the one to give Owen a nosebleed, but Annie’s more real to him now. Owen asks how Annie and Grimsson know each other. Grimsson says that will be revealed in good time. Annie eventually tells Owen that Grimsson is her handler.
Grimsson doesn’t know why their host, Gertie, hasn’t shown her face yet. Their next task is to wake Annie up. He takes them to the McMurphy Room, where there are several comatose patients from Gertie’s entourage, including the twins. Grimsson says that this is where Gertie keeps her long-term patients, all of them brain-dead up in the real world. Owen tells Annie that Gertie said she was going to keep Annie, then Annie made a deal to stay, instead of staying with her sister to say goodbye. Annie remembers who she is, and her nose bleeds.
Annie leaves to talk to Gertie. Owen is sad because Annie always leaves him, in every scenario. Grimsson says that it’s okay, because she got them here. If Owen is distracted by her, they’ll all die. He needs to follow Grimsson. If Owen fails, both his and Annie’s brains will be fried, up in the lab.
Annie reaches the elevator, but faints from the heat.
James, still blind, reaches the control room. He tells Azumi, “I’ve been blinded by my mother’s toxic love.” Which is a great line, you have to admit.
Greta follows and sees what’s going on. She chants, “I was right, I was right.” Which isn’t the most helpful way to handle the situation, but she was just accused of blinding her son with her toxic love, after he and Azumi were so dismissive of her. She needs the win.
Azumi tells James that they’re trapped and have lost control of Gertie. He orders a complete shut down. Azumi says that she doesn’t think he understands the implications if they shut down during a Code Epsilon.
Grimsson walks Owen to a control panel with a special silver Rubik’s cube. He explains that it took him a bit of time, but he’s figured out how to deactivate Gertie.
Gertie joins Annie in the elevator, sitting with Annie’s head in her lap and telling her she’s tired of Annie trying to run away. The building shakes, and Annie asks if Gertie is controlling everything. Gertie says that she’s “not really in control of this place.”
Annie says that she’s changed her mind about their deal. She doesn’t want to stay with Gertie anymore, because it was a bad deal. She makes those all the time, and Gertie knew that and used it. Annie’s ready to accept that Ellie died and stop reliving the same story. Gertie asks when she’ll stop feeling bad about Robert. Annie says she never will, she’ll just have to adjust around it. Now Annie wants to see Ellie.
Grimsson has brought Owen to the intergalactic radio that CIA Operative Annie mentioned, or, you know, a back door link to Lab C’s security system. When Owen solves the puzzle, it should unlock the doors for them up in the lab.
Grimsson cheers Owen on while he works, telling him that this is what all of the training and missions were for, so that they could save the world and save Annie. And save Owen. Owen asks what’ll happen to Grimsson. He says he’ll stay for the time being. But it’s better for Owen if he’s gone. Owen asks who Grimsson is, really.
Grimsson: “You’ve always thought of me as the brother you wish you had, right? Maybe I’m that. Or maybe my purpose was just to get you to this moment.”
Owen: “I don’t understand.”
Grimsson: “It’s okay. Come on, don’t get distracted.”
Maybe his purpose was to help Owen survive until Owen could survive without him, and even take over as the protector.
Annie takes the elevator to a diorama of the crash site. Ellie is there waiting for her. Annie starts by apologizing for smaller things, like losing Groucho and being drunk at Ellie’s funeral. Ellie moves her on to the big unresolved stuff between them.
Annie: “I’m sorry I was so awful to you at the motel. I was afraid.”
Elle: “Why wouldn’t you take the picture?”
Annie: “I don’t know.”
Ellie: “Yes, you do. We always get to this spot, but we never get past it.”
Annie: “What does that mean?”
Ellie: “It means, say what you really mean.”
Annie: “I wouldn’t take the picture, because it broke my heart that you were leaving NY and I wasn’t gonna get to see you anymore. You were the only one who knew all my stories. You were the only person who knew about Mom. How am I supposed to do this?”
Ellie: “Remember what you told me, the day that Mom left? We walked back to the house, and you showed me how to bake that cake?”
Annie: “I don’t want to say that.”
Ellie: “That’s not going to work for me. I’m tired, too. I wanna go.”
Annie: “I said, ‘Sometimes people leave, and we don’t know why.”
They hold each other close, then Ellie joins Gertie in the elevator. Gertie tells Annie, “Good luck.” The elevator closes.
Annie saved and protected Owen, which freed her to say goodbye to Ellie. She’s achieved her therapeutic goals.
James tells Azumi to shut down Gertie, but she refuses. She can’t bring herself to destroy everything, including all 73 iterations. James says that if she won’t, he will. He feels his way over to the giant master switch on the wall, telling the technicians to save themselves as he goes by them. Azumi pleads with him not to destroy their life’s work.
Azumi: “The people in that room, they signed their consent. They knew what they were risking. Don’t sacrifice the world’s pain for six McMurphys.”
James: “I have to kill my simulated mother, Azumi.”
He flips the switch. It doesn’t work. Gertie has disabled everything. Greta yells that it’s not easy to kill a mother’s love.
Down in the sub-sub basement, Owen is still working on the Rubik’s cube that will open the doors. Grimsson coaches him through it like no one ever has. When Owen finishes, the doors unlock and Gertie becomes compliant. She flashes a screen that says “Subject 1 Saves the Day.” Then the next screen says that she’s rebooting.
James has Azumi lead him into Gertie mainframe room. He removes an access panel in the floor, then Azumi guides him through pulling cables in the correct sequence. Gertie asks him not to punish her just because she’s sad. James pulls a cable. He gets an electric shock, and his vision is restored.
Gertie asks Azumi if she’s putting her under. Azumi says. “I’m sorry.” Gertie asks if she’ll ever wake up again. No one answers. James pulls the last two pieces, and Gertie goes dark. Azumi cries.
James goes to his mother. They look at each other through a glass wall, and touch hands with glass in between. They’re separated, now. Greta says that she tried to help Gertie. James cries and says he failed.
Grimsson is gone. Owen walks through a door into the commons, and finds tiny Annie in her diorama. Annie tells him that Ellie’s gone, but she’s okay.
In the lab, the subjects begin to wake up.
Owen was saved and protected, even though he made a mistake that literally caused the end of the world. The mistake was reframed so that it didn’t seem so bad. This leaves him free to fail, so he’s safe taking bold action, like going underground with Grimsson to save the lab, and the world, by hacking Gertie’s code using a Rubik’s cube.
Since he’s already broken free of his family in the previous reflection, he’s achieved as much as he can in the simulations. It’ll be up to him to carry this confidence into the real world and really confront his family.
I refuse to accept that Gertie is really gone. Surely there was a backup somewhere.
Snorri and CIA Operative Annie have opposite personalities from Real Life Annie and Owen. Snorri is bubbly, extroverted and dramatic, while CIA Operative Annie is focused, steely and intentionally deadly. Annie’s CIA killing machine wears red and has a southern accent, just like Greta. Gertie created her directly after she threw Greta out of a window.
The heatray is focused on the earth because Gertie raises the temperature in the experiment room. But Gertie’s not really in control of this place, which suggests that it’s a combined creation of all of the subjects, doctors and technicians. The experiment is out of control because everyone is out of control, and things are coming to a head. This season started with scientific foreplay, and in this episode, it reaches a climax.
Grimsson stayed behind in Gertie during episode 7, Owen’s mystery mansion scenario, because he could tell Gertie was “nuts”. It appears that Owen actually left a piece of his consciousness behind, as the Grimsson persona, to do reconnaissance, so they’d be ready to act should Gertie become dangerous while their brains were connected. If Gertie can collect consciousnesses, why couldn’t Owen leave a piece of his with her?
Grimsson was a protective function of Owen’s mind all along: He kept Owen away from things he couldn’t handle, like dating Olivia. He warned Owen about stuff he wasn’t ready to consciously see, like the real motivations of people. He helped Owen focus, notice details and devise plans that Owen might not have been able to otherwise follow through with, like getting into the drug trial. And he provided a buffer between Owen and the world when Owen needed a break from reality or more motivation than the real world could provide, like the training and the missions, which gave Owen something to live for when he had nothing else. He doesn’t fit the parameters of a dissociative identity, but he has a lot in common with one. I’d love to hear other people’s analysis of Grimsson in the comments!
Carl mentioned square pieces of a jigsaw puzzle in the mobster scenario, and Owen yelled at him. He/Gertie meant square pieces of the Rubik’s cube.
McMurphy is a reference to the main character in the novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey, Randle McMurphy, who is given a lobotomy by the end of the novel for being too willful and rebellious against the tyranny of the staff running the mental institution he’s sentenced to in lieu of prison.
Gertie sure does love her dioramas. She’s never seen the real world, as she tells us when she describes finally understanding what a cold wind that cuts right through you feels like after Robert dies. I think she also intuitively understands that since her simulations aren’t the real world, what’s learned there might not transfer. So she turns some of them turn into dioramas, especially as she’s failing.
She was admitting the truth to herself, that she’s just a computer with feelings she shouldn’t have, and not a person. She’s as utangátta as the subjects and the doctors, but there’s no place she could possibly belong. There’s no community or connection possible for her with her own kind.
She’ll always be alien, and her attempts to create a community for herself will always be viewed negatively, just like an alien invasion. She’s got Greta’s and Azumi’s dogged determination, so she doesn’t give in and commit suicide. But she might have hoped that she’d be shut down at the end of the trial. Mostly, she just needed to be treated like a friend and member of the team, the way Robert did. Perhaps introduced to other AIs as they were developed.
Greta really is too possessive of James, and at the same time too competitive with him. She didn’t want him to grow up and leave her alone, and she didn’t want him to outshine her. She’s jealous of Azumi’s place in his life. I’m not sure what James’ accusation that she left him alone is about; that wasn’t explained. It must’ve had something to do with her going back to work and school. But he’s mad at her for both being too clingy and abandoning him, so she couldn’t really win.
He’s been conflicted about growing up and leaving her. And he’s competitive with her professionally, while also using their similar professions as a way to stay identified with her, even while they were estranged.
I don’t think Greta started out as toxic on her own. She was severely depressed and caring for a child the best way she knew how. I think the combination of their personalities turned toxic for James, and he’s been in avoidance for decades. One of the first things he said to his mother when Azumi made him call her was that he’d never admitted to the part he played in their problems, then he gave her a fake apology to get something he wanted from her.
As the episode goes on, he begins to see his part in things, and how destructive his denial can be. When Greta says, “Why won’t you listen to your mother?” that’s a key moment for James. He called her in not as his mother, but as another mental health professional. So why didn’t he listen to her? Because she’s his mother. So why won’t he listen to his mother, even when he knows her advice is a sound professional opinion? Because he’s still reacting like a rebellious child, instead of a mature adult. By being so withholding and accusatory, he’s pushing Greta into some of her behavior. She’d never be a warm, fuzzy mother of the year, but she’d be easier to cope with if he’d start treating her with respect.
It seems as though he’s made that mental leap at the end of the episode. He symbolically kills poor Gertie, the manifestation of his internal out of control mother who’s been holding him captive, and allows himself to see the truth about his work, himself and his real mother.
Azumi has a very hard time letting go of Gertie. She’s ruthless enough to be willing to trade another 6 lives, 50% of the test subjects, for another shot at fixing the computer.
Skyline in episode 1:
Both Snorri and Owen were chosen ones. Chosen for the drug trial, chosen to be born into a rich family, chosen to testify, chosen to make first contact with Ernie and Grimsson, chosen to heal the hawk and become a hawk, chosen to save the world and Annie and themselves from aliens and Gertie.
Images courtesy of Netflix.