Cosmos (2014) Episode 4: Best and Worst
March 31, 2014
Cosmos finishes up its first month this week with a discussion themed around the speed of light. It's been a solid first month, and I look forward to the rest of the series; but first, it's time to pick out the Best and Worst of this most recent foray into science entertainment. So fasten your seatbelts, put your tray tables in the upright position, and take off into ...
Episode 4: "A Sky Full of Ghosts"
I have previously griped about the voice acting on Cosmos and chided the show for not hiring a better quality of voice actor. I was a bit chagrined to find out after last week's episode that I was wrong. Apparently there have been some big names behind the voices, such as Seth MacFarlane himself doing Bruno in Episode 1 and Cary Elwes voicing Edmund Halley in Episode 3. So I retract my earlier comments about them skimping on the voice talent. Maybe it was just a matter of these talents phoning it in.
I can't complain about the voice acting this week. That was Sir Patrick Stewart delivering the lines of William Hershel, and he did so with appropriate gravitas. Of course, Patrick Stewart could probably read my Twitter feed out loud and make it sound good. [In fact, why wasn't he in those Verizon commercials?] Also, it's only appropriate that such a big name in science fiction gets a guest turn on the series.
Stewart as Herscel also delivered some lines that continued Cosmos's element of calling out superstition and unscientific beliefs. I have no idea if Stewart-as-Herscel's line about the ghosts of stars is in anyway connected to anything Herscel ever actually said, but it was a good line nonetheless. There was also the moment, during Tyson's discussion of what a light-year is, where he directly called out the Young Earth Creationist timeframes. There's definitely an antagonistic streak in this series, as there should be. Science programming has for too long tried to avoid stepping on the toes of religion and superstition.
I also quite enjoyed Tyson's opening bit where he more or less told us that everything we think we know about a beautiful morning sunrise is incorrect. The sun isn't the sun, the rise isn't the rise, the horizon isn't the horizon. THE DAWN IS A LIE! And yet, like in so much with science, the truth is far more interesting.
Finally, I really dug the visualization of the black hole and the event horizon. The graphics were slick and kinetic, and they definitely let viewers wrap their heads around the objects even if the science remained a bit obtuse. Did anyone else notice, though, that it looked a lot different than the one the Cygnus fell into?
In general, this episode felt a little disjointed to me. Everything was tied together thematically around the speed of light, but the beats of the episode seemed to struggle to come together. Einstein for five minutes, Galileo for thirty seconds, a brief revisiting of the Cosmis Calendar, two minutes with John Mitchell, stars and distance and black holes and gravity and the speed of light -- intellectually, I can see how they were connected, but I can imagine an eighth-grader having trouble following the flow of ideas a bit. The ending felt a bit awkward, too.
In terms of specific moments, the cosmic biker girl just didn't work. It went by quickly, it didn't impress visually, and I didn't feel that it was a very good model of the science it was trying to visualize. Some hypothetical concepts are best left in the head.
I also thought the the New York gravity sequence struggled to be relevant. It just lacked any real oomph, and like so many things in this episode it seemed to go by too quickly. it was a lot of effort for a fairly basic explanation of g-forces! Ultimately, it fell about as flat as the box in the segment. Maybe it was because they didn't spend too long on it (or crush a toddler at 9G).
Now It's Your Turn
What did you think about Episode 4? Let us know in the comments. And I'll be back next week to talk about Episode 5.
@Skeptoid Media, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit