Cosmos (2014) Episodes 10 & 11: Best and Worst
May 27, 2014
Alas, good readers, it seems as though life, the Universe, and everything are conspiring to keep me from these little Cosmos reviews. Them, or at least the fourteen hour workday that has temporarily imposed itself on my Mondays. Anyway, I'm back to take a look at the two most recent episodes of the show, late but never lost. Shall we?
Episode 10: "The Electric Boy"
This was perhaps the most story-oriented episode to date. I have in the past expressed my fondness for these episodes, and this one was no exception. Michael Faraday is someone I knew about in terms of his general place in science, but I had not appreciated the scope of his achievements. As such, I enjoyed seeing him placed in the context of his many discoveries. I've long been fascinated with the historical world of 19th century science; it seems like such a fascinatingly progressive time in terms of the ways we began to put together the complex puzzle that is the world. Evolution, electromagnetism, germ theory — it's got to be one of the most important centuries in all of science! And Faraday was given to us as someone whose name should be equally recognizable as those such as Darwin and Pasteur.
If I had to levy one criticism at this episode, it's that it didn't focus enough on the science. Granted, the science under discussion can be pretty difficult to explain in layman's terms — Tyson himself said so at one point — but to me, that would be all the more reason to spend more time on it. Which may seem counter to my fondness for the story-oriented episodes, but I never promised to be 100% consistent!
Also, I just have to point out: they went through an entire episode without once name-checking a Faraday cage that I can recall. That was kind of surprising. Faraday cages, as a concept, crop up so often in popular science fiction that mentioning them would have seemed like a natural thing to do. Granted, they're almost never used properly in such sci-fi, instead becoming just one more term in a tossed salad of science-y terms; but still, I feel it was a missed moment.
EPISODE 11: "The Immortals"
So this was an interesting one. There they go pissing off the religious again with their calling out of the Flood Myth, and using it as a metaphor for... panspermia theory?! I don't know whether to call that brilliant or not, but I sure as heck enjoyed it. And to be fair, the Ark metaphor extended beyond just panspermia, becoming a general metaphor for all the ways life preserves and transmits itself. It was an interesting way to tie the episode together.
Speaking of calling out the Flood Myth: props to the show for going into the telling of the Epic of Gilgamesh. That's a work I discovered in my undergrad days and I've continued to find its tale of the immortality-seeking god-king fascinating all these years. I'm glad Tyson was able to expose the ancient epic to a wider audience in some small way.
As for the science itself, my favorite moment was the one where he laid out the hypothesis that life survived on early Earth via chunks of rock that were blown into orbit, only to land again on Earth with their biological refugees. I have never encountered this particular idea before, and I found it fascinating to contemplate. It's definitely an idea that's made my "things to Google someday" list.
Clearly, this was the least scientifically grounded episode of the series, and as such it does come off as one of the weaker ones. Not that scientific speculation is a bad thing; but it definitely gives ammunition to series critics who may want to claim Cosmos didn't deal enough in verifiable facts. I can easily see some fervent Creationist trying to use the fact that Cosmos even dabbled in panspermia as sermon-fodder to try and dismiss the series as a whole. Sure, we folks who actually watched the episode will know better, but it could be just one more thing to sway an undecided lay audience against giving the show a try.
Now It's Your Turn!
Let us know what you thought about these episodes in the comments. I will be back in two weeks to review the last two episodes of the series (it has to end sometime!), and then I will probably pen some larger thoughts on the series in general. Until then!
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