Defying Gravity

Perhaps it was inevitable that Defying Gravity would not find an audience since it sought to blend genres in ways that have yet to be properly recognized, much less appreciated. Understandably then, even as the program promoted itself as “Grey’s Anatomy in Space,” viewers did not take the bait. Since the program was less about matters of science than human relationships,¬†the tagline was not entirely inappropriate. But it ultimately undersold the ambitions of the show’s creators and, as a consequence, underestimated our ability to embrace it. For the characters in its story were grappling with the very mystery of living, and the questions humanity has pondered in the face of the unknown.

As is revealed quite late in the season (Episode 9: Eve Ate the Apple), the astronauts at the center of this story were kept in the dark about the actual purpose of their mission. When that secret is finally revealed, the crew – and we – discover an object sublime beyond what’s possible to apprehend through the senses alone. And in light of this revelation, they discover that their trek is no simple adventure across the solar system but, rather, is designed to trace the hidden link that connects the planets, tracing the line of a divine blueprint of which they – along with the rest of humanity – had been blissfully unaware. Now, with the benefit of this newfound knowledge, the familiar orbs circling the sky acquire a different significance, a microcosm reflecting the glory of the cosmos itself. What in previous eras us mortals had come to call Heaven.

As astronauts, they aspired to something greater than themselves, even if they remained fumblingly inarticulate when it came to saying exactly what that might be. Yet, this much is clear: the “gravity” they sought to elude was precisely the pull of earthly forces, powers that drag one into mindless routine as well as the very illusions of escape offered in compensation for the imperatives of such a dulled existence. What they sought, instead, was the very purpose of their earthly presence, one in which the seemingly disparate strands of past and present meet, and where the most lowly and most exalted fall into place, giving evidence to the very rhythm and intent of the divine.

However, the mere unveiling of this truth – the purpose of their mission – would not change their lives overnight. Importantly, each astronaut carries a ghost, hauntings from previous lives that speak to the very core of their being, dilemmas that have come to define who they are. Secrets and regrets, traumas and injuries, anxieties and fears trail them like a shadow, despite their success at having escaped earth’s orbit and the pull of forces against which they so mightily struggled to become who they are. Each lives with these ghosts alone, the weight too difficult or dangerous to share, but the ship will magnify these hauntings of the imagination. Glimmers of light and echoes from elsewhere taunting their senses. The astronauts’ handlers on Earth will call them hallucinations, saying they’re a side-effect of the “halos” they’ve been required to wear in the interest of abstinence. But, as quickly becomes clear, a different picture soon begins to emerge, one in which private visions point to their larger mission of traversing the solar system, to the secret knowledge the planets have so patiently borne, until now.

As the gulf grows between these explorers of the unknown and their counterparts on Earth, they will find themselves uncomfortably dependent upon artificial means of communication, the only remaining form of contact available to what has been left behind. Friends and lovers will have to rely on airwaves that transcend space and time, unable to discern the needs of the other, denied the immediacy of touch and sight, or the reassurances they provide.

Isolated in this way, the astronauts will also struggle with the deceits that have brought them to where they are: secrets that have been kept and the lies told to hide the truth. As their faith is tested, they will grapple with the seemingly false pretenses under which their original commitment was secured and wrestle over the (new) purpose of their shared mission, just as they will continue to suffer the tormenting visions that can only cast suspicion on their mind’s hold on reality.

The two characters at the center of Defying Gravity’s ensemble cast, former lovers who now find themselves fellow explorers in the deep of space, will labor under their own versions of this dilemma. Why they are no longer “together” is not quite clear. One of them had a rule against mixing their celestial mission with the mundane pleasures of earthly delight. There was also the unexpected emergence of new life, terminated because it too interfered with aspirations for the beyond. He is haunted by the tragedy that came on the heels of his previous mission (to Mars); she struggles with lingering uncertainties about where to place her trust. More lies will be told, either to protect against further embarrassment and pain, or to honor the process of unfoldment. And yet, amidst this fumbling, they discover that they share the same dream, one in which he witnesses her ascent, merging with a Sun awakening from its eclipse, and pregnant with a new future. They will also find themselves the sole astronauts on the brink of another mission – this time, to Venus – as each continues contending with the stains of the past, seeking to regain a footing on the path toward the very purpose of the soul.

These dilemmas and aspirations were telescoped from the very beginning, in the program’s first episode, when one of their colleagues is confronted by a different sort of crisis: discovering that the path he had taken to be his life’s destiny had been closed-off to him. Bereft, he takes on the guise of Ganesh – The Remover of Obstacles – and allows himself to drift into space. While there, surrounded by the vast expanse of emptiness, he sits with this extinction, allowing the old to die. For knowingly or not, this dark night of the soul becomes the prelude for a different calling, and the best one can do is prepare for a new understanding of what is to come. And allow oneself to hear it.


~ by mistified on 16 November 2009.

2 Responses to “Defying Gravity”

  1. If you’re wondering where you can watch the final episodes of Defying Gravity – particularly since ABC has given us no indication if or when they will be aired in the United States – you can find them here.


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