You know that whole thing about the lack of trust between Emma and Misha? Yeah, well that immediately comes to a head in the most dramatic of fashions when the two astronauts at odds have to do a space walk together. If you’re unfamiliar with space walks, or EVAs, they’re when the astronauts need to go outside the ship, usually to make repairs. The ship is hurtling through space, and they have one little tether that they can hook onto the ship to keep them from, well, just floating away into space. I feel like that description doesn’t fully convey how intense these things are, but if you watch the last 20 minutes of “Negative Return,” you’ll get it. Holy hell is that a space walk, folks.
In the premiere episode, after the fireball incident, Emma’s husband, Matt, reassures Darlene at mission control that it’s totally fine: “Every mission has a screwup, Darlene. They just got theirs out of the way early.” Oh, how that line makes me laugh. I mean, we have ten episodes of space content to fill — you know there will be more screwups. There will be all the screwups. Which is why it’s not at all surprising that when the crew goes to deploy the three solar panels that will provide all the power their ship needs for their entire journey, one of them gets stuck. There’s no way they’ll make it to Mars and back without it.
It’s Misha, our mechanics guy, and Emma, crew commander, who are tasked with the big EVA. Neither seems super-thrilled, and Misha reiterates his belief that Emma isn’t fit to lead this mission, which is a supercool and fun thing to do in this exact moment. But, as Misha informs his crewmates, “[they] have no idea what [he] had to sacrifice to get here!” (I bet we’ll find out!!), and he’ll be damned to let it all be for naught.
Misha’s sacrifice clearly has something to do with his adult daughter, who he calls up ahead of his EVA to … ask for her forgiveness? Which is apparently something he does for every space walk (he’s done nine) out of superstition, but his daughter wants no part of it. Their relationship is … let’s say tense bordering on contentious.
Emma, at least, gets a much sweeter EVA send-off from Matt, who has all the faith in the world in her — he won’t even let her say she loves him because it feels like she’s saying good-bye. She also gets in a quick call with Lex and tells her that she’s her “reason to hold on tight,” and honestly I hope that teen is in therapy, because yeesh, that’s a lot to process right there.
And then it’s just Misha and Emma. They may have Ram buzzing in their ear and mission control weighing in, but really, out there in space, with nothing but a tether keeping them bound to the ship, it’s just about them. So, like, that’s probably a little worrisome.
And then they encounter a problem. Well, another problem. Their path to the stuck solar panel is blocked by an electrical issue that could fry them should they get too close to it. Misha may not trust Emma, but Emma trusts Misha implicitly in this situation. Or at least she pretends to. Should astronauts be faking it till they make it? Seems dangerous. Anyway, when Misha comes up with a plan to make one long tether and toss one of them over the electrical mess and onto the solar panel, Emma tells him that she’ll do it. And so that’s what they do. They fling Emma into space.
This might be a good time to let you know that there is a live feed following Atlas I, broadcasting everything they do, which is truly just nutty. The people in mission control can barely watch what Emma and Misha are attempting, and that is their actual job. Cut this feed, people! No one needs this!
Once Emma gets up on the solar panel, she can see that one of its cables is caught and she needs to move it back into position. In order to do that, she needs to untether herself and slingshot herself around the panel onto the back. I’m nauseous just thinking about it. It is true insanity. But it works, she hooks herself back in, she moves the cable, and I stop covering my eyes … which is actually a terrible decision because the force of her pulling on the cable sends her flying backward, and she maybe goes unconscious for a hot second? Misha seems worried, and when Misha is worried, I’m worried.
Thankfully, Emma quickly comes to, and after pulling herself back toward the solar panel, Misha is able to grab her and they get back into the ship tethered together. The solar panel fully deploys, and we’re all back in business. It looks like that trust Misha wanted Emma to earn is there. It only gave us all a stomach ulcer to achieve it.
As Misha and Emma wait in decompression, Misha opens up a little bit more. Before they went out, he had prayed to his late wife to protect them. And then we learn about the real sacrifice Misha made to be here: His wife died suddenly when his daughter was young, and he was in space when it happened, unable to get back. When he did, he asked his daughter for her forgiveness and promised to never leave her again. Obviously, he’s gone back on that promise repeatedly. His daughter has never really been able to forgive him. Our Misha!
So things seem better with the crew of Atlas I after surviving that shitshow of an EVA. So much better, in fact, that they all come together for a little toast to Emma and Misha. But, as it turns out, not everyone is in the mood to celebrate. Ram — yes, Ram — goes off on Misha and Emma. How dare Misha assume he’s the only one “haunted” by the sacrifices he’s made for this job. HOW DARE Emma be so reckless with her life. “We all need you alive. I need you alive,” he tells her. Those suspicions I had in the first episode? Yeah, those have been upgraded. Has someone caught some feelings?
• Meanwhile, on Earth, Matt learns that he’ll be in the hospital much longer than he thought, and there could be permanent mobility issues, especially with his legs. As if this man doesn’t have enough to deal with! He just watched his wife fling herself out into space!!
• Turns out Melissa, Emma’s chosen crew support on the ground, was also in the running for Atlas I but backed out when she had her special-needs daughter, Cassie. It looks like Melissa is raising Cassie by herself, so there must be a story there. Also, when Matt asks if Melissa is okay keeping Lex while he’s in the hospital, he mentions feeling bad that they’ve grown apart over the years. Like I said, a story.
• Have we possibly discovered who gave Lu that ring she wears? It seems like our mission CAPCOM, Mei, is a strong contender, since the two share a conversation over the comms system about how the thoughts of the people of China are with Lu, and it is dripping in some real tension. I think that conversation might be code for something else, you guys.
• Plant Watch: Kwesi introduces us to the first plant that will grow on Mars, and it is currently in soil from Ghana, where he was born. He’s so proud of his plant! Kwesi is the best of us.