Oh, Dr. Jacob Hood, how do you manage to be such an non-nerdy nerd? In the last episode of Eleventh Hour, Hood and FBI Agents Rachel Young and Felix Lee are asked to investigate rage killings during New York Fashion Week. Hood has no idea who any of the super models are, but he is hip enough to know that they might drink appletinis. Actually, appletinis are so 2002. Maybe he is a big geek after all.
Anyway, the models in question had made the tactical blunder of wearing an expensive perfume that turned out to be laced with a cocktail of pheromones and neurotransmitters. Men gathered round the runway who smelled the perfume lost all control and assaulted the models. Seems that a side effect of this particular compound is that it incites violence. Oops! But while animals definitely use chemical signals to communicate with other members of the heard, the role of pheromones in human behavior is far, far less well defined.
Terrorism pops up all over science fiction, and last night’s episode of Eleventh Hour was no exception with terrorism featuring VX gas. The plot focused on a group of white converts to Islam (thank you, Hollywood, for reinforcing that stereotype. We’re all painfully aware of the dangers of lunatic jihadists, but let’s not become so fixated on that that we blind ourselves to the fact that as, say, Oklahama and Belfast demonstrated, terrorists can have sorts of religious faiths, including agnostic and Christian, while simultaneously tarring all Muslims with the same brush). The terrorists plan to take over a theater full of kids and hold them hostage. The weapon they intend to hold over their heads is VX nerve gas, more or less considered the deadliest chemical weapon in the world’s arsenals. It’s the same stuff Ed Harris was smuggling in The Rock, and one of the weapons Saddam Hussein used on the Kurds. VX gas is, by most experts’ account, the most deadly chemical weapon yet invented. It’s so potent that when the British invented it in 1952, the Americans were willing to trade away nuclear secrets to learn how to make it.
A small part of me despaired after last night’s Eleventh Hour: A virus passed by skin-to-skin contact caused a self-generating nanofilm of metal to spread all over the skin, which then made everyone with the disease susceptible to lightning strikes. In the immortal word of Bill Cosby: Right.
But start reading enough about nanofilm, and anyone would discover there’s actually some real science out there that can justify parts of this plot. Think of the episode as a kind of pointillist canvas, with each dot of discovery forming the big picture of a Sci Fi plot device.
Forgive my indulgence in an old Jewish folk song in the title—it just seemed to fit the plot of last night’s episode of Eleventh Hour so neatly. We open on a helicopter pilot who died in a fiery crash after mercury poisoning caused him to go blind mid-flight. Soon, other people in the town start showing symptoms of the same contamination, forcing Hood and Young and the newly introduced Felix Lee to trace the mercury down the food chain. Here’s what they found by the end: Mercury in Lake Michigan -> maggots -> herring -> fish meal -> dairy cows ->milk -> people.
Last night’s episode of Eleventh Hour took a plot from the first episode and took it to the next level: From a failed human cloning experiment to success. We learn within the first ten minutes of the episode that Dr. Jacob Hood’s nemeiss, the evil geneticist known as Gepetto, has cloned humans, implanted the embryonic clones into women, and successfully brought them to term. We learn later that Gepetto cloned the babies with her own DNA so she can harvest one of them for a new pancreas, which she needs to live. Of course taking a pancreas means killing the baby, so Gepetto would be guilty of murder along with any number of additional violations of the law.
While last night’s episode of Eleventh Hour never specifically discussed the ethical quandaries of a private company storing umbilical blood, but we get a pretty good idea of the writers’ opinion when the owners of a cord-blood storage firm turn out to be corrupt stem-cell stealing scumbags. Naturally, Hood and Young sniff them out and they get busted in what I must admit was a pretty snazzy chase scene through the SoCal countryside, but they did it without ever discussing the questions raised by medical organizations about these companies.
In last night’s episode of Eleventh Hour, a doe-eyed lad suffering from kidney cancer started drinking from a natural spring he discovered while fleeing a flash flood. he drank the stuff for three weeks, and during that time his advanced kidney cancer vanished, poof! Local news media told his story and soon the little Montana spring near his home was the destination for desperately sick people from all over the country. Our hero, Jacob Hood, FBI scientist, read about the miracle water and dashed to the scene to debunk the myth, for fear that sick people would skip their treatments in favor of the magic. Along the way he discovered that some domestic terrorists were trying to make a dirty bomb in the basement of the local hospital. To process their radioactive material, they needed heavy water. It was the heavy water that cured the boy.
An element so rarely gets singled out from the periodic table for its own star turn, and even less often when that element isn’t even radioactive. But last night’s episode of Eleventh Hour sent chlorine down the catwalk in two of its many guises.
Last night on Eleventh Hour, some evil gene therapists had a plan to make the athlete of the future. They had figured out a way to use gene therapy to stimulate muscle production in athletes, but they had to test it first, so they selected the athletes siblings, figuring the siblings would be genetically similar and possibly have similar responses. So, the evil scientists put their genetic cocktail into a virus (as is common enough in gene therapy) and then they secretly switched the siblings’ flu shots with Folgers Cryst- I mean, with the virus. Unfortunately, it turned out that whenever the recipients of the new stuff got their heart rates up, they tended to collapse from an unexpected case of the bends. It turned out that the gene therapy was causing these people to produce huge amounts of nitrous oxide, which then bubbled up in the blood, causing a severe case of the bends.
The military’s most farseeing agency, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, required the services of Eleventh Hour‘s Jacob Hood in last night’s episode to figure who violently killed some test-chimps and a veterinarian in the agency’s super soldier program. It seems a mad scientist had found some way to increase the size of a human amygdala, which led the soldier to have extreme, and unthinking, fight-or-flight reactions. Whenever someone approached this super soldier in a threatening way, he reacted with extreme prejudice. Naturally, the mad scientist wasn’t supposed to be testing on people, which is why by the end of the show he was off to prison.
But DARPA is pretty serious about improving the, ahem, human component of soldiering. After decades of focusing on machines (like unmanned flying drones, GPS, and Internet), DARPA decided toward the end of the 1990s to focus on improving the actual biology of the soldiers. Contrary to the show, the goal is not extremely obedient killers. The modern military is focused on small teams functioning independently, far from base and reinforcements of any kind. To succeed in this kind of environment, they want to actually increase the ability of soldiers to think creatively, to stay awake longer, and to be physically active longer without becoming tired.