It’s hard to believe that – not counting the flashbacks to boyhood days – Brain Jay has been dead for the entire timeframe of Space Brothers. The man – and especially the events surrounding his death – continue to reassert influence through every arc, through every twist and turn and character thread. In many ways Brian is the framing device that ties the entire series together – if you were of a morbid frame of mind, you could even say he haunts it like a ghost.
Certainly, “haunted” would be an accurate description of what Brian’s memory does to Pico Norton. It was obvious enough from last week’s events that there was more to Pico than the crude and obnoxious buffoon we were presented with. Don’t get me wrong, he is a crude and obnoxious buffoon – but he’s also one of the top engineers at Denver, the contractor working with NASA on the parachute system that’s supposed to get Hibito and the Orion crew back safely to Earth. The engineer in charge of that very system, in fact.
That’s an obvious and very neat tie-in to the Comeback Competition that the ASCANs are involved with at the moment. I suppose it’s not unrealistic that Pico would be pegged to be a part of it even with the astronauts preparing to return to Earth – his work is effectively done and that’s out of his hands, so he’s got the time. It was interesting to hear the dilemma of the parachute problem presented the way it was – does NASA really have a potential “parachute gap” because their program has been based on glide landings and all the Apollo engineers are dead? A cynic would mention the dozens of unmanned craft that have had to land safely on their respective planets and moons using a parachute system – some of those bodies having an atmosphere requiring a safe entry for the probe – but for purposes of the story, I suppose it’s a suspension of disbelief thing.
There’s a bit of an edgy portrait being painted of NASA here, considering that they’re cooperating with the series (just like JAXA is). First of all there’s the fact that NASA and the Russians refuse to cooperate on their respective space technologies – which is mostly true, though it’s more for strategic reasons than the foolish pride Uchuu Kyoudai suggests. But then there’s the kicker – Brian and his crew are dead because NASA bailed on Pico and Denver to go with a cheaper contractor for the chute system after Pico went over budget with one too many stress tests than ended in a crash. It’s not entirely unrealistic but damn, it certainly casts a pall over everything that happens at NASA in this series.
In that light, Pico’s current state isn’t too surprising. He’d made a promise with Brian to go drinking after the crew returned safely to Earth – one Brian planned to keep even though Pico was off the project – and Pico blames himself even if his chute wasn’t the one that failed. Why? Because he lost the contract for being too careful, and for using failure as part of the process. But when Mutta (seriously – why are you eating a peanut you found in your hair?) exercises the same impulse on the CanSat project, it’s the first time Pico really seems to be paying attention: this will certainly be the trigger that “turns his switch to on”. Team E isn’t just working with a seemingly disinterested engineer because they finished last – they get less money too, $600 – less than the higher finishers in the desert hike and a full 25% less than Team A. Serika has found a blueprint from last year’s competition on the internet and the team is using that as a framework – an obvious parallel to what happened at NASA with the Orion parachute program – but Pico is quite certain (before Mutta asserts his will) that this approach will fail.
This episode finds Uchuu Kyoudai on solid footing in many respects – pathos, team dynamics, scientific geekery – and Mutta likewise. This is his bailiwick – design and engineering – and he’s the only one on the team who realizes that blowing the entire budget on one prototype CanSat is a losers’ game. Mutta is certainly the proverbial tortoise in the symbolism of this series – compare to the “space hare” that’s his brother first of all, but also compared to most of his teammates and competitors. He’s never fast out of the gate but he always manages to get to the core of the matter, never makes a good first impression but always impresses. He caught skeptic Vince’s eye with the way he handled Nitta’s crisis, and he caught skeptic Pico’s with his insistence on designing a CanSat with the intention of seeing it fail, and learning from it. If there’s a metaphor for Uchuu Kyoudai – and certainly for Mutta’s life at the very least – it’s that first isn’t always best, and slow and steady wins the race. If I were planning a space mission (and most certainly if I were a part of one) that’s the sort of guy I’d want on my crew.