The Right Stuff Season 1 Episode 4 Review: Advent
History isn’t always pleasant to relive, whether professional or personal, and The Right Stuff Season 1 Episode 4 nailed that idea.
While China and Russia were running rings around the US space program in the ’50s, the US ultimately turned to Nazi Wernher von Braun to get them to the next step.
Them. Us. Them is us. The Americans recruited a Nazi, who built missiles that Germany used against Britain and other countries during World War II.
That’s not very pleasant to think about, but it’s 2020 now, and people who do terrible things often get a pass, so why not a Nazi in the ’50s, right?
As this is a Disney endeavor, I don’t know that they’ll reveal much more than a few pointed comments about von Braun getting called Nazi. And, since von Braun is dead, we can’t really ask him how it went down. Did he feel indebted to work with Hitler or was he an eager participant for political or scientific reasons?
We also created the nuclear bomb in Los Alamos, New Mexico, and that was hardly something to be proud of in hindsight.
But there was a lot about “Advent” that suggested our greatest heroes have a multitude of problems, and how they ultimately deal with them speaks to how they’re remembered in history.
It’s easy to point the finger when you haven’t been in a situation. It’s experiencing things for yourself that bring ideas home.
Hot off the heels of The Right Stuff Season 1 Episode 3 and a rocket exploding shortly after takeoff — in front of children, no less — and as Russia gets a rocket around the moon to take photos of the other side, the Americans are feeling the heat.
They aren’t succeeding, and cutting corners to get there isn’t a wise decision. As the astronauts continue their various simulations, it’s discovered that they’re virtually flying with their hands tied, a situation that could get them killed, and they’d have very little chance to surviving.
Because so much of the flying was being controlled from the aptly named mission control room, the greatest care might not be given to the capsule and its capabilities. It seems like it was a similar issue that scuttled the live launch, too, and the money they’re wasting seems astounding.
No wonder the race was also on to get support from the next president of the United States, whether it be Nixon (who was not well liked by the astronauts) or Kennedy, who didn’t care much for the space program.
So while the team went home for holidays, some dealt with family issues, and John Glenn made phone call after phone call to reach John F. Kennedy to sway his mind about the manned space program. His lynchpin was using his own influence in Ohio as a lure for Kennedy to win the nomination and the presidency.
John has a way with people, and he’s often seen as the bright, charming fellow because of it. But his ego sometimes gets in the way of his ambition, and it can be a less-than appealing look.
Bobby, listen. Let’s say your bother gets the nomination. Does he want to win Ohio in the poll?
So when he bragged to Scott Carpenter at the New Year’s Eve party that he may have bagged Kennedy for an appearance, it was hard to feel sorry for him when everyone’s expectations were dashed by an ambassador for Kennedy instead.
Meanwhile, the man who hasn’t exactly looked like a top example of hearth and home, Alan Shepard, managed to swing things around when his sister-in-law died, and he and Lou took in her daughter, Judith, just before the holidays.
It’s also interesting that Lou, a homemaker and seemingly perfect wife who stands by her man despite his philandering, wasn’t given the rosiest portrait, either.
Alan wasn’t thinking clearly about what taking in their niece might mean to the family, and he had especially not thought about what such an abrupt change might mean to Judith until D suggested she’d need a lot more than a Barbie this Christmas.
That seemed to be the push he needed to better understand, if even for a minute, what Judith was up against in her new home.
Alan: Smells good in here! Where’s Judith?
Lou: Martha. We’ve decided to call her Martha.
Alan: We’re, uh, changing her name?
Lou: Judith is too close to Julie.
Julie: It’d be too confusing.
He didn’t stand up for the girl when Lou announced they’d changed Judith’s name to Martha because it was too similar to their daughter’s name, Julie, but a look did pass across his face, as if he was thinking about such a dramatic, and unwarranted change at a time when she had already suffered so much.
Mr. Shepard: I thought that was pretty funny, too, until my dad told me that I would be sleeping in the barn until that cow came down. [laughs] I had to bribe half the kids in the village to come help me lower her down by rope!
Alan: You could’ve just pushed her out the window; you would have had steaks for a year.
Mr. Shepard: Now that is a Navy Man’s solution if I ever heard it. Taking the easy way out. It’s kind of like if a little girl’s name is inconvenient, you just change it [snaps his fingers]. What do you think about that … Martha? Do you like that name? Did you pick it?
Lou: Let’s talk abut something else.
Mr. Shepard: No. I want to hear her opinion, cause I’m guessin’ no one else has asked.
Lou: You’re making her uncomfortable.
Mr. Shepard: Oh. [takes a bite and reaches over to Judith, grabbing her arm and smashing her elbow on the table]. Mind your elbows.
Alan: [clears his throat] This is my house, Dad. I’ll handle the discipline.
Mr. Shepard: Huh. It doesn’t seem to me like you’re handling much of anything. There’s no flag on the pole out front. Couldn’t help but notice that.
It was when his own father called him out on the name change before launching into more unkind words about his son at the Christmas Eve dinner table that Alan began to be the man Judith needed him to be.
From what I’ve read, Judith was younger when she arrived at their house, so I don’t know how she came to be called Alice specifically, but the idea that she chose it herself because Alan showed her the kindness she so desperately needed is a beautiful thought, whether truth or fiction.
Alan: It’s good to have a routine. It helps organize your day. It’s even better if it makes you think of something important.
Judith: How long am I going to stay here?
Alan: This is your home now, Martha. You’re going to stay here for good.
Judith: Then, I don’t want you to call me Martha. I want to choose my own name.
Alan: Oh yeah? What’d you have in mind>
Alan: Alan. A girl named Alan. Might get you into some trouble down the road. [he chuckles] How about Alice? Yeah? [they shake hands] Good to meet you, Alice. [she launches herself into his arms]
Frankly, in 2020, I’ll take what I can get.
Gordo’s marriage took a turn for the better, but I’m chalking it up to the holidays. Their marriage eventually ends, and if he was that close to visiting the woman with whom he cheated on Trudy on Christmas Eve, then I don’t believe for a second that he’s a changed man.
And even if he said he returned home and didn’t follow through, what’s to say that if the woman (whose name was something ludicrous like Laylene) had answered the phone that he wouldn’t have gone to the motel?
Trudy: Getting banged at lunchtime for a few months doesn’t make you his damned soulmate.
Arlene: You were a great trophy for him, but that’s all you should have ever been, pilot. It’s hard enough having one of those in the house. I oughta know. But you never wanted to support Gordo, you wanted to be him. That’s not what a man needs in a wife.
Trudy: You think every man needs the same thing.
Arlene: I’m not talking about every man.
His comment to Trudy was nice, but she’s far too good for him. What the woman said to Trudy rang too true — Trudy, as a pilot herself, was the perfect trophy on his arm.
Beauty is one thing, but intelligence and courage make Trudy the complete package. Still, he cheated, probably because of those same traits. Some men, especially those with high ambitions, need to feel a certain way, and that way doesn’t always play true when they aren’t needed.
Trudy, I didn’t get you back so I could go to space. It’s the other way around. The first thing I thought when I got that call from NASA was that maybe, just maybe this might get me one last shot with you. So yes, I love you.
Trudy doesn’t need Gordo. She might love and want him, but she doesn’t need him, and that’s tough for some men to handle. Those who have affairs often seem like that kind of man. They get from the woman pining away for him outside of their marriage the feeling of being needed that they don’t get from their wives.
It kind of puts Gordo, Alan, and John on the same playing field. Gordo and Alan are polar opposites. He likes his affairs to be women who want him regardless of his role in their life. And John is just needy in other ways, as manifested through his desire to connect with Kennedy.
It was far more than just wanting to get his support for the space program. He wanted to be the man who got Kennedy’s support. It was important to him.
Even Chris was working out his issues by controlling the capsule from the ground. A lame hand meant he couldn’t make it as a pilot. But Deke, who lost a finger, knew that one finger to the left or right, and he would have been in the same position.
Chris needed to bond with one of the astronauts in that way, and it might be that interaction that reminds him that he’s pulled the best of the best together, and letting go of the reins might be better overall for the space program.
Before I go, as an old, I need to marvel at the set decoration on The Right Stuff. Alan’s Christmas tree looked similar to mine growing up (decades later than the ’50s!) with all of that tinsel draping down, and I always dug a silver tree, so that bought a vintage variety on eBay a while back.
The furniture is spot on, and I would love to have every bit of it in my home. It’s just a shame that the most personal parts of the series that really bring the story home in the same way Life magazine got the astronauts and their families into living rooms around the world aren’t shared in publicity stills.
The photos provided almost always encompass flight-related situations, so I wanted you to know how much I appreciate the hard work done to bring this personal side of this story to life.
Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She’s a member of the Critic’s Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.