Abby: You know, I'm still really conflicted about their approach to history of science on this show. As we've discussed before, the show seems to want to use these stories as parables. They're condensed, streamlined, and imbued with a lesson. As a storytelling device, I think it's effective, and I'm enjoying the animated segments used to reenact that history. But these parables must be a big ask for the portion of Cosmos's audience who know the actual historical record. I think these parables work best when Tyson tells them personally. For instance, in this episode the audience is guided into the importance of Fraunhofer's discovery through Tyson's kind of emotional fanboyish reaction to it. That enthusiasm makes it easier to digest the somewhat complex scientific explanation behind why the Fraunhofer lines are so pivotal.
Danielle: Yes, when Tyson gets excited it seems about things it seems like more of a jumping-off point for the viewer than a sealed package of information. Watching Tyson peek into the lives of his heroes makes me want to learn more about them, whereas when the stories are contained it's easier for me to zone out. I wonder if these vignettes are an attempt to appeal to non-science nerds, those watchers who are on the verge of flipping to a documentary on U.S. history but may be pulled back by a story that highlights individuals over equations. This could entice a broader audience but, like you said, would irritate more informed viewers.
Abby: Not to jump ahead too much, but my favorite tweet of the night was the following: "Ten-year-old me is super jealous of the millions of kids who now get to watch on substitute teacher days." Although for me and my nostalgia, the original Sagan Cosmos is still the ultimate substitute teacher day show, this episode really underlines that Tyson is owning the inspirational mission in his reboot.
Danielle: Definitely. And I think he's picking up steam as the series progresses. Tyson again reminded us that we are all made of star stuff at the end of this episode — this time to much greater effect, which is interesting because (aside from the discussion of the spectrum) this week's show didn’t have much to do with outer space. It was all sound waves and light waves last night. But still, the episode did such a good job of drawing connections where there appear to be none — between atoms and color, sound and speed — that the notion of things being fundamentally, atomically connected was implied, and the star stuff line emotionally effective.
But what did the Internet think?
Abby: Especially considering that Cosmos was up against the Game of Thrones premiere this week, the Twitter response to the show still seemed to remain pretty strong.
A few people picked up on what amounted to a big inside joke for the fans of the original Sagan series: Tyson said the words "billions and billions" in his narration. It's a phrase famously attributed to Sagan, although the late scientist denied using it (he later used it for the title of a memoir).
Although anti-Cosmos tweeting was pretty muted this week, some noted a few tidbits from the episode that are sure to expand the show's hate viewership beyond young earth creationists. Hint: it has to do with Tyson's (accurate) assessment that the Islamic tradition saved a large portion of the Western historical record, and made significant contributions of its own to astronomy.
Meanwhile, the official Cosmos account used some emojis:
What we learned
Danielle: This episode was full of stuff I didn't know — starting with the fact that the names of so many areas in math and science, like algebra, alchemy, algorithm and even alcohol, have Arabic roots, and I didn't know anything about either Mo Tze or Ibn al-Haytham. I also didn't really know Tyson could raise his voice, which he sort of did when he got excited about light during the forest scene. That was weird.