November 28, 2016
July 19, 1969
The Heart of Gold lands in the backyard of NASA employee Wayne Ellis. Luka stands in the open hatch and says they come in peace. And then his henchman shoots Wayne Ellis twice in the chest. Luka takes the man’s freshly minted, newly issued security badge. America is about to put a man on the moon. Can’t be too careful about the Commie threat.
July 20. Landing day. Johnson Space Center.
Lucy is a secretary in the typing pool. Rufus tells her not to complain to the guy whose only possible cover is janitor.
Rufus moves through Mission Control emptying ashtrays and gaping at the men in the room like a kid who came downstairs early to discover the actual Santa Claus leaving presents under the tree. This landing means everything to him.
Max Headroom uses poor dead Wayne Ellis’s badge to gain access to the server room. He quickly swaps out a large magnetic data reel. Lucy is out in the hallway trying, and failing, to get into the room. Another technician swipes himself in and tells her to get him a cup of coffee. Lots of cream, lots of sugar.
He calls her sweetheart.
She does not kick him in the nuts.
The lunar module Eagle is go for landing. 30 seconds of fuel. 100 feet to go. Neil Armstrong is cut off mid-message. “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has —-” The screens go blank. The signal has been lost. The entire system has crashed.
The Time Trio regroup in the cafeteria. Wyatt asks just how bad it is. Rufus says Aldrin and Armstrong are trapped on the moon’s surface. They have about six hours before they run out of oxygen and die up there.
Lucy says this is about more than the moon landing. The space race was much closer than most people think. But after Apollo 11 the Soviets throw in the towel, abandon their missile program, and sign the anti-ballistic missile treaty.
“If we fail today, the Russians could succeed. We could lose the Cold War.”
Wyatt tl;dr’s it. “So. Really freaking bad.”
There’s no sign of Max or Luka, but they do have Max’s briefcase. It gives Rufus a starting point to fix what’s broken and Wyatt a lead on Luka. Max was carrying a file on a Lockman Aerospace secretary called Maria Thompkins. Wyatt thinks Lockman could be a secondary target. He goes to check it out, telling Lucy and Rufus to make sure the astronauts get off the moon.
Luka checks in with Max who assures him that everything is under control. There’s no way Rufus can fix the computers. It’s an antiquated platform he knows nothing about. “I taught him everything he knows. But I didn’t teach him everything I know.”
“I know Rufus. He doesn’t perform well under pressure.”
Rufus and Lucy slip into an empty office and discover that Max launched a modern DDoS attack against NASA’s network. Rufus says it should only take them 10 or 20 years to fix it. He swings from anger and frustration to sorrow and disappointment. He still can’t believe Max’s part in this.
Rufus says Max was the first person to take out the Omni. He should understand better than anyone what the astronauts are going through. Rufus notes that, hell no, he wasn’t a part of the time machine’s first flight. He swore he was never getting in that damn thing – and for good reason.
Something went wrong during that test flight. The memory makes Rufus physically uncomfortable. He says Max spent seven months in the hospital. Rufus was by his side the whole time. Every day. He calls Max his brother. “I thought I knew him as well as I knew myself.”
The anger sparks back. Rufus doesn’t want a pep talk from Lucy. He says what they need is someone who actually knows how to work these antiques! And then it hits him. He tells Lucy that the smartest person in the building works in the basement … BECAUSE THAT’S WHERE THE HIDE THE FIGURES.
Rufus offers Katherine Johnson‘s bona fides as he and Lucy walk down the hall. Graduated high school at 14. Graduated college at 18. Calculated Alan Shepard’s first space flight, along with several of the Mercury and Apollo missions. John Glenn wouldn’t fly unless Katherine did the math.
“And she did this all as a black woman in 1969.”
He asks Lucy if she’s ever seen Apollo 13. Katherine wasn’t in it, but she was a big part of bringing that crew home.
If anyone can help, she can.
Lucy tries to lure Katherine out of her office with the vague story that Gene Kranz would like to see her. When Katherine challenges her, Rufus tries the truth. “We need your help to save the Apollo 11.”
Rufus convinces Katherine of his own bona fides by writing out the trajectory formulas for the Eagle’s return. Then he sits down at a computer terminal and shows her Max’s virus. He says he can get Neil and Buzz home. He just needs her help.
Katherine swipes into the mainframe room and successfully deploys the ‘Gene needs to see you’ gambit. Once they’re alone, she proudly tells Rufus and Lucy that the mainframe holds TWO MEGABYTES of memory. TWO!
Rufus wasn’t kidding when he said his toaster has more computing power.
Lucy runs back to the basement for punch tape while Rufus swaps out the data reels and Katherine works on the code. She says it should take about 10 minutes to download. “Fast, huh?” She warns Rufus that he better be right. She could get into a world of trouble.
“It isn’t exactly raining black women around here.”
Katherine has to prove every day that she belongs. She’s putting everything she’s achieved on the line – for him. Rufus agrees that he hasn’t given her any reason to trust him. But he’s asking her to, “because the very last thing I’d want to do is let you down.” He admits that he’s a little star struck by her. Katherine says she’s just a number cruncher in the basement.
“Not true. To me – to a lot of people – you’re just as important as the guys in mission control. Or the ones on the moon.”
Lucy is stopped in the hall by the white collar douchebag from before. He complains that he never got his coffee. He calls her sweetheart. She tries to rush past him but he catches her by the arm. How busy can she be? He calls her doll. Lucy snatches her arm away and then leans in close to him.
“Trust me. You do not want to drink the cup of coffee I would bring you after grabbing me like that.”
She walks away and then turns back when she sees she has an audience. She loudly tells the guy that no, her first name ain’t Baby. It’s not doll or sweetheart or anything else infantile. The women at NASA have actual names.
“I’m sure you can learn their names. It’s not that hard. Kind of like making coffee for yourself.”
“You’re a rocket scientist. Figure it out.”
With punch tape acquired and sick burns delivered, Rufus uploads the command to delete the virus. Max and a gun-toting henchman enter the server room and a standoff ensues.
Rufus tries to appeal to his mentor’s better nature. He says the Omni’s first flight was their moonshot – and it almost killed Max. Is he really willing to let the same thing happen to the astronauts?
Max says he built the time machine. Katherine is like, you built whaaaaat? He knows what Rittenhouse is planning to do with it, and that’s something he can’t live with.
Max lunges for the computer running the debugging program. Rufus grabs him and pulls Wyatt’s gun. Max tells the henchman it’s all right. Rufus isn’t going to shoot. He wouldn’t let Wyatt shoot him in Vegas because they’re still friends. Because despite everything, they still know each other.
The henchman raises his gun. Rufus shoots first, hitting him square in the chest.
Max looks like he wants to throw up. Rufus shoves him away.
“You don’t know me. Not anymore. Those astronauts are coming back home.”
Katherine stands next to Gene Kranz in Mission Control. Static crackles over the speakers as comms come back online. The room erupts in celebration. The relieved men of Mission Control turn to Katherine Johnson in gratitude.
Wyatt has spent the afternoon tracking Luka. He found and then lost him at a park where Luka was spending time with Maria and her son. Wyatt later interviews Maria at her home. He tells her that Luka is a Russian spy. She can’t think of any reason why he would be interested in her.
At that moment Neil Armstrong takes his giant leap for mankind. Maris turns to call her son Gabriel in to watch – and sees him on the ground with Luka crouched over him. She watches as Luka injects her son with a syringe. She throws herself at Luka trying to pull him away.
Luka grabs her by both arms and says it’s medicine. Epinephrine. Gabriel was stung by a bee and was going into anaphylactic shock. Wyatt gasps out that Luka just saved her son’s life.
Luka draws on Wyatt but doesn’t shoot. He just needs to hold him off long enough. Long enough to tell Maria that every memory he has of her, she was sad. He says he knows what it’s like to lose a child. “I didn’t want to let you lose yours. Not if I could change it.” He smiles and tells her it was good to see her again.
Back in the present, Christopher presents the team with Luka’s un-redacted file. His older brother Gabriel is alive and well and living in Paris. Lucy simmers. She and Wyatt both want to go back and save the people they love and Luka just does it. Without hesitation. So why aren’t they doing the same thing?! Christopher promises again some more that as soon as Luka is dealt with they’ll find a way to get Amy back.
History mostly stayed the same, but Rufus says it seems to have changed for the better for Katherine. She was credited with single-handedly fixing the computers. NASA made her the first female flight director. They even made a movie about her.
Lucy asks about him. Is he okay? Rufus says he’s fine … and that’s the problem. He killed a man and he feels fine. He really doesn’t feel much of anything. He says he’d do it again.
“Lucy, what am I becoming?”