Episode Focus: We Fix Space Junk – A Cure for Bindweed

When I was thinking about writing about an episode of We Fix Space Junk, the choice as to which episode to feature was obvious. And when you ask other fans of the show, many will give you the same answer – the episode they find the most memorable out of all the ones that have been released so far is season two’s A Cure For Bindweed.

The episode starts in a pretty standard way, Kilner and Samantha, two repairmen, are assigned a new job by their employer, the all-powerful, mega-corporation Automnicon. Automnicon’s catchy motto is, ‘We own you’; and Kilner and Samantha, along with all of Automnicon’s other repairmen, are forced to work off their extremely large debt to the company. As with every job, they receive a message giving them the details in Automnicon’s ominously cheerful, fill in the blanks formula. Their missions are always ‘exciting’, even though they can be life-threatening, as this one turns out to be. This job sends them to an artificial planet to retrieve Automnicon property. It’s only the additional notes at the end that informs them of an ‘infection site’, and that they are advised to wear protective suits.

Kilner tells Samantha – and the audience – that, in true Automnicon style, there’s more to this message than what we see on the surface. Samantha, still relatively new to the job, isn’t alarmed by its contents, but Kilner’s been here before, and she knows that there are a lot of details that they’re not being told. As always, the message only includes the bare minimum for what they need to know, with no concern for their safety. This is perfectly normal for Automnicon, but we haven’t seen quite this kind of immediate threat to Kilner and Samantha’s before. The message ‘advises’ the wearing of double layer suits, but Kilner knows what the safety procedure is – and it’s a lot more serious than just the ‘advice’ of wearing protective suits.

Dax broadly understands what’s happened here too – as the ship’s AI, if Kilner realises what’s going on, so does he – and here we have the first introduction to the events that led up to Kilner and Samantha being sent on this particular job. Automnicon leases equipment to what Dax calls ‘experimental scientists’, and luckily for them, they have access to a few logs this particular scientist recorded – the last one showing how the virus controls the host’s brain.

Kilner, Samantha, and Dax get some context for what has happened through a few logs, which had been recorded by Karston, the scientist. And it’s here that we discover the significance of the episode title – Karston created a virus to eradicate bindweed. Through these logs we learn that things went very wrong, and that the virus, as viruses tend to do, mutated. Which brings us to Kilner and Samantha needing to retrieve the property Automnicon had on the planet – there’s nobody else left. It makes you wonder what would’ve happened if Kilner and Samantha didn’t have access to these logs.

As they land on the planet, Kilner realises that there’s something else that they weren’t told. It’s just one suggestion of so many, not only over the course of this episode, but the show as a whole, of just how expendable repairmen are to Automnicon. They see another ship, and Kilner realises it belongs to her old friend, Penne. And she also realises that Penne is going to be in a bad way.

Penne’s still alive, but she’s been infected by the virus. She’s been abandoned on the planet, nobody came to save her – not even Kilner and Samantha have been sent here to actually help her. The virus may have been intended to be a cure for bindweed, but there’s no cure when it infects humans. Penne isn’t a part of the mission that they’re sent on – they’re only here to bring back what Automnicon cares about, their property – but they decide to help her. Penne realises that they could’ve left after completing their actual job, and not put their lives at risk, but even though Automnicon might not care about her, Kilner and Samantha still do.

Kilner talks briefly about how she knows Penne, and how she was expecting her to pay off her debt and escape the clutches of Automnicon. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen someone fail to escape the clutches of Automnicon – back in season one, Jault had nearly paid off his debt, and was making plans for his new life, when it all came crashing down. It’s the inevitability of it, the realisation that nobody manages to escape Automnicon’s grasp. Penne’s job led her to her death. Kilner says she was one of the smartest people she knew, but she didn’t have enough protection to ensure that this dangerous job wouldn’t kill her.

Samantha points out at this point, with the realisation that Penne was sent here before them, that Kilner isn’t ‘indifferent’ like she normally is. Decades of working as an Automnicon employee have worn Kilner out – she points out that she’s tired, not indifferent. There’s much more bitterness than what we usually see, but there’s also resignation. This is just how things are, and Kilner knows very well that there’s no point fighting it. All they can try to do is make a bad situation a little bit better.

Penne directs Kilner and Samantha over the radio to her location, where they discover that she’s taken precautions to stop herself from spreading the virus even further. Their time with Penne is short, and the discussion quickly turns to her daughter, Elena. Penne talks about how she had Elena when they were studying, and how she has a brighter future than she ever did. Nothing immediately seems off, though Kilner initially doesn’t have much to say, even though she’s known Penne from exactly that time when they studying together. Elena’s only nineteen, and Penne’s worried about how she’s going to be all on her own. She asks Kilner to give her some letters she’s written, and Kilner agrees, promising to look after her. It’s when the mood lightens slightly with talk about Jault and his hybrid human-wasp-cow daughter that Kilner and Samantha have to go – Dax warns them of an incoming storm.

‘Don’t forget those letters’ are the last words we hear from Penne before Kilner and Samantha return to the Yellow Submarine; and it’s when they arrive back on the ship that we realise the significance of these words. Elena doesn’t exist. Kilner explains that Elena was created by the virus in order for it to spread further afield. It had that much of a control over Penne that she believed everything she said. The virus was that intelligent that it understood that Penne herself wasn’t going to be able to leave the planet, but that it could appeal to other repairmen, and through their sympathy for her, get aboard their ship. If another repairman had been assigned to that job, one who didn’t know Penne, the story would’ve had a very different ending.

One of the things that strikes me the most about this episode is the lack of comedic contrast that we so often see in other episodes. There are absurd situations like sentient popcorn, or episodes where Kilner and Samantha split up and one of their separate storylines provides the comedic relief in a dangerous situation, or there are regular characters like the well-meaning but ever so slightly clueless Jault, who gets himself into ridiculous situations where he needs Kilner’s help. There are a few funny lines here and there in the episode, but there’s no escaping just how bad everything is. The episode, however, does end on a slightly lighter note, reflecting that, regardless of what Kilner and Samantha have just been through, they have to carry on. In the following episode we see them on yet another mission for Automnicon, with a whole new threat they’ll have to deal with.

We Fix Space Junk is currently between seasons. Three full seasons, and two mini-seasons are currently available, with a third mini season due to be released next.

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