Critiquing Cosmos - Episode 2

After a dazzling opening episode, I wondered if the rejuvenated Cosmos could retain its pace and clarity whilst delving more deeply into individual topics.  No such thoughts pester me tonight: episode two topped the first chapter in nearly every way.  If you stopped watching the show after tonight, that'd be okay - "Some of the Things That Molecules Do" will undoubtedly be its most important episode and it's one they knocked out of the park.  Let's take a look at some of the (soaring) highs and (minor) lows.

I loved...

Evolution is a fact: In front of science's largest audience in decades, Cosmos didn't balk.  It asserted scientists' virtually unanimous acceptance of evolution by natural selection and held the theory up with gravity as one of science's most fundamental tenants.  More than that, Tyson deemed natural selection science's most remarkable achievement - an impressive statement itself in a show ostensibly devoted to the wonders of physics and astronomy!

A creature's eye view: After asserting evolution's scientific primacy, Cosmos went on to succinctly depict and describe how one of life's most complex functions - sight - evolved through natural selection.  Never have I seen a clearer and more visceral depiction of the process of evolution in popular science.  The closing revelation that our sight has never recovered from our emergence from the sea strikes especially close to home for the countless of us wearing glasses everyday.

Life as dialects of a common language: What a romantic metaphor!  We're all familiar with the spread and diversity of language here on Earth.  A culture's language defines their being and enables their common expression.  Just like with evolution (contrary to many false claims) the emergence of a new language doesn't remove the old.  French, Italian, and Portuguese may flourish today, but their common root, Latin,  coexisted for centuries.  We may not speak it today, but it still informs languages throughout the Western world.

I liked...

Survival of the friendliest: Hard to deny that it's a pretty cute quote... But the whole domestication segment showed us a new perspective on man's best friend.  A truce turned partnership turned love affair demonstrated the principles of selection in an environment more comfortable than the frothing seas of early Earth.

The score: I'm a nerd for film scores and Alan Silvestri's shone through tonight.  Silvestri also scored Sagan's 1996 project Contact and the similarities are readily identifiable.  Less rousing than in last episode, the music was more dynamic to fit the many scales explored tonight.  A few cuts were a bit rough, but I'll chock that up to television's tight pace and editing.

From atoms to stars: It was a quick and ultimately meaningless statement, but I really liked finding out that there are as many atoms in a strand of my DNA as stars in the Milky Way.  No wonder our bodies have stymied science for as long as the whole of the Universe has!

I didn't like...

DNA strand comparison: It's not that I didn't like the idea of comparing species' DNA, but I thought the execution fell a bit flat.  Did you know that humans share most of their genetic code with the banana?  That's what I wanted to get out of this visual.  Instead, I couldn't really distinguish how similar or different the various organisms were.

Diving on Titan: Although Tyson didn't say or do anything strictly untrue here, I felt the whole segment stretched the truth just a bit too much.  Our best observations have only begun to shine light on the nature of Titan's surface and (possible) subsurface.  And, unlike last week, there was no gentle reminder of what was fact and what was conjecture.

 

2014's Cosmos keeps hearkening back to its 1980 parent, but I don't think it needs to.  This is a show confident in its message, firm in its direction, and lucid in its presentation.  Two weeks and two great episodes has me hankering for more!

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