I remember the first time I encountered the concept of parallel universes. I was seven years old and my next door neighbor showed me a comic book that just blew my seven-year-old brain away. At that point in my life I probably owned a total of 10 to 15 comic books, but my neighbor was a 12-year-old comic book fan (not a “collector”) who had hundreds of comic books lying about in boxes. On this particular day he showed me Justice League of America #55, and the cover of that particular comic book is one that I will never forget. As I said, I probably owned 10 to 15 comic books at that point in my life with the majority of them being issues of Batman or Detective Comics (starring Batman). I was also a fan of the 1960s Batman television series starring Adam West as Bruce “Batman” Wayne and Burt Ward Dick “Robin” Grayson. In other words, I liked Batman . . . a lot . . . which is probably why Justice League of America #55 had the effect on me that it did. I couldn’t stop staring at the central figure on the cover—a male superhero wearing a portmanteau costume that caused me to instantly name him “Bat-Robin”—a name conceived by a seven-year-old kid and that I continue to use to this day. It’s really not a very good costume design, but it wasn’t designed to appeal to the aesthetic standards of adults with educations in the liberal arts; it was designed to appeal to the aesthetic standards of ten-year-old boys—or, in my case, a seven-year-old boy. I loved the cape that was scalloped like Batman’s but colored yellow like Robin’s. I also loved the merging of the “R” logo of Robin that sported the black batwings of Batman’s traditional logo before the yellow oval had been introduced. However, I couldn’t properly process what I was looking at. Had Batman and Robin merged into one person? Did Batman alter his costume for some mysterious purpose? My neighbor had to explain the concept to me; this was the Robin of a parallel universe—a universe in which Bruce Wayne had retired as Batman and Dick Grayson had merged his Robin costume with Batman’s to honor the tradition of his mentor while maintaining the “Robin” moniker. A parallel universe? I quickly grasped that if such things existed, then that would mean there could be other versions of me on parallel Earths, and I went to school and told all of my second-grade classmates about it—but none of them cared. However, a sixth grader heard me talking about it, and after my classmates wandered off he told me that parallel universes are based on real science. He even referred to Hugh Everett by description (but not by name). I eventually wondered, but never discovered, how a sixth-grade student at Jackson Elementary School in Boise, Idaho knew about such things as “real physics and parallel universes.” However, due to an old comic book and another kid who I had never met before, I suddenly became a second-grade student who knew about such things as well—so I guess there’s my answer. The concept of parallel universes is like some sort of mystical knowledge that is passed down through the generations from one weird kid to another weird kid throughout the world and throughout time. Three and a half years later my family moved to Oregon when I was in the fifth grade—a move that tied me into “parallel universes” in three more ways. First, for an 11-year-old, moving from one city to another—from one state to another—is the same as having to suddenly leave the world he knew and move to a new world in which life was similar but different. Second, most kids at the age of 11—especially kids in a small city high up in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon—have made life-long friends and formed tight social cliques that strangers cannot easily crack. Thus, aside from one kid who became my closest friend in my new world, I turned to the “old friend” of comic books, which I had not read since I was eight because my mother threw away the few I had and my father forbid me from having more. I initially bought a few Batman titles at a drugstore. I would ride my bike there once a week and buy an issue or two that I would then hide in a drawer at home because I knew they were forbidden tomes of mystical lore that would be taken from me if they were found. However, they were eventually discovered, and nothing happened. I reveled in those tales of Batman and Green Lantern, but what I loved the most were the annual summer team ups of superheroes from two or more parallel universes. I loved to see the contrast between heroes who were similar but different—and a two-page cover by Neal Adams was a work of art that I would eventually study for hours once all the time was added together. Third, at the junior high school library I checked out books about professional football—and my book of revelation was a book about the history of the old American Football League of the 1960s. Most of the teams from the old AFL still existed, but the concept of an alternative professional football league that had slightly different rules from the NFL fascinated me. Even the referees were like something from a parallel universe with their red-and-white striped uniforms. My family moved across the country three more times when I was between the ages of 14 and 17, so close, life-long friendships extending back to childhood were never a possibility in my life, but each move—from Central Oregon to Cleveland, Ohio, from Ohio to San Francisco, from California to Kansas City—involved moving from one “world” to another that was similar but different. By the end of it all I had discovered alternative music (punk rock), alternative literature (Jack Kerouac and the Beats), and alternative worlds (science fiction stories of time travel and parallel universes). I was hooked as someone who always wanted an alternative to the mainstream . . . to the “normal” . . . and I began to see those alternate worlds everywhere I looked—including in prose stories, movies, and television shows that were not intentionally created to be about parallel universes and alternate time lines. In college I became fascinated by William Faulkner’s novel Absalom, Absalom! which I consider the greatest novel ever written. The initial fascination was how the novel weaves together various narratives from several characters who are each telling the story of Thomas Sutpen from their own perspectives, and how those narratives converge at times—including temporal convergences as the narrative of a character from several decades in the past who was a contemporary of Sutpen would be merged with the narrative of a character from the “present” who is contemplating the long-dead Sutpen. Various characters—various people—having various perspectives of the same event is like separate parallel universes. We are each of us the center of our own solipsistic universe, and some people live their entire lives solipsistically—never (or perhaps seldom) considering the rights or feelings of others, as if other people don’t matter. It goes beyond selfishness to the highest level of egotism. Such people view themselves (at least subconsciously) as the monotheistic god of their own unique universe. Other people will merge their universes to form a type of idealistic multiverse. Each still has his or her own unique perspective on shared events, but they are aware of the rights and feelings of others—and they find common ground that allows them to momentarily travel between their universes as they try to see an event from another person’s perspective. My Faulkner professor then showed me a short story that I quickly embraced—“Wash,” a third-person narrative that focuses on Wash Jones, the handyman on Sutpen’s plantation. He is also a secondary (but crucial) character in Absalom, Absalom! What fascinated me about this short story is that Faulkner wrote it before he wrote Absalom, Absalom! and it not only presents a different perspective on the events in Sutpen’s life, it presents alternative events. For my final project for that course I wrote a long research paper that explained (rather than argued) that “Wash” and Absalom, Absalom! present parallel universe versions of the life of each story’s respective Thomas Sutpen. Okay, so after 1,425 words, what does all this have to do with television and movies? What I did with Faulkner, I now do with TV series and films. I can’t help myself. I notice tiny incongruous details, and my mind immediately sees parallel universes and alternate time lines opening up as possibilities within the works. For instance, in my weekly reviews of BBC America’s The Musketeers, I am constantly noticing historical inaccuracies, as all of the primary characters in Alexandre Dumas’s D’Artagnan novels either existed in real life or are based on people who actually existed. Thus, I see parallel universes when Cardinal Richelieu dies in 1633 in the TV series even though the historical Cardinal Richelieu died in 1643 in real life, or when Queen Anne gives birth to an heir to the throne in the TV series in a year in which history has recorded her delivering a stillborn baby. However, the series in which I am having the most fun in noticing all of the “anomalies” is the FX Network’s The Americans. As I was writing my weekly review of episode 3.07 (“Walter Taffet,” I noticed something that I immediately wrote about in that review. I went off on a spontaneous tangent about “temporal anomalies,” but I cut all of that spontaneous tangent stuff from the final review, and I decided to use it here—for what could be more perfect than for my spontaneous comments about temporal anomalies in television shows to show up in my column titled Spontaneous Quixote? In writing my review of the “Walter Taffet” episode of The Americans, I ended up watching the episode a second time. I’m glad I did, as I picked up on two things that I didn’t notice the first time. One of the hallmarks of a good TV episode or movie is when subsequent viewings reveal aspects of the work that the viewer missed the first time—or perhaps missed the first ten times, in the case of some really superb works. For instance, I discovered that the temporal anomaly in the “Salang Pass” episode (3.05) was not due to The Americans taking place in a parallel universe—which is what I hypothesized in in my review of that episode: The title of this episode of The Americans (“Salang Pass”) seems to be a few weeks late. Three weeks earlier, in “Baggage” (3.02), we saw TV news reports of Leonid Brezhnev’s death—an event that occurred on November 10, 1982. However, the fire in the tunnel at Salang Pass in Afghanistan—which may have killed as many as 700 Soviet troops and up to 2000 of their Afghan allies—occurred a week earlier on November 3, 1982. Thus, I would have thought an episode titled “Salang Pass” might have been used a week before an episode that reported Brezhnev’s death. To further complicate the problem, there is a scene in this episode in which Philip is listening to a BBC radio broadcast about the Salang Pass tunnel fire—an “incident” that was caused by either a Mujahedeen attack or a Soviet Army accident (depending on which side of the story you believe). If that BBC broadcast was live, then it means this episode takes place one week before the episode that was shown three weeks earlier. However, there are other scenes in this episode that obviously occur after events in “Baggage.” Such temporal anomalies could only indicate one thing—The Americans takes place in a parallel universe in which Leonid Brezhnev died in October of 1982 rather than on November 10, 1982. Fortunately, “Walter Taffet” (the episode, not the character in the episode) gave me proof that the temporal anomaly was not a mistake and that my parallel universe theory is probably incorrect. “Walter Taffet” begins with Philip listening to a live BBC broadcast about American involvement in the Soviet Union’s war in Afghanistan. . . oh, wait, that’s not the proof I need. Oh yeah . . . in this episode, FBI agent Stan Beeman is heating a can of soup for his teenage son, Matthew. As Matthew waits for the soup to be ready, he looks at a paperback book on the kitchen counter that his father has apparently been reading—one of the volumes in the Tom Clancy’s Power Plays series titled Politika, written by Jerome Preisler: Thematically, that novel sort of ties into the concept of The Americans, as it’s about international espionage involving Russians and Americans. What’s more, the book comes with a mini-CD that contains a demo version of a Windows computer game called Tom Clancy’s Politika (even though Clancy didn’t write the novel). The miraculous aspect to this book, though, is that this episode of The Americans was set in either December 1982 or January 1983, but the novel wasn’t published until 1997. Apparently, Stan has been reading a novel from 14 years in the future! Additionally, Sony introduced full-size audio CDs only about two months earlier in October 1982, so it’s unlikely that either Matthew or Stan know what to do with that mini-CD-Rom disc that is packed with that book from the future. What’s more, in addition to Philip listening to live BBC broadcasts from the past and Stan reading novels from the future, there was also the episode in which Philip and Elizabeth navigated Frederick, Maryland in 1982 using a map from 2014. Thus, it’s all starting to come together—like when I realized William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying involves two characters who possess mental telepathy (Dewey Dell and Darl). I have suddenly realized The Americans is a science fiction series about strange temporal anomalies that the Russian KGB agents and the American FBI agents are attempting to manipulate for themselves and their respective homelands. It’s amazing this science fiction television series has been disguised as a Reagan-era Cold War espionage show for this long. If all my science fiction-loving friends on Facebook only knew about it, they would probably be watching The Americans, too. My sudden satori about what’s really going on has made me want to re-watch all of the episodes from previous seasons to see what other temporal clues were lying about in the background as Easter Eggs waiting for hawk-eyed viewers to find! Okay, I’m being facetious. It’s clear there isn’t enough money in the budget for the show to get an actual paperback book from 1982 to use as a prop in Stan’s kitchen. After all, such an antique would probably cost at least two dollars at a good used bookstore—perhaps three dollars if the volume was in pristine condition (which would be best since we wouldn’t want Stan to be reading a beat-up 1982 novel that looks like it’s already 33 years old in the year 1982). Actually, since the episodes are filmed in Brooklyn, the cost of a paperback book from 1982 might be as high as five dollars in a New York used bookstore. Admittedly, though, a 1982 map of Frederick, Maryland would be more difficult to locate. However, I live in Frederick, so if the producers of The Americans need me to try find an old local map, just send me an e-mail. I’d be happy to see what I can find at some of the local antique shops where former First Ladies of the United States have shopped when they were refurnishing the White House. Speaking of past episodes and old reviews of those past episodes, I mentioned in my review of “Born Again” (3.06) that Elizabeth took Paige to Anacostia—a ghetto area of Washington, DC—and that the exterior scenes had Brooklyn, New York filling in for Anacostia. I also mentioned that the street sign in the background of that scene with Elizabeth and Paige indicated that they were on 45th Street, and that there isn’t a street with that name in Anacostia. However, in “Walter Taffet,” Paige tells her dad that her mom took her to Kenilworth—a neighborhood that is close to Anacostia. Additionally, there actually is a 45th Street in Kenilworth, which then made me wonder if the street scene in “Born Again” might have been filmed in the real Kenilworth, which is near FedEx Field. I was at in that area last weekend for a swim meet at the sports complex adjacent to the Redskins’ facility at FedEx Field. From there, it’s a short drive to 45th Street in Kenilworth where Elizabeth and Paige were supposedly hanging back in 1983. However, the real 45th Street in the real Kenilworth is only three blocks long and it does not have any buildings that look like the buildings surrounding Elizabeth and Paige in their parallel version of Keniworth. Nowadays, Kenilworth doesn’t even look too much like the ghetto that it actually was back in the early 1980s. Instead, the residents in the Kenilworth Courts Housing Project now own their own units instead of the units being owned by the DC Housing Authority—though Kenilworth is still primarily an African-American community (and nearby Anacostia is still primarily a ghetto). Ah well, it was worth a shot. I’ve conducted the same type of “field trips” to literary locations in New Orleans when I lived in Louisiana, but it seems The Americans really is filmed exclusively in Brooklyn. Anyway, it’s fun noticing historical or physical inaccuracies in shows and coming up with parallel universe solutions to the problems they cause in the plots. Now imagine having that same ability—that same power—to come up with alternatives to your own life as you contemplate the decisions you made in your life that have led you to being the person you are now in the situation you are now in. One of the worlds I imagine is a parallel reality in which Tom Young never left Boise, never added an “h” to his first name, never added his middle initial “V” to his name to distinguish himself from a writer named “Thom Young” who lives in Texas, never retreated to the “friendship” of books and movies because he had life-long childhood friends, never became an English professor because he never retreated to the “friendship” of books and movies because he had life-long childhood friends, and never wrote this column that you may have finished reading but that a parallel universe version of you stopped reading two thousand words ago in favor of watching an episode of The Americans. Just remember, life is always greener on the other side of the fence, life is always flipped on the other side of the mirror, and life is always more interesting on the other side of the brane. Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related 3 Responses George March 21, 2015 That was a lot of fun – thanks! Log in to Reply Thom Young March 27, 2015 You’re welcome! 🙂 Log in to Reply The Americans 3.08 “Divestment” - Psycho Drive-In March 25, 2015 […] I certainly hope The Americans is renewed for a fourth season, as each episode continues to impress me more than the previous episode with just how excellent the series is in all aspects of its production (save for its props department using anachronistic books and maps that make it seem like the characters are getting these items from the …).* […] Log in to Reply Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.