April 20, 2013

Starhunter, episode 2 "Trust"





We open with a transmission from Rudolpho to an unknown party, as he rants about bounty hunters after having just dismissed Dante from his office. He ends by saying it all hinges on trust.

In a cargo hold on the Tulip, Caravaggio keeps score as an armored up Luc and Percy duel with staves. Just as Percy lands poorly and injures her arm, Dante bursts in, ripping into Luc for injuring his niece, and into both because he'd banned sparring on his ship. When he learns Percy had asked Luc for training for a tournament she'd entered, he flares up even more, saying Percy's betrayed his trust and confining her to her quarters.

Later, on the bridge, Percy has a cast on her arm and is fuming about her cancelled leave when they reach the station Mars Orbital 1. Rudolpho calls in, telling Dante he has a job lined up for him at the station (which they need the money from, for repairs). There's a pair of violent cousins who need transport to Mercury Correctional, a new fully-automated prison.

Dante and Luc suit up and arm up as they arrive at the station, only to find out that one of the cousins has gotten away. They take the remaining prisoner, the young and charismatic Jeremy McNaughton, and lock him in a holding cell on Tulip. Dante orders Percy to not make any contact with Jeremy, but when he and Luc are forced to return to the station when the cousin pops up, Percy's first action is to enter the holding area for some one-on-one time with the prisoner. He tries cautioning her from putting herself in trouble, but is amused when she keeps talking to him just because she's not supposed to. They go on about how he can read her desires and see her beauty, always backing off when he gets too direct... which pulls Percy in even more.

When she challenges his criminal record, he asks her if she believes the legal system of the colonies is fair. She agrees it's often corrupt, so he presses on about how his family has done awful things, and he's just been dragged into it as a scapegoat of the system. Caravaggio then interrupts, scolding Percy for ignoring orders. She silences him with a bit of reprogramming, which earns more flattering praise from Jeremy.

On Mars Orbital 1, Alistair McNaughton - a violent, brutish opposite of his handsome cousin - has gotten his hands on a gun, taken out most of the security staff, and is blowing away innocent people as he races through the corridors, Dante and Luc on his heels. When Luc stops to help the wounded, Dante presses on alone, nearly dying as he gets trapped in an airlock with a space-suited Alistair, wrestling with the man over the outer door controls. Luc shows up, turning the tide, and they get the maniacally chuckling prisoner locked in a separate cellroom from his cousin.

As they reach Mercury, Percy is instructed to keep the ship in the shadow of the planet so the sunlight doesn't put too much strain on the environmental controls. With Dante's arm in a sling, too, Percy tries to argue she should take his place in the transfer, but neither he nor Luc will hear of it.

Percy meet with Jeremy a final time, accepting his outstretched hand as he thanks her for listening and giving him her trust. He makes one final case for his innocence, but she won't let him out. She pulls out her holocorder, wanting to get a shot to remember him by. He wishes he had a way to remember her... so she gives him the holocorder.

Mercury Correctional is on the bright side of the planet, the harsh heat and radiation of the sunlight further making escape impossible. The only way to reach the station is a heavily shielded truck, which meets Dante's shuttle on the dark side of Mercury. Dante and Luc load their prisoners in and wait out the tense ride across the planet. Alistair starts his maniacal chuckling, joking the truck might not be as automated as Dante thinks. The hatch between segments opens and another man is there, with a gun pointed at Dante and Luc. When the McNaughtons relieve the bounty hunters of their weapons and take control of the truck, they reveal the third partner is just a hologram projected by Percy's holocorder. They toss Dante and Luc on the bright side of Mercury, then drive off to Dante's shuttle. The bounty hunters take what shelter they can behind rocks, but Luc's suit is torn, and Dante's attempt to patch it up is meaningless as the suits won't last long in such high radiation.

Back on the ship, Percy's venting out a fantasy with holograms of her uncle and Jeremy, when Caravaggio tells her the shuttle is returning prematurely. Opening a com, she sees Jeremy at the controls. He tells her there was an accident, that Luc is dead and her uncle is injured. Percy initially refuses to open the docking bay, but eventually gives in out of concern for her uncle's fate. When they meet, Jeremy greets Percy with a pistol whip to the face while his cousin chuckles maniacally. Shaking out of the daze, she plants a boot in Jeremy's kneecap and a fist in Alistair's balls, and takes off, quickly loosing them in the maze of Tulip's corridors.

Alistair goes to the bridge and starts hacking an override, cutting off Percy from weapons and limiting Caravaggio's ability to help her. So she decides to start digging into the veins of the ship and ripping out wires, cutting environmental cooling systems and breaking navigation, which exposes the ship to the sun and starts a ticking clock to everyone on board frying. Which Percy is willing to accept to stop these dirtbags, and even Caravaggio proudly accepts his fate when she's force to deactivate him.

On the planet, Dante and Luc are saved when the automated truck automatically returned to their position after the McNaughton's were done with it. They take it to a shuttle craft, which they ride back to the Tulip, putting together the situation based on the ship's inoperative systems. They blow the hatch of the docking bay to gain entry and meet up with Percy... only for the McNaughtons to get the drop on them. Dante and Luc hold them at bay in a locked standoff as Percy gets the ship turned back on, then she jumps the McNaughtons from behind, taking the two men down alongside her uncle. Which Luc credits to the lessons from her sparring.

The McNaughtons are delivered to the prison. Percy apologizes to Luc, then confronts her uncle, with them burying the hatchet as he admits he needs to trust her to make her own choices, even as she's learned to trust the caution of his experience.

In his cell at Mercury Correctional, Jeremy curls up on his metal bed, soaking in the misery of his looming eternity as the instructions of the prison computer are drowned out by his cousin's unending maniacal laughter in the next cell over.




Igor

In the last post’s comment section, Noel said that Starhunter would get better from here. I was pretty skeptical, but, to my surprise, he turned out to be right. While "Trust" is not without flaws, it’s still an improvement over what we were subjected to last week.

A lot of it has to do with context. When reviewing "Peer Pressure", Noel and I complained about characters making stupid decisions. Characters make bad decisions in "Trust", too, but they’re handled differently. Percy trusts Jeremy when she should have been more suspicious, but when it winds up backfiring on her, she redeems herself by putting up a pretty good fight with the resources she has. And while she never really apologized for crippling the Tulip during "Peer Pressure", she actually apologizes for her part in Jeremy and Alistair’s escape and everything that followed. That’s progress.

Last week, Dante got himself mind-manipulated because (to put it as charitably as possible) he was careless and naive. In "Trust", we see the villains use trickery to escape, but this time, it's a clever ruse and doesn't feel like something our heroes should have seen coming. After all, Dante and Luc couldn’t have possibly known that Jeremy was carrying a holographic projector.

Speaking of Dante, he comes off pretty unlikable in the beginning of this episode. Yes, Percy got injured, but when you're on a ship carrying bounty hunters, being able to defend yourself seems like a pretty useful skill. Him arguing childishly with Percy later in the episode doesn't help, but the fact that, toward the end, Dante is shown to be wrong - and he acknowledges that he's wrong - ensures that we won't continue disliking him by the time the episode ends.

It also helps that, at the end of the episode, Dante assures Percy that he isn't going to force her to stay on the ship if she doesn't want to. It's a pretty nice scene, with Dante sounding awkward and clearly nervous that Percy would actually leave, but determined to try to do right by her anyway. It's a wonderfully humanizing moment. If we get more scenes like this in subsequent episodes, I might actually start to like him.

In "Peer Pressure", Percy’s selfish decisions hurt the character for me. Thankfully, we don’t see much of that here. As I said earlier, I like the fact that she apologizes, and her attempt to (in her own way) reassure her uncle that she's staying is actually pretty touching. So is her apology to Caravaggio for having to shut him down (and sounding genuinely sorry as she does so).

I'm disappointed that Percy trusts Jeremy as easily as she does, as I figure he can't have been the first criminal who tried to charm her. On the other hand, I think he sounded convincing enough to make me initially wonder if he actually was innocent. I mean, there's never really a point where I trusted him completely, but after a while, I started to wonder if the episode was going to pull a twist and reveal that he isn’t manipulating Percy for his own ends. So I can’t really blame Percy - at least not completely.

Besides, this is another part where context matters. In the last episode, she trusted a cute prisoner and it didn’t come back to bite her. In this episode, it did. If Percy becomes more careful and less trusting, then at least we know she learns from her mistakes. If she doesn’t... Then it’s just going to make her look worse retroactively.

Speaking of Jeremy, I rather like him as a villain. Unlike Dr. Narsreen, he has some dimension and complexity. Not enough to completely set him apart from the Calculating Psychopath that seems to show up in every science fiction show, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Alistair, on the other hand, is pretty much a one-dimensional Cackling Psychopath cliché from start to finish. As the characters acknowledge in show, his laugh is pretty annoying, which doesn't really endear him to me any.

I don’t have much to say about Luc. She lives up to her Mace potential in this episode - she's confident, capable, and doesn't miss obvious clues that something is amiss. Granted, there aren't any painfully obvious clues to miss in this episode, but I still have to mention it. If I didn’t, this would be a sentence rather than a paragraph, and I couldn’t have that.

The episode is not without issues. The dialogue is better than in "Peer Pressure", but is still pretty cliché in a lot of places. After watching the episode twice, I still don’t quite understand what the deal is with rigging one of the shuttle bays with explosives. It's convenient for the plot, but seems rather hazardous. And at the end of the day, the plot is pretty predictable. Once I know Jeremy is exactly what he seems, there aren't many surprises.

That said, part of me wonders if my response isn’t what I’d call the LOL Effect - you expect something to be so terrible that, when it even slightly exceeds expectations, all the good parts wind up looking better and all the bad parts don’t seem as bad.

I guess I’ll have to see the next episode to find out.

(And I’m suddenly realizing that this the second time in the last two posts that I've referenced the obscure Miley Cyrus vehicle. This better not become a running gag.)

A few random observations about the Starhunter-verse based on this episode:
  • When Dante and Luc are chasing Alistair and exchanging gunfire, I couldn’t help but think of something I saw... I’m not sure if it was Cowboy Bebop or Babylon 5, but it involved one character explaining to another character why guns aren’t allowed on space stations. A bullet can puncture a space station hull, leading to decompression. We clearly hear bullets bouncing off surfaces, so I guess the space station is at least somewhat bulletproof, but to what extent?
  • Bounty hunters, by definition, are supposed to capture prisoners and deliver them to whichever law enforcement authority issued the bounty... But we haven’t actually seen our heroes do that. Instead, they seem to function as gloried couriers, picking up prisoners from Point A and delivering them to Point B. Does this mean that, in this verse, whatever organization handles law enforcement in the Solar System outsources prisoner transport to bounty hunters?
  • Speaking of which, who handles law enforcement in the Solar System, exactly? We haven’t seen any sort of police or military (interplanetary or otherwise) - just two guys in civilian clothes who turn Jeremy over to Dante in the beginning of the episode. The episode doesn’t really explain who they are. Station security? Private security? Agents for the Solar System version of Marshall Service? All we know is that they’re not bounty hunters.

I hope future episodes will fill in some of those gaps.




Noel

I very much agree with Igor that "Trust" is a huge step up from "Peer Pressure". The characters are more clearly defined, with their choices - both good and bad - feeling far more realistic, as well as having genuine consequence. When Percy decides to meet Jeremy face-to-face, despite being warned to keep her distance by her uncle, it rings true as a teen lashing out against what she see as adult oppression. Dante Montana just wants to keep the girl safe, but the overbearing way in which he does so is preventing her from having a chance to experience life and learn from mistakes or failure. This also rings true, because he faces death on a regular basis and knows the ultimate potential price for a situation gone wrong, so we're left with a genuine human conflict at the heart of a decent story. The scene where the two are on the bridge, both sporting future casts on their injured arms as they argue about independence versus security, brings the theme of the episode's title to center stage. As does their great reconciliation at the end. The reason Percy puts her trust in a criminal is because she's lost her trust in her uncle. And she's lost this trust because he doesn't trust her.

Yes, this is a very "by the numbers" way of playing the story out, and when it blows up in their faces - the criminal is (SURPRISE!) completely untrustworthy, and Percy and Dante Montana have to prove their trust for one another - everything plays out exactly as expected... but it's still done very well. Something being cliched doesn't equate it being bad as long as it's still executed nicely, and this episode is very nice, indeed. Playing into the central conflict, you have a great guest spot from Gideon Turner as Jeremy, who has a genuine charm and handsome charisma. While we as the audience can tell full well that he's playing Percy for a fool, it never feels false or forced the ways in which she gets drawn in and won over. As we established in the first episode, she's bored and has very little opportunity for socialization - especially with handsome young men. To her credit, she seemingly learned from the last incident as she doesn't set the guy loose and try to run away with him. She leaves him locked in the cage, only giving him the holoprojector as a gift, not his freedom. And when he shows up again on the shuttle craft, she doesn't let him in because it's him, but because she's concerned for the fate of her uncle, who may or may not be injured. She gets as much information as she can before taking the gamble she does, and it feels sincere when she casts that bet.

And then Percy steals the show even more as she goes all Die Hard on the crooks, sabotaging her own ship, the threat of a looming sun all set to fry the lot of them once the environmental controls fully shut down. They say she'll die too, and she says she doesn't care. For all she knows, all her friends and family are now dead and she's let killers get aboard, and she's willing to sacrifice herself to keep them from going free. A determination she makes even as she apologizes to Caravaggio for having to take him offline, which he bravely acquiesces to. Love that scene.

Tanya Allen has a very unusual acting style with Percy, and I'm starting to see why she was one of the few elements I clearly remembered from originally watching the series over a decade ago. Her delivery comes out in an almost flat, monotonic voice, which is contrasted by odd physical gestures and fidgets, and a face constantly refusing to settle on an expression as she keeps shifting through the emotional range. But these elements aren't overplayed, instead somewhat subtle, which plays them as authentic. It gives an odd life to the lines in the script, stilting some, but adding a unique delivery to others that give them more strength. She's a very curious character being played by a very intriguing actress, and I'm very much invested in seeing how she continues to play out.

I'm still conflicted over Dante Montana. Here, we get to see him firmly in his element, but he still doesn't feel like a captain. Luc does, and Dante Montana just feels like he's the person in charge because that's how the cards fell, not because it's a role he's actually earned. To bring up the Firefly comparison again, he feels more like Jayne than Captain Mal. He's the big grunt lumbering around the ship barking unnecessary orders, when he isn't headbutting people or shooting a gun. Part of this is probably due to Michael Pare's heavy voice, thick with a Brooklyn accent, but we also haven't really had a chance to learn about the guy as a man. We're two episodes into the series, and Percy has captured more focus than him in both. Luc is still the strong, dependable type who gets things done, but she falls victim to all the same deceptions he does, weakening her a bit from the last episode. I do think the two have a nice chemistry, though, with the characters making a great team while still frequently butting heads over procedure. I especially like the bit where they're stranded on the surface of a dead planet, her with a tear in her suit, and him applying as many layers of tape to it as he can while they wait for the sun to fry them.

On top of the sharper writing, the direction of this episode is also significantly better than it was the first time around. There's a natural flow to scene transitions instead of jerking from one bit to the next, and there's also a few great setpieces. The first being the space station, where Jeremy's violent cousin is gunning down random civilians (I was both surprised and impressed by the stark brutality of these moments) as he flees his captors. The second is the transfer across the night side of a planet, as the prisoners get the upper hand on Dante Montana and Luc, leaving them stranded in the sun until the automated transport drone returns to pick them up. I think you're onto something, Igor, in that much of the police system seems to have been privatized, with bounty hunters pulling off prisoner transport as well as capture. The two dudes on Mars Orbital 1 came off to be as the station's private security team. And we even have prisons that are fully automated, with even the processing of prisoners into the complex being done by pre-programmed drones. As far as I can tell, there wasn't a single human at Mercury Correctional, just computers keeping everything efficient and on schedule.

It's an interesting bit of world-building, and I'm curious to see how they continue to play it out. Questions are raised about a corrupt legal system, and if the whole thing has been privatized, there might be actual merit to that. And they seem to be making Rudolpho a primary background presence as they continue opening episodes with him, this time sending a message to someone else about Dante Montana. Who's he talking to? I don't know if we'll ever find out, but questions are being laid in that I'm hoping will be explored.

And that's important, because I finally get to say that this show has hooked me. With "Peer Pressure", I was worried we'd have another Pole Position on our hands if things didn't improve, but not only have they improved, they're actually laying in threads that make me actively want to come back for more.

So here's to the next 20 episodes. May they be more like the second and less like the first.

Extra thoughts:
  • I agree that Dante Montana having the port doors rigged to blow is a plot contrivance, especially when he says they'll close the hatch... after they blow it. Do they have a backup, secondary door for the entire docking area? On a ship that's heavily torn up on the outside? I can understand the necessity from a production point, as they already spent their money putting Dante Montana and Luc outside in suits on the planet, and couldn't afford to do it again, but just have a line where they say they'll need to open the door manually, then one of them slips on their helmet as we cut away to a scene on board the ship, and when we next see them, they're already inside. You don't need to show the simple solution in order to let it exist.
  • I like that we finally get a tight effect shot of the shuttle craft against the Tulip, which shows just how massive the ship really is. For a while, I'd been thinking Tulip was just the retrofitted upper decks of a ship that was once much larger and filled in the gaps between the two ragged booms that hang underneath it, but now I see that central section is more than big enough to house quite a few people.
  • Dramatically, I like Jeremy being left with no company beyond his cousin's laughter, but it makes no sense. The point of the prison is to keep prisoners in absolute isolation, which loses its effectiveness if the walls are thin enough or ventilation open enough that they can hear one another. This would allow the prisoners to communicate, even make plans, regardless of how unlikely one thinks an escape could be. And these two, being both relatives and partners, would be put at opposite sides of the building instead of right next to each other. Again, due to ability to communicate. Granted, some of this makes sense if we accept the theory of this being a privatized future where prison care is more about cost-effectiveness than thoroughness and efficiency.



We'll be back next Saturday with another Starhunter adventure: "Family Values".

7 comments:

Tony Williams said...

Not unlike the name “Dante Montana”, this show somehow manages to sound both great and awful at the same time. Given my well known passion for Canadian science fiction, I'm surprised that I'd never even heard of Starhunter before this Showcase, let alone seen an episode at some point.

I told Noel that I actually saw season 1 in the bargain bin at my local grocery store a few days ago for $4.99. I went back tonight with the intention of buying it so that I could better follow along with you guys, but someone had snagged it. Mayhaps you guys have another fan here in the greater Dayton, Ohio area! Anyway, gonna hit a different store (same chain) next time I go shopping and see if they have it. I can't promise that I'll watch every episode... or even most. Or truthfully even more than one. But worst case scenario I'll use the discs as drink coasters or projectile weapons.

Keep up the great work!

Strannik said...

Noel - great insights, as usual. I thought your thoughts on Tanya Allen's acting style for Percy were pretty dead on, and I agree that her performance manages to be compelling. It shouldn't work on paper, but somehow, it does.

I also think that you're definitely on to something with privatized law enforcement and corruption, and I'm interested to see how this will play out in the future episodes.

Your thoughts on Dante Montana are interesting... but I'm not quite sure I agree. I mean, I agree that Dante hasn't shown any leadership skills so far, but I don't find him that terribly Jane-like. Jane was a thug with delusions of grandeur. Dante is just a grumpy guy who isn't a people person and, well, has no leadership skills.

Tony - I'm surprised that you never came across Starhunter back when it aired. I mean, Dayton isn't as a big of a media market as Chicago or Twin Cities area, but it's not exactly the middle of nowhere.

Or maybe it's just that you're not a night owl.

As far as finding the set, I would up ordering mine online from Target. With the shipping charges, it cost a bit more than $4.99, but not by much. So, if further search of bargain bins doesn't yield the set, there's always that.

Like I said earlier, I'm glad that you're enjoying it. I hope that, somewhere down the line, you'll be able to resume Showcase. Well, sometime after Noel and I finish Starhunter. If nothing else, I want to at least finish this :)

Tony Williams said...

I'm surprised that you never came across Starhunter back when it aired...

...Or maybe it's just that you're not a night owl.


I watched a lot of questionable television back in those days; most of it late at night. It's possible SH just blurred together with "similar" shows like Andromeda, Lexx, Farscape, Wilford Brimley's Dance Party, etc.

Like I said earlier, I'm glad that you're enjoying it. I hope that, somewhere down the line, you'll be able to resume Showcase. Well, sometime after Noel and I finish Starhunter. If nothing else, I want to at least finish this :)

Thanks, Igor. I'm not so sure that the good citizens of Internetville (Pop. 4 billion) aren't better off without my weekly ramblings, but we'll see. In the meantime, I look forward to you and Noel completing this journey, and whatever may lie beyond :).

NoelCT said...

Hey! We finally got a bunch of comments on an epi-- Oh, it's just you guys. :P

Tony - Knowing you, you have heard if it, likely even saw half the run, you just completely forgot about it six weeks later. ;)

Good to know the show is flying off the shelves. I'll totally accept credit on behalf of Igor and myself for the world's newfound Starhunter fandom, and we hope you'll be able to score a copy some time amidst the buying spree.

Igor - Yeah, I was stretching it a bit with the Jayne reference. I didn't mean the comparison so much in terms of personality, but rather that Dante Montana feels more like a lunkheaded hired gun who's an underling to the captain than he does the captain himself. Jayne was the wrong label to use.

And as for Tanya Allen, I'm very curious to see how they develop her character to match that performance, because when you have someone approach a part with that unique of a style, it takes the writers a few episodes to catch on and start seeing what they can do with it. Mostly because the first half dozen or so scripts will typically be written before filming even begins, so they haven't seen it play out on screen yet.

Tony Williams said...

Knowing you, you have heard if it, likely even saw half the run, you just completely forgot about it six weeks later. ;)

Hey!!!...yeah, you're probably right. Heck, I could've been Vice President of the Central Ohio Starhunter Fan Club and I still wouldn't remember it.

Good to know the show is flying off the shelves. I'll totally accept credit on behalf of Igor and myself for the world's newfound Starhunter fandom,

Kidding aside, the timing of this was odd. When you guys announced this Showcase I knew that I'd seen the DVD super-cheap at a local grocery store ages ago. Sure enough the next time I went shopping, there it was (and you make jokes about my memory). Then once your reviews begin someone suddenly gets an itch to plunk down a Lincoln for an obscure Canadian sci-fi series that's been hanging on that rack next to Grizzly Adams goes Hawaiian for over a year? Hmmmmm.

NoelCT said...

Yeah, and it was only in the last two months that the second season suddenly disappeared from streaming at the DVD went out of print and shot up in price. It was running almost as cheap as the first, and I regret having not picked it up earlier.

Tony Williams said...

It's funny how something you can't give away suddenly becomes a hot commodity once you make it scarce. I'm thinking about trying this with my penis.