May 26, 2013

Starhunter, episode 7 "Frozen"

In an opening vid, Rudolpho reminisces about his father.

After waking up from a nightmare, Dr. Devon is being told he's no longer allowed to have access to his teenage son, Ryan, at this medical facility. After politely signing a waiver, he ducks down a corridor, dons a biohazard suit, and slips into the room where Ryan is being held. He's forced to kill a technician in order to free the boy, who has scars on his temples and doesn't remember his father.

On the Tulip, conman and thief Etienne is once again the latest bounty. He flirts with an uninterested Luc while Dante locks him in a cell. Caravaggio chimes in that a small transport craft has been detected, with a swarm of Raiders on its tail. When they race to the bridge, Etienne pulls out a false tooth with some circuitry that he uses to short out the lock and slip away. On the bridge, Caravaggio detects yet another mystery craft trailing the rest, but it quickly ducks behind Titan when a sudden spike of electromagnetic energy is detected on the shuttle.

Devon and Ryan are on the shuttle, broadcasting a distress signal and trying to make it to the fortified Titan before the Raiders catch up. Ryan falls asleep, which distresses Devon, and Devon's late wife is suddenly there. They talk about their son's powers and his current inability to control it.

Percy enters the holding deck to repair the lock, but she's confronted by Etienne. He doesn't make any aggressive moves towards her, instead politely asking for her help, but she still fend him off with a stick and Dante's suddenly there with a gun in his face. When he's shoved in the other cell, Etienne says he was just looking for booze and has the hots for Luc.

Returning to the bridge, Dante pulls the shuttle into the docking bay, and when he and Luc go down to investigate, they meet Devon, holding an unconscious Ryan in his arms and asking for help.

The Raiders quickly swarm their ships around the Tulip, but hold their fire. The commander hails them, saying all they want is the boy. Dante says he'll only let go of Ryan if he can get information about his own son, Travis, in return. The Raider commander agrees to make some calls, and Dante calms Luc by admitting this is just a bluff to buy time, but also an opportunity he may never again be able to exploit.

Luc checks on Devon and the sleeping Ryan, and learns the boy was born with a congenital brain disorder. Devon, a specialist in pediatrics, developed a cocktail of electromagnetic and gene therapy to cure the condition. It worked, but had the further effect of allowing the boy to subconsciously tap into the minds of the people around him, causing them to see visions of people from their own memories. Others quickly picked up on Ryan's abilities and stole him from Devon, hoping to increase and harness those powers for their own gain. These others are the Orchard, which gets a muffled reaction from Luc. Returning to her quarters, she tries to contact her father to find out what the Orchard intends her to do with the boy.

As Ryan continues to sleep, the rest of the crew experiences hallucinations - Luc sees her mother, Etienne a seductive Luc, Dante hears his son, and Percy talks to... herself - but Devon fills everyone in and they're able to push through the visions. When Dante confronts him about the Raiders, Devon reveals the man he killed was a Raider who infiltrated the Orchard complex, so they're fully aware of the boy's abilities. Dante sticks Devon in a cell as a precautionary measure (Percy fixed the lock), and Etienne uses his tooth to slip out of the other one again.

The Raiders attack, disabling the Tulip's defenses and systems. A hail from the commander tells Dante to forget about his son "because he's certainly forgotten about you", and that they should prepare to be boarded. While everyone arms up, Percy takes Ryan to her quarters for safekeeping... only to find Etienne there, broadcasting a message to some outside source.

Dante, Luc, and Devon are at the docking port, armed to the teeth, and manage to fight off the first wave of Raiders with Devon just taking a bullet to the arm. The commander, while badly injured, is still alive and taken into custody. They're joined by Percy and Etienne to fight off the next wave, but just as the doors open, Ryan is suddenly free from Percy and walking onto the Raider craft, which takes off. The whole swarm flies away, letting the Tulip go free. When they look into the corner were Ryan was hiding, they find he's still there, that the person who boarded the ship was just an illusion he consciously created.

Etienne finally corners Luc, revealing he's a courier for the Orchard and passes along her latest instructions. When he says letting the boy go will be a problem, she pulls a gun on him, saying the Orchard has lost this round and should accept it. He's dropped on Ganymede, and Devon and Ryan are dropped on Titan, where they'll be free to start a new life together.

In a cell, the captured Raider commander is dying from the bullets in his chest. He says he remembers his mother, even though he isn't supposed to. Luc tries to take the moment to tell Dante about the Cluster, but he has too many things on his mind and ducks away.


This is one of those unexpected episodes that's so jam-packed with plot threads - some new, some recurring - that I'm not entirely sure where to begin.

Why not with a thread I didn't like: that of Etienne. Igor and I disagreed about the quality of his appearance in "Family Values", with me finding him a charming scoundrel who makes for an appealing recurring thorn in Dante and Luc's side. There, he fit, as he was the distraction to a broader story that swept in, broke his heart, and challenged him to step up and help save the day. Here, they kinda try that again, but it's all wrong and I hate every bit of it. First off, he's no longer appealing. Etienne's lines, as scripted, are still those of the flamboyant thief we met the last time around, but Phillipe Simon's performance and the way he's dressed, shot, and directed have suddenly taken a creepy, sinister turn which suddenly plays the largely harmless conman as though he's a malicious presence out to screw his captors over. Which doesn't fit the character as written at all, leaving him this frustratingly disjointed thing shoe-horned into a story that he in no way contributes to. Him stepping up alongside our heroes when they're attacked by Raiders doesn't change anything. Him slipping out of his cell, twice, doesn't change anything. His encounters with all the characters, and hallucinatory fantasies about Luc, don't change anything. And the big revelation at the end that he's on an undercover mission for the Orchard not only doesn't affect anything, but doesn't make a lick of sense as to why he keeps slipping out of his cell and acting like a creep. His entire presence in this episode confuses me and makes my brain hurt.

On a more mixed note, you have Dr. Devon and his son Ryan, which is a decent enough plot thread, if a little flat and anchored on two people who aren't particularly great actors - especially Matthew Crabbe as Ryan. The setup is great, as it gets deep into the government experiments of this 'verse, and even sets up the Orchard as something even Luc doesn't know if she should keep putting her faith in... but there's some issues. I like the idea of the hallucinations, and how they're forcing our cast to confront people from their pasts when they should be focusing on the crisis at hand, but it feels like the writers ran out of room to really do anything with them. Dante and Luc realize what they're experiencing and are able to largely shrug it off without any problem, instead of being driven deep into distraction like Devon is. And remember the computer board that has Dante's wife imprinted on it? Talk about missed opportunity, as this would've been a great episode to bring it up again, given all the themes of ghosts and confronting the past. And they never explain why this power is something so highly prized by all the parties trying to get their hands on Ryan. He's not pulling specific bits of data out of minds, so it's not like he can rip out and spill secret information, and again, the hallucinations barely distract our main cast, so it's not like that would turn the tide on the battlefield. And what exactly happened there at the end? Did the Raiders think they made off with the boy when the hallucinatory copy of him boarded their ship? If so, why didn't they immediately turn back when he woke up, because that's typically what makes the hallucinations go away, no?

And why does Percy hallucinate herself? No, really? Why?

The real heart of this episode is Dante once again confronting the Raiders, and this is the stuff I really love. I like the Raiders' strategy, of swarming a craft to establish control and see if it'll surrender. Then batter it in waves. Then steadily board and assault the interior, one shuttle at a time, until they get what they want. Not only is this beneficial to the show from a budgetary standpoint, as they only need to have a single squad board at a time, but it shows the Raiders to be methodical strategists instead of reckless pirates. I also like the righteous justification in their use of the word "liberated" to describe the boys they kidnap, contrasted by the dying Raider at the end saying he still remembers his mother, even though he was promised he'd forget.

If this section is missing anything, it's as a result of the regular victim of our criticisms: Dante Montana. I like the strategy - using Ryan as leverage to find out information about his own son, even though it's a bluff and he has absolutely no intention of selling out the boy - because this is the first opportunity he's had in a long time and he doesn't know if he'll get another any time soon. The problem is that Michael Pare's Dante still lacks passion. His discussing of terms with the Raider have no more emotional weight behind them than when he gets a call from Rudolpho, which significantly undercuts just how big of a moment this is for him. That said, I like the intriguing question of what the Raider found out about Travis which suddenly brought their negotiations to an end.

This should be a good episode, as the Raiders and Ryan plot threads have strong hooks and some interesting ideas, yet both are undercut by odd choices and missed opportunities. And then there's the Etienne plot, which is just absolute rubbish and a big disappointment given how much I was looking forward to seeing his character again. On top of these, the direction feels significantly flatter than usual, with editing drawing out long pauses between lines and a lack of background music which leaves stretches of it almost as dull as the useless filler of the last episode.

I can see that this series is trying and that it does have some clever stuff to offer, which I appreciate, but it keeps stumbling over amateurish execution and sloppy storytelling which keeps even its strongest moments from being able to lift against the drag of the shortcomings surrounding them.

Some additional thoughts:
  • As much as I've disliked Rudolpho's opening videos, I'm glad we finally have one which plays straight and fits the morose tone of the episode.
  • I like the little moment where Luc is about to tell Dante about the Cluster, and hope we actually get to see that conversation soon instead of having them draw out that delay over the full season.
  • I didn't pick up on it until now that the opening credit sequence monologue, amidst the exposition about Travis, actually makes reference to the Divinity Cluster: "As I search, there are signs that something is happening, that humanity's about to change." This shows that it definitely is a key thread in the series as a whole, making me even more curious to see how it'll play out.


Like Noel in the last recap, I find myself struggling to think of what to say, since he covered a lot of what I was going to talk about pretty damn well. But, as a Soviet expression goes, hard work and patience overcomes everything, so I'll try to add something anyway.

Last time he appeared on the show, I found Etienne more annoying then anything. In theory, the darker Etienne we see in this episode makes sense - he did lose his partner in "Family Values" - but the way it plays out doesn't really jell with the character we met earlier. Sure, grief could make him more morose and cynical, but it wouldn't make him into this menacing creeper person. At the end of the episode, we find out some (if not all) of it is an act, but it doesn't really help. Why would Etienne act like this? What purpose does it serve? Yes, he had to keep his cover, but how does spinning the story about his heterosexual exploits and creeping Percy out help in any way?

At the end of the day, Etienne doesn't really have to be there. His only real impact on the plot is giving Luc a message from her father, but any random Bounty of the Week could have filled that role just as easily. Especially since, given the way Etienne is depicted in this episode, he could have just as easily been a different character.

I like the main plot with Dr. Devon and Ryan better, though I have to agree with Noel that, because of Pare's performance, many scenes don't have nearly as much emotional impact as they should. I've commented in the past that Dante only seems to show emotional involvement when his family is at stake (be it Travis or Percy). That was certainly the case in "Family Values", where Dante seemed to come alive the way he never quite did before, but not so much in "Frozen". I don't know if this is Pere not feeling like trying too hard in this episode, bad direction, or editors choosing the worst takes, but I hope they'll fix it in later Raiders-related episodes.

I did like that Dr. Devon's conflict mirrors Dante. The guilt over the failure to save his son when it mattered, obsessive desire to make up for it... he even has a dead wife hanging around in a ghost-like state. I wish the episode would have done more with that angle, given Dante and Dr. Devon an opportunity to bond over their shared experiences more. Certainly would have been a better use of episode's time than all the Etienne scenes.

Poor Ryan, unfortunately, remains a cipher, more of a walking plot device than a character. I think the episode would be stronger if we caught glimpses of his personality, even just a little bit. It would raise the emotional stakes and, heck, it's always nice to see Percy bond with other people.

As for why so many people are after Ryan... I get why the Orchard wants to keep him. His powers may not be terribly useful or easy to control, but that's not the point. The Orchard is trying to unlock the secrets of the Divinity Cluster, so it would make sense that they would want to study anybody who shows any sort of psychic potential. But what I'm wondering is why the Raiders would want him. We don't really know much of anything about their ideology and belief system, except that they used to be members of the military and they kidnap children to replenish their ranks. What are their long-term goals? And how does having a psychic child fit into them? How much, if anything, do they know about the Divinity Cluster?

Come to think of it, the Raiders are former members of the military, and we know they've been around for at least two decades. Were any of them around long enough to have fought on Callisto? Could any of them have come across Dr. Novak's notes? Or, at least, heard something about what he was doing?

Hopefully, we'll see those questions addressed in later episodes.

I'm also intrigued about Luc's character development in this episode. One thing the show hasn't really established is just how loyal she is to the Orchard. We've seen her make reports and followed some orders, sure, but I've always wondered just how committed she is to its goals. In this episode, we find out that she puts ethics above the Orchard's orders without hesitation. Luc doesn't have to face the consequences of her disobedience this time, but this surely wouldn't be the only time the Orchard will ask her to do something unethical.

I think it might have been more interesting had Luc been more conflicted about disobeying the Orchard. On the other hand, the series has established her as someone who is strong-willed and determined, so her reaction does fit.

And speaking of consequences, like Noel, I have to wonder what exactly stropped the Raiders from coming back for Ryan the second they realize the Ryan they have is an illusion. They do say Titan is pretty well-fortified, but given it would take the Tulip a few hours to get there, they could have intercepted it mid-flight. And even if you ignore the Raiders, what about the Orchard? Surely they'll want Ryan back. And while Etienne backs off after Luc points a gun a him, what's to stop other Orchard agents from trying to track Ryan down? For all our heroes know, Etienne could have told his superiors that Ryan got away and they put all the agents on all the planets and moons on alert. Surely the Orchard has the agents on Titan, and a bald boy with scars on his temples is going to stand out.

Ultimately, my feelings about the episode echo Noel's - it had the potential to be a strong episode, if it weren't for all the things that undermine its strengths.

Some stray observations
  • Billy, Percy's guilty pleasure introduced in "Siren's Song", makes a reappearance in this episode. I always like when shows reuse details like that. It helps to immerse us in the show's world and it adds character consistency.
  • What sort of weapons does the Tulip have, anyway? Dante talks about countermeasures, but we never see them used. Being a cruise liner, it probably isn't armed to the teeth, and I could see it being outmatched by the Raiders, but it would've been nice to see them try something.
  • At the end of the episode, did we see Luc seriously consider what it would be like if Etienne "switched teams?" It's only for a brief moment, but... come on, Luc, I expect better of you.

We'll be back next Saturday with another Starhunter adventure: "Past Lives".


NoelCT said...

Igor, we actually have seen the Tulip's defenses. In "Siren's Song", they have an electromagnetic pulse which can short out the systems of other ships (which the Raiders also have and use against them here) as they use it on the yacht hijacked by Pretrakist. And in "The Divinity Cluster", they have the external cannon which they use to take out the defense drones.

Strannik said...


Right you are. No idea how I forgot about that.