June 1, 2013

Starhunter, episode 8 "Past Lives"

We open with a video from Rudolpho, in the midst of a wild party, in which he admits he's never been married.

At a station in orbit around Saturn, a dude named Eric loses his latest bet at a gambling machine, and walks right in the arms of two thugs who remind him of the debts he owes. He's instead taken to a lab, where he finds out his debt has been bought off by an organization represented by a female doctor who injects him with a solution, then reveals everyone else she's injected has died with 48 hours and she's trying to figure out why. Eric feigns unconsciousness long enough to steal a gun from a guard and shoot another, and when the doctor tells him there's no antidote, he makes a run for it, getting past security and stealing a shuttle.

On the Tulip, our heroes arm up as they get details from Rudolpho on the escaped Eric, who's listed as a Janitor on the Saturn station, and is now wanted for murder and vehicular theft. As soon as his photo appears, Luc stops, recognizing Eric as her ex-husband. After some ribbing from an astonished Dante and Percy, Luc storms off the bridge. In her quarters, Luc rifles through a storage container, fishing out a jewel case with a wedding ring in it. She briefly flashes back to herself and Eric making love, then snaps the case shut. She then encounters the others again, Dante saying he has no opinion of her past as long as her loyalties are still with her crew, and Percy still teases.

Eric finds the co-ordinates of a Hyperion Medical outpost, but there's an asteroid field in the way, and it'll take him too long to take a long way around. He decides to plow straight through the debris, and the Tulip follows, but the rocks start knocking everyone around. The Tulip finally deploys four Beetles: automated drones that magnetically lock onto Eric's shuttle and steer it back towards the larger ship. Once the shuttle is in the Tulip's docking port, they turn tail and clear the field.

Eric comes to and is astonished to see Luc treating his wounds. But then he realizes he's in a cell, as as she steps out and the cage door is locked, she tells him she's a bounty hunter and storms off. Finding out the details of his bounty from Dante, Eric is amused by the charges, but says he's been injected with something that'll kill him if he can't find a treatment, and that his "murders" were self defense. Dante doesn't seem to buy it, but when he's back on the bridge, he looks into Eric's employment as a janitor and finds out that record is only a day old. And that the outpost has 4000 other janitors on record.

Luc goes to see Eric again, where he tries to plead his case. She wants to know how he went from a Special Ops pilot to a janitor, and he says he's never been a janitor. Though he does admit to his continued gambling problems. When Caravaggio suddenly scans Eric, Luc rushes to the bridge where she and Dante are told there is indeed a foreign agent in his body, and that he has 41 hours left.

Now believing Eric, they steer towards the Hyperion outpost, but their reactors are still heavily damaged and the trip will still take just a bit longer than they have. Dante sends Percy to do what she can to get the reactors back up and running, and she spends the next day ripping things apart and putting them together again.

Dante uses his VR linkup to see if Penny, herself a doctor, has any advice, but there's nothing she can do*. Caravaggio manages to synthesize a potential antidote, but the poison is so potent by this point that it overpowers the cure, and they don't have enough supplies to concoct something stronger.

[* Note: Dante also has a completely random flashback to when he carried his mortally wounded wife to the device she built and used it to write her consciousness onto the chip.]

Dante learns from Percy of a chip she'll need to speed up repairs, and he and Luc scour Eric's craft for it. Dante finds one, but it also activates the recording of Eric "gambling" with the asteroids, and he leaves Luc to soak in the memories this awakens.

Rudolpho is contacted by the Orchard, who wants to know why their delivery is behind schedule. He contacts Dante, but they're still stuck on impulse power.

Luc and Eric try to sort out what they can. It's not that she stopped loving him, she just never forgave him for giving up on her and his career after he was kicked out of Special Ops because of his gambling. But when they broke up, what he felt was relief, because he always felt he was holding Luc back. They eventually agree they both made mistakes, and probably still wouldn't work as a couple, but at least they're together now.

Dante quietly walks in, telling them the reactor has been repaired and they'll be able to reach the Hyperion outpost in four hours... but Eric has less than one hour left. Luc can't handle this news and flees. She distracts herself by looking back into Eric's records, finding out he was on the board of directors for an Orchard-controlled company affiliated with her father. Furious, she activates her secret communicator and sends a message promising to never forgive her father if he had anything to do with Eric's condition.

Eric has accepted his fate and asks Dante to help him to his shuttle so his remains will still be kept away from his captors. Luc catches up and initially refuses to let Eric go, but they share their final words and she's the one who helps him to the shuttle. As the others watch, he flies back into the asteroid field, but before a single rock touches him, he himself explodes, taking the entire shuttle with him, as the 48 hour countdown reaches its end.

Dante confronts Percy, worried she might feel guilty over how long it took her to repair the reactor, but she seems unfazed. He calls her out on it, and she admits nothing's bothered her since her parents were killed.

At the doors of the airlock where she last saw Eric, Luc stands alone.


Well now.

This week, we got the show’s first-ever truly Luc-centric episode - and it may actually be one of the strongest episodes thus far.

A lot of that comes down to characterization, as we get a good look at a slice of Luc’s past we never really suspected existed. Recaps tend to describe this episode as showing Luc’s “soft side,” but I don’t think that’s quite it. We have seen her softer side in her interactions with Percy and her protectiveness of the entire crew. But here we do get to see Luc the way we’ve never really seen her before - the Luc in love.

And in doing so, Starhunter manages to avoid a trap that many writers still fall into. It doesn’t happen nearly as often as it used to, but there are still times when, in order to show that a strong female character has a vulnerable side, they wind up undermining the things that made her strong and capable. We don’t get anything like that in “Past Lives.” We see Luc being tender and affectionate, we see her cry and lose her cool, but none of this undermines her strength, her competence and the determination that drives her to see through whatever mission she happens to be on.

In fact, it's this determination which is at the heart of the episode’s conflict. As Eric gets closer and closer to death, we see Luc struggle to come to grips with the fact that, no matter how hard she tries, there is absolutely nothing she can do. When she runs out of her room rather than stay with Eric until the end, it isn't the “right” reaction, but it's a very human reaction, which makes perfect sense for her character. And I loved that this struggle plays into the what originally drove Eric and Luc apart - her determination to fight for him clashing with his more passive, more resigned outlook. Luc’s anger at Eric for (as she saw it) giving up so easily seems like a big part of why she's so determined to keep going. And it makes for pretty compelling television.

Claudette Roche deserves a lot of credit for giving Luc a great deal of emotional range and making her reactions and emotions authentic and believable. Marc Duret deserves credit for matching Roche’s acting beat for beat. We might not know that much about what brought Eric and Luc together, but we can see why she cares about him. Duret also deserves credit for showing Eric’s gradual physical deterioration in a pretty believable way. The interactions between Luc and Eric are at the heart of this episode, and thanks to Roche’s and Duret’s acting, it's a strong, compelling heart.

I have to wonder where this leave Luc’s relationship with the Orchard. After telling her father that she’ll never forgive him if he was even remotely connected to events leading up to Eric’s death… I don’t see any reason why she would follow the Orchard’s orders now. Not unless she's forced to.

The other characters don't come off quite as well, but there are still some good moments - Dante and Percy teasing Luc in the beginning; Percy trying to, in her own way, support Luc. And it's interesting that, even though Percy’s reactions are, as usual, underplayed, we see her push herself to get the engine fixed.

Speaking of Percy, I'm surprised that the episode actually addresses Percy’s attitude and suggests that it's due to the trauma of her parents’ deaths. It'll be interesting to see if the show does something with this further down the line.

Unfortunately, the episode isn't without its weaknesses. For some reason, the show is suddenly planting Dante/Luc ship teases, and it could not come any less out of nowhere. And it didn’t help that, honestly, I don’t see it. At all. Dante and Luc don’t have any romantic chemistry. Mal and Zoe from Firefly had more chemistry - and, as that show was keen to remind us time and time again, there was nothing romantic between them. And this is another case where Dante’s dearth of charisma is undercutting the plot. It would work if Pare gave any indication that Dante is emotionally invested in what's going on with Luc, but… there are only intermittent flickers. At best.

Speaking of Dante... I understand him going to Penny for advice - she was a medical scientist - but the flashback to the creation of her digital ghost serves no real purpose. It doesn't show us anything we don't already know. It’sp ossible that the script is trying to make a connection between Dante losing his wife and Luc losing her husband, but that doesn't really come through.

And then, there's the matter of the Tulip moving at the speed of plot. “Siren’s Song” established it could travel at 93% of the speed of light at its fastest, and we’ve seen it travel from Jupiter to Pluto in the matter of a few hours. Throughout this whole episode, Eric is trying to get to a medical facility on Hyperion - which happens to be one Saturn’s moons. You know, the same planet where the space station on which Eric was injected is orbiting. I get that the Tulip is operating under capacity when its engine is damaged, but it should easily be able to make up for it once Percy fixes it. Especially when they have every incentive to travel as quickly as possible.

I’ve never been keen on writers selectively ignoring their own rules in order to make a plot work. I can make allowances every once in a while, but this feels especially egregious.

In the end, this is a strong episode, and its weaknesses aren’t quite enough to undermine it. But just barely.

Some closing observations:
  • So... how does Eric die, exactly? I originally thought he wanted to blow himself up so the Orchard can't study his remains, but then Caravaggio says the cause of the explosion is unknown. And given the injection is part of the Orchard’s efforts to unlock the Divinity Cluster... did they inject him with Eccleston’s exploding version of the Divinity Cluster? If so... I get why they’d want to use someone disposable, but what's the point, exactly? The Orchard scientist says they're interested in observing the subjects between injection and death, but nobody ever explained to what end.
  • Where do they find an asteroid field in Saturn’s orbit? I originally thought those were the rings, but Eric and Caravagio both clearly say “asteroid field.”
  • Remember how, in the last episode, I talked about how dropping Dr. Devon and Ryan off on Titan wouldn’t protect them from the Orchard? Well, we now know that Orchard has at least one facility orbiting the same planet as Titan. For all we know, they've already been captured, and Ryan is locked up on the same facility Eric escaped from.
  • And finally, given that we've already seen naked breasts on the show, I'm kind of amused that Luc and Eric’s love scene flashback is all soft-focused and perfectly suitable for prime time (the sex scenes from ABC’s Scandal are more explicit than this).


I pretty much agree with Igor on all fronts. This is one of the stronger episodes, anchored by a deeper exploration of the character of Luc, not so much in re-evaluating who she is, but revealing some bits of why she is who she is. She was a soldier who fell in love with another soldier, and while she kept brushing off his gambling addiction as an illness, the military didn't agree and finally kicked him out for his lack of self-control. They didn't break up because of this, but because he stopped trying. He gave in to his compulsions, fueling the gambling with odd jobs, instead of fighting for them as a couple, which led her to stop fighting, too. In a way, this is a story about addiction, about how Eric's ultimately been poisoned - he was literally targeted for experimentation because of massive debts he owed - through the very draining escape the tore his relationship apart. And his final gamble, that he'll be able to reach a medical station in time, ultimately doesn't pay off, either. But instead of losing the hand, he folds, going out in a bang so as to rob the demons who took advantage of his weakness.

Or something like that. :)

I'll be honest, I didn't initially find much difference between the character of Eric nor his portrayal by Marc Duret to be all that different from the first appearance of Etienne, and thought this would have been a much better finale for that character than the last episode we got, but it would have meant dropping the Luc angle, which is ultimately the strongest thing going on. I disagree with Igor in that I don't think Duret's performance is particularly great or memorable, but it is very well written and Claudette Roche more than holds up her end of the stick as Luc goes through a wealth of emotions that, as Igor said, make up for not being the right thing by being the honest thing. When she finds out all hope of rescuing Eric has been walled off, it's painful to see her very real reaction of breaking down and fleeing the room. When she and Dante are stripping Eric's ship for parts and a recording of his gambling starts to play, it's an awkward thing for us to hear, but something familiar and nostalgic for her, and I like how Dante just leaves her to keep soaking it in. Eric was a scoundrel, and she can never forgive him for some of the things he's done, but he was her scoundrel, dammit, and even a reminder of the addictions that tore them apart is a comforting reminder of the past.

As for the Orchard, yeah, I'm very curious to see where Luc's allegiances with the overlords now lie, and was actually surprised we never received a return message from her father. Granted, she kept trying to contact him the last time around with no luck, so maybe we'll have an episode coming up soon which reveals the reason for his absence (did the evil lady finally oust/overthrow him?). As for their experiments with the Cluster, I was really surprised when Eric exploded, revealing - or at least very strongly suggesting - that they are indeed trying to replicate Eccleston's work at unlocking genetic manipulation. And even more shocking is the revelation that Rudolpho is totally in the Orchard's pocket and has likely been intentionally sending our heroes on Cluster-related missions. And on a semi-related side note, Dante has the line "As they used to say: tell it to the judge." Does this mean there are no judges anymore? Does this mean there's no trials, no ability for someone to defend themselves? I'd really like to see this explored further.

Speaking of Dante, I agree with Igor that Pare is still running flat on the charisma gauge, but I still think he steps up nicely in the second half, particularly in his decision to help Eric escape his body's capture, or when he sits down for the tense discussion with Percy. And I like how Percy is handled here. She goes from ribbing Luc to awkwardly reaching out in a way that still comes off as ribbing, and then spends most of the episode in dead-pan comical skits of having to repair an entire engine in just a few hours. Even Caravaggio has a few nice little moments where his clinical analyses are softened by quiet apologies.

If anything really hurts the episode - entirely by coming completely out of left field - it's Dante revisiting the "ghost" of his wife and flashing back to the moment he held her dying body in his arms and plugged her brain up to the unit which downloaded her "essence" to the chip. This is all good stuff, but it has no place in this episode, and isn't even used to further explore the theme of encountering lost loved ones. This really needed to be more heavily integrated into things, or just plain entirely stripped out, and it would have made a lot more sense to stick this thread in the last episode in place of Etienne running around. I mean, that was the closest Dante's come in a while to finding out information about Travis, so it's something he would share with what remains of his wife, and it also ties into the theme of that episode of people clinging to the spectres of their memories. Here, it just wanders the story down an odd road before forgetting why it's there and ultimately never bothers to justify itself.

Overall, though, this is still a good episode. The guest cast and direction are still pretty much par for the course, but the writing is far more consistent and cohesive than what we typically get, and it's anchored on one hell of a great performance from Claudette Roche. Definitely one of the strong ones.

Some additional thoughts:
  • As to why the ship is moving at such a slow speed, that actually makes sense if you take into account the continuity of the previous episode, where the Tulip suffered quite a bit of damage and had their systems shorted out when attacked by the Raiders. This is why they're still in orbit around Saturn and why Percy has so much work she needs to do in order to get all but the lowest setting of the reactor working again. Also, even though they're in orbit around Saturn doesn't mean a trip to one of its moons is a quick hop and a skip even on impulse power, because not all of the moons are next to one another. If the moon is on the opposite side of the planet, that could take a while to reach given how massive of a planet Saturn is. And finally, this continuity further lines up because Dante is giving the locks on the cells (which were shorted out last episode) a final inspection.
  • As to the asteroid field, yeah, that's entirely random and should absolutely just be one of Saturn's rings. I have no clue why they'd call it what they do.
  • Rudolpho has never been married? I could swear he mentioned a series of past wives in one of this earlier vids. Huh. I could always go back and check... but that would require watching all of his vids again. ;P
  • Peter Campbell never wrote another episode of the show again, and only has one other writing credit in the form of a TV movie thriller. Shame, as he shows some good skill here.

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

No comments: