July 7, 2013

Starhunter, episode 12 "Goodbye, So Long"

NOTE: We're gonna take a brief break following this post. Noel had a sudden family medical emergency pop up, on top of another family medical emergency he's already dealing with, and his work schedule is all over the place as a result. It'll just take a week or two for the situation to settle, so we don't plan on being absent for very long.

We open on a video from Rudolpho, where he waxes about how friendship is more important than family.

On High-Node (at least I think that's what was said), a merchant bazaar station, a dealer named Marco chases off a few thugs who try to free him of a kaleidoscope which isn't for sale, and they move to the next stall to rough up a dealer named Ike, to guarantee he follows through on his end of an upcoming deal. When the thugs move off, Marco helps Ike up and it turns out they're business partners.

On the Tulip, Percy is tearing apart the air filtration system in Dante's room. Because it was jury-rigged together from an outdated ship, she needs new parts, and talks a reluctant Dante and Luc into veering the ship off to High-Node for a shopping spree. While Luc stays behind, Percy revels in being off the ship, and quickly finds Marco's stall, which is full of stuff she needs. Meanwhile, Dante's attention is caught by an insult from Ike, and the two are suddenly smiling and shaking hands. They're old friends from Dante's time as a colony corn farmer, and the two head off to reminisce over drinks. It's revealed Ike was Penny's old flame before she left him for Dante, and his grinning jabs at the other man die when he learns of the fate of her and Travis. He's in the midst of one of his business deals, of the type Dante knows all too well, and when Dante passes on the request to give him a ride, he understands and tells Dante that Penny chose the better man.

As Dante and Percy pack up to leave, Ike heads off to grab something from his ship... which suddenly explodes. Dante wants to clear out immediately, and begrudgingly agrees to give the now shipless and partnerless Marco a ride to the nearest port. After they take off, all they're able to learn from Marco is that Ike was constantly making deals, most behind Marco's back and leading to bad consequences.

In the galley, Luc gives Dante some words of comfort while he broods about Ike and how losing Penny sent the man spirally down the path he was on. While Percy is repairing the oxygen system in Dante's quarters, Marco quietly comes in, attaches a device to a panel that deactivates Caravaggio, then tries to flirt a bit with Percy. When he fails to get her full attention, he clocks her on the back of the head with a wrench, then drags her to a cell in the brig.

Returning to the bridge, Luc and Dante see another ship approaching on scanners, but neither Caravaggio nor Percy are responding to calls. Arming themselves, they split down the corridors to search. Marco gets a call from a Raider, saying he's ready for the next phase of the operation. Seeing Luc rounding a corner, he thwacks her on the head, too. Dante is the last to encounter Marco, who has him at gunpoint and leads him to the brig, where Luc and Percy are coming to with bruised skulls.

Marco lets the Raiders on board, telling them Ike most likely told Dante where the "package" is hidden. They drag Dante back to the bridge, where they hook him to electrodes and do their damnedest to shock him for info he doesn't have. They say they're looking for the Seeds, which will change the future for Raiders and settlers alike. When the Raiders decide to torture Percy to see if that'll make Dante talk, Marco suddenly guns them all down. He then cuts Dante free just as Luc and Percy, who hacked their way out of the cell and armed up, arrive. Marco refuses to tell them anything, so they stick him in a cell, and Percy figures out how to reactivate Caravaggio, who reveals they're on a fixed course to arrive in orbit around Dione, a moon of Saturn.

Roughing up Marco for answers, they learn the Seeds can be planted in the soil of any planet and rapidly alter that atmosphere to livable conditions. He doesn't know why the Raiders wanted them, nor who blew up Ike, just that Ike was selling the Seeds off behind his back. Returning to the bridge, Dante decides to see the trip to Dione through because Raider ships are quietly tailing them and he might be able to bluff his way into info about Travis. Looking up Dione, a den of the criminal underworld, the name Kouymdjan catches his eye as someone Ike had dealings with in the past. They can't find info on his specific location, so Luc sneaks away and uses her Orchard connections to root it out. She tells the others this info came by way of "research", but Percy doesn't believe it for a second. Meanwhile, Percy has found Marco's kaleidoscope.

Dante walks into a closed bar where he confronts the keep, Kouymdjan, but the man refuses to budge on anything. While they wait for Luc to bring Marco, in walks Ike, who faked his own death to keep the Raiders off his back until he could get a hold of the Seeds, with Kouymdjan being the broker between Ike and Marco, and their interested buyer. When Dante reveals the plan to use the Seeds to get his son, Ike goes into a raid leading to a standoff, which Kouymdjan joins when he hefts a shotgun. And Luc joins when she walks with in Marco at gunpoint. Shouting ensues. Kouymdjan shoots Ike. Dante shoots Kouymdjan. Marco tries to get the gun from Luc, but only gets a bullet to his chest.

The entire deal's gone south and the tailing Raiders are moving in, so Dante and Luc race back to the Tulip and they get the hell out of there. Dante broods about events and he and Luc debate whether or not the seeds were ever real.

Percy plays with the kaleidoscope, and amidst the distorted images, a vial filled with rolling fluid appears within.


While I was watching the episode, something struck me about Dante that... Well, it didn't make me like him, exactly, but I think that I now understand him a bit better as a character.

During the first conversation between Ike and Dante, we learn two things about the ever-reluctant bounty hunter - he was a farmer and he was a quiet type. That's when it clicked.

I have met people who are pretty calm, quiet, and not all that expressive. They're calm under pressure. They don't share feelings readily. They don't show strong emotions unless there is a really, really good reason. They're just wired that way.

I never really understood these types of people. I'm not always a sharer, but when I do share, I'm anything but subtle. And part of me can't help but feel wary of people who don't express their emotions as much as I would. It's not a rational response - and I suspect it has a lot to do with growing up around my emotionally withdrawn, passive-aggressive grandmother - but it would explain why I find Dante's underreactions so off-putting.

(Percy is a different story. Her under-reactions are tinged with cynicism and snark. I like cynicism and snark.)

This also give us another interpretation of Dante's character. Here's a guy who was a simple farmer, who never wanted anything more than a family and a peaceful life. We've known from the get-go that, for Dante, bounty hunting is simply means to an end - getting money and tracking down Travis. But being a bounty hunter requires him to be intimidating, cunning, ruthless - and that's not really something Dante is. So what we've seen throughout the show is Dante trying to fit the role, but not quite succeeding. Which would be why his emotions don't always ring quite true.

Now, I don't think that's what the writers were going for, but it's more interesting than seeing Dante as A Thing Where Charisma Goes To Die.

Another interesting aspect of this episode is Marcos's plan. I like how they foreshadow the fact that the seeds are hidden in the kaleidoscope - his insistence that it isn't for sale in the opening scene, the fact that he tries to get it when Luc drags him down to Dione. Clearly, this wasn't something the writers pulled out of their rears for the sake of having a twist ending. But that also means that there's part of the episode that just doesn't make sense. Why does Marco turn over the kaleidoscope to the Raiders the second they step on board the Tulip? Why let Raiders torture Dante and shoot them when they threaten to torture Percy. I would understand if he was trying to get rid of the Raiders and sell the seeds to another bidder, but there's no indication that there are any other bidders. Kouymdjan John only talks about making a deal with the Raiders, and why does Marco bother to send Tulip toward Dione if not to meet with Kouymdjan.

There's only one reason for the whole “Raiders board the Tulip” sequence - so Dante can find out about the space seeds. If it wasn't for that bit of exposition, the scene would have no impact on the plot whatsoever. Surely, there's a way to get that information to Dante without creating weird holes in Marco's plan.

Speaking of Raiders - as I said in the last post, I remain frustrated that we still don't have any clear idea as to what they even are. The last episode talked about Raiders being honorable... yet this episode has them threaten to torture an innocent girl. Hardly the action of honorable men - torturing an enemy for information is one thing, but threatening to hurt an innocent person isn't honorable at all. Also, in this episode, we find out that Raiders attack colonies not just to kidnap children - without ever explaining why else they would be attacking. To get supplies? To hurt whatever government exists in the Solar System? We don't really know.

As I said before - vague titbits of information only get you so far.

Finally, I should mention the guest stars in the episode. Questionable planning aside, I like Marco as a character - he makes for a compelling antagonist and, aside from the whole complimenting Luc part, he avoids the cliched “villain” acting. Ike is less compelling, but actor James Coombes does a decent job with the role he's given. We get hints of the more idealistic, more likable man Dante knew, the man he was before heartbreak, bitterness, and the weight of repeated failures and disappointments consumed him. When he shows up in the end, I hoped that the better angels of his nature would prevail - but I wasn't all that surprised when they don't.

All and all, I thought it was a decent episode. Better than an average Starhunter episode, but not by much.

A few closing notes:
  • I know Luc's opening speech can't possibly be implying what the writers want to think it's implying - but I didn't think it would be about card games.
  • I like the reference to the Billy Ray virus, and the fact it's actually prompted Percy to boost security. I like these sorts of continuity nods - they help to establish that events of past episodes have consequences without getting bogged down in details.
  • Oh, and may I just say that I love that the episode tries to discredit “stealing your significant other.” I've never had much patience for this trope, and was really worried that the episode was going to play it completely straight.


The story we get here is a pretty standard Hitchockian drama, complete with double crosses, double-double crosses, characters who aren't what they seem, someone coming back from the dead, and everything revolving around a MacGuffin that plays little role in the story beyond how it affects the ways the characters play off one another. It is a little overly cliched, with twists like Ike suddenly being alive again eliciting more of an eyeroll than a gasp of surprise, but it does play the old notes well, with Marco being a consistently curious character as I could never get a full read on him nor anticipate what side of the game he'd be playing on once he kept flipping from basically scene to scene, and the Seeds that everyone's chasing being largely held into the background so the story can remain more about the characters chasing the object than the full implications of what the object represents. So yeah, there's very little here that subverts or alters all the Hitchockian plotting cliches, but it does a dandy job applying them to the Starhunter universe.

Ike, while a bit blandly played by James Coombes, is especially intriguing as he gives us a nice window into the life Dante used to live. This is a guy who knew him as a corn farmer, not a bounty hunter, and who loved the woman who eventually fell into the arms of his best friend. Both Dante and Ike have fallen out of sorts, on opposite sides of the law, yet still in an equally grimier situation than the fields they grew up in. There's a nice bit where Ike is ribbing Dante about Penny, only to then be horrified when he learns the fate of the relationship he's been mocking. This is bookended by Dante's plea to help find his son, which rips from Ike the rage that this boy should have been his had Dante not taken Penny away. For all that he's moved on from that loss, he's never really let it go, and as the situation brings everyone down to increasingly primal clashes for control of said situation, the illusions of friendship are cast aside in favor of baring it all.

And we also get a furthering of the Raiders plot. Igor has had issues with the Raiders being this constantly altering things that are hard to get a full handle on, but that's actually what intrigues me the most about them. The Reavers were a very uniform threat because they were mindless. Raiders, on the other hand, are a community of individuals, which has been around for at least over 50 years. Not only will there be generational shifts in policies and desires, but conflicting factions arguing over what would be best for the group as a whole. And as we knew, the Raiders are spread out in pockets, only gathering together for a convention Gathering once every few years. It makes sense to me that they wouldn't just be basic Indian/Klingon/Reavers archetypes, and I like how the show has gradually uncovered them through a tidbit here and a nugget there. There's more going on with these people than initially believed, and one of the goals of the show appears to be a gradual reveal of exactly what that is. Which they continue through the revelation here that they - or at least a portion of they - are getting tired of nomadically scavenging the stars and want to settle down, and the Seeds are their key to doing it.

The Seeds, a substance that can cause a Genesis Wave chain reaction that'll rapidly terraform a planet, is an interesting new thread to add to the show, as it'll give whoever holds it about as much of a leg up on their competitors as the Divinity Cluster. I don't have much more to say about it as we don't get a whole lot more here - such is the true nature of MacGuffins, Pole Position - but I'm intrigued by the final moment of the show. Does it mean the Seeds are within the kaleidoscope, and thus in the possession of Percy? Or is that merely part of a treasure map leading to where we'll be able to find them? Either way, I really hope this isn't something that's dropped like so many potentially recurring guest stars have been and that we'll get to see this play out further.

Speaking of, we get some great little moments from our main cast. Dante is still laid-back to a fault, but delivers some great emotion as he gets drunk with an old friend he quickly loses, finds himself diving into the middle of a plot as he's trying to sort out what happened, and even goes through an admirably toned torture sequence. Percy gets to revel in being off the ship once again, and has some of the best lines, as always. Luc is surprisingly snarky, laughing in the face of danger, mockingly flirting with Marco when he complicates her hair, and being her typical badass self. There's also a great bit where she uses her Orchard connection to find out some info, which comes so out of the blue that it grabs Percy's attention and has her promise to keep a suspicious eye on her crewmate.

Now, all these compliments aside, I still can't call this a great episode. The big detractor here is the direction of Patrick Malakian, who's shoddy staging and camera work I called out in "Cell Game" for also keeping me from getting pulled into an otherwise well written episode. Here, things are so flat as to have little impact, with the Raiders getting on board having no more fanfare than when our heroes return from shopping, Ike's return having no dramatic punch, and the character bits delivered in bland two shots that drag. The actors are doing well, the material is there, but the direction is not only failing to emphasize it, it's failing to just plain sell it in general. This is flat, substandard work, and it's a crying shame a third of the season was in the hands of this talentless filmmaker.

Ultimately, I do like the episode. It's an engrossing little character thriller that explores Dante while opening up a whole new can of worms in the ever unfolding Raiders saga, but it's so poorly handled as to almost kill it, with so little enthusiasm behind the camera that it's hard to muster up the proper amount this episode should otherwise deserve.

A few stray thoughts:
  • Another Johnny Tsunami reference, though Tanya Allen slips the line a little, leaving it sound more like Johnny Toonami.
  • Like the little bit with Luc running into Caravaggio's new personality protocols, especially how she complains to Dante about Percy messing around only to find out the dude was in on it.
  • I hope they have really advanced head trauma treatment on board, because there's no way Percy and Luc should be walking away from such strong blows to their skulls without concussions and a potential bit of brain damage. Though I do love Percy showing off that she's bleeding.
  • Sadly, this is the one and only episode of the show written by Alan Zweig, who'd go on to make documentaries for Canadian television.

We'll be back a few Saturdays from now with another Starhunter adventure: "The Most Wanted Man".

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