July 27, 2013

Starhunter, episode 13 "The Most Wanted Man"

We open on a video of Rudolpho talking about risk and how he's not nearly as rich as people think he is.

In a bar on Mars, a group of heavies (we later learn they're Orchard agents) walk in, take up a perimeter, and chase away what few regulars are around. In walks Harman, a casually intense man, who meets the lead Orchard agent at a table for a drink. The agent goes into a spiel about how all of the requests are being met and Harman's security will be assured, but Harman interrupts him by saying he was supposed to meet with Darius (Luc's dad). The agent says Darius is tied up at a conference, and he's been entrusted to hold the negotiations. He wants to know the location of the "Rosetta stone". Harman smiles, lights a cigar, and says he himself is it. The agent is angered and his men move in, but a sudden pulse erupts in the room, knocking them all to the ground, unconscious. Harman nods to the bartender, then zips out of the door at the hyperspeed of one with an unlocked Divinity Cluster.

On the Tulip, Dante and Luc are frustrated they haven't been able to find Harman yet, as Rudolpho's breathing down their necks with debts he needs the bounty to pay off. There's sudden activity as a mysterious vessel appears on their scanners, which sends Luc off to her quarters (it's an Orchard ship piloted by the lead agent from the bar). Then Arielo, a slimeball with a grudge against Dante for sending his brother to lockup, appears in a ship laden with torpedoes and orders to repossess the Tulip. Which he'll let slide if Dante hands over Harman, who Dante doesn't have, which Arielo doesn't believe. Then a special forces cruiser from the Martian Federation shows up, demanding Dante turn over Harman or prepare to be boarded.

So Dante's left with two people who want something he doesn't have, Luc constantly zipping to her quarters without permission, Percy running off to engineering, and Caravaggio repeating the same phrase over and over again because he's stuck in a logical loop. Amidst all this, Luc talks the Orchard craft into running interference with Arielo and the Martian Federation ship, and Percy launches a jury-rigged probe to track Harman's position, then slams the engines into hyperdrive so they can rapidly escape and follow the signal.

They reach the asteroid belt, Percy literally unplugging the engine to bring it to a stop. They've got Harman cornered behind a large asteroid and play a waiting game, Percy sent off in a huff to continue doing whatever she can with the engines and powerless particle beam, and Dante confronting Luc about repeatedly abandoning the bridge during a crisis. Caravaggio has been fixed and accessed Harman's records, revealing he was an intelligence officer for special forces, with all sorts of vague allegations of crimes floating around. While working out a strategy to take care of Harman, they're struck by an asteroid, which depressurizes several corridors they aren't using, but also knocks the particle beam into charging up.

Luc slips away to her quarters again, contacting the Orchard ship, which is in range and reveals Harman was on a covert operation when he stole an artifact of extra terrestrial origin. Also arriving on the scene is Arielo, who's gunning for a fight despite this being outside his jurisdiction. Once he sees the highly charged particle beam, he quickly deflates and runs away.

Dante decides to take out the large asteroid with the particle beam, leaving Harman's shuttle swaying and vulnerable. They send out the beetles, dragging the shuttle into the docking bay, and Dante and Luc arm up and board. Harman uses his Cluster speed to get by, locking them in the shuttle as he heads for the bridge. Dante calls Percy, telling her to barricade the bridge. She instead grabs a gun and sets out to confront Harman on her own. He quickly takes her hostage. When Dante and Luc catch up, Harman agrees to let the girl go if they'll put him in touch with Darius. To her crewmates' surprise, Luc agrees to this and mentions the Cluster.

Harman Cluster-zips to the lookout, where he lights a cigar and casually addresses Luc and Dante who are coming up behind him. When Dante argues about wanting to know what's going on, Harman floors him with a pulse. After reassuring Luc, she takes Harman to her quarters, passing a pissed and betrayed Percy along the way. Luc puts him in touch with the Orchard agent and vouches for his safety by revealing she's Darius' daughter. Percy finds Dante just as he comes too, and Caravaggio tells them Luc and Harman are in the shuttle and heading towards the mystery vessel they keep spotting.

While the shuttle heads for the Orchard craft, it's intercepted by the Martian Federation ship. Harman tells Luc about how he was an intelligence contact for the Orchard, through Darius, and about the mission where he found a small disc covered with alien writing. He became obsessed with studying it, and one night it opened, exposing him to a substance which unlocked his Cluster and filled him with knowledge and an urge to run, not from men, but from the aliens who crafted the Cluster. He warns Luc that humanity is on the cusp of the Cluster activating their final stage of evolution, and everything they now know will be destroyed.

The Federation vessel suddenly veers away, the bounty for Harman having been paid twice over by an unknown party (aka the Orchard). The shuttle docks with the Orchard craft, then flies back. Dante meets Luc in the docking bay, saying he won't have anyone on his ship he can't trust. Warning sirens flare as the Orchard ship suddenly explodes from an electromagnetic pulse. Luc rushes back to her quarters, where she receives a transmission sent 4 minutes earlier. On it, the Orchard agent is floored by a pulse, and then Harman appears, saying he's done worrying about the future and dealing with those he can't trust.

When she returns to the bridge, Luc learns Dante and Percy had disabled her privacy mode and watched her receive the transmission.

Dante: "Who's Darius?"

Luc: "He's my father."

Dante: (glare) "I want you off my ship."

Cut to black.


Dante seems a little... off this week. I don't know if he's gellin' with some Dr. Sholl's inserts or what, but instead of being laid back and gloomy, he's suddenly become laid back and goofy, with Michael Pare slipping into whimsical deliveries and wakka wakka wisecracks, and bouncing deadpan lines off of Tanya Allen in bits of banter which feel improvised half the time. It's... odd. But not bad. In fact, it's quite charming and gives the character some bounce and life which nudges him out of his typical state of inertness. It doesn't particularly fit the character, and it's never explained with even Luc asking if he's become "possessed" or something, but it makes for a far more watchable and appealing Dante than we've had to date, and I for one want to see more of it.

As for the episode itself, it's full of surprises. The opening scene in the bar is a little clumsy, and instantly brought to mind last week's excursion into Cybercity, but once we're on the hero ship and Dante's being all goofy, I settled in. And then the episodes really kicked into gear as a repo vessel shows up wanting to swipe his bounty, then a special forces vessel shows up wanting to swipe his bounty, then a mystery ship which seems interested in his bounty, and all this for a bounty he doesn't even have! This is a great setup, showing a wild-west scenario where various factions are legally in the right for their claim on a bounty which doesn't exist, but they're butting heads in a way which could potentially lead to a "damn the rules" standoff. I almost expected them to pull a bit where everybody destroys each other and our heroes walk away whistling innocently, but they defied my expectations once again.

As with several past episodes, this A plot of the first half falls by the wayside as we move to the B plot of the second half. Here, we get Harman, who we're introduced to as he uses the superspeed we know comes from the Divinity Cluster. Instead of several of the past episodes where he just yanks the plot aside, we instead transition into it quite naturally as Dante keeps up the search for the bounty (Harman, of course) everyone has already accused him of having in the hopes it'll get him out of this mess, only for Harman's abilities to completely overwhelm him and those other forces from earlier on remaining in play. This right here is a strongly constructed script, and I'm curious to see more of Peter I. Horton's work as he gradually takes over the head writer (he continued in that capacity for season 2) reins from Nelu Ghiran.

On top of all of this is great character stuff as Luc is so left scrambling by every encounter to sneak back to her quarters and contact the secret Orchard vessel, that she's no longer able to keep her actions hidden from an increasingly suspicious Dante and Percy. It's great seeing everyone suddenly question their loyalties, and a believable twist that, when she makes the choice to help Harman instead of detain him, Dante and Luc break down the privacy of her quarters and spy on her secret communications. And instead of playing this out for another episode or two, they then directly reveal this to her in a confrontation that leaves us on the great cliffhanger of Dante wanting her off her ship.

Lord, I can't wait to see how this plays out next week! :D

This is such a deep contrast to last week's cinematic outing, and it's heartening to see the same crew of people really refining and evolving their skills into what's becoming a genuinely strong and intriguing show. The characters have hooked me to the point where I'm on pins and needles anticipating how the next chapter of their saga will unfold. The mystery of the Cluster and how it's set to explode humanity to a final stage of evolution it may not yet be ready for will eventually come to the forefront. I even love little background bits like Rudolpho being on the verge of going to debtors prison and having the Tulip hauled away from them, or Caravaggio hitting a logical quandary which snaps him into an infinite loop, or Percy continuing to be the most delightful person to have space adventures with as she frolics about in a huff to fix everything that doesn't work when it needs to, and absolutely fails to be a badass action hero when she's not supposed to be.

I really love this episode, and it's so good that I'm legitimately starting to love this show as a whole. It started on really bland, rocky ground, and I'm sure we still have stinkers of installment ready to stick to our shoes in future weeks, but every now and then all the cards combine to create the magical moments which make it all worthwhile.

Also, sweet heavenly scented candles was Cybercity awful. Thank you, Starhunter, for not being that.


Well, it's been a few weeks since I've watched an episode of Starhunter - I even got to skip the proto-Starhunter movie Noel had to suffer through - so I figure I might as well get back into the groove by talking about the same thing I mention in every Starhunter-related post - Dante's lack of charisma.

But I'm not going to harp on it this time. At least not the way I usually do.

In this episode, we keep seeing Percy and Luc pretty much ignoring Dante's orders and doing what they want, all while Dante completely fails to get them to listen to him, let alone follow any of his orders. It really shows why having a charismatic lead is important - charisma goes a long way toward getting people to listen to you. Ordering people around is one thing, but they lose effect when you don't have the presence to back it up.

But I can't say I really mind the lack of charisma in this episode. Not at all. Watching Dante flail impotently as his crew does its own thing is one of the most entertaining scenes in the entire series (so far). And since I'm pretty sure it's supposed to be amusing, I have to give props to the writers on this one.

As Noel said before, Dante is never going to be the kind of lead I want him to be. But as long as we're struck with the character we've got, the show might as well use his lack of charisma to do something entertaining. I hope we see more scenes like this in the future.

(But not too many. Pile it on too thickly and you move from "hilariously over his head" to "incompetent", and that wouldn't do the show any favors.)

Other than that, Michael Pare is actually in pretty decent form this episode. I've talked on and on about how Dante seems to only come alive when his family is at stake (be it Percy or Travis or the fading digital ghost of Penny), and while that hasn't happened this time (well, Percy is taken hostage, but that's pretty routine at this point), our intrepid captain seems to show more emotion, more investment in what's going on, and generally more personality than what you'd get in about half of the episodes we've seen. I've said before that I wish we would see more of this Dante, and it's appearance here is a pleasant surprise.

I also like Percy in this episode, her determination to track down Harman and her quiet exasperation with her uncle. She doesn't exactly mean to be abrasive, but she's running out of time and explaining what she's doing would take too long, dang it. And it's nice that, once she's finally able to tell Dante what's going on, he thanks her and compliments her skills. Sure, he's obviously frustrated with her, but he tries to be supportive of his niece, and that counts.

As for Luc... Far too often, I've seen TV shows where characters keep secrets long after the secrecy serves any useful purpose. It's not even limited to science fiction (I'm glaring at you, Revenge). I get why Luc wasn't upfront about her involvement with the Orchard at first, but since the show started, the crew of the Tulip has wound up the middle of several Orchard plots. Dante and Percy know the Orchard exists. They know Luc is connected to someone powerful. Finding out that she's involved with the Orchard won't be a shock.

Luc hasn't really had a good reason to keep her affiliation secret from the crew since... I would say since "Frozen". In that episode, her faith in the Orchard's good intentions was dealt a severe blow, and later episodes only undermined it further. In fact, if she revealed herself in "Frozen", telling Dante something along the lines of, "I thought they were doing good, but now that I see they've lied to me and ruined innocent lives, I'm not going to lie to you," I'm sure Dante would've been sympathetic. And we would have been spared several episodes where the Montanas fumbled along the edges of the truth without making a pretty obvious leap. And we certainly would've been spared the ridiculousness of this episode, where Luc's absences at critical moments are so ridiculously conspicuous that Dante would look like an idiot if he didn't confront her.

Luc keeping secrets from the rest of the crew has been bugging me for quite a while. Seeing how it's resolved makes the whole thing look even worse in retrospect.

(At this point, I feel compelled to mention that Claudette Roche's acting is pretty good this episode. Except for the part where Luc seems very pleased with Harman's compliments. She's never struck me as someone easily flattered.)

Speaking of Harman, I like him quite a bit. The way he responds to intimidation reminds me of Percy, except, unlike Percy, who seems to act the way she does because she doesn't want to give the antagonists the satisfaction of seeing her unsettled, Harman isn't intimidated because, with his power set, he really doesn't have to be. The knowledge from the alien artifact gives him the sort of perspective nobody else has, and seeing him frustrated that the rest of the world refuses to go along with what he clearly sees as the right thing is a nice touch. So is his very to-the-point way of dealing with enemies. He isn't cruel - when people get in the way, he simply knocks them out - and there's a nice, palatable sense of desperation as Harman gradually realizes that there's nothing he can do to prevent whatever bad thing is coming. We know he was a good man before his encounter with the alien artifact, and I get a sense that he's trying to be that person, even as the knowledge he carries forces him toward increasingly desperate measures.

I do have to wonder, what is the "end of everything" he keeps referring to. My first thought was that it's something like the finale of Strugatsky Brothers' Waves Put Out Wind - the entire society coming undone as it faces the emergence of a new breed of humanity which operates from a perspective they can't even begin to understand. Or maybe it's more along the lines of Warren Ellis' Supergod - empowered beings wrecking the world, not out of malice, but because they're settling their own agendas and regular humanity is beyond their concerns. Or maybe the aliens plan to come back and use the Divinity Cluster for their own purposes. Whatever the case may be, I'm kind of curious to see where it's going.

(But only kind of - with the show's budget being what it is, I'm not expecting anything too spectacular.)

All and all, I actually quite like the episode. It has some entertaining character interactions, an interesting villain, and the conclusion suggests that the dynamic between Luc and the rest of the crew may change in the future, which has potential. Though I admit part of me kind of dreads that the writers will just reset the relationships between the characters once the next episode is over, as that would just be boring.

Some closing notes:
  • In another "things I've been wondering about for a while" moment - who's Rudolpho talking to in the beginning of the episode? At first, I thought it was Dante. Then I thought it was a video diary type thing. But now, I'm starting to wonder if he is talking to someone else - and, if so, will we ever get to see him/her?
  • Back when we first learned how fast the Tulip could travel back during the "The Man Who Sold the World," I talked about how having the ship travel at full speed wouldn't be good for plot purposes. And here, we get some concrete reasons why they don't travel at 95% light speed - traveling this fast strains the engines. Though I do wonder why Dante is in such a rush to cut the engines. Reaching the edge of the Solar System would've taken eight hours - surely, that would give plenty of time for Percy to come up with a solution that doesn't involve literally pulling the plug.
  • I also can't help but notice the reference to Harman working on Callisto - the show's favorite tip-off for Divinity Cluster related shenanigans. I figured that would had something to do with his powers, and was surprised it turned out to be an incidental detail. Good job, show.

We'll be back next Saturday with another Starhunter adventure: "Half Dense Players".

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