August 3, 2013

Starhunter, episode 14 "Half-Dense Players"

We open with a video where Rudolph waxes on about destiny and stuff.

On a station, Darius has been summoned to see an oddly disfigured corpse, which, he tells the Orchard scientists, does tie into their research in multidimensional warping of time and space. They reveal that DNA on the body ties to celebrity artist Andrea Arquette, who we flash to as she furiously paints the Great Red Spot of Jupiter.

On the Tulip, Dante and Percy get a broadcast from Rudolpho, instructing them to transport Andrea to Ganymede for questioning, and that they aren't allowed to kick Luc off the ship. Percy's pissed, but Dante goes to coldly tell Luc she's staying and to suit up for the mission. Shortly after, Luc gets a call from her father, telling her the murder implicating Andrea has ties to the Divinity Cluster, and that an Orchard ship will intercept the transport in Ganymede orbit.

They pick Andrea up at a station orbiting Jupiter where - despite loud protests from her agent - she comes along peacefully. Percy is a fan of Andrea's art and dotes on her by setting up a secured guest room instead of a cell. Despite giving her grief for this, Dante is a little smitten and awkward around the beautiful artist, finding any excuse he can to drop by. As she continues painting the Great Red Spot, she explains how she became obsessed with the formation after spending so long staring at it from her station room that her perception of reality started to distort and gave her access to new planes. The night the man died, she had a bout of distortion, then found him on the floor, missing his legs and an arm. When she felt for them, they were still there, just invisible.

Percy and Caravaggio discover a mysterious ion trail mirroring their trajectory. She begins to suspect this means a ship with previously unknown cloaking technology is following them, whereas he just thinks it's a software issue as nothing else shows up on any of the sensors. Percy launches a few probes, confirming that it is in fact a ship, a massive thing of unknown design, made of minerals dating back three million years. Luc contacts her father, who says that's the same age as recovered artifacts from the alien civilization that gave us the Cluster.

Percy sends another probe, but it's destroyed and the ship releases a cloud of energy particles which pour into the Tulip, shutting down every system and leaving it on a deadly plunge towards the surface of Europa. The particles find Andrea, surrounding her and leading her through the ship in a daze. Dante searches for her. Percy works out how much time they have left before hitting, and sets about getting the backup systems online. Luc tries preparing the shuttle for evacuation, but can't access it with no power to any of the systems. When she contacts her father for help, Darius tells her to take Andrea and get off the ship, in space suits if they have to, and they'll be recovered. She refuses to abandon Dante and Percy, especially when her father orders her to do just that.

Percy starts jury-rigging systems into slowly reactivating. Dante finds Andrea in a hall and grabs her, the swarm of particles now enveloping him, too, showing him the Great Red Spot and creating dimensional shifts in his perceptions of the corridor they're standing in. Everything clears and he carries her to the bridge, where Luc and Percy join him in looking shocked as the particles appear and swarm Andrea again. She starts speaking in the voice of the aliens, saying they experience all dimensions and all time simultaneously, and that the Cluster buried in our DNA is a gift which will eventually break us free from linearity. "You will be as gods." Andrea collapses and Dante grabs her... but she explodes into particles and is gone.

While Dante recovers, the ship comes back online and the alien vessel has vanished. There's another ship closing in on them, the Orchard vessel, and it's fully armed with weapons online. Luc retreated to her quarters and now returns, handing Dante a data disc containing a full report of this day's events and everything she knows about the Cluster and the Orchard, and it's set on a dead-man trigger to broadcast on all channels if they're fired upon. Contacting her father in private, he's furious at this betrayal, and Luc refuses his order to come on his ship because she knows the Tulip will be wiped out the moment she leaves.

Dante and Percy had exploded at Luc again about how they don't trust her and don't want her on board, but now that her gambit works and the Orchard craft leaves them unharmed, Dante calmly finds her in her quarters, where she's in tears, and tells her he wants to know the truth. Luc nods.


Well, that was bloody disappointing.

After what happened in the last episode, I expected this to deal with the fallout of Luc's connection to the Orchard being brought out into the open. It could have gone many ways - but I didn't expect the episode to end pretty much the way the last one did.

Okay, in fairness, there actually is some forward momentum toward the very end. By blackmailing the Orchard into sparing the crew, Luc shows Dante that she can be trusted to put the crew's well-being above her loyalty to the shadowy organization. When we see Dante ask her to tell him everything, it suggests he could be willing to forgive Luc for her deception - if she actually is honest.

But most of the episode feels like treading water. Luc doesn't leave the ship, and an order from Rudolpho makes sure she stays there. There's tension between her and the rest of the crew, but it doesn't really effect any of the characters' actions. It feels like the writers are trying to write around the cliffhanger - only to basically repeat it by the end (down to Dante demanding that Luc get off his ship).

And speaking of the final part of the episode - I assume that Dante's known Luc is involved with the Orchard since he saw her communicating with her father. It really isn't that much of a logic leap to make. Like, at all. And yet, when Luc says point-blank that she works for the Orchard, Dante is honestly shocked.

The man can plan, but he really, really isn't that bright when it comes to putting bloody obvious clues together, is he?

I hope that at least now that everything is out in the open, Dante will be able to trust Luc again and Luc won't be compelled to try to keep her secret in such an increasingly obvious manner. Please, please spare us poorly justified absences from the bridge and secret conversations. I don't think I can take another episode of that.

It's nice that Luc finally defies the Orchard outright. I thought it should have happened many, many episodes ago, but better late then never.

I also liked that we get a bit more detail on what the Divinity Cluster Aliens' plans actually are - and it kind of confirms the Noon Universe type theory. The DCAs are Noon Universe's Wanderers by way of the Vorlons from Babylon 5. Like the Wanderers, they use mysterious artifacts to manipulate events, and their end game is to bring humans up to their level. Like Vorlons, they have the whole "ascending to pure energy thing." In fact, I would compare them to Vorlons, except Vorlons weren't quite as eager to push the process along - while Wanderers never had a problem with altering variables in pretty overt ways. Heck, the cloaked ship is straight out of the Wanderers' playbook.

But I digress.

There are two plot elements in this episode that I honestly don't understand. First, why is the Orchard so keen on having Luc stay on the Tulip? When she learned about the Divinity Cluster, she was ordered to stay on the ship and keep an eye out for Divinity Cluster related happenings. And that made sense - so long as Luc was traveling all over the Solar System, they might as well have her as a set of extra eyes, and another potential piece the Orchard could use to execute its scheme de jour. But once her cover was essentially blown, why not just put her on another ship? Dante is hardly the only bounty hunter with his own spaceship. We've already met several others. Sure, the Tulip has a neck for bumping into Divinity Cluster related events, but we've never had any indication that it was anything more than a plot-required coincidence.

Are we supposed to assume the Orchard (or Dante, or Percy) are somehow special? Or is it simply the mater of the writers trying to contrive a way to keep Luc around and Orchard is an already established plot element?

I guess we'll have to wait and see.

And why does the Orchard decide to destroy the Tulip now? I mean, Dante and Percy have already seen plenty of Divinity Cluster related shenanigans. They already "know too much". Sure, they encounter the aliens, but they already knew about them as of last episode. They don't really learn anything they didn't already know. Heck they apparently realize that Luc worked for the Orchard.

So, again - why does the Orchard decide to destroy the ship now, as opposed to, say, the conclusion of the previous episode?

The episode doesn't really have a villain per se, but it does have a Prisoner of the Week, and honestly, I'm not too impressed with her. Andrea Arquette doesn't really have much of a presence. She's just sort of there, moving along as the plot demands. We know she's creative and she's afraid of what's happening to her, but that's not really a personality - it's just an understandable reaction of an average human being. The episode keeps implying that Dante is attracted to her, but I don't really see it. I think Pare tries to make it work, but it's not really clicking.

As with many things Starhutner, I think the concept of Andrea - a charismatic creative type tormented by something she can scarcely begin to grasp - looks great on paper, but they needed a better actress (and a better script) to pull it off.

I do have to wonder how on Earth Dante is supposed to explain her disappearance to the Ganymede authorities. The Orchard wouldn't want him to tell the truth, but what else is she supposed to tell?

(I guess "she escaped" is always an option, but that would invite more questions. And can you imagine how Andrea's lawyer will react to all this? At best, he could sue Dante for failing to protect his client. At worst, he could accuse him of murdering his client and covering up her death. Which would make an interesting episode, actually - the crew trying to prove their innocence without being able to show actual proof - but somehow, I don't think the show will do anything like that.)

In the end, this is an episode which doesn't live up to the previous episode's cliffhanger and several potentially good plot elements. And while it is nice to see the overarching plot moving forward, I'm now worried Luc wouldn't actually tell Dante anything and they'll be fighting about Luc keeping things secret again.

After this episode, I wouldn't put it past them.

A few asides:
  • My memories of the first time I saw Starhunter are hazy, but the Red Spot/Spiral motive definitely rang a bell the second it showed up. The fact that this - yet not anything else about the episode - stuck with me is... telling.
  • This episode's Rudolpho Monologue touched on his atheism yet again. It doesn't really have anything to do with the rest of the episode, but I think it's nice bit of characterization.
  • And speaking of Babylon 5, that show had a little fashion detail I always found interesting. Whenever we saw characters in suits, none of them wore ties. Neither does anyone who wears suits in this episode. I'm not sure if this an homage or just a coincidence, but it's an interesting parallel.


This is the point where a lot of things change. Firstly, we finally get a glimpse of the aliens who created the Cluster in the form of their Predator-ripple cloaked, three-million-year-old spaceship and the types of glowy sentient firefly clouds we saw in both "The Divinity Cluster" and "Siren's Song" (the latter of which I'm guessing we can firmly tie into things now). We also learn from them directly that they saw how primitive we were and inserted the Cluster into us so we may one day evolve to their level, but we never really get an explanation as to why. Are they on some form of missionary expedition, spreading their enlightenment across the cosmos? Are they just lonely and looking for someone to share in the wonders they've beheld? Is there something more sinister, a cosmic experiment of some sort? For all the answers we get, there's still the mystery of intention left behind. Unless it was related to us through the possessed Andrea, as I have to admit the combination of her accent and the audio distortion, backed by the sounds effects of whooshing alien powers, made her a bit difficult to understand at times.

Also, I like that Dante is the one exposed to the Cluster this time, suddenly hitting him with an expanded consciousness he can't grapple with. Igor, I know you've taken issue with how long they've dragged out the revelation of Luc's undercover mission, but for me, it's justified by this scene alone. She knows what the Cluster is, what it can do to people, what it ultimately means for the human experience, but before she can share any of this info with him, he's instead thrown on the bike for the first time without any training wheels. He has no idea what he's up against, and I like that he's more than a little freaked out by it, and the potential of what this means now that he himself has shared in Andrea's multidimensional sight. Does this mean his own Cluster has been activated and he'll start manifesting powers, making him a direct target of the Orchard? I'm very curious to see.

Additionally, I like the repercussions the delayed revelation has on Luc. Yes, she had the instance a few episodes back where even she began to doubt the Orchard's intentions, and she did actually corner Dante and try to tell him. But his mind was on other things and the moment wasn't right. So she waited, and in waiting, revelations were ripped out in a situation outside of her control, and the others have lost their trust in her for it. I like that Rudolpho's Orchard handlers use him to force Dante into keeping Luc aboard, and how there's this tense level of mistrust between her and the two, especially Percy, but I feel they more than adequately earned getting us to this point, and when Luc is finally given the order to abandon ship and leave the others to their deaths, that right there is absolutely the best moment to have her pick sides in the upcoming conflict. As stupid as the carousel camera work is in that final scene, I like that Dante's confrontation of her for the truth is calm and as a friend, and that she's finally ready to share.

So yeah, I like this episode and the direction the series is taking. Dante is back to his uncharismatic self, but I like how his school-boy crush on Andrea turns into a deeper compassion for her and her plight, not to mention his personal Clustersplosion I mentioned above. I like Percy's range of emotions - distrust of Luc, fansquee for Andrea, at a complete loss for how to prevent the powerless ship from crashing into Europa until she has a Eureka! moment - all delivered in her youthfully deadpan style. Especially love when she runs to the lookout to manually calculate their rate of descent. I like that we get to see Luc's dad Darius again, and while I think George Harris's performance is a bit uneven, I like the immediate personal stakes it raises for the choice Luc has to make. I like Andrea, the laid-back artist who accidentally stumbles upon a spike in perception no human is prepared for, making her an innocent victim in the game between those seeking to control such powers. I like the gradual realization that they're being followed by an innocent ship, even as Caravaggio tries brushing it off on faulty software.

I really like this episode. It starts out a bit slow, but builds to one hell of a game-changing second half, and I can't wait to see how the rest of the season plays out as a result.

We'll be back next Saturday with another Starhunter adventure: "Dark and Stormy Night".


NoelCT said...

A few things, Igor. :)

1) No, Dante wouldn't know Luc is working for the Orchard before now. He knows she's the daughter of Darius, the man their last target was trying to reach, but that doesn't mean he knows who Darius is or who he's working for. And when they peeped in on Luc's conversation, it wasn't one she was having with Darius, and the Orchard wasn't mentioned by name.

2) Luc is ordered to stay on the Tulip because it's their closest controlled ship to Andrea, and the plan is for her to leave the ship with the prisoner, so this is just a temporary arrangement.

3) None of our heroes' encounters with Cluster-related targets has been through chance. Rudolpho is in the pocket of the Orchard, and his assignments have often been coming straight from them.

Strannik said...

the types of glowy sentient firefly clouds we saw in [..] "Siren's Song" (the latter of which I'm guessing we can firmly tie into things now).

See, I told you :)

1) No, Dante wouldn't know Luc is working for the Orchard before now. He knows she's the daughter of Darius, the man their last target was trying to reach, but that doesn't mean he knows who Darius is or who he's working for. And when they peeped in on Luc's conversation, it wasn't one she was having with Darius, and the Orchard wasn't mentioned by name.

Occam's Razor. He knows that Orchard is a secret organization that has lots of influence and is involved in Divinity Cluster related shenanigans. Luc is a member of a secret, influential organization, and she seemed to know more than she should whenever there are Divinity Cluster related shenanigans going on. Sure, Dante couldn't be certain, but Orchard fits and there are no other secret organizations Dante is aware of.

3) None of our heroes' encounters with Cluster-related targets has been through chance. Rudolpho is in the pocket of the Orchard, and his assignments have often been coming straight from them.

But that doesn't change the fact that, once Luc's secret was exposed, the Orchard didn't really need the Tulip specifically. Any other ship would've sufficed.

NoelCT said...

1) Not necessarily, as she could be working for a rival bounty team, a criminal faction, Raiders, or one of the other political affiliations, such as the Martian Federation. It's important to remember that Dante didn't witness any of the big revelations in "Divinity Cluster" beyond the dude moving really fast.

3) That would require them to have other agents on other bounty hunter ships. Bounty hunters of this universe are portrayed as an untrustworthy lot, with Dante being a rare honorable exception, with a level of passiveness on top which makes him easy to manipulate. He's kind of an idea captain to slip a plant under.


Strannik said...

1) Not necessarily, as she could be working for a rival bounty team, a criminal faction, Raiders, or one of the other political affiliations, such as the Martian Federation. It's important to remember that Dante didn't witness any of the big revelations in "Divinity Cluster" beyond the dude moving really fast.

The mystery ship that Luc clearly had something to do with came in direct conflict with Martian Federation, so that's out. The mystery benefactors had resources that suggest they were more then just a bounty hunting faction. If Dante seriously entertained the notion that Luc was working for Raiders, he would have shot her, not asked her to get off the ship. And there was still the fact that she knew more about Divinity Cluster shenanigans than she should have. Criminal faction would be a viable possibility, but I would still argue that, even though, yes, Dante wasn't there when Luc learned about the Divinity Cluster, he still saw Luc displaying strange priorities when it came to Novak, she clearly knew more than she was telling when Dr Devon and Ryan came on board and he met Luc's ex-husband. And, in the previous episode, it didn't take a genius to realize that Luc was in communication with a mysterious ship that was clearly after alien-artifact affected Harman. I can see Dante not putting the clues together before "The Most Wanted Man," but the events of this episode were a big, obvious hint.

At the very least, Dante should have brought up a possibility that Luc was working for the Orchard. Even if he wasn't sure, it was a perfectly viable possibility. But he never did - and then was shocked when she told him she was with the Orchard, as if it came completely oout of nowhere.