August 10, 2013

Starhunter, episode 15 "Dark and Stormy Night"


We're skipping a full synopsis this week because "Dark and Stormy" night is largely a clipshow, and since I'm first at bat, I figure I can sum up what few relevant threads we get within my review.

Dante and Luc finally have their discussion where she tells him the truth. Then, out of the blue, an Orchard shuttle shows up, where Darius joins in and additionally tells more of the truth as he agrees it's better to pull Dante into the fold than just axe him and/or send Luc to another ship. So most of the episode is two people tensely squaring off in a room, then three, all intercut with the relevant information we've previously seen - the Divinity Cluster, rival Orchard factions, even the Raiders who are themselves trying to get their hands on the evolutionary secret - being thoroughly detailed. While it is nice to finally see all the crumbs assembled into a cookie, they sadly do a very scattershot job of it, heaping snippets together with no flow and little contextual assemblage, and intercut it with the dialogue in such a jerky way as to feel like an AMV someone slapped together in half an hour. And it even starts off confusingly as Luc has a bizarre nightmare about confronting Dante, but is her waking up from the dream set before or after she told him everything? It's never clear. If it's before, are you telling me Dante demanded the truth, then let her sleep on it before their discussion? If it happened after, then why is she still anxious about something she's already seen through?

Amidst all of this, we do actually get some new revelations:

1) Dante's wife Penny was working for the Orchard on Divinity Cluster related experiments, it just wasn't called the Divinity Cluster at the time. Unlocking telepathic powers in our DNA doesn't really have anything to do with being able to record someone's brain onto a hard-drive... but okay. I'll go with it from a mere dramatic standpoint as a twist that ties some threads together and more thoroughly invests Dante in wanting to uncover the truth.

2) All of the people who have exploded or discorporated as a result of the cluster may not actually be dead. Darius believes they've merely shifted themselves to another dimension, meaning the electromagnetic spikes which caused the explosions are more shockwaves from opening that door than actual explosions. Again, a bit of a late-in-the-game twist which doesn't entirely gel with some of the stuff we've seen, but I'll give it to them as it brings Eccleston back into the picture, potentially popping in and out of dimensions now with all interested parties trying to get a hold of him.

3) Darius reveals that Eccleston's nanomite injector gun, which he used to trigger the Cluster in himself and others, was never recovered from the encounter with him. After Darius is gone, Luc reveals to Dante that she held onto the gun, and is now using it to show she trusts him more than she does her own father.

This is all decent stuff and sets up the goals of the final stretch of the season: Dante exploring his wife's connection to the Cluster, Luc and Dante laying all their secrets on the table and working out clues together, and everyone trying to get their hands on Eccleston. And instead of the Orchard being their quiet supervisor through this quest, it's now their definite adversary as this episode ends with the big twist of Darius's shuttle exploding with him inside. Luc's tie to the orchard is lost and our heroes are truly on their own.

Oh, and the opening video with Rudolpho is quite nice, with him fully revealing to his hidden audience that he's being payed off by the Orchard. He also snickers at a video Percy sent him, insisting he fire Luc. I'm guessing that video was slipped in because they saved money by only involving three actors in the bulk of this week's shoot, though it does raise the question of whether or not Dante will bring Percy into the fold or try to keep her safe by lying to her. And also what their relationship with Rudolpho will be now that they're not exactly in the best interests of the people paying his bills.

All of the new revelations and questions are good, it's just a shame it had to be presented to us in such a dull, choppy format. Dante is barking like the idiot he asks if people see him as, the camera doesn't hold on Luc long enough for much of her performance to come through, and the dude playing Darius has never been all that good, and is really lousy here with bizarre choices of line emphasis. I think this is an essential episode to the central continuity of things, but wow is it poorly put together, and I wonder how many people who watched it during the initial air actually stuck around long enough to catch the revelations, especially after realizing it was a clipshow.


When I found out this episode was going to have a title evoking the hoariest of the hoary writing cliches, I braced myself for a parade of cliches. I wasn't quite sure what cliches, but I figured "characters hashing out their differences by expositing their feelings" was a safe bet.

And we kind of get that, but that cliche is not the focus of the episode. Instead, we got another frustrating cliche: a clip show.

Clip show episodes tend to be kind of disposable. They don't really move the plot forward, rehashing information viewers already know, and the framing device for the clip show tends to be pretty contrived. It's possible to do entertaining clip show episodes. Heck, some (like the better season finales of 1990s version of The Other Limits) can actually be compelling. But most of the time, viewers don't come in expecting much.

And oddly enough, it does exceed my expectations. Kind of. Instead of just showing clips for different parts of the Divine Cluster metaplot, it fills in a few gaps, confirms some connections that were only hinted at, offers up a whole slew of potential new plot points, ties together the show's two major meta-plots (Divinity Cluster Shenanigans and the Search for Travis), adds a new dimension to the conflict between the Orchard and our heroes... oh, and Darius gets blown up. Didn't expect it. At all.

I mean, he was a significant character. He was pretty much THE Orchard authority figure, and he was related to one of the main characters. It's not that I thought there was no chance he would ever get killed off (after all, he wasn't a major character), but I didn't expect him to get killed at the end of the freaking clip show.

(Now, granted, it's always possible that he could come back. The episode does talk about seemingly dead characters potentially not being dead. One never knows.)

But none of this changes the fact that most of the episode feels more like padding than anything else. The "Luc's Nightmare" sequence feels pointless, and there are far too many times when flashback footage isn't just used, but reused and juxtaposed to make the connections really, really obvious.

It comes back to something I've complained about in the commentary of the last two episodes. Dante finding out the full truth about the Orchard and Luc's true agenda could have made for a compelling episode. Maybe two. But I'm not convinced it should have been stretched across three episodes - and it really could have been better paced. There is too much filler, too much of characters treading water...

(And it really doesn't help that Dante takes his sweet time putting together pieces that should have been far more obvious. Noel and I argued about this back and forth in the last entry, but I'm sorry - I'm still not convinced Dante hasn't being exceedingly clueless about the whole thing.)

But the good news is that, at least, we've finally reached the endpoint. Dante is in on the secret of the Divinity Cluster. He knows exactly what Luc is up to. Dante, Luc, and Percy can move on from there.

It will be interesting to see how Luc copes with Darius' death. Even though she didn't trust him as readily as she used to, he was still her father, and it's bound to affect her. And I'm curious to see just how hard it will affect her. Given that his encouragement and support are clearly important to her, I don't see Luc just shrugging Darius' death off.

And now that Dante is finally (FINALLY!) fully aware of the Divinity Cluster, it will be interesting to see how this affects him. Before this episode, I figured he would tried to shrug the knowledge off and downplay its importance in favor of focusing on finding Travis. But now that he knows Penny was connected to the Orchard, and Travis may be connected to Divinity Cluster in some way that makes him special, Dante can't really ignore it altogether. And it will be interesting to see how the Travis plot and Divinity Cluster plot will come together by the end of the season.

Finally, there's the matter of the Orchard. So long as Darius had the position of power, Luc was protected. He could be negotiated with. Now that he's gone... is the relationship between the crew of the Tulip and the Orchard going to turn outright antagonistic? Will it still treat Luc as an agent or will it label her a rogue?

All in all, there's actually a lot to like about the episode. It's too bad that most of it is a damn clip show.

Miscellaneous thoughts:
  • This is the first time Rudolpho's ramblings lead directly into the episode proper. Interesting...
  • The Miranda alien virus wasn't in the clip show at all... Unless I missed something. I wonder why that is.
  • I'm not sure if this was brought up in an earlier episode and I missed it, but this finally clears up something that's been bugging me, and it turns out I was wrong. It isn't that the Orchard put Luc on the Tulip and arranged for the crew to get involved in Divinity Cluster related matters just because Dante and Percy were main characters. They have several agents serving similar functions aboard other ships. The Tulip isn't special - it's just one of many useful pawns.
  • Speaking of which, I can't help but wonder about other "gatherers". What sort of Divinity Cluster related shenanigans are they up to? Will we ever get to meet Luc's equivalent on some other ship? How will Luc and the rest of the crew react to that? One thing is for sure - it could make for an entertaining episode.

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

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