August 24, 2013

Starhunter, Episode 17 "A Twist In Time"

We open on a video of Rudolpho arguing he deserves a second chance after trying to sell the Tulip. While eating.

Our crew are transporting Five, a vicious psychopath and highly prized bounty. They've been diverted to a lab on Triton, where "graviton research" is being conducted in an attempt to break the speed of light. The head scientist is also noted for a theory about multiple universes. Contact with the lab has been lost, so Tulip has been asked to scope out the scene and hold it before an official investigation squad can arrive.

As they bring Tulip in, waves of energy start pulsing from the planet. The reactors go down, sending the ship drifting on a crash course. Ignoring Dante's orders, Percy heads down to see what she can do about the reactors. When another pulse hits, it causes a reactor explosion, stranding her in that part of the vessel, with all chance of escape blocked by debris or leaking radiation. Badly bleeding from her leg, she makes it to the lookout where she wait for help, her breathing becoming shallow as the air slowly bleeds out.

Luc heads to holding where she transports the prisoner across the ship to the shuttle, which she preps for evac. Five gives her some grief, but goes quiet when she swaps out her stun rounds for actual bullets. The shuttle is all prepped and ready when the main power conduit blows, leaving the docking bay doors on manual. The prisoner secure, she heads back to help Dante.

Dante has been scrambling to find a way to reach Percy. He crawls into the power conduit to manually restart it, allowing the ship to start realigning one of the engine reactors and pull itself back into orbit, but it's taken so long that, when he and Luc - both pulling on radiation suits - reach the only route through which they can get Percy, Caravaggio is forced to seal the hatch as the atmosphere is gone. She's dead.

Refusing to accept this, Dante races down a corridor, right into a ripple of energy and


He comes to on the bridge. He's jumped back a few minutes in time, with Percy on her way to the reactor and Luc heading to secure the criminal. Everything plays out largely as it did before, with Dante trying to prep as much as he can before going into the power conduit, but he's left waiting for it to blow, and by the time he gets to the passageway to reach Percy, he's again too late. He runs back to that corridor and


He's back on the bridge. Percy goes through the same stuff. Luc goes through the same stuff. This time, Dante damns the power conduit, going straight for his radiation suit and after Percy. He reaches her, slips her into a suit, and leads her out, but when Luc comes back to help, she takes a lethal dose of radiation and quickly expires. And because Dante didn't restart the power conduit, the Tulip is moments away from crashing. He runs back to that corridor and


Percy goes through the same stuff, but Dante tells Luc to leave the prisoner in his cell, giving her the radiation suits so she can go get Percy, while he stays and waits for the power conduit to go so he can restart it. They succeed, with Luc rescuing Percy in time and Dante starting up the reactor which allows the Tulip to maneuver back into orbit.

Later, with the ship well away from the lab and its affects, the crew shares a meal as Dante explains what happened to him, and they figure the lab succeeded in breaking the space/time barrier, but weren't able to control it. Dante jokes about how they could all use a vaca-


Dante is standing alone in the galley. The ship appears to be entirely deserted as he makes his way to the bridge. Nobody is there, either.


There's not much to say about this week's episode because, as with the last week, it's largely filler while we're still waiting for any repercussions of the recent twists to be explored to any degree. Seriously, as drawn out as that three-parter of revelations was a few weeks back, at least it started driving the series with a genuine sense of direction. But instead of continuing down that trail and upping the momentum leading up to the looming season finale, we're spending two weeks in a row dancing off on side quests. I didn't mind it last week because it was still a really damned entertaining episode, but such is not the case this week.

Every science fiction show ever made since the release of Groundhog Day in 1993 seems contractually obligated to have at least one episode where a character becomes unstuck from time and is forced to relive the same event over and over until they can change the consequences so as to both release them from it as well as tie up the story with a neat little bow. This is Starhunter's attempt, and it's largely a boring, underthought mess. Dante is back to his usual lunkheadedness as he runs up and down corridors wondering why nobody will listen to him when he's not explaining anything. Very little of the situation actually changes from timejump to timejump, meaning we have to go through 5-6 minutes of the same footage we've already scene of Luc yelling at her prisoner and Percy finding herself in increasing peril before Dante's able to change a tiny little thing. There's no intricate puzzle for him to solve, nothing early on that he can shift that causes the scenario to play out entirely differently, just him realizing he can't be in two places at once and hey Luc, you go that way while I do this over here, presto-cadabra, the day is saved.

This is not one of Pare's better Dante episodes, and I almost think it would have been stronger had Luc been put in the lead. She gets some nice moments with "disposable prisoner of the week" (who is well played by Howard Anthony), but again, we see the same scenes repeatedly and it becomes grating. Percy gets a few moments in, but most of her peril is her own fault as she's once again ignoring what everyone is telling her and diving into situations without checking first, so sympathy for her is mixed. And while I like that the opening Rudolpho vid calls back to his selling of the Tulip in the last episode, even this drags on with a long stretch where he's just chewing, takes a sip, burps, keeps chewing, farts, sets down his sandwich, then asks what we're still doing here.

I wish I knew, Rudolpho. I really wish I knew.

Overall, it's a fail of an episode. It's boring, repetitive, conceptually lazy. The thread of the science outpost experimenting with light speed travel is so peripherally shoe-horned in as to be laughable. About the only thing I can give the episode credit for is the final timejump, as I'm curious where it'll lead next week. Otherwise, it bored me, and I was also pretty pissed that Percy and Caravaggio took a cheap jab at a transwoman we never see.

"Wasn't McEwen discredited after so many sex changes?"

"Well, discredited as a man, perhaps."

Classy, Starhunter. I've been pulling for you as an underdog, so the last thing I need is to get the same bullshit from you that Quark flung at Gene/Jean.


Well now...

The problem with evaluating this episode is that it's an unofficial two-parter. While the plot of the episode seems to have been resolved, the last few moments suggest that time-warping shenanigans haven't ended, as Dante winding up on a seemingly empty Tulip sure looks like a cliffhanger. I was curious enough to do something we aren't really supposed to do here on the Showcase: I looked ahead. Which is to say I read a summary of the next episode. Not all the way through - that would spoil the plot completely - but enough to get the idea that plod threads from this episode will continue directly into the next.

So how am I supposed to judge this episode? I can talk about the predictable plot but, technically speaking, we've only seen half of it. I could say that Five is an unimaginative cliche of a villain, but maybe he will do something more creative in the next episode.

I think if the show said this was going to be a two-parter from the get-go, I would know what to expect and judge the episode accordingly. But I expected a complete episode, and when as that hasn't quite panned out, I'm not quite sure how I'm supposed to react.

But react I must, so, for the time being, I'm going to pretend the last few moments didn't happen and try to judge it as a self-contained episode.

Looking at it like that, I can't say I'm all that impressed.

The episode features your classic Groundhog Day Loop plot, which has had a long history in all media. A character finds him or her self reliving the same sequence of events until finding a way to break a cycle, usually by fixing a mistake. At their best GDL stories offer great opportunities to develop characters, to show them learn and change from repeated failures and become better people in the process.

"A Twist in Time" doesn't really touch on characterization. It's more of a puzzle. How can Dante save Percy without losing Luc or screwing anything else up. In theory, this could be interesting, but the way it's actually executed in the episode, I just don't find all that compelling. The repeated scenes and dialogue just become monotonous over time, and none of Dante's attempts to get Percy out of harm's way are engaging or clever. It's more of a video game avoiding traps type of problem solving - if your character goes down a certain hallway and falls into a deadly trap, then naturally, you are going to try another path. Rinse and repeat.

When your episode is built around a well-worn trope like GDL, the execution is the key. We know how the episode is going to end - the trick is to keep the audience invested and engaged until the ending arrives. And I just don't think this episode is able to pull it off.

But there is one part I like - or, at least, that I like more than usual. Dante is actually a compelling presence here. Throughout the episode, we see him get increasingly desperate as he watches Percy die again and again, and Michael Pere actually manages to pull it off fairly nicely.

And in a bit of sidebar, as I've rewatched Starhunter for the first time since the early 2000s, I realize how few details actually stuck with me. Going in, I remembered Dante, Percy, Luc, Caravaggio, and the search for Travis. I vaguely recalled Rudolpho, the Orchard, the Raiders, and the Divinity Cluster. But as I watch it now, I realize how few of the scenes actually stuck in my mind.

With this episode, a lot of things rang a bell. The repetition. Dante jumping into the portal. Percy dying. And my younger self wondering where on earth the show was going with all of this.

Funny how the mind works sometimes.

But other than that, I'm going to have to see what the next episode will bring. Will Five turn out to be more than a cliche? Will the next round of spacetime shenanigans be more interesting? Will our heroes grow and develop as characters?

The answers to those questions may change how I look at this episode - or they may not. I'll just going to have to wait and see.

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

No comments: