September 21, 2013

Starhunter, episode 20 "Bad Seed"

We open on a Rudolpho video where he talks about secrets and lies.

In an office somewhere, Orchard official Navarre fiddles with an injection canister while pondering an upcoming choice he'll have to make.

The Tulip is in orbit around Jupiter. Inside, a shirtless Dante wanders the corridors. When he reaches his room, he finds a figure sleeping in his bed. The figure is himself. He comes too to find a room full of commandos who drug him and drag him away. They're under the charge of another Orchard official, Tosca, and one of their member reprograms Caravaggio, then seals the quarters of Luc and Percy, and floods them with a knockout gas.

In their hidden Orchard station in Jupiter orbit, Tosca and Navarre debate how they should act given the increase in Divinity Cluster events. Navarre pleads caution until they have more information, Tosca feels they have to act now before they lose what control they have over events.

Tosca retires to a room where Dante is bound to a chair. She says she want to use him to find Travis, who's the key to everyone's search for the Divinity Cluster. Dante is more than a bit stunned, and even though he'd never help her, he admits he's had zero luck in tracking the boy down. Tosca reveals her plan is to put Dante in a drugged state so as to create a psychic link between him and Travis. She does so, but Dante's mind wanders away from her, locking onto a memory of Penny, his wife, and the mysterious injections she'd give herself while focused on her work.

Caravaggio's reprogramming has taken the form of a separate personality, and the good and bad Cars are locked in a battle of wills. Into this comes Navarre, who uses an override code to get himself on board and vent the knockout gas from Luc and Percy's quarters. They awaken, but are still sealed inside, Percy tearing open the mechanics on the door when Evil Car sets the ship to auto-destruct in half an hour.

Navarre reaches Luc's quarters, responding to the gun she shoves in his face by saying they need to hurry if they're going to save Dante. To prove he was an ally of her father, Darius, Navarre shows her the canisters for Eccleston's Divinity Cluster injection device, which Luc still has. Navarre also reveals to her that Travis is the key to everything. She's understandably surprised. She arms up and heads with Navarre to his shuttle. They pass Percy, offering to bring her with, but Percy insists on staying behind to fix Caravaggio and keep the Tulip, the only home she knows, from blowing up.

Percy manages to bring Good Car back and stop the auto destruct countdown. Until Evil Car flips back in and starts it up again. Percy returns to her quarters, taking stock of her options and resources. She discovers her kaleidoscope, which was broken earlier, now revealing the seeds everyone was looking for in "Goodbye, So Long". She pockets them. Returning to the command center, Percy decides to pull a hard reboot of the entire A.I. system, even though it may cause harm to Good Car.

Tosca is frustrated with her lack of progress with Dante, and pissed when she's called away to receive a secure transmission. This is all a ruse by Navarre who, with Luc, now recovers Dante and injects him with an antidote. Navarre sends Luc and Dante off to escape, while he stays behind, pretending to have just responded to the now declared emergency. Tosca doesn't seem to suspect anything as she fills Navarre in on the situation.

While waiting for Caravaggio to reboot (he does, successfully), Percy finds herself held at gunpoint by someone who snuck aboard in all the chaos: a Raider teenager named Salomea. She's not there to hurt anybody, and has been sent by Travis to retrieve the VR recording of Penny from Dante's quarters... as well as Percy to help operate it. Agreeing to leave the ship, Percy first slips the vial of seeds into the drawer which held the VR device, right where Dante is likely to find it.

Dante and Luc return to the Tulip. Unable to find Percy, they fear the worst when they detect a Raider ship moving away. On the Raider ship, Percy asks Salomea to tell her everything she knows about Travis.


Over the past few episodes, Starhunter has gotten... Well, there's no way around it. It's gotten tedious. Even though the last episode didn't involve any spacetime-jumping repetition, it wasn't that interesting. More and more, watching Starhunter seems like a chore. There's only a few episodes left - I just have to muscle through.

But in this episode, something unexpected happens. I found myself rooting for the characters instead of just sort of watching them. And when the episode ends, I'm actually left wanting to see what happens next.

A lot of it, of course, has to do with the fact that the show's two big plots - Divinity Cluster Shenanigans and Finding Travis - are finally moving forward. And converging. And heading towards something that sure feels like a resolution. We saw some of that momentum in "Bad Girls", with the introduction of the more outright antagonistic Orchard, but with this episode, the conflict between the crew and Tosca's Faction comes into the open suddenly and abruptly.

Which brings us to another thing that gives the episode more energy - higher stakes. Tosca's Orchard has clearly been reading Luc's reports on all the other people who have tried to take over the Tulip, and go out of their way not to repeat the same mistakes. Instead of trying to fight Percy or Luc, they take them out as soon as possible. Instead of leaving Caravaggio hanging around, they reprogram him to serve their purposes (though simply turning him off would've been much smarter). They keep Dante restrained the whole time he's captive. In fact, if it wasn't for Navarre and his allies, the plan would've gone off without a hitch.

And even when, to borrow a Russian metaphor, Navarre starts sticking spikes in the wheels of Tosca's plan, it takes a while before Percy and Luc regain the upper hand. Percy's repeated failures to restore Caravaggio to normal are darkly amusing, but they also raise the stakes. We know the Tulip's resident genius will get the upper hand somehow, but seeing her fail and struggle makes getting there more interesting and more compelling.

Now, if the episode had a compelling, threatening villain at its center, it might have gone from good to great. But instead, it has Tosca, who, aside from a cleverer-than-usual plan, is a bundle of villain cliches. Every time she kisses and gropes Dante is particularly egregious. It isn't there to advance Tosca's character, or add a wrinkle to the plot. It's the writers thinking, "Oh, we need to add a dash of femme fatale to our Cliche Supervillain Soup, no matter how little sense it makes."

Navarre comes across better, but in truth, there isn't much to his character, either. He serves a role, and the actor plays it reasonably competently. That's about it.

Evil Caravaggio, on the other hand... Sure, A.I. going evil is a bit of a cliche, but that's not quite what the show does. It isn't that Tosca's Faction reprograms him from scratch, they just manipulate certain parts of his personality to make him antagonistic towards the crew. We've already seen something like this in "Super Max", when Max reprogrammed him to be more profits-orientated. Here, we see it used to a much more sinister end.

The entire episode raises some very interesting - and disturbing - questions about what free will means to an A.I. in Starhunter-verse. Caravaggio is, without a doubt, a sentient being. We've seen him react emotionally, demonstrate a sense of humor, and act creatively. But at the same time, every aspect of what makes Caravaggio who he is can be changed at a moment's notice.

Imagine walking through life and, suddenly, your personality changes. And you don't even notice, because it feels as natural to you as whatever personality you had before.

That's horrifying.

And that's the sort of terror A.I. in Starhunter-verse have to live with every day.

Speaking of A.I.s - I have to question the logic of putting all of Tulip's doors entirely under the ship A.I.'s control, with no manual override whatsoever. Not even from the inside. Remember, the Tulip was originally a cruise ship. If something went wrong and the ship's A.I. malfunctioned, the passengers would be trapped in their rooms. And that's a disaster waiting to happen.

To say nothing of potential lawsuits.

All in all, the episode was more interesting and more compelling than I expected. It still wasn't good, but better than the three episodes that preceded it.

Now, let's see if the next episode will be able to build on this momentum.


My big question going into the final three episodes was how quickly we'd get into bringing all the various story threads together for the big finale. Would they save it for just the final installment, letting the two before it be filler adventures? Would it be a two-parter? To my surprise, it's a three-parter, as so many things all happen at once, with two hours still left until the season cuts out.

The biggest revelation is probably that Travis is the key to everything, that he was taken by the Raiders - and is now sought by the Orchard - because he's somehow unable to unlock the secrets of the Divinity Cluster. For the two Organizations, he's the power which can tip scales in their favor. For Dante, he's suddenly even more of an unknown than just being a missing child raised in the wild, and deepens the questions Dante is already asking about his wife Penny and the secret work she was doing. More importantly, Travis himself, while he remains unseen for the moment, comes into play in an interesting way as he sends a friend to reclaim Percy and the memory recorder. I wonder if this is going to turn into a "the kids are sick of being yanked around by all the adults and want to stake their own claim" thread, which I could see working nicely. Also, I like the laid-back chemistry between Percy and the Raider girl, Salomea. Percy's annoyed, but doesn't put much effort into resisting. Salomea is annoyed, but doesn't put much effort into demanding. They're a match made in heaven!

There's not much to comment on with regards to these threads because, as with the magic seeds Percy finally finds in her kaleidoscope, this is setup for situations we'll get into in the subsequent episodes. As for stuff that is resolved within this one...

Despite the low budget, they pull off some really nice tension in this story, the commando raid of the opening being especially chilling as they've bagged Dante and are swarming all over the command center before even Caravaggio is aware they're there. And with Luc and Percy taken out so nonchalantly, it really shows just how formidable the Orchard can be when you piss them off. And while I agree that Dante shouldn't have been so quick to remove the automated gun turrets, just remember that those guns were in the hands of Caravaggio. We've seen Caravaggio be compromised and reprogrammed in the past, but what's great here is that he's built so strong a personality that the new programming takes on a separate, schizophrenic persona, with the two locked in a constant battle of wills until Percy steps in and hard reboots them both. Murray Melvin has always been a dependable performer as Caravaggio, but he's still largely hanging off to the side, making quips and passing along info. It's always nice when he gets to take a bit more of the spotlight, which he does here as both the wicked evil Car and our trusted good one. The back-and-forths between them are gold, and Percy's interactions with the evil persona gives us some great lines, like:

Evil Car: "What's the matter? The Great Genius Percy is finally stumped? Call it a day, sister, you're about to be toast."

Percy: "Thank you for finally calling me a 'great genius'. That was refreshing."


Evil Car: "You're going to reboot me, aren't you! I mean, after all we've been through and everything."

Percy: "After all we've been through, you should know that I'm heartless. In 5... 4... 3... 2... Bye."

There's also Dante's kidnap and Luc's mission to rescue him. Before I get to the actual content of it, let me tangent by saying this leaves me wondering about something... Have you noticed - and I ask this of both Igor and any readers who have seen the show - how few guest stars have returned from previous episodes, even when left on hanging threads which feel like they're setting up forthcoming chapters? All I can think of off the top of my head are Darius and Etienne. During the space/time two-parter, we talked about how reminiscent Five was of Brother 13, leaving me wondering if that earlier character's presence was the original intent. Additionally, the main thread about the Orchard has repeatedly been set up as a woman named Pacquette, but now she's suddenly Angie Hill as a character named Tosca. Was the earlier actress unwilling or unable to return? Also, this new guy of Navarre, the pro-Luc Orchard representative who was friends with Darius, couldn't you picture all of his scenes actually playing out with Darius? This makes me wonder, was Darius' death planned, or did they slip it in at the last minute, either due to the actor leaving or them wanting someone else to fill that character's shoes? With so many guest stars who never came back again, does this speak to a broader issue? Did they not plan ahead enough to book actors, whose schedules do fill quick? Was it a tough or amateurish set that the actors didn't want to return to? Given that everybody in the main cast but Tanya Allen didn't return in season 2, was there something more going on beyond the show taking more time than usual to get back into production? I wish I knew more about what went on behind the scenes, but there isn't exactly a wealth of info out there.

Anyways, I do like Ray Lonnen as Navarre. He's a much better actor than the dude who played Darius, with a good weight of authority, yet with a compassionate heart. The scenes between he and Luc are touching, and I love the bit where he's getting fed up at having to constantly use the backdoor override code to milk information out of Caravaggio. I hope this guy manages to stick around a little longer, because I like him.

I like Angie Hill as Tosca, too, she's just stuck in the duller stretch of the episode where she keeps asking Dante the same questions over and over and over, then drugs him into a sleep. If you think Michael Pare is a little lacking in the charisma department as is, wait until you see him acting while in a daze. He brings that entire section down, and the dull way in which it's written and filmed doesn't help. The rest of the episode is good, thrilling stuff, but that stretch is an unfortunate place to showcase Tosca's introduction.

Overall, I like this episode. A lot of the previous threads are back in play, with many promising setups that I'm hoping won't fail to pay off. I'm curious to see where we go from here as season 1 comes to a close.

A few thoughts:
  • I don't get the point of Dante's opening nightmare.
  • Also, why do the commandos take the time to fully dress Dante instead of just dragging him off in his pajama sweats?
  • Wait, Percy instructs Caravaggio to tell her uncle that she's leaving for a bit, but that she's safe and will come back. When Dante returns, Caravaggio tells him nothing of the sort. Was this an error during script revisions, or some indication that all is still not well with Caravaggio?

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

1 comment:

Strannik said...

Have you noticed - and I ask this of both Igor and any readers who have seen the show - how few guest stars have returned from previous episodes, even when left on hanging threads which feel like they're setting up forthcoming chapters?

You make a pretty interesting point. I didn't think about it, but come to think of it... To be honest, I thought Tosca was the same character as Pacquette, just played by a different actress. It wasn't until I read your section that I went back and checked the credits. I can definitely see Darius doing everything Navarre did with only minor dialogue tweaks. And, from narrative perspective, it would make sense. I'm less sure about 5 originally being 13, since, aside from race and power set, they were different characters in several respects.

I think that actors probably weren't available because Starhunter just wasn't paying that much, and when actors had other opportunities, they chose better-paying ones.

Also, why do the commandos take the time to fully dress Dante instead of just dragging him off in his pajama sweats?

It's probably because Tosca wanted nude pictures of Dante and Orchard mooks decided to kill two birds with one stone :)

What? I wouldn't put it past her.