September 29, 2013

Starhunter, episode 21 "Travis"

We open on a Rudolpho video about how life is full of surprises.

On the Tulip, Dante is raging, Luc and Caravaggio using probes to try and find the path of the shuttle which took Percy. They receive a transmission from Percy, who drops clues which lead Dante to search his room, discovering that the VR device is missing and that the Seeds have been put in their place. They don't know what's in the vial at first, but eventually pour through enough research to figure it out. They pick up the shuttle's ion trail, following it to another hastily assembled Raider station. Dante is all set to go in alone, but Luc insists that she wants to fight this fight with him.

After proving herself with a DNA scan, Percy is introduced to Travis, aka Zephryn, who also proves himself with a scan. He talks to her about a garden she had as a child, which she would tend with her mother. She doesn't understand how he can remember such things when he was only an infant. "I remember everything." He also wishes the Raiders had taken her, too, so he wouldn't have been alone.

Salomea, who brought Percy here, is Travis' protectorate, and has a higher rank than even his "father", Senaca, who's bristling at the breach of security caused by Percy's abduction, as well as a fear that Travis is now getting too close to his old family and ways. At a meeting of clan heads, Senaca is excited that the Seeds, the key to their future, will soon be in their hands.

Senaca hails Dante, setting up an exchange. With the promise of being given Percy and Travis in return, Dante flies over to the station, alone and unarmed. He's met by Senaca, whose guards have their guns at the ready until Salomea arrives, orders them to stand down, and leads Dante to a room where he sees Percy and meets Travis. It's revealed that Travis, due to his highly advanced Divinity Cluster mental abilities, is now the leader of the Raiders, and plans to use the Seeds to terraform the polluted wreck that is Earth so it can be re-colonized.

Travis sends the others away so he can have some privacy with Dante, but the warm reunion goes sour when Travis reveals his powers are the result of Penny's secret experiments, which she conducted on herself because the Orchard wouldn't supply her with live specimens. Dante angrily rejects this, but Travis uses his powers and the hard drive with Penny's memories to connect with her spirit, and she confesses everything to Dante and apologizes. Travis sets her soul free.

Luc receives a transmission from Navarre, warning her that Tosca is on her way to that location with a heavily armed warship and plans to capture Travis. Luc heads to the station to retrieve Dante, unaware that Senaca has ordered her shot on sight. Luc is saved by Salomea, who hooks her up with Percy, Dante, and Travis, but Salomea is then shot down by Senaca, who demands Travis give him the seeds. Seeing his adoptive father's true nature, Travis chooses his family and steps into the shuttle with Dante and the others.


I have to admit that I've been a little burned out on Starhunter for a while. This is mostly why I keep waiting until the last possible moment to watch episodes. And since I work on weekends, that last possible moment runs into me being busy with other things. Hence why this is yet another delayed post for this show. That's my fault, and I'm sorry to our readers, it's just that Starhunter, for all the moments I enjoy, is being so enjoying on a curve in terms of the context of the show as a whole. Which, as a whole, is a mediocre show that's a bit difficult to drum up the enthusiasm required to propel me into the assemblage of these posts.

With this episode, my enthusiasm has suddenly supercharged, so here's hoping I can get my finale piece done early. Hold me to it. :)

Seriously, if the previous episode was the lighting of the fuse and watching as it led to the ridiculously high stack of TNT kegs which Snidley Whiplash has piled under a train bridge, then this episode is that final flare of powder just before everything explodes, and I'm cranked up so much that I'm hoping next week's climax of this three-parter isn't more of a fizzle than a boom.

The last episode finally brought the Orchard to the forefront, so now it's the Raiders turn to step to the spotlight before the two meet their point of potential confrontation. What we see of the Raiders is a group on the cusp of a potentially huge cultural change, as Travis/Zephryn represents a new generation of order and progress the old generation is begrudgingly going along with in hopes of making use of the Divinity Cluster powers he wields. The old ways of claiming what they steal, regardless of who dies in the process, is on the outs as they now want to reclaim Earth as humanity's homeland, leading to the really clever idea of the terraforming miracle seeds being used to refurbish an Earth which is such a polluted wasteland that most people prefer the confines of crates in the stars.

Travis/Zephryn is an interesting figure, never excusing the past actions of his people to the degree other young Raiders we've met, but refusing to dismiss who he's become as it's given him an ability to lead, inspire, and potentially bring about great change. There is a coldness to his demeanor, but it comes out of a hyper-astute pragmatism of what needs to be done to achieve his own ends. Otherwise, he has more a sense of serene calm, never over-using his powers just to show off, never violently forcing other's hands. David Fournier isn't great in the role, but nor is he bad, as he adequately gives us what the character needs to sell.

The angel and devil on his shoulder are his dedicated protector Salomea (we never know if there's anything romantic going on between the two, or if it's just a deep platonic friendship or devotion out of the potential good he can bring about), who never flinches in turning on and even killing fellow Raiders if it means furthering TraZeph's cause, and Senaca, TraZeph's adoptive father, who likes to pretend he's using the boy to further his own goals, even though TraZeph is so far beyond his reasoning that such a thing leaves Senaca desperate and obvious in his treachery. It's amusing to me that James Gaddas, who played Senaca, actually did run for politics a few years after this show, as he's such a perfect slimy politician, never hiding the belief that he thinks everyone can go screw themselves behind his slimy smile and cheap rhetoric. Caroline Hayes is a little flat as Salomea, but never to the point of breaking her as a strong character who frequently pwns Senaca, until the bastard literally shoots her in the back. I'll miss her.

Dante is a... mixed bag in this episode. On the one hand, Pare gets to whip out some major emoting as the man finally comes across his long-lost son, staring at the boy with an equal mix of pride at how well his boy is doing and awe at the situation he's risen to. On the other, he's sent all over the emotional spectrum over the course of events, and he doesn't handle everything as well as he does that. There's at least three occasions while they're following the probe that he over dramatically gives orders to Caravaggio to move in, playing the moment as though they were just about to kamikaze into a Borg cube and save the universe. He has ridiculous flips from stoic to pissed to stoic again, and when he has to be sad or badass, he sinks back to his uncharismatic dopiness.

Much more interesting is Percy, who has an equal mix of eagerness to find her cousin, and horror and disgust at finding herself among the people who casually killed the bulk of her family as a part of life they fully justify to themselves. When TraZeph is telling Percy about her mother, her look alone is saying "You mean the mother who was killed by the people you're fighting to save?" She doesn't care about these people, she doesn't care about the cause, she just cares about what little tie to her lost family she can get. And maybe she likes Salomea a bit because they banter well and the girl would have been too young to have been responsible for past events, and she and TraZeph represent a potential youth uprising. As a rebellious teen, Percy is understandably intrigued.

Luc doesn't get much to do story-wise, but I love her absolute devotion to Dante and Percy by this point, fully picking the side she wants to fight on. Why she flies to the Raider station to warn about a pending Orchard attack is a bit strategically stupid instead of just opening a channel, but the sentiment still works.

It's not an episode without problems. Senaca constantly ordering his troops to kill everybody gets silly, the meeting with Penny is an astonishingly dull letdown after a season of buildup, and it shouldn't have taken Dante and Luc so much freakin' research just to be reminded what the Seeds are. But overall, grading it on the curve this series requires, this is one of the stronger episodes, which has the ball thoroughly rolling us into the season's climax. I very much look forward to seeing what happens when that Orchard ship arrives, the Raiders retaliate, and our heroes are caught in the middle.


In the last post, I talked about the plot finally moving forward, and how I found myself actually caring about what happened. And it's still true. Yet, as this episode reached its conclusion, I found myself... underwhelmed.

In Travis, we finally get to see the eponymous character face-to-face, only to discover that he became the leader of the Raiders and knows Dante has been searching for him all this time, but didn't want to reveal himself. That's a pretty compelling notion, so is the concept behind the character. Travis has had flawless memory and Divinity Cluster abilities since birth. Everybody else who's gotten those abilities has been mentally disturbed to some extent or another. Imagine dealing with that sort of thing all your life. The idea that Travis doesn't show much in the way of outward emotional reactions because he's trying to stay sane is a nice - and thoughtful - touch.

But here we come upon the beast that plagues many Starhunter episodes - the execution. Travis is a great character as a concept, but I'm not convinced that David Fournier has the acting chops to pull that off. Travis' first meeting with Percy is pretty compelling stuff, but the reunion between him and Dante, something that, by all rights, should be one of the episode's emotional high points, doesn't quite click.

Conceptually, Travis and Percy are similar in that they are characters who tend to under-react. But this episode underscores just how much of a difference acting can make. Tanya Allen's performance always suggests there is more going on with Percy under the surface than meets the eye, and who holds a lot back under a protective shell. I don't really get that from Fournier's performance. He either shows emotion or doesn't, as if someone is switching his personality type back and forth. The scenes where Fournier has to play off against Allen work. All the other scenes... not so much.

Speaking of scenes with other characters - Dante has both good and bad moments in this episode. Pare does a pretty good job conveying Dante's desperate resolve not to lose another member of the family to the Raiders, and the moment toward the end of his first scene with Travis, when Dante realizes that his son doesn't see him as a father and maybe never will, is a nicely underplayed emotional moment. But their subsequent conversation - and the conversation with Ghost Penny - just doesn't gel. Maybe it's the leaden dialogue, maybe it's bouts of overacting, but what should be a heartfelt, emotional scene came off almost laughable.

(Speaking of that scene - I get Dante being upset that Penny secretly experimented on herself, but why is he so offended she didn't tell him about the Orchard connections? By this point, he knows how far the Orchard is willing to go to keep its secrets. Surely, Dante can understand Penny not wanting to endanger her family.)

We see a similar disconnect with Senaca. On paper, he's a pragmatic leader and a careful planner who nonetheless wants to get rid of Dante simply because he has the audacity to be "Zephryn's" biological father. If executed well, it could be an interesting look at a capable leader undermined by his flaws. But James Gaddas plays the role way too broadly, hamming it up to the point where all subtlety is lost to the "Oh, I'm so evil, can't you see how totally evil I am" vibe oozing out of every sentence he utters. There's no question that Senaca isn't telling Travis the whole truth, nor that he was going to turn on the heroes the first chance he got - and the episode is worse off for it.

Salomea,the only other Raider character with a speaking part, isn't much better. Her acting isn't terribly great, and there isn't much to the character in the first place.

I've complained before about how Raiders aren't terribly well-defined, and, in the penultimate episode of the first season, we don't really know all that much. They kidnap children to replenish their numbers, they don't like the vaguely defined government because they were ex-soldiers who were sterilized... And? What are their goals? What are their values? What do they ultimately want? They talk about wanting a homeworld, but what do they plan to do with it? Do they intend to keep "liberating" children? Since the newest generation of Raiders hasn't been sterilized, they wouldn't need to kidnap kids to replenish the numbers. But given that they coach the kidnapped in terms of freeing them from their culture and their family, I get a a feeling that kidnapping is more about survival. Do they think the current regime is tyrannical? Do they think their culture is bad? We don't know. We get hints, vague allusions, but nothing that lets us think, "Oh, a Raider would do so and so." (or "A Raider would never do so and so.")

I've said it before, but it's worth reiterating. In Firefly, we knew that the Alliance wanted to impose order and restrict freedoms; and that Reavers were savage, unreasoning marauders. In Outlaw Star, we knew that the pirates wanted to find the Galactic Leyline (even if we didn't know exactly what was there). In Cowboy Bebop, we knew that Vicious and Martian crime syndicates wanted Spike dead for reasons related to his secret past.

I know Noel disagrees with me on this, but I feel like we need to know who our antagonists are if we're expected to want our heroes to prevail. We don't have to know everything about them - heck, what we knew was later revealed to be completely wrong - but it has to be something.

When Senaca says the Raiders want a homeworld, that's clearly supposed to be a big deal. But my reaction is more of... so what? That is a problem.

This episode would have been a great opportunity to flesh out the Raiders, give them a little bit more dimension. Any dimension. But "Travis" doesn't even try.

I'm interested to see how it's all going to be resolved. But based on this episode, I'm far less optimistic than I was last week.

Some uncategorized observations:
  • One thing I'm not entirely clear on. Penny thought her Divinity Cluster experiments failed until Travis was born. So there was something early on that gave away that he had abilities. So why didn't Dante or Percy or anybody else notice anything? I know Dante can be almost hilariously obtuse, but surely somebody would have noticed Travis was no ordinary child?
  • In a related thought, did Travis always have perfect recall or was it something that manifested after he was kidnapped? Percy was surprised by it, which suggests the later. But if so, what triggered it? Is it the X-Men sort of thing, where some powers kicked in during puberty?
  • This episode has a lot of callbacks to previous episodes, which is to be expected with the season reaching its conclusion. Sometimes it's a bit clumsy, but it's still a nice touch.
  • Starhunter never had a particularly large budget, but in this episode, the budget-saving measures seem really, really apparent. The recycled CGI footage, the fact that Raider ships quite obviously used the Tulip sets, the fact that, instead of a trip to the VR world, Penny appears in the same room "in the flesh..." I wonder if they were saving money for the finale.

We'll be back next Saturday with our final Starhunter adventure (for now, at least): "Resurrection".

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