Tuesday, October 11, 2005

1x03 – ‘Empathic Advantage’

WRITTEN BY: Joshua Legg

PREMIERE DATE: 03/10/2005
PRODUCED BY: TrekOnline http://www.trekonline.org/avalon/season1.shtml

With Siren reclusive after recent events and Zorin forced into his quarters with a nasty cold, Hatch sees his chance to play captain and very unofficially takes command of the Avalon. He decides to investigate a distress call from a nearby planet and the result sees the Avalon pick up a telepath named Chala, who Adele refuses to trust. It soon becomes apparent her senses are well-founded as Chala is revealed to have a hidden agenda……

In it’s large mini-series and first few episodes, what has made this show stand out from a great deal of other Trek fan-fiction out there is it’s unremitting darkness, displaying a universe full of cut-throat, cold-blooded mercenaries and unyielding religious zealots. However, underneath, a vein of very black comedy has punctuated and here that vein is, for want of a better term, sliced open to allow the comedy to overtake the darkness. That’s not to say we’ve suddenly jumped into an episode of Seinfeld, but this is certainly a more light-hearted, fluffier affair than previous episodes and consequently is a bit of a relief. As ever when trying to produce comic moments, the balance isn’t perfect but writer Joshua Legg has a damn good stab at it and comes out pretty much unscathed for the effort, which is commendable.

Right from the get-go, the tone is set for this episode through Zorin’s ailment. A Hirogen with a cold is a neat comic device, and Legg manages to put the leader through this without turning him into a snivelling wimp in the process. Zorin fights tooth and nail to cling onto his bridge, and it’s only the force of sheer common sense that leads him to give it up. Though it could be construed as a lack of trust on his part, the very fact he does eventually recede control to people other than Siren shows Zorin is beginning to trust the others. A mistake, probably, as when Hatch takes command do the troubles start. Though at times there’s a sense of it trying too hard to be funny, the interplay between Hatch, Azel. Shera and Adele as the first half sees them going off to answer the distress call is nicely done and it’s quite refreshing to concentrate on certain characters pushed more in the background in recent episodes.

It was a neat device to have these four characters heading down to the planet on an away mission, and Legg even comments in his prose descriptions between dialogue that it’s almost a reversal of the usual group who undertake the missions, which is clearly Zorin, Siren and Isaac. The idea is mined for comedy, and Legg is blatant about it, but for the most part it works. And the whole concept of essentially answering the distress call and going to help someone without reward is a nod back to your more straight-laced Star Trek series, and how Starfleet would have gone about things, which again is a complete opposite to the ethics of the Avalon universe. The days of selflessness are gone, and this too is a reversal. These parallels work nicely to enhance the script, and display how different the take of this episode is; another good thing is the small references to events recent passed. Many Trek series are very standalone and essentially ignore big events that effect the characters, but thankfully Avalon isn’t falling into that trap. There’s mention of Siren’s recovery from events of the previous episode (her complete absence from this episode making it practically impossible not to notice that), plus how the Cult are still bombing innocent worlds essentially because of Avalon’s actions. These things are brewing in the background, and Legg thankfully doesn’t lose sight of them.

As I say, though, this isn’t a perfect example of VS writing. It has it flaws, as with any series. Despite the fact that Chala is an interesting character and the concept of the Seers project initiated by the Cult is a good one (and in my opinion should be dealt with in a much more prominent way in future), the telepath doesn’t quite hold together as well as I’d hoped. It’s unfortunate that after an excellent, quite tense yet oddly comic introduction, plus some good interaction with the characters (such as her concise reading of Adele’s thoughts), Legg takes the quite obvious path of Chala being up to no good and working with a bunch of pirates. Though this is followed through essentially to show how Hatch has again messed up like he did with Naomi, and to piss off Zorin, it feels a bit like a cop out to avoid doing a more interesting narrative. Plus, we never really get an explanation of who the pirates are she was working with, posing as the Cult. Are they also Molia telepaths? And how did they get the resources to pose as a Cult vessel? This is skirted over. All of this also combines to make the climax somewhat flat, for me. The twist about Hatch being bait to draw out Chala’s motives is quite clever, but everything just seems to unravel too quickly and without a palpable sense of tension.

Having said that, while not quite on a par with the previous episode, this is still a sign of increasing improvement for Avalon. On the whole, the characters seem to gel much better here than possibly in any previous episode before. They’re all starting to display their own characteristics more, and this could be a sign that Legg is starting to get a better handle on the interplay between them, and the dialogue. A little less needless profanity in this episode, I feel, also goes a long way towards helping this. Not a bad effort overall, with a superbly funny closing moment that will always make me smile.

WRITING: 1.5/2
GRAMMAR: 1.5/ 2
FORMATTING: 1.5/2
STYLE: 1.5/2
DEPTH: 1/2

FINAL RATING: 7/10

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