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“And there we have it…you’re an idiot.  Sir.”

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Everyone’s favorite intergalactic bounty hunter wakes up in bed with a crusty old misogynist.  Was it a drunken lapse in judgment?  Or is this actually (shudder) her husband? 

Why has Vienna suddenly joined the police force?  What is the psychomorph?  Why are so many fellow residents of this “personality hotel” unsure of their own identities…or even where they are?  And why are some of them turning up stone dead?

“Do you ever say anything helpful?”
“Well, I find listing your character flaws very helpful.”

While it’s unusual to hear the infamous Vienna Salvatori working as part and parcel of futuristic law enforcement agency CrimeCorp, the fact is that it’s no worse a fit than her prior status as an ostensibly cold hearted hitman/skip tracer. 

With the naturally sunny, wisecracking and indisputably American disposition of Chase Masterson, the fact remains that it’s hard to see Vienna as anything less than jovially good natured; a sort of Patsy Walker as Hellcat figure, gleefully bounding her way through life and death situations like she’s having the absolute time of her life.  And yes, this is a positive.

Tapping into much the same vibe as Nicola Bryant’s Perpugilliam “Peri” Brown with strong hints of Katy Manning’s Iris Wildthyme and Lisa Bowerman’s Bernice Summerfield, Masterson’s Vienna goes well beyond the lunatic/absurdist “merc with a mouth” of Deadpool (or for that matter, the similarly minded wackiness of Deadpool template Ambush Bug) to the uniquely odd status of “cheerful comic assassin” – herein amended to “gleeful smart mouthed cop”. 

It’s everything that’s right (and wrong) about the American action film (particularly those of the genre’s 1980’s heyday), with jokes, one liners and an oddly good natured feel accompanying all the onscreen mayhem. 

Logically, it doesn’t make a damn bit of sense; a persona like hers would never be so driven or conservatively vigilantist as to take on a military/law enforcement role, but the viewer (or in this case, listener) winds up having so much fun along the way that any sense of realism is permitted to fly right out the window.  Because dammit, we like our heroes big, unflappable, and ready wits here in the states…

“There’s a backup of the psychomorph in there.  It’s infected the Concierge’s AI – I think it’s going to try and kill us.”
“With light jazz?
(cue pained moans and screaming)

Far more entertaining than last year’s debut round of adventures, James Goss’ Tabula Rasa kicks off the new season with what proves to be a benchmark for future Vienna episodes.  Goofy, sarcastic, action filled and essentially mindless entertainment, this is fun for the sake of it, with a likeable lead and one chuckle inducing line after another. 

Special commendations to both John Schwab as the laid back, effetely vain antagonist and Tim Beckmann as the computer with a particularly diabolical taste in music, who together provide some of the best bits in the episode…

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“People get lost down there.  In more ways than one.”

Next up, Pathfinder Legends co-author Cavan Scott takes us to Underworld, which pairs Salvatori off with Lt. Jexie Reagan (Samantha Beart, presumably no relation to lovely 80’s arthouse starlet Emmanuelle Beart) to uncover the cause of a rash of random eruptions of violence among the residents of the old city, deep beneath the surface of the planet…

With Jexie implanted with a cortex inhibitor, Gan-style, her ability to lean on informants is severely compromised.  But her partner is the famed Vienna Salvatori, after all…

“It’s like you’re looking for trouble.”
“That’s exactly what I am doing.”

While things turn considerably more po-faced for this one, there’s enough camraderie between the rigid, easily enraged Lt. Jexie and the far more relaxed (if correspondingly dangerous) Vienna to keep things firmly in the buddy cop show milieu established in the (far more amusing) season opener.  There’s a futuristic cyberpunk setting that brings everything from Demolition Man to Max Headroom to mind, with a resultant feel that positively screams early ’90’s late night cable.  There’s even a touch of zombie apocalypse video gaming towards the end…

“He tells me to calm down, today, of all days.  Lemme see.  I’ve been knocked unconscious, by you, I might add.  Implanted with God knows what, again, by you.  And I’ve spent the best part of an hour avoiding a horde of deranged maniacs who want to rip my heart out.  And that’s before we mention the crazy nurses, have I mentioned the crazy nurses?”
“I can see why you might not be in the best of moods.”
“Ya think?”

In the grand scheme of things, this one’s straight down the middle, though Salvatori’s frazzled final run in with Det. Wilkes (Duncan Wisbey, Aldern Foxglove from Pathfinder Legends’ Burnt Offerings and The Skinsaw Murders) really brightens things up in the home stretch.

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“The triumph of capitalism!  Even justice is big business…”

Finally, Goss, Scott and Jonathan Morris join forces for a Viennafied riff on Being John Malkovich in The Vienna Experience.

“You mean, you can tell her what to think?”
“Within reason.  We can give her…nudges in the right direction.  Suggestions. Second thoughts.  It’s not a matter of coercion.”
“But you could force her to act against her will.”
“We could.  But then she would become aware…as it is, she remains blissfully ignorant.”

With the real world news of military development of brain implants for its soldiers (ostensibly to treat PTSD at this point, but since when has the military invested in anything non-weaponizable?), this story bears an additional charge of realistic technological paranoia. 

Taking subliminal psychological manipulation on the part of advertisers and political speechwriters to a new extreme, our heroine is subjected to puppetry on the part of her new employers, purely in the interest of profit.  Vicarious thrills await those with the funds to pay for the privilege…and the amorality not to care…

Like all the best sci-fi, it’s far fetched enough to fall under the header of “fantastic fiction”, while bearing sufficient real-world weight as an analagous warning against contemporary sociopolitical events to serve as a wake up call to the listener to be alert to assaults on individual freedom and well being from whatever venue they may arise, particularly what may be considered “friendly fire”…

Plotwise, this one connects loose ends from both of the prior stories, including the circumstances of Vienna’s joining the police department, the fate of the psychomorph and even the business about Det. Wilkes’ regrown hand.  There’s even less humor than we saw in Underworld, but there are touches of both Bubblegum Crisis and Robocop on hand, and one of the most complicated “everything you just heard is a lie” upturned table explanations I’ve encountered in some time.  Suffice to say, things get pretty crazy at the denouement, with strong elements of the horror film to the final “revenge” sequence (revenge being something Vienna seems quite prone to enacting with sinister glee).

While I’d certainly have preferred a more comedic approach to the last two episodes (most of the dialogue in Tabula Rasa is absolutely priceless), there are more than enough elements to recommend here, from the buddy cop film/cyberpunk business in Underworld to the (eventual) SF-horror and futurist feel of The Vienna Experience, with Masterson providing an eminently likeable, often quite funny leading figure throughout.  

http://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/vienna-series-02-1106

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