"The Leper's Kiss"
Week of November 10, 2002
by Michelle Erica Green


In Film Noir, The Heroine's Also The Villain

"The Leper's Kiss" Plot Summary:

Dylan receives a top-secret hail from Man Ka-Lupe -- one of the founding fathers of the Commonwealth -- asking him to hunt down an assassin called The Leper who may soon make an attempt on his life. Ka-Lupe doesn't trust Commonwealth bureaucrats and makes Dylan promise to give his crew information only on a need-to-know basis, for if The Leper learns that he is being trailed, he'll disappear. Rommie expects an assassination attempt at a festival in honor of the vernal equinox, about 72 hours hence. Dylan takes Beka and Tyr to seek a contact at Cassius Drift, though both crewmembers are frustrated that Dylan won't share information with them. He tells them they are going to be interviewing potential assassins for hire.

Dylan chooses a woman mercenary, but as soon as he offers her the job, Sasha tries to kill him. When Tyr and Beka help him stop her, Dylan reveals that she is The Leper's sister. Sasha claims that she thought her brother sent them to kill her and wanted to kill them first to send him a message. She despises The Leper, who was the one person in the galaxy she trusted until she discovered that he'd had their family murdered. She says that if her brother intends to assassinate someone, he will disguise his weapon, fake credentials to get close and leave no witnesses behind. When the Maru has trouble entering the Lundmark system without being detected, Sasha says she knows a man named Crescent who can navigate secret routes to Lundmark. Unfortunately he's in prison, but Dylan agrees to help spring him even though he doesn't trust Sasha -- especially not after she tries to seduce him.

Dylan and Sasha make it to Crescent's cell by pretending that the prisoner is her uncle, but the guards discover the ruse and lock them inside. Gunyon, who runs the private prison, appears to them in holographic form, greeting Dylan by his real name and offering to trade their lives for those of two captives discovered on a nearby salvage ship...namely, Tyr and Beka. Gunyon admits that he has no real taste for killing but he needs to be feared to maintain his power, which leads Dylan to offer Gunyon a deal: if he'll set them free to kill The Leper, for which they'll take no credit, Gunyon can claim that he did the job. He lets them go, and after a dangerous trip through a nebula which reveals that Crescent isn't really an expert in routes to Lundmark, they land.

Dylan insists on leaving Sasha and Crescent on the Maru, explaining to Beka and Tyr that he believes Sasha is The Leper. Her willingness to stay on the ship rather than accompany him confirms his suspision that she plans to sneak off alone. While Tyr and Beka scout the hotel and corner Crescent, Sasha transforms her earrings into a weapon and prepares to shoot Man Ka-Lupe. But Dylan finds her and fights with her, even as an anonymous killer murders Crescent and tries to shoot Tyr. When Sasha corners him, Dylan sends Beka a bluff message, telling her to take Sasha out. Afraid that she is being targeted, Sasha flees. When she is captured, she tells Dylan that he could only catch her because he isn't afraid of death. He says that he'll see her again in another life, expecting her to be imprisoned for the rest of this one, but later he learns that Sasha escaped from Commonwealth security. Tyr guesses that she had help, and Dylan realizes that of course she did...from her brother.

Analysis:

A lame ending and some improbable plot twists can't mar the fun of 'The Leper's Kiss,' which has crackling dialogue and a wonderful femme fatale. The moment Sasha kisses Dylan, the title becomes a groan-inducing plot giveaway. Yet getting proof that she's the villain doesn't really ruin anything because it's been kind of obvious all along, and once we know we're in formulaic noir territory, we get to enjoy the pleasures of that genre. In film noir, the heroine's always the real villain, and the moment she indicates erotic interest in the hero, you know trouble's about to start. It's just so perfect that her killer earrings are also her killer weapon! Dylan knows it too; he doesn't really want to kiss her and doesn't even blink when she suggests consummating their fake marriage. Perhaps this is the reason they have more chemistry together than any of the love interests of the week Dylan has scored so far.

I'm sure the fact that Sasha reminds me of Beka -- a darker version of Beka from an even more dysfunctional family -- isn't doing anything to dampen my opinion. Sasha's statement that you can prepare yourself for every betrayal but there's always that one that gets to you sounds like something Beka would say, or would have said before Dylan changed her perspective. There is some definite kink in Sasha's background -- we see visual indications that she has seduced women to accomplish her tasks, and she intimates that traveling around the galaxy with her brother had romantic overtones. Beka mistrusts Sasha about as much as one would expect, yet she doesn't show any real hostility toward her. I'm sorry the two of them don't have any dialogue because I bet Beka would get a really interesting read on her.

Beka's nose is understandably quite out of joint when Dylan refuses to give her information about the assassination attempt, though she's been more forgiving of him in such situations recently. Maybe the shenanigans concerning Uncle Sid's return have left her a wee bit distrustful. Tyr doesn't seem to care about the details except inasmuch as the fact that what he doesn't know could get them killed. He and Beka both react with appropriate fury when they learn that Dylan's intended contact is The Leper's sister, but they're both willing to joke about the situation, even when Dylan makes a comment to Beka subtly comparing the killer to Tyr. And then Tyr makes a comment comparing Sasha's brother to Beka...lovely continuity both in terms of Beka's character arc and in terms of the fact that Tyr has increasingly become her confidant. It's quite funny when Beka admits that she wants to kill her brother but she doesn't want to kill him.

Dylan has some great lines with Sasha too. When she says she wanted to kill him to send a message to her brother, he retorts that she needs to work on her communication skills. And it's just beautiful when she turns his need-to-know-crap speech back on him, refusing to tell him where to find Crescent except jump by jump. At first it seems like she's just toying with him, so it's genuinely funny when it turns out Crescent's in prison -- and on an ex-High Guard ship no less! I hoped that somehow they were going to power up the ship and take off with it, but it turns out to be a straightforward gimmick. It's a similarly cheap ploy when Gunyon asks Dylan to kill someone for him and of course it turns out to be Beka and Tyr, but itís good for a grin, as are so many moments in 'The Leper's Kiss.' Best line goes to Crescent, during the rotten trip through the nebula: 'It's better than a trash compactor!'

The ending seems rushed, strained and ultimately silly; I don't for a second believe that Sasha would cry over either Dylan or getting caught, and it bugs me that she didn't at least try to shoot him as she fled. Are we supposed to believe that this is because of Dylan's great personal magnetism, or that the brutal assassin has a sweet heart underneath? It doesn't help that we have little stake in the assassination attempt itself since Man Ka-Lupe doesn't do or say anything remotely interesting -- he's an artificially-inserted good buddy of Dylan's. The most troubling aspect of the episode is the number of prison guards who presumably die in the breakout, which seems a pretty significant sacrifice of life. But I guess that's Dylan's ethical dilemma.

I have only one visual complaint, and it makes me giggle so hard that I'm not sure I care: There will be metal folding chairs in the bars of the future! Surely even a grungy drift can afford better. Sasha's Rommie-like kickboxing skills seem a big waste of energy, but the fight sequence is entertaining, particularly since Dylan gets his butt kicked. That's good for him on occasion. Can't have him too cocky, strutting around in his tank top, trapping mega-villains who throw themselves at him all the time.


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