Actual Play – Episode 5 Finale (3/22/2012)

Director: Leonard Balsera
Cast: Rich Rogers, Scott White, and Sean Nittner
System: Prime Time Adventures
Show: Blue Gene

Episode 5 (cont)

Picking up the end of our season finale we had to decided how to fight this case and find out who was behind the setup.

Act 3

Frank made a plea to the commissioners to pause the case while he and Sloane went out looking for Siddig. They, for good reason, were concerned that Frank and Sloane might be in cahoots with their partner and suggested that perhaps Lt. Neil Garrett might be better suited to track Siddig down, or at least less compromised. This was when something interesting happened (and it would happen again later in the game) one of the players totally threw a sympathetic NPC (a connection in fact) under the bus. Frank protested that Garrett didn’t know what the hell he was doing if he hadn’t realized in all this time that Siddig had been re-sequenced and that he wasn’t up to the task.

Scott (Frank) won the flip, was given 24 hours to find Siddig (we thought adding a time limit would be good for the tension of the show) and won his stakes. He did so however, with a lot of collateral damage that came strictly from the narrative. Specifically that Garrett hated his ass for that move. I say this is interesting because as players (and director) it was immediately obvious to us  that winning meant making an enemy of Garrett. In a lot of other games that would been considered a partial success or a even an outright failure. I can imagine in apocalypse world, if someone was rolling to act under fire and got a 7-9, something like this would have come up. The point is that this didn’t feel like a clean victory, but it felt like the victory that made sense. PTA doesn’t really have a caveat for that (except possibly having last word) so I thought it was very cool that Scott was down with accepting that as a “win” condition. Because frankly, having our lives complicated is what makes this show awesome.

In Sloane’s scene they went back to the scene of the crime to find out what really happened. This is the first time the camera saw the actual fight scene (last time it has been cut). Lenny was pretty keen on portraying the brutality of the fight. Getting away with all the gore HBO is happy to present (c.f. Spartacus Blood and Sand). The rest of us (me especially) however want to still play Siddig up as a sympathetic character. So mixed in the scene of a massacre were several heroic efforts to protect Sophie when she otherwise would have been gunned down.

Frank and Sloane talked about it, and seeing the situation decided that while brutal, it was done in self defense or in the defense of another. Should re-sequencing be considered legal in the first place (for law enforcement at least) Siddig may just be innocent.

Cut immediately to a high speed chase of Sophie and Shaun West in a van perusing an armored car. After a few scenes of them tearing through traffic in a heavily populated area, and just when it seemed like the car was going to get away Siddig appears from nowhere on his repulsor crotch rocket bike and slams his repulsors into the armored car, causing it veer off course, topple over and go careening into a frozen yogurt shot in the middle of a mall.

This scene required two flashback scenes for it to make sense. One was of Sophie breaking Siddigs bike out of impound (with more explosives) and the other was Sloane and Frank going to the Greasy Spoon and order the rhubarb pie (Siddigs favorite) and it coming with a note that told them where to find him).

Frank and Sloane show up on the scene unnoticed by too late to prevent it from being a serious catastrophe. The men in the armored car, that we inferred from Sophie and Shaun’s chatter were people Shaun had tracked down as part of this conspiracy, were all gene freaks that had taken several hostages, including the FroYo store owner with his ridiculous pale pink chef hat.  The leader of the group had called Siddig out to make him an offer. Throwing his guns (both of them) in front of them, Siddig walked forward slowly, negotiating with him. The leader tried to win him over “It doesn’t have to be like this Siddig. You can come with us and you’re troubles will be over”. That’s when Siddig caught a reflect of Frank above on a catwalk and started advancing slowly on them.

After a bit of banter back and forth, I was ready to see some action so I called for a flip. Could Siddig keep his cool and do something redeeming, when faced with the ass-wipes that were ruining his life? The odds were against me until both Scott and Rich through in fan mail for me. That was was very cool. I won the flip, managed to arrest the leader (rather than murder him) and our collective heroics all were caught on the news by none other than Danielle Covington.

Lenny hopped in with an interstitial scene showing Mallory getting a call, looking very grave and saying “I didn’t think we would have to act so fast. I won’t do it… Okay, I’ll do it.” Next thing we saw was her approaching Curtis Hunter with an injector filled with the neon blue the show got it’s name from.

Act 4

Act four was punctuated by three important events that tied all our characters together.

We opened with Frank visiting Curtis in a hospital garden, presumably where he was resting while the court was in recess. They argued for a bit, the same old saw, till finally Curtis crumpled and asked “why should I argue with you any more Francis, I’ve already lost” and with that he stood up out of his wheel chair, revealing to Frank (and the audience) that he had been cured.

The second scene was a brutal conclusion of our court case. Mallory put Curtis on the stand, which he walked to on his own (showing the commissioners he had been re-sequenced) and she started questioning the stability of his so called “miracle cure”.  Curtis looked worried, but not because of what Mallory was saying. Siddig could hear it; irregular heart palpitations from Curtis. Even from across the room, he could tell Curtis, the man who gave him life was dying from his own creation!

As Curtis condition worsened, Mallory pushed the point that his creation was in fact dangerous and no more than a sophisticated performance enhancement drug.

That is when two things clicked. One, Mallory had played too much of her hand, and with the knowledge we gained from the Mysterious Asian man and his resources, we had proof that Mallory (or her accomplices) had engineered a re- sequencing specifically to poison Curtis as part of a conspiracy to undermine the Blue Crimes unit in the LAPD! Ha!

Oh, and Curtis had a heart attack.

The flip revealed two things. One, Sloane through his ex-lover under the bus. Yeah, we knew she was just a pawn in someone’s larger plan, but she was the only one we could pin the blame on. So there we go, taking another one of our connections (cf Lt Garret above) and turning them into enemies. But more importantly here, we survived by letting someone else take the fall. Sure, she was involved, but she was by no means the mastermind, and we destroyed her. I mean, jail time is a possibility, but even if not, her credibility as the DA is shot. I think Lenny has some plans for how to bring her back, protected by her patron, but completely hateful of us both for destroying her career but also for forcing her to get more in bed with the big bad guy behind it all.

The second big reveal was that Frank saved his dad, and he did it the exact way he had been talking about. Mallory had re-sequenced Curtis with a formula that was designed to kill him, but Frank had the antigen, something Curtis revealed in the fight with Wendell. The shot was saw was Frank asking everyone to have a moment alone with his father in the hospital room and then delivering the re-sequencing formula, and finally answering the question of Franks issue of whether or not he would use blue gene technology to in this case literally save his father’s life.

Epilogue

The season ended with us all partying at the The Gran(D)(D)esign night club (Frank’s set, fitting for this being his spotlight episode). We were celebrating Curtis being alive, Frank winning the case (to have re-sequencing legalized for military and law enforcement use) and Siddig getting off as innocent of murder. There was a bittersweet side to all of this, that Frank had used the cure against his father’s will, that Mallory had to take the fall for us, and that Siddig would not be watched like a zoo animal, but we weren’t thinking about any of that… until the Mysterious Asian guy in a suit (TM) showed up.

He told us that we were pivotal in helping him and that he would like to work with us again in the future. Siddig was all kinds of indignant. “Look man, I don’t even know you are or what your motives are.” He responded that his name was Yamamoto, that too pursue justice sometimes you need to work outside the law, and that he worked for the NSA, as could we if we really wanted to play in the pro-leagues. BOOM!

Thoughts on this game

There is one scene I left out because I can’t remember exactly when it was. Also, it has less to do with the action, and more with the character’s interactions.  We were all at the greasy spoon. Danielle (Sloane’s ex-wife, now back together with him) and the cops were all there talking about the court case. Danielle and Siddig agreed (something that NEVER happens, almost on principle) that she needed to get footage of the court case so they could blow this conspiracy business wide open to the public. A really curious and cool thing happened then. The both, independently turned to Sloane for approval. Like, honest to god, we won’t pull off this crazy shit we have in mind unless you say it’s okay. It was a really tender moment in a lot of ways. Danielle is all about being independent and not being chained down to anyone. And Siddig just assumes his actions are for the greater good without considering the collateral damage they cause. For, possibly the first time, they both stopped and thought about it, and then looked to Sloane as their voice of reason. I thought it was a cool bonding moment all around.

There was another game changer that happened in this episode. For game after game Frank had been trying to ingratiate himself with Siddig and Sloane. And it would seem to work, “we’re all a team” for a while, but then that bond would be stretched again when Frank did some IA bullshit, or when external forces reminded us that he wasn’t really part of the “team”. This session, I believe dissolved that distinction for good. Not only did he put his career (and life) on the line for Sloane and Siddig, but he also may very well now be officially working with them in the future (as part of NSA). I’m very glad this transition happened.

With the end of a season, came some other major “world” level changes. Next season we might be working for the NSA instead of the LAPD. Even if we aren’t, that offer will be on the table and create tension as necessary. Siddig, will most likely be monitored day and night, something I’m sure will drive him crazy. We know there is a giant conspiracy lurking somewhere in or above (more likely) the LAPD to take apart the Blue Crimes unit that we’ve got to ferret out. Finally, two of our connections are most assuredly gone (Lt Garret and Mallory). They may even come back as nemesis next season.

I think that for an end of a season (especially a first season) those are some pretty awesome changes. And they are even more awesome because those big “world” changes reflect the personal issues our characters faced (Frank and his dad, Sloane and his divorce, and Siddig’s fear of getting caught).

Some props for our director:

Revealing Yamamoto as an NSA agent, instead of some criminal was critical to the credibility of our characters (or at least Siddig). To continue being cops with a conscience, him being a “good guy” was necessary. Good call there Lenny.

There were quite a few times when loose ends felt pretty loose. Early on I was like what is this conspiracy? Does Lenny know? Are we just inventing a bad guy here or do they have real teeth, a real motive, etc? I’m pretty sure the specifics weren’t sorted out till later, but I think they all ended up gelling in a tight, believable and compelling fashion. I still don’t know why someone would want to take apart our unit, but I can imagine there are plenty of reasonable reasons in the fiction, so I’m not worried. Very glad many of those open plot hooks were tied back in.

Some thoughts on connections:

I wonder if it makes any sense to have a connection that is an antagonist. I pose this because I didn’t really ever use Siddig’s connection with the Lt, mostly because they were at odds with each other. But in lots of show, and police procedurals for sure, there are regular characters that are antagonistic to the cast. Not enemies per se, but Sir Kay figures whose job it is to be the regular foil to the main characters and make them step up that much higher to succeed. In cop shows that is usually the pair of wise-cracking cops that always show up at the worst possible time to point out that the main characters have mud on their face. Sometimes those cops are kind of second rate idiots that tease but never get ahead (c.f. Elton Hodeges from Good Guys) but they are always their to knock the protagonists down a peg when necessary.

I wonder if having someone like that as a connection makes sense within the context of PTA. Instead of them helping on a flip because they are aiding you, they help on a flip because their antagonism pushes you to push harder than you would otherwise.  I think there might be a good place for this, though it might be hard to tell exactly when that connection could be used (and it might require the player narrating a bit of the connection coming around to antagonize them, which might feel contrived).