Vienna: Retribution

Posted in Audio by - March 07, 2018
Vienna: Retribution

Released February 2017

Once a year, the vibrant and mysterious world of Vienna bursts forth with intricate tales of deception and intrigue that challenge and question perception and memory alike. With Samantha Beart’s Jexie Reagan providing an engaging and more grounded counterpoint to Chase Masterson’s bounty hunter, Vienna Salvatori, the two quickly formed an immense bond and became an unexpected but undoubted force for good throughout the cosmos, tackling personal and corporate greed along the path to forming their own detective agency. When Vienna awakes without her memory and finds herself accused of the murder of her partner, however, the usual confidence is lost as the public information surrounding her actions defiantly stares her down.

Guy Adams pens all three instalments of this saga, and he starts the set off boldly with Vienna arrested for the murder of Jexie despite her proclamations of innocence. Unfortunately, this is a world where the law can cut corners when the defendant’s guilt is known, and Vienna’s request for counsel and legal defense is met with little more than a scornful laugh. Edward Harrison makes an instant impact here as Prosecutor Grover who is more concerned with making an easy earning from this open-and-shut case than attempting to discover if, perhaps, Vienna could be telling the truth. Still, he does at least look up cursory information about his assumed culprit and listens to her account as she slowly regains her memories, glibly adding on new charges to her rap sheet as she continues while nonchalantly mentioning that the cases she was investigating were assigned to someone else in the justice department and thus of little interest to him. It is therefore through a series of flashbacks that the initial narrative unfolds as the two investigators came to focus upon Needle Incorporated after two rival corporate boards killed themselves under mysterious circumstances that suggest a potential malign psychic influence at play.

As the investigation enters the doors of Needle itself, Emma Cunniffe wonderfully brings to life the ruthless and remorseless head, Sharwell Ness, a businesswoman through and through who is all too keen to take advantage of her rivals’ misfortunes to purchase them at a bargain price. With a strange series of coincidences that always seem to work out in Ness’s favour, she becomes a focal person of interest who quickly shows her short temper as the questions become a little too personal. With Grover scoffing at the idea of a psychic influence controlling people, Vienna’s returning memories suggest that she herself has been overtaken with a brutal change of character that allows Beart a fantastic opportunity to showcase a more emotionally determined side of Jexie as she tries to retrieve her friend from the clutches of the unknown. Nonetheless, as the case moves to court and the judge sentences in accordance with the prosecutor’s personal suggestion that Vienna spend the rest of her life imprisoned on the Splinter as recompense for her many crimes, life as Vienna has known it officially comes to an abrupt and helpless end.

Incarcerated in a prison designed to be like hell with criminals who have committed more numerous and more severe crimes housed on the hotter lower levels, Vienna quickly finds herself subjected to the full extent of a lifestyle in which physical contact, exercise, and every other activity is strictly regulated. Uneasily befriending fellow prisoners Ratz, a practical man who once drowned his boss and gained his name due to his choice of off-menu cuisine here, and Mama Val, a stern but friendly woman who once battered with a rolling pin, the three form a tenuous relationship built more on convenience and at least some desire for companionship than on trust initially. It’s no secret that Vienna is more concerned with finding out what is happening to her, especially when she learns that Rex Needle is housed on level fifteen, but Samuel Harris and Annette Badland perform admirably to form an introduction to the rules of these criminal confines and to create at least a semblance of comfort, a comfort that is most welcome after two prisoners try to kill Vienna during their weekly exercise outing.

With Vienna’s life in peril before she deftly proves her mettle and emerges victorious, investigations on the outside world are thankfully continuing as Grover brings forth a modicum of professionalism to continue Vienna’s questioning of Ness with more examples of recent deaths that have resulted in beneficial windfalls for both Needle Incorporated and herself. However, while the simultaneous but disparate investigations both inside and outside continue on an undoubted path of convergence, the standout moment of the story and quite possibly the entire range as a whole arrives as Vienna finally opens up and explains just how important Jexie was in changing her life for the better and helping her to develop a conscience. Emotional and reflective depth has been the one somewhat lacking area of this range that has so spectacularly brought action and twists to life, and Masterson gives a defining performance in this poignant moment of vulnerability. Unfortunately, while trying to come to terms with Jexie’s loss and the long shadow that her absence casts, Vienna experiences an unknown time loss alongside Ratz, causing them to miss curfew and to earn sentencing to priority two confinement in the heart of the Splinter on the seemingly mislabeled level sixteen, a scorching area where a very familiar voice awaits them in earnest.

As Ness flaunts her brazen confidence and self-assuredness even on Department of Justice property, Vienna makes the most of her brush with death in the depths of the Splinter to earn an audience with the famed Rex Needle, a man who is not quite living the expected destitute life of a convicted felon. Strangely, Vienna seems more at home with this twist as she tries to piece together the puzzle before her, understanding that Needle truly did commit the mass murders he was accused of to end up in prison but not yet quite able to comprehend what his strategy to return to the world at large with his business booming must be beyond the use of Ness as a scapegoat. Vienna has always been remarkably adept at picking up subtleties, but it’s refreshing that she for once is on equal footing with the audience rather than ten steps furtively ahead, another development that makes her much more relatable and fallible than in previous sets as she not-so-respectfully declines Needle’s job offer. Adams made a bold choice to withhold the true enemy of this streamlined three-story set until the final instalment, but Colin McFarlane gives an immense performance oozing with charisma and menace that easily sets up a credible threat that could soon amplify in scope exponentially as Needle refines his research into alien technology attained through his genocidal tendencies that allows him to touch and influence others’ minds.

In a series so predicated upon memory and perception, it’s no surprise whatsoever that Vienna’s memories are not completely accurate and that Jexie has survived the murder attempt, a twist that other sets would have used with Vienna in the starring role. Nonetheless, the means by which Jexie achieved this deception are wholly surprising and put Vienna’s final memories of her into a wonderful new context while highlighting just how quick-thinking Jexie is in her own right and what a truly fitting companion to the brave Vienna she has become. Indeed, the entire resolution hinges upon Jexie’s ingenuity as Grover finally discovers the nefarious plot occurring all around him, and though Vienna is understandably upset by the actions taken even if they did ultimately save her life and serve the common good, it’s hard to think of any other course of action resulting in an outcome as positive as this one overall proves to be even as physical threats and moral quandaries abound in the execution of it. Whether there is any emotional fallout from this truth in the future or not, this resolution allows for immense exchanges between Masterson and Beart with each character dropping all pretenses and openly expressing just how much they mean to each other and what lengths they would go to for each other, highlighting the incredible relationship they have formed in such a short period of time. This is not a story where the leads escape relatively unscathed and carefree, and the series as a whole is all the stronger for it.

Guy Adams clearly has a firm grasp on Vienna and its stylish action and imagery, and his steady voice along with confident direction and sound design believably take the titular heroine and her companion through internal emotional turmoil and exploration to create the range’s strongest outing yet. With consequences both physical and mental that will not soon be forgotten, this fourth series uses its leads and guest cast to remarkable effect to create another living comic book emboldened by a true sense of heart, a testament to everyone at Big Finish who continue to strive to tweak a winning formula to provide something that continues to evolve for the better.

  • Release Date: 2/2018
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