Reviewed By: thisoldcan
Review Date: 2/25/18 4:17 am
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In Vienna: Retribution, Vienna Salvatori (Chase Masterson) has been arrested for the murder of her best friend, Jexie Reagan (Samantha Béart). The evidence is clear; the police arrived just seconds after she murdered Jexie, and found Vienna with the smoking gun over a smoldering pile that was once her best friend. She is tried, found guilty, and sentenced to life imprisonment in the worst prison the planet has to offer: the Splinter. But things aren’t what they seem with this case or with the Splinter. Vienna has no memory of the events leading up to Jexie’s death, and worse yet, it seems that time is quite literally getting away from her. Trapped, and with nowhere to go but deeper into the prison, is it possible that the impossibly glamorous Vienna has reached the end of the line? Vienna: Retribution is a nice realignment for the series, as writer Guy Adams brings Vienna Salvatori back with a sprawling, well-crafted tale that hits a lot of the common beats of the series, while still making them feel fresh and exciting. Chase Masterson and Samantha Béart return as Vienna Salvatori and Jexie Reagan, with Masterson in particular giving a powerful performance throughout the story, while Béart, though mostly on the backburner, manages to delight in her brief time in the story. And finally, guest stars Annette Badland, Colin McFarlane, and Edward Harrison do a great job elevating the story with their performances. As the first proper Vienna release since February 2016, Vienna: Retribution is a welcome return for the impossibly glamorous bounty hunter Vienna, with some fine acting, and a properly cracking story.
Chase Masterson and Samantha Béart return as the galaxy’s most glamorous private investigators, Vienna Salvatori and Jexie Reagan. Masterson has played the role of Vienna Salvatori for over five years now, but she continues to surprise and bring forth new dimensions to her character, with this story serving as some of the best development the character has had in ages. Masterson is the highlight of the entire story, as she turns in one of the most powerful performances she’s given at Big Finish. She portrays the confident Vienna with self-doubt and the pain of loss throughout the story, and it’s always engaging to listen to. There’s some flashes of the old Vienna in the story, like in the scene where Masterson and Béart interrogate Emma Cunniffe’s Sharwell Ness about the recent deaths of board members, but by and large, this story presents a more broken Vienna. I thought that the ending confrontation between Masterson and Colin McFarlane, as she begs for the lives of others, was one of the best scenes to feature Vienna across all of the stories she’s appeared in. Béart has a smaller role than I personally would’ve liked, as I think she’s a fabulous actor, and her character is deeply engaging, but I think that she did extremely well portraying the character throughout the story. Her chemistry with Chase Masterson is palpable throughout the first part of the story, told through flashbacks, and her appearance in the final part of the story leads Béart to give a heroic performance that’s enjoyable, but it’s her interactions at the end, as she tries to convince Vienna that her plan was the best way to put a stop to Rex’s plans, that’s the highlight of her role within the story.
Joining the two stars of Vienna: Retribution are three guest actors, Annette Badland, Colin McFarlane, and Edward Harrison. Badland plays Mama Val, a matronly figure at the Splinter, who quickly befriends Vienna. Badland does a fine job with the motherly role throughout the story, and she’s delightful with her charming delivery of some rather twisted lines, usually juxtaposing her kind nature with the reason she’s in prison. But the final, chilling scene, where she gathers prisoners up to punish Rex, that’s one of her shining moments, as she channels a lot of grief and sadistic pleasure into her character for this scene. McFarlane also delights as the villain of the story, Rex, in a rather sadistic role. His unrepentant evil throughout the story serves well when clashed against Vienna, and his smarmy sadism delights in the final part of the story. But my personal favorite guest star was Edward Harrison as Prosecutor Grover, the man who originally arrests and prosecutes Vienna, only to be moved into action by her insistence that she’s innocent. Harrison is more than a match for Masterson’s wits throughout the story, and he puts that on full display in the opening part of the story. He’s sarcastic, he’s flippant, and more than anything, his performance is just a pure delight to listen to, opening the set strongly.
Guy Adams takes his second stab at Vienna with Vienna: Retribution a delightful three-part adventure that sees Vienna arrested for the murder of her best friend, and thrown into a conspiracy that ties in to her own predicament. One of the strongest aspects of Adams’ script was the character development he gave to Vienna in this story. The previous box set gave Vienna a change of heart of sorts, making her no longer the bounty hunter who kills without a care in the world, but as someone trying to do good in the world, turning over a new leaf. This story deepens that arc, by examining the relationship between Vienna and Jexie, and what would happen when Vienna lost Jexie. It’s a strong arc within the story, as Vienna is completely devastated by the death of her best friend at her own hands, but it’s at its best when Vienna and Jexie have a talk at the end of the story, where Vienna admits that Jexie has changed her for the better, while also acknowledging that Jexie’s inaction to help Vienna led her back to a dark place in her life, that she didn’t want to return to. It’s an incredibly powerful scene, of two women who mean the world to one another, arguing over the way the two of them handled their recent adventure. What I like most is the way the Jexie insists that she did the right thing throughout, and how, despite the hardship it caused Vienna, it ultimately helped them save the world from Rex. Adams could’ve had Jexie fold, and it still would’ve been great, but her stubborn insistence that she did the right thing, coupled with her recognition that it deeply hurt Vienna, makes it all the more powerful.
Guy Adams’ story is also strong in the plot and dialogue. I quite liked the plot the story, of Vienna working to clear her name after being arrested for the murder of her best friend. Beyond the aforementioned character development with Vienna and Jexie, and their relationship, I really liked the way that Adams took some of the common elements of Vienna, namely things like “mind” and “memory”, and worked them into something intriguing and novel. The idea of an insane businessman using a form of mind transfer to ruin the lives of people is an interesting idea, and Adams plays with it well. It’s used to excellent effect during some of the scenes when Rex projects his voice throughout the various prisoners in the Splinter, each uttering one word of the sentence, making a rather menacing effect. I also thought that the way that Jexie survived the assassination attempt by Rex was rather well-played out; it wasn’t something that I was expecting, even though I figured that Jexie had to come back in some way. The dialogue of the story is rather classic Vienna at times, but Adams takes the script into some more poignant moments. The familiar beats of dark humor, such as Ratz (Samuel Harris) delightfully describing the reason why Mama Val is in the Splinter are ever present, as are the flirtatious moments, like the fantastically sarcastic interrogation of Vienna by Prosecutor Grover, which was filled with lovely little attempts at flirtation. But the story has a quiet strength to it at times, as Adams takes the dialogue to more a tender place, from Mama Val telling Ratz to leave Vienna alone to work through her sadness over the death of Jexie, or the excellent closing scene between Vienna and Jexie.
Behind the scenes, there’s some interesting stuff going on. Grant Kempster designed the cover artwork, which may be one of my favorite Vienna covers, for just the pure silliness of it. It features Vienna on the run from drones with the spectre of Jexie in the background, but my favorite part is that Vienna has somehow found the time to take a glamorous fashion shot. It’s lovely to see a bit of tongue-in-cheek in the cover artwork for this story, I really like the work that Kempster did here. Martin Montague and Jamie Robertston sound designed and composed this story, respectively. Montague’s work on the sound design was pretty strong, as the city felt alive, and the prison felt alive. I did think that some of the modulation could’ve been toned down a skosh at times, like with the Splinter guards and Ness’ secretary. Robertson did some fine work on the music for the release, with some interesting pieces, both familiar to long time Vienna fans, mixed with some new pieces. I especially liked the music in the final scene, as Vienna and Jexie talk through the story. Robertson’s music is available as a suite at the end of the story, alongside a nearly 20 minute interview between star Chase Masterson and director Scott Handcock. The interview is typical, fawning over Big Finish, but Masterson has a charm and a passion, especially as she talks about her work with the Pop Culture Hero Coalition, that makes her an engaging interview subject, while Scott Handcock makes for a good interviewer.
Overall, Vienna: Retribution is a fine return for the impossibly glamorous former assassin and current private investigator, Vienna Salvatori. Chase Masterson and Samantha Béart do a fine job as duo Vienna and Jexie, in a tale that gives Vienna a lot of character development, and lets Masterson show off her range. Guest stars Annette Badland, Colin McFarlane, and Edward Harrison all shined in their respective guest roles in the story, standing out amongst a very strong guest cast. Guy Adams wrote this tale, a thrilling, three-part adventure that sees Vienna accused of the murder of her best friend, and imprisoned on the orbiting prison, the Splinter. It’s an engaging tale, with lots of great moments and an interesting plot that utilizes some of the best themes of the range, but it’s also a tale filled with lots of fantastic, quiet character moments for the character of Vienna, providing a natural progression from her previous stories, while feeling like a novel approach. Vienna: Retribution represents a strong new story for the Vienna range, and also one of the best stories that Big Finish has put out so far this year, with it’s fantastic acting and strong script.