23 June 2017

Steve and Hayley Watch Farscape: Season 1, Episodes 9-12

1x09: “DNA Mad Scientist”

  • HAYLEY: I don’t even know where to start with this episode. It raises so many things that are problematic to me.
  • STEVE: Such as? (I mean, I think I can guess some.)
  • H: Well, the episode starts in media res with the crew being tested by a scientist (with some awesomely creepy imagery of him taking samples from their eyes with a needle). The point of this, it turns out, is to use genetic data to pinpoint their homeworlds. Which just raises the question - do D’Argo, Zhaan, and Rygel not know the locations of their own homeworlds? Just how difficult is space navigation, anyway? (Actually, if it’s that difficult, maybe that is why the Uncharted Territories, which are so populated with spacefaring races, are still uncharted.)
  • S: Yeah, the logistics of this didn’t make a ton of sense to me. I get that because they did the starburst in the premiere (and one more since that we’ve seen), they might not know their location anymore, because the starburst seems unguided. But surely they know-- or could find out-- how to get from Hyneria to Luxor to wherever Zhaan comes from. Like once you know the one, the others should follow if they’re all in “charted” territories. But then they also mention that the mad scientist guy’s routes would help them avoid Peacekeepers, which doesn’t really seem related to its function as a genetic database.
  • H: The next thing that bothered me-- for completely different reasons-- was that when the scientist (his name is NamTar) said that the price for his map was one of Pilot’s arms, D’Argo, Zhaan, and Rygel just went ahead and chopped his arm off! Whereas the genetic database seems like sloppy writing or plotting, this (I thought) was actually very good writing. We’re reminded that these characters are aliens and don’t always have the same values as humans do.
  • S: Yeah, Pilot says that he serves Moya, and Moya serves the crew, and though he says this in the context of explaining to Crichton why he doesn’t take offense at losing a limb(!), it also is clearly the attitude that most of the characters take toward Pilot. He’s less than a person, more a very smart piece of equipment.
  • H: I also wonder if Zhaan would have reacted the same way before “That Old Black Magic.” It seems far less compassionate than she usually is, and more in line with the evil-unleashed-Zhaan glimpsed in the previous episode.
  • S: Maybe. But I don’t think this could build on nothing-- there’s definitely a preexisting attitude toward Pilot(s) that it’s tapping into. It actually kind of reminds me of how droids are treated in Star Wars: they’re obviously intelligent, but they’re disposable. I guess because Pilot is organic and can feel pain it becomes more unsettling than if Luke needed C-3PO’s arm for something. Crichton (as an outsider) and Aeryn (as someone who’s starting to see how she was a disposable piece of equipment) are the only people with the standpoint to empathize with Pilot.
  • H: We also learn a little more about Pilot and Moya’s relationship-- turns out I was wrong, the symbiosis is not an obligate one (meaning neither individual can survive without the other one), because Pilot said that he made a decision to join with the Leviathan.
  • S: Though in next week’s episode (to cheat a little bit), we do learn that Pilot has some kind of sensory nerves that extend through Moya, so it seems like removing him would be difficult now that the bonding has happened.
  • H: But we also learn that Moya could probably survive without him (if not the other way around), because she could prevent him from obtaining nutrients.
  • S: To keep on topic, Pilot’s attitude in this one is really fascinating-- he objects when the crew come for his arm, but then tells Crichton he has no ill will, but then makes some very barbed comments later in the episode when it’s revealed that the crew did it all for nothing. But it doesn’t come across as inconsistent, so much as a value system we’re not used to. Pilot will always serve, but he doesn’t have to like it. (I’d be really curious to see what he was like when Moya was still a Peacekeeper ship.) Lani Tupu does great stuff as the voice of Pilot.
  • H: So while Rygel, D’Argo, and Zhaan fight over which planet they’re going to go to using the map, NamTar injects Aeryn with Pilot’s DNA, which starts to convert her into a Pilot. Then it’s revealed that NamTar himself has taken bits and pieces of other species’ DNA, giving himself all the best traits. Which… let’s just say, as an evolutionary biologist, I rather object to how this is depicted.
  • S: I’d say it’s entirely consistent with what I’ve learned about evolutionary biology from Star Trek and Doctor Who. Peri got turned into a bird once:
    I assume that scientist and NamTar went to the same graduate program.
  • H: Even if you suspend disbelief on the science, it raises questions about the extent of genetic engineering on sentient races in this part of the galaxy. If it’s that easy, there should be armies of soldiers with ridiculous unstoppable powers. Er, traits.
  • S: Putting aside worldbuilding and scientific concerns--
  • H: What other kinds of concerns are there?!
  • S: Story! I didn’t find that this whole subplot did much for me. It was more goofy than interesting, and I admired their attempt to get pathos out of Aeryn’s forced mutation, but I didn’t think it really worked. The heart of this episode was the stuff on the ship with the Zhaan/Rygel/D’Argo dispute about where Moya would go, even if the logistics of that don’t make much sense as we discussed.
  • H: I thought their fights/arguments were interesting. Each of them very clearly would put their own interests above the group’s.
  • S: But is good at rationalizing it, like how D’Argo claims he would help Rygel by raising an army if they went to Luxor first.
  • H: Yeah, and he really seems to have convinced himself that’s really what he would do, even if to us--
  • S: --and Rygel--
  • H: --it seems quite unlikely that he would be able to actually pull that off.
  • S: On Star Trek you only get this kind of character conflict if alien mind control is at work, even on the shows ostensibly built around being less “nice,” like Deep Space Nine. But on Farscape it feels plausible and real that they are at odds sometimes, and I think the show manages to do it without you losing sympathy for the characters.
  • H: The very last scene underscores that nicely. D’Argo goes to Pilot, and there’s a nicely layered interaction where D’Argo doesn’t apologize (in fact, he says that given the choice again, he would act exactly the same way), but Pilot basically accepts his apology anyway. Then D’Argo shows Pilot the musical instrument he’s been crafting, and Pilot is the first one to hear him play it.
  • S: Yeah, that was nice. Almost makes up for lopping Pilot’s arm off. (Not really.)

1x10: “They’ve Got a Secret”

  • STEVE: This one really was the bottle episode I thought “Exodus from Genesis” was going to be. All set on Moya, no actors other than the main cast (and Rygel’s barely in it), and only a tiny bit of new stuff in terms of Moya’s internal layout-- the main enemy is just lots of DRDs!
  • HAYLEY: They had to build a lot of new DRDs though.
  • S: I think there was some tv magic going on there.
  • H: Very likely. And most of them were never seen moving.
  • S: Anyway, this one came together kind of oddly, I thought. It seems like something is infecting the crew; meanwhile, thanks to trauma from an inadvertent spacewalk, D’Argo thinks Zhaan is his wife, Crichton his brother-in-law, and Rygel his son.
  • H: That stretched my suspension of disbelief-- that he would have hallucinations that intense, but essentially no physical effects of his exposure to the vacuum of space. (Even if the interactions with Rygel were pretty funny.)
  • S: Alien physiology! I liked the stuff with D’Argo, though I was unsure about it at first. Good comedy, and then later some good, character-building surprises about D’Argo’s secret (as hinted at in “Back and Back and Back to the Future”).
  • H: There were some good scenes there, when Zhaan and Crichton played into the roles of D’Argo’s family members. My only real objection that when he showed the picture of his wife and son at the end, Jothee looks really super creepy. Like his head is weird and too big. But overall I agree that those were the best scenes of the episode.
  • S: But on the other hand, I thought the damaged-Moya subplot moved really slowly, biding time for its ending revelation, with lots of conversations about how no one knew anything.
  • H: Yeah, and lots of wandering around corridors aimlessly. I thought they could have done a better job at uncovering that there is not, in fact, an infection, but a biological response from Moya herself. They don’t quite come right out and say it, but it seems like her immune system has identified the crew as a threat, and is actively working to neutralize that threat.
  • S: Yeah, there’s some kind of rushed explanation at the very end about Moya needing to get through the critical phase of her pregnancy first.
  • H: It would have helped the pacing to have the crew somehow work out that it was her immune system first, before they knew the reason why. I don’t think that would have detracted from the surprise reveal of her fetus.
  • S: That’s a good idea.
  • H: And-- okay, I know you’re shocked-- but I have some questions about the exact biology of Leviathan reproduction here.
  • S: Oh no.
  • H: Because it definitely seems like she wasn’t pregnant before, but there is no other Leviathan present to mate with. The Peacekeeper shield was somehow preventing her from becoming pregnant, so here’s my theory-- Leviathans can store sperm (like many animals), and the Peacekeeper shield had blocked off her access to that sperm, from some prior mating. (Though I haven’t quite worked out why some of it would then be blown out into space, along with D’Argo. Nor can I explain how fertilization, implantation, and growth of the baby happened so quickly.)
  • S: Isn’t the material they find the same as Moya?
  • H: Oh, right, I forgot about that. Which means… she’s actually hermaphroditic, like an earthworm? Like I said, questions. It also seems to be the same thing that they take for a “virus,” so… okay, I actually have no idea how Moya got pregnant. Nor what it was that the Peacekeepers were blocking in order to prevent it.
  • S: I guess I was assuming… what’s it called... “parthenogenesis.” Not that I know anything about it.
  • H: That’s an excellent hypothesis. And seems like it would be an advantageous trait to have if you tend to travel light-years away from members of your own species.
  • S: Anyway, my guess is that this is one of those episodes that’s more important for what it sets up than what it does itself.
  • H: Obviously I’ve only been thinking about the reveal at the end. Even if, admittedly, I spend more time thinking about what it means for alien biology than what it means for where the story’s going!

1x11: “Till the Blood Runs Clear”

  • HAYLEY: I rather enjoyed this episode. After John and Aeryn conduct a test flight of John’s shuttle near a star with solar activity-- nearly recreating the conditions of the wormhole that sent Crichton to this part of the galaxy-- they have to land on a desert planet to seek repairs to the shuttle. On the planet, the mechanic Furlow handles the repairs. Then Aeryn and John run into two bounty hunters looking for D’Argo, Zhaan, and Rygel in order to collect the bounty offered by Crais.
  • STEVE: I’m kind of surprised you say you “rather enjoyed” it. I didn’t not like it, but it had the feeling of one of the earlier episodes to me-- some nice moments here and there, but when I think about it as a whole I’m somewhat underwhelmed. What did you like about it?
  • H: I just found it fun. John putting on his “alpha male” act with the bounty hunters is ridiculous, and funny. But really what probably made me love it was Magda Szubanski’s performance as Furlow.
  • S: Heh, yeah, Furlow was great. A cigar-chomping, will-fix-your-ship-but-when-she-damn-well-pleases space mechanic. Crichton said he’d come and see her in five years… but the show won’t last that long! Boo, because I’d like to see her again.
  • H: I don’t think this episode contributed to the overall story arc or even to the character development of the crew (apart from, perhaps, the scene where D’Argo attacks Crichton). But I thought it was a good, enjoyable one-off. Why were you underwhelmed?
  • S: That D’Argo scene actually seems kind of important! Hopefully it means he won’t always suggest leaving Crichton behind when he gets into trouble. (And indeed, we see that’s the case in “Rhapsody in Blue.”) I liked the accord they reached a lot--
  • H: I do too. I like that the show acknowledges that these two people would not be immediate friends, but they reach a level of respect with each other.
  • S: I also like the way D’Argo almost over-commits to it right away, because in the fight at the end he won’t leave Crichton behind even when Crichton asks him too. But anyway, I think it’s because though the alien bounty hunters were funny, there wasn’t much of a sense of threat to the episode. It sort of feels like they went to the planet (which is called “Dam-Ba-Da,” apparently!), did some stuff, and then left. But the more I think about it, the more bits I liked there are, like Aeryn’s brief dealing with blindness.
  • H: There’s also a nice bit where Crichton and Aeryn discuss the offer that Crais left for her on the beacon-thingy that contained the message about the bounty on the prisoners-- that she would be forgiven and welcomed back if she abandoned Crichton and returned with the others.
  • S: Yeah, I also liked that bit. Plus there’s a part where Crichton meets an alien and mistakes his name for “Worf”!
  • H: Ha! In the closing scene, Furlow drives a hard bargain with Crichton-- the cost of altering Crais’s message (throwing the bounty hunters off their trail) and fixing the shuttle is for him to leave behind the data from the test flight-- data that could help him get back home. And Furlow does that thing she does with her eyes when she’s talking and the cigar in her mouth, and have I mentioned how much I really love Furlow? It seems unusual to me to cast that sort of character as female.
  • S: I agree. The Farscape wiki says Furlow was scripted as male, which is probably what makes her work so well.
  • H: I wondered as much.
  • S: So, I guess I did enjoy this one then.
  • H: Good.

1x12: “Rhapsody in Blue”

  • STEVE: After everyone on Moya has sex dreams (Zhaan: “I am unimpressed by your masculine memories.”), the ship arrives at a colony of Zhaan’s people who want her to teach them enough self-control so they can be evil without being insane. So in theory we end up learning a lot about Zhaan, but I actually felt like she was a side character in her own episode.
  • HAYLEY: That’s a good point. We do learn a lot more about Delvians in general-- particularly the priests who “train for purity”-- and that maybe helps put some things about Zhaan in perspective. But I would agree that we don’t really learn much about her as a person, except for learning what specific crime landed her in prison: the murder of her lover, Bitaal.
  • S: She wasn’t really driving the plot with her choices, Crichton was; it was him who had to overcome something to help her, and him who reminded her of who she truly was. Plus anyway I found the story of this one hard to invest in.
  • H: There was a lot of spiritual mumbo-jumbo that was somewhat tricky to follow. The funny thing is, if I had watched this show as a high schooler, I think I would have loved this episode.
  • S: Heh.
  • H: I would have totally bought into the esoteric spiritual stuff and how Delvian “unity” basically takes you to another plane of existence. But as an adult, it doesn’t really do a lot for me.
  • S: I don’t think this was as bad as some space religions, but space religion is difficult to pull off. I just found the whole struggle a little too abstract-- like what does it even mean to be manically evil but not insane? Tahleen seemed even more nuts after bonding with Zhaan.
  • H: She did mention that she hadn’t gotten enough of Zhaan’s knowledge, but yeah. The plot resolution also depends on Tahleen’s followers having a sudden change of heart, which is rather convenient.
  • S: Oh yeah. “We want to bring a bloody revolution to our homeworld, but doing something mean to this one person, that’s too far!”
  • H: It takes away some of the agency of the main characters in solving the problem.
  • S: Yeah, there’s potentially something interesting with the crew of Moya fighting their fears, but then it’s all over.
  • H: They definitely could have explored Aeryn’s fears of being untrained and incompetent more. D’Argo’s fear is for the safety of his son (of course)-- and poor Rygel, always the butt of the jokes! His deepest fear is being even tinier than he really is. He’s really sensitive about his size, apparently. I was ambivalent about John’s false memories about his girlfriend, but one thing I did appreciate about that was how similar his girlfriend looked to Gilina in “PK Tech Girl.” In retrospect, it makes me feel more sympathetic for how quickly he fell for Gilina.
  • S: Hm, interesting point. I guess Crichton has a type? According to the wiki, the same actress played the girlfriend as the Delvian priestess making John see her, which I did not realize while watching.
  • H: Going back to Zhaan, I did like when she told John that she trusts him. I also hope that the fact they’ve now experienced “unity” with each other is followed up on, like how can that not affect how John sees Zhaan? But I doubt it will, which is probably okay; and John doesn’t seem to really remember much of the experience, anyway.
  • S: That reminded me: it was a little weird how the events of this one weren’t tied into “That Old Black Magic” at all. In that episode, Zhaan complains she’s lost the control she spent years building… and here it happens all over again?
  • H: True, and in “Old Black Magic,” she said that it would be very difficult to suppress the evil inside her and regain control. But now that John’s helped her regain control in this one, does that resolve the earlier issue as well?
  • S: Something minor I did really like: I dig the Delvian makeup. They do a good job making their faces have a subtly alien shape with just lines and color for the most part. (As opposed to Star Trek-style plastic foreheads/noses/ears/all of the above.)
  • H: I appreciate the individual variation we see in the Delvians, also. They all look like distinct individuals, with variation in things like how much gold is in their skin. I was a tiny bit surprised that not all Delvians are bald. Do you think Zhaan was born that way, or does she shave her head every morning?
  • S: She probably uses a depilating slug.
All screencaps courtesy FarscapeCaps.com.

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