07 July 2017

Steve and Hayley Watch Farscape: Season 1, Episodes 13-16

1x13: “The Flax”

  • HAYLEY: While out teaching John how to fly one of Moya’s bio-mechanoid transport pods, Aeryn and him get trapped in an invisible net that pirates have set up to catch wayward spaceships, called “the flax.” The opening scene is the first time we see an interior of a transport pod. I couldn’t help but wonder-- is a transport pod also a living entity, or is it a detachable part of Moya herself?
  • STEVE: Hm, I’m not sure. When Crichton installed bits of Leviathan technology in his pod in “Till the Blood Runs Clear,” did he say that was living?
  • H: I don’t remember. Perhaps there can still be organic “parts” that aren’t technically living… or at least not sentient.
  • S: Like the fingernails or hair of a spaceship? (Are fingernails living?)
  • H: I was thinking more like meat grown in a lab. (No, they’re not. They’re just dead keratin, like hair.)
  • S: Anyway, this episode ends up giving us three parallel plots: Crichton and Aeryn trying to stay alive on the transport pod as it’s stuck in space, D’Argo and a space rogue going in search of an old Luxan derelict, and Zhaan and Rygel trying to keep a space pirate off everyone’s back. Like a lot of Farscape episodes, it’s kind of all over the place.
  • H: At first I quite liked Staanz, the former space pirate gone rogue. I say at first because there’s something a little problematic at the very end of the episode, which we have to talk about upfront because it determines Staanz’s pronouns. Staanz is played by a male actor and seems to present as masculine, but is in fact the female of her species. In some ways this is quite progressive genderbending (particularly for the 90s!), but the problematic bit comes in because this is used as a throwaway joke to kind of make D’Argo (as well as Staanz) look ridiculous.
  • S: Hm. When watching the episode, my reaction here was mostly surprise/bafflement, but on reflection I can see some uncomfortable parallels to certain trans narratives. Like Staanz is not trans, but the “aha! surprise! I’m a different sex/gender than you thought!” reveal is one that comes up in stories about trans people.
  • H: Exactly. The episode is nearly 20 years old, and there wasn’t as much awareness about trans issues back then, but I wanted to acknowledge the problematic bit before proceeding. So anyway, other than that, I did like Staanz. I liked her clothes and makeup design, and I like that she’s a “garbologist,” and her ship shows it. It is so cobbled together that it requires extreme physical exertion just to fly it! (Although how it could be powered by that little coal fire is beyond me.)
  • S: Yeah, Staanz is a fun character in the Harry Mudd/Sabalom Glitz line, though there aspects to this subplot that didn’t seem adequately explained-- why couldn’t D’Argo rescue Crichton and Aeryn, and then look for his map? Why did Staanz need D’Argo’s help to raid the Luxan derelict, given she’d been on it before and taken stuff in the process?
  • H: And why did D’Argo wait so long to change his mind? By the time he decided to go back to Aeryn and Crichton, it seems like he would only need like a minute or two more to grab his map and go! But at least that last one is addressed, when D’Argo is later ashamed of his indecisiveness.
  • S: I did like his realization (prompted by Staanz) that he didn’t just want to find his son again, he wanted to still be a man his son could look up to. Anyway, I feel like we’re not addressing the most important aspect of this episode: the introduction of Unresolved Sexual Tension into the Farscape dynamic!
  • H: The plot with Aeryn and Crichton has some tense moments, and I have to admit, I didn’t quite follow all of the this-will-kill-you-then-this-other-thing-will-bring-you-back logic as Aeryn had to vent the air of the pod while Crichton lacked a functioning space helmet. (Because who would ever think a spare helmet might just be useful to pack?) But it was effective at ramping up the situation, so by the time they think this is it and they’re about to die together, I totally buy that they start going at it and ripping off each other’s spacesuits.
  • S: It was a little more intense than I expected. In Star Trek when people make out it’s always so sterile. I’m not sure what I think of it. I mean, I knew it was coming because of what I already know of the show, but it felt somewhat out-of-nowhere to me. They clearly have a deepening relationship, but I didn’t pick up a sexual vibe before now.
  • H: I’m okay with it coming out of nowhere. I mean, they thought they only had a few minutes left alive, and they’re both lonely, so it seems like something real people might do. I’m a little concerned about where the show will take it from here, though; when they talked to each other after the fact, they were both super awkward and not at all handling it like mature adults.
  • S: Well, Aeryn (for obvious reasons) doesn’t have a lot of emotional maturity. It is my suspicion that she has not been in a sexual relationship before (it seemed like she didn’t have a sex dream in “Rhapsody in Blue”). And Crichton isn’t exactly mature all the time either. But you gotta have that ongoing “UST”! (like in X-Files or Battlestar or what have you)
  • H: I do think their responses are in character, but I am not sure unresolved sexual tension is something Farscape really needed. That’s where my concern comes in.
  • S: Well, I guess we’ll see. Finally, I thought at first that the Rygel-plays-space-board-games plot was not up to much, but the way it ended was hilarious, so all was forgiven. Though like all space board games, it was dumb and had lights.
  • H: It had flashing lights and electric shocks and holograms! If you’re gonna do a space board game, you might as well go all out.

1x14: “Jeremiah Crichton”

  • STEVE: So apparently the referent of both the title and the plot is an old movie called Jeremiah Johnson, but this episode is definitely riffing on a stock sci-fi tv trope, where the main character “washes up” on a primitive planet and some native chick falls for him, leading to community strife. The original Star Trek had Kirk in “The Paradise Syndrome” and Stargate SG-1 gave us O’Neill in “A Hundred Days.” But this had some twists on the old formula, first among them that the problem is (almost) entirely caused by Crichton’s own petulance.
  • HAYLEY: He differs from Kirk and O’Neill in that, although he (maybe) seems content to settle there, he doesn’t integrate into the community and isn’t interested in falling in love with anyone there.
  • S: Exactly. In both Star Trek and SG-1, the crew gets there and rescues the main character near the episode’s end, so I was nicely surprised when Moya turned up on Polynesian World not even halfway through the episode-- and then Crichton told them to bug off! Also Crichton doesn’t get anyone pregnant.
  • H: I don’t think Crichton is actually content to settle on the planet forever-- he is still holding out some hope that he will somehow find a way back to Earth. (Otherwise I think he would live in the village and fall for the girl.) But he definitely doesn’t want to go with D’Argo and Rygel when they turn up, because he’s still so mad at them for abandoning him (he thinks).
  • S: I didn’t anticipate he would be mad, but it made perfect sense once it happened. And yeah, Crichton’s wanting the star map, and living next to his pod still, seem to indicate a lack of contentment. Regardless of some good twists on the formula, though, I still found this one somewhat rote, with the Jealous Cast-Aside Lover, for example.
  • H: And don’t forget the second sci-fi trope: the primitives who believe someone who arrives on the planet is a god!
  • S: Complete with overcomplicated rituals that will result in someone being sacrificed.
  • H: I was almost actually okay with how this part of the plot played out. It does seem to make some sort of sense that, if these people’s ancestors knew that the Hynerians had trapped them on the planet and had the ability to one day arrive on the planet again and give them back the power to travel among the stars, that over the generations this could get twisted into a religion. Where it fell apart for me, though, was when it was revealed that the priests knew it was a lie and only maintained the religion for their own personal power!
  • S: Why?
  • H: That just… isn’t how religion works. I mean, I’m sure that there have been priests in history who don’t believe their own religion and are only there for the power. But I’m also sure they’re in the minority.
  • S: Yeah, it’s a pretty cheap critique of religion. I was willing to forgive all weaknesses of this subplot on the basis that almost everything Rygel does in this episode is hilarious, from plodding across the beach when his chair’s batteries die, to his sheer satisfaction at finally being looked up to again, from his long nap, to his reaction to realizing these people adore him.
  • H: It was a pretty amazing scene when he “rose up” in his levitating chair once the power drain was fixed, and waved at his devotees. There was some excellent puppetry happening with his expressions-- this is definitely another episode where you forget he’s not a real living being after all.
  • S: Yeah, they clearly pushed the puppetry to the max in this one (which is maybe why Pilot appears in one scene the whole episode). I liked the distinction Rygel draws between being a sovereign and a god, and how uncomfortable he turns out to be as an object of religious worship. It would have been easy for him to ham it up and revel in it all, but they did something slightly more complicated.
  • H: He’s no Meowth.

1x15: “Durka Returns”

  • HAYLEY: As this episode began, I got to experience a rare event: knowing a little of what was to come when you didn’t!
  • STEVE: What! How so?
  • H: You didn’t remember who Durka was-- the Peacekeeper who had tortured Rygel back when he was first captured (as we saw in Rygel’s flashbacks in “PK Tech Girl.”) I remembered… maybe helped just a little by getting spoiled that he would be in more than one episode when I looked at his character page on the Farscape wiki back when we watched “PK Tech Girl.”
  • S: I don’t see any reason I should remember the names of characters who never appeared on the show alive! And naming the episode after him seems a bit of a misnomer anyway, as I don’t think he’s the real villain of it, or the real focus.
  • H: Good point. Durka comes aboard Moya along with two of the Nebari, Salis (who apparently redeemed Durka back in the day through brainwashing) and Chiana, who is a prisoner. Durka’s backstory is not really satisfactorily explained-- he apparently faked his own death? Leaving behind a pretty convincing corpse, wearing his own clothes and jewelry?
  • S: In the middle of a pitched battle! Apparently. Yeah, the idea of bringing back Rygel’s torturer has merit, but the doing so requires no small contrivance. At first the focus of this one is on Durka, and if he’s really reformed (Rygel doesn’t think so and tries to kill him, not caring if Crichton gets in the way), but Salis always seems like the real villain, with his super-creepy affect, and the cruel way he treats Chiana.
  • H: Not to mention the mysterious way that their race decimated the Zelbinion. Salis is pretty unsettling, but he dies about two-thirds of the way into the episode. Leaving Moya’s crew to deal with Chiana, the dangerous and unpredictable criminal who has escaped and is hiding somewhere on the ship, a completely un-reformed Durka, as well as the impending threat of more Nebari on their way while Moya is incapable of starbursting away.
  • S: I basically thought this one was fine. The stuff with Rygel was probably the highlight, especially the way he insults Durka-- later claiming he did this to help Aeryn, but Aeryn points out he actually didn’t even remember she was there.
  • H: Yeah, there were some good moments, but also some ridiculous ones. When Durka cuts his hair to go back to his evil buzzcut self, it’s pretty silly. No way could he give himself that haircut with that knife! It does get pretty tense, though, when he cuts off communications, and all the main characters are in different parts of the ship, acting in isolation.
  • S: The most interesting thing is probably the fact that we have a new main character. Were you surprised? (As soon as I saw her, I knew what was happening, though I hadn’t realized she was added to the cast so early on.)
  • H: I actually was suspicious that she might stay on right away, because I noticed your reaction when she first came on-screen. But then I kind of figured that maybe she would be a one-off character that ended up coming back later on as part of the main cast, because it didn’t seem like a typical part of a season to add a main character! I think it’s a good move, though, Chiana is pretty unsettling herself, and she definitely has the potential to add some more chaos to the mix, and clearly can have a good character arc from here.
  • S: Though she was unjustly treated, it seems like she might have actually been justly imprisoned, which makes a change from all the other ex-prisoners on Moya.
  • H: Well, Zhaan did murder someone...
  • S: To save her planet!
  • H: True. Chiana does seem like a much more ambiguous-verging-on-evil character. The final scene between her and Crichton is a good one. Crichton assures her that she has free will to either leave Moya when she chooses or stay and play by their rules. But he also asks her where she was when Salis died (since either she or Durka could have killed him), and she only smiles. And Gigi Edgley’s performance early in the episode is so strong, that even when no one can find Chiana and she doesn’t appear on-screen for a good while, you feel tense watching it because of the potential unpredictable threat she could be.
  • S: Like Virginia Hey as Zhaan, she has a unique way of moving her body that makes her feel alien right away.
  • H: I didn’t really follow the final scene, in which Durka is in his ship within Moya’s landing bay, and Crichton lobs a bomb at him and there’s stuff going on with the doors to the bay. It was a bit too fast and chaotic.
  • S: I feel like this is true of a lot of scenes in the flight deck, I assume because they don’t have the budget to build the whole thing, which means there are never clear shots of where different parts of it are in relation to one another.
  • H: The end result, of course, is that Durka gets away. (He’ll be back, I’m sure.)

1x16: “A Human Reaction”

  • STEVE: In this episode, Crichton thinks he’s gone home to Earth… but he hasn’t. I feel like every “lost in space” show does one of these, or more than one of these, as a fakeout at some point. Voyager did, Stargate Atlantis did, Gilligan’s Island did, and if I’d watched Stargate Universe, I’m sure it did too.
  • HAYLEY: Maybe it would have, if it hadn’t been cancelled after only two seasons.
  • S: But I definitely knew it was a fakeout: not only is is the third of the six episodes on the Best of Season One DVD, but even the first time I saw it, I realized partway in that my college roommate James had actually told me the twist a couple years prior.
  • H: I did not know that it was a fakeout, and was pretty surprised at first to see John end up back on Earth so soon. However, as soon as Rygel ends up dead and splayed open on a dissecting table, I knew that there was going to be some twist. I didn’t know at first that it was an illusion constructed from Crichton’s memories, though; my first thought was that there’d be some rewind button (which would have been pretty unsatisfying).
  • S: Yeah, what is satisfying (and what I’d forgotten until the end) is that though Earth and the people on it were fake, Moya’s crew really did experience those events-- so we’re not watching an imaginary version of how they would react, but how they actually did react. Down to Crichton and Aeryn having sex, which was the thing that made me think it was definitely all a dream!
  • H: I was surprised that Rygel (when he was alive, at least), D’Argo, and Aeryn were really there. This has major implications for that Unresolved Sexual Tension! Is it somewhat resolved now that they’ve had that night? That was a good sequence of scenes of them together on the run, by the way, from Aeryn tasting the rain to their kiss in the safehouse.
  • S: Like the whole episode, that sequence was really well shot: the scene of Crichton sitting dejectedly on the bed in the safehouse, then him looking out the window at cloudy Sydney-- you really felt his isolation and despair. Similarly, the scene where he first appears on the beach was really good too, as was the kind of surreal scene where he discovers the aliens’ true form. And yeah, Aeryn’s delight over rain was great. (I also liked how Claudia Black played her up until that point, really morose and subdued and full of complicated emotions over the difficult choice of staying behind or going with Crichton.)
  • H: I also liked the direction of the scenes where it cut back and forth between Crichton’s perspective-- with the aliens’ languages perfectly translated-- and anyone else’s perspective, with their weird sounding tongues. Each of the alien languages had its own rhythm and sounds, and I especially liked the click-like vocalizations present in Aeryn’s speech. The languages sounded very natural, and the transitions between them making sense and nonsense were smooth.
  • S: But yeah, Crichton and Aeryn had sex for real, which I did not expect-- which I guess is one of my favorite things about Farscape so far, how it takes some of the cliches of sci-fi television and twists or ignores them. I guess we will have to wait to see the consequences of it. Overall, I really liked this one’s off-putting tone and feeling, though once Rygel died, before John and Aeryn went on the run, I felt the tension deflated a little.
  • H: I agree. It’s definitely one of the strongest episodes so far, and I was at the edge of my seat for a lot of it, but I wonder if it would have been even better if Rygel didn’t die or if his death came later on in the episode (although I’m not sure what the stimulus for going on the run would be if not Rygel’s death, so I’m not even sure that could have worked). Still, even though it was clear to us that it wasn’t Earth, the moment that John finally catches on that something is up is a very interesting scene, and the tension only seems to rise from there. (You already mentioned how surreal the shots get once John is interacting with the aliens.)
  • S: The only major flaw I can think of is that, now that we’ve seen more of him, I don’t think Kent McCord is a very good “tv dad.” Like, he’s not bad, but he lacks the paternal warmth of, say, Keith Mars or General Hammond-- and I think he’s supposed to have it.
  • H: Yeah, like, he throws his bugged lapel pin in the water so that he and John can talk freely, but he still seems somewhat stiff. My only other complaint (which is not a flaw, really) is that now that we’ve got Chiana as a new main character, in the very next episode her only appearance is a two-second throwaway scene in the prologue!
  • S: It oozes last-minute-cast-addition-means-minimal-changes-to-scripts-already-in-production. She’s still credited as a guest star!
All screencaps courtesy FarscapeCaps.com.

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