11 August 2017

Steve and Hayley Watch Farscape: Season 1, Episodes 17-20

1x17: “Through the Looking Glass”

  • HAYLEY: The episode opens with Moya’s crew eating dinner together, and I don’t think we’ve seen such a domestic scene with them all together like that before. One of the first things I noticed was that Chiana’s mannerisms have toned down since “Durka Returns,” which is inevitable, I suppose, but I expected we’d see more of her adjustment.
  • STEVE: Hm, I hadn’t caught that, actually. But given she’s not being tortured, I guess she has an excuse to be less weird.
  • H: The crew are bickering over whether or not they’re going to leave Moya, because the pregnancy is once again affecting her ability to starburst. But Moya (listening in on their argument through the DRDs) starbursts anyway to try to prove them wrong-- and ends up stuck, fractured into multiple versions of herself in an in-between dimension. This has got to be another common sci fi trope, right?
  • S: What? Really? Obviously I spend a lot of time trying to match this show into patterns established by older sci-fi shows, but twenty minutes into this one, and I was like, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like this. This one was weird! (Eventually I did come up with one, in a sense, but I’ll get to that later.)
  • H: I guess I was thinking of something like Star Trek’s “Wink of an Eye,” which admittedly doesn’t have different versions of the Enterprise, but it does feature different crew members existing at different speeds on the Enterprise, and therefore not being able to interact with each other. But what Farscape does here is indeed much more weird, and alien, and disorienting.
  • S: Moya is fractured across three primary color dimensions with physical rules unlike our own: the red one has a light that makes you feel sick to your stomach, the blue one is so loud it’s impossible to hear, and the yellow one makes you… find everything hilarious? It’s so bizarre and strange-- I loved it. I really like sci-fi stories where there’s a sense that our knowledge and understanding has broken down, and also ones where things from incomprehensible worlds are pushing their way into our own (I wrote one!), and this hit all the right buttons for me. The parallel Moyas were all really well done.
  • H: I thought the yellow one was the weakest, and after having sight and sound messed with, I expected another one of the five senses to be somehow impaired.
  • S: That’s part of why I liked it, I think-- it was just so different. And in some way it’s the most frightening, a universe where you just can’t think the way you want to think.
  • H: That’s true, now that you point it out. It is the version that you’re most likely to get trapped in, because you could stop taking anything seriously. And it gave Rygel a good excuse to make some ridiculous jokes.
  • S: The episode also lets us see some of the characters at their best, like D’Argo’s ingenuity in the red universe, or Aeryn’s growing understanding of technology-- the bit where she tells Crichton the sequence for putting the engines in reverse was cute. I guess we don’t see Rygel and Chiana at their best, but it was funny. (As was D’Argo’s frustration over Crichton’s vomiting.) Lots of good character bits in this one on the whole; I felt bad for Pilot when he was pleading with the crew to not abandon Moya at the beginning, and the scene where John talks to Pilot in Pilot’s chamber was really good too.
  • H: Zhaan has a moment when she puts her priest vestments back on; I do remember that she was no longer wearing them based on a conversation some episodes back, but I wish her vestments looked more different from her street clothes to better signal when she is and isn’t feeling priestly. I guess I just assumed earlier in the season that she took her wrap-thing on and off based on how warm it was, like John wearing his vest or not.
  • S: Yeah, I hadn’t registered the change and/or its significance until John commented on it.
  • H: The thing I really liked about this episode is that it divided all of the characters, and Crichton had to run back and forth between the different Moyas, gathering information and relaying instructions to everyone else. It nicely paralleled the differing motivations of all of the characters (as symbolized by the argument at the beginning of the episode), while showing that Crichton really is the glue holding them together.
  • S: Nice point. So about two-thirds of the way through, I did think of an analogue-- John avoiding the light made me think of the third ever Doctor Who serial, The Edge of Destruction, where a stuck spring in the fast return switch has the TARDIS hurtling backwards in time out of control as increasingly strange things happen in the ship (including a very bright light that comes pouring in through the doors when they open in flight). It’s a key story, because it’s where the original TARDIS crew moves from distrust (the Doctor and Susan vs. Ian and Barbara) to the beginnings of friendship-- and indeed, this episode gives us a scene where everyone ends up in Pilot’s controls just laughing in exhilaration that they’ve survived, and then a parallel scene to the opening, where the crew eats dinner together, but much more harmoniously. This weird experience has brought everyone together, and “Through the Looking Glass” gives us our first indication that these people aren’t just tolerating each other, but becoming a functional unit.
  • H: And that, right there, is exactly why we wanted to watch this show in the first place.

1x18: “A Bug’s Life”

  • STEVE: In this episode, the arrival of a group of Peacekeepers on a secret mission causes the crew to decide to bluff it out: Crichton and Aeryn will pretend to be in control of a Leviathan with the other characters as their prisoner. This requires Crichton to pretend to be a Peacekeeper commander, and let’s get this out of the way: Crichton’s accent is absolutely terrible.
  • HAYLEY: It definitely is, but I actually sort of love that he adopts it. It makes absolutely no sense: surely, given the translator microbes, it doesn’t matter what accent he speaks in?
  • S: And if it does matter, surely everyone would know the jig is up as soon as he opens his mouth?
  • H: But yet for some reason I can’t explain, I kind of think it’s awesome to see him strutting around in red leather, confidently speaking his lines in an affected accent.
  • S: Indeed, that opinion is completely inexplicable.
  • H: Maybe it’s the leather. Anyway, the jig is very nearly up soon after, as neither Chiana nor Rygel can resist opening the Peacekeepers’ secret locked box. They accidentally unleash an “intellant” virus. “Virus” is used fairly loosely here, although it is an infectious lifeform of some sort, it can only infect one person at a time, until it can spend enough time in one host to replicate itself by producing spores. It also seems to have self-awareness, perhaps; its host acts in the interest of the virus while infected. So when the virus ends up in Chiana, she claims it’s actually in Rygel, leading him to go into hiding and the others to begin a search for him.
  • S: This is another episode where I feel compelled to say, “I thought it was fine.” In an imagined version of this episode, you could get a lot of tension out of Moya’s crew having to deceive the Peacekeepers and save themselves from an intruder, but I don’t think this episode quite lands it. There are some good character bits (as ever) and for me that’s what made it work: D’Argo’s reaction to being “reimprisoned,” for example, I thought was really well done.
  • H: I agree with that assessment. There are also some good scenes between Aeryn and the Peacekeeper captain Larraq, where you get a sense of how Aeryn could have been happy in her life as a Peacekeeper. But in terms of the actual plot, the resolution is mediocre at best. There’s some science mumbo-jumbo that shouldn’t make sense to anyone who’s taken high school chemistry: the virus makes its host’s body acidic, but only after it has left, and Zhaan concocts some kind of alkaline antibody to negate what she calls an “acid-based lifeform.”
  • S: Well, I don’t even know that much about chemistry, but it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense that something that can take over all your brain functions somehow leaves no physical trace! It also bothered me that this virus that people cower from in fear and can devastate entire star systems and is worth Peacekeeper commandos tracking for a year can be defeated by something Zhaan can whip up with her limited resources and limited medical skills in about fifteen minutes.
  • H: Ha, yeah. So this one is not the best. Did it have any other redeeming moments for you?
  • S: I actually did really like the stand-off at the end; I thought the episode did a good job of making it chaotic with everyone distrusting everyone else every which way.
  • H: They end up all standing in a circle pointing guns at each other. I agree, I liked that scene.
  • S: Unexpectedly, for what seems like kind of a standalone story, this one turns out to have a lot of ramifications in...

1x19: “Nerve”

  • HAYLEY: During the chaotic final stand-off of “A Bug’s Life,” Larraq stabbed Aeryn. It had seemed like a minor injury at the time, but at the beginning of this episode, Aeryn reveals that it severed an important nerve, which will lead to her dying very soon unless she gets medical treatment involving a tissue graft from a compatible Peacekeeper donor. Larraq had also given Moya’s crew the location of a secret Peacekeeper base in the Uncharted Territories, so Crichton gets to disguise himself as a Peacekeeper again (terrible fake accent and all) in order to enter the base to try to obtain the tissue needed to save Aeryn’s life.
  • STEVE: This one was also on my Blockbuster Best of Season One DVD, and though it’s pretty obvious why given how important it is (and also it’s pretty good I guess), but on the other hand, in retrospect, it’s kind of surprising because it pulls together a ton of threads from across the whole first season: Gilina from “PK Tech Girl,” Crais’s going rogue in “That Old Black Magic,” Moya’s pregnancy from “They’ve Got a Secret,” the desirability of wormhole technology established in “Till the Blood Runs Clear,” and maybe most importantly, we learn there was a secret message communicated to Crichton by the aliens in “A Human Reaction.” I really enjoyed the way this episode took all of these threads and began to pull them together to create an unexpected and tense hour of television.
  • H: True-- I was not expecting that many of these one-offs would serve to set up a bigger story, especially not in the first season! Gilina wastes no time in risking her own skin to help Crichton and Chiana (who comes along as a “distraction”). It’s one thing for Gilina to help out Moya’s crew when there are no other Peackeepers around (and Aeryn’s pointing a gun at her), but Crichton must have left a pretty big impression for her to take the risks she did here.
  • S: But it’s an impression he can’t live up to, since in the interim he’s begun (kind of) a thing with Aeryn, setting Gilina up for disappointment. He obviously doesn’t want to get all passionate with Gilina, but also doesn’t want to tell her the truth. (And, naturally, neither does Chiana.) I liked her in “PK Tech Girl,” so it was nice to see her here-- but it’s the best kind of reappearance, where everything’s changed. It would be easy for her to just be a “friendly insider” character, but her presence complicates as much as it simplifies.
  • H: Despite her assistance in passing Peacekeeper security checks and in acquiring what they need to cure Aeryn, Crichton is inexplicably caught as an intruder when a new villain, Scorpius, catches sight of him. (I thought it was interesting to see that not all Peacekeepers are Sebaceans.) I have to admit, although I’m pretty good at avoiding spoilers, I must have come across something recently that mentioned there would be a recurring villain named Scorpius introduced sometime soon. (I don’t know what!)
  • S: I thought that the scenes set in Scorpius’s laboratory were very effective-- both Wayne Pygram’s performance and the set design/lighting are intense. I don’t know why his memory-extracting chair has to rotate, but it does make the scenes disorienting, especially when he rides along with it.
  • H: The close-up shots of Crichton help sell the disorientation, too. The chair is definitely the most frightening weapon we’ve seen so far in Farscape, and John clearly knows what’s at risk if he reveals Moya’s location or pregnancy. The reveal of secret wormhole knowledge inside his brain from the aliens in “A Human Reaction” is a surprising twist, and also amps up the tension.
  • S: All the stuff on the base was great-- the subterfuge feels more tense than in “A Bug’s Life” (even if Crichton’s accent is no better), and this is the first episode to really make use of Chiana since she joined the crew. What we see of her is great-- she’s the most amoral and least principled of Moya’s crew, even less so than Rygel, willing to use sex and/or violence to do whatever needs doing.
  • H: She’s got several excellent scenes, whether it’s flirting salaciously with the creep Commander Javio, or working alongside Gilina once Crichton’s captured--
  • S: --or setting Javio on fire!
  • H: I was getting to that! That scene really floored me, and drove home Chiana’s amorality. Does Javio deserve getting set on fire? Probably. But no one else on Moya’s crew, regardless of how much they engage in violence, would quite go that far!
  • S: Yeah. But obviously Chiana isn’t completely amoral, or she wouldn’t have gone with Crichton to begin with. (Unless she was convinced Crichton was going to frell it up and saw a potential way off Moya before the dren hit the fan.)
  • H: She seems to legitimately want to help in this case, as evidenced by her rescuing the medicine that Crichton had hidden and returning it to Moya in order to save Aeryn’s life. She just will clearly do whatever it takes to achieve what she wants. And not just when it’s killing evil sexual predators-- she also lies to the overly-earnest Gilina, telling her Crichton is in love with her and that they’ll come back with reinforcements to rescue her as well. (If the latter isn’t a lie, it’s at least stretching the truth, and it seems unlikely that Chiana is sincere.)
  • S: Meanwhile, on Moya, the once utilitarian D’Argo continues to become a big softy. We don’t see a lot of the ship in this episode, but what we do see shows the crew really has bonded. D’Argo comes up with a plan to save Aeryn’s life that contradicts a promise he made her, so he won’t let her know-- and even Rygel agrees that the crew has to do the right thing by Aeryn.
  • H: D’Argo’s heart just seems to get bigger every episode! It’s adorable. Meanwhile, back on the base, Crais makes his first appearance since “That Old Black Magic.” Somehow, next to Scorpius and Javio, he doesn’t seem nearly as intimidating as he used to.
  • S: I thought it was interesting to complicate the Peacekeepers a bit: here we have three different Peacekeeper leaders, and all three want different things. (Though one’s dead now.) And I guess Moya will be caught in the middle.
  • H: I did like the scene in Crichton’s jail cell, when Crais tries to bluff that he’s already caught Moya and the others. John cleverly plays along, but asks if everyone onboard is okay-- ensuring that he knows Crais is lying, but Crais doesn’t know that he knows he’s lying.
  • S: So this most exciting and most tense of episodes leads to our first Farscape cliffhanger! Were you surprised?
  • H: I wouldn’t say I expected a two-parter at this point in the season, but I can’t really say I was surprised by it, either. It’s a big enough story that I’m glad they’re giving it the time. (Of course, I say that now-- we’ll see how I feel after we watch the resolution.)

1x20: “The Hidden Memory”

  • STEVE: Crichton gets away, Stark gets away, the baby Leviathan is born, Crais gets his comeuppance… all it cost was Gilina’s life.
  • HAYLEY: Overall this was a great episode, and while it might not have as many surprising revelations as “Nerve,” I’d say that it’s a satisfying second part to the story. Except, of course, I’m not happy that Gilina had to die. And it was so predictable.
  • S: Yeah, I felt like the writer was taking the easy way out. Once you set up the idea that they want Gilina to come with them, but she’s in love with John, you know she’s dead because the show can’t afford to bring her on board. And it seems morally negligent-- if John hadn’t been so hell-bent to save Aeryn’s life, Gilina never would have been in any danger.
  • H: I briefly hoped that her death would be averted, when she makes the decision towards the end not to go with them after all, and runs off through the base’s corridors. But no, she had to pop up at the end for no good reason and get shot by Scorpius. I agree, that was lazy writing.
  • S: It’s one of those instances where you can see the hand of the writer at work; the story never made it feel like it had to happen. And it seems cheap that the only consequence the crew experiences is the death of a guest character, even if she was one they really liked.
  • H: On the positive side, we get some interesting scenes of Scorpius interrogating Crais in the chair, and we learn some interesting things about John’s crazy cellmate Stark, who turns out to be holding a kind of energy source inside his head, which emits light and healing energy and also protects his thoughts and memories from Scorpius.
  • S: I had totally forgotten about Stark until he turned up in “Nerve,” but immediately upon seeing him I remembered that visual of him pulling open his mask to reveal the light. What a weird, great image.
  • H: And I love the enigma surrounding what Scorpius wants to get out of him-- “the memory of a place I saw when I was a boy.” Later, Stark willingly gives the memory of that place to Gilina, to grant her some peace on her deathbed. It’s weird and spiritual and interesting, and I love that Farscape doesn’t back away from going there.
  • S: Yeah, there’s clearly more to be told about Stark and his people (making it all the more annoying that he vanished without comment before the next episode begins!). I did also like the stuff with Crais here, as you said. Though it somewhat stretches credulity that Gilina can insert a perfect false memory of Crais and Crichton conspiring into the Aurora Chair, I liked seeing our once-proud Peacekeeper captain end up on the wrong end of his people’s cruelty. And that scene where Aeryn finds him stuck in it and turns the machine up to max is just chilling.
  • H: That scene might mean I need to take back what I said about Chiana in “Nerve”: that no one else in Moya’s crew would go as far as she did when she burnt Javio to a crisp. Here, Aeryn demonstrates a pretty remarkable level of cruelty and revenge. (The difference, I suppose, is that for Aeryn this is deeply personal.)
  • S: It was a great scene, though. The trajectory of the season has been Aeryn’s slow rejection of Peacekeeper ways. Back in “Till the Blood Runs Clear” she was still entertaining the fantasy of returning to the Peacekeepers (with a dishonorable discharge, albeit) and even in “A Bug’s Life” she seems flattered when the commando guy tells her she should join them. Here you see Claudia Black almost still considering Crais’s order for a moment (“As a Peacekeeper, you took a blood-oath to obey your commanding officer. Till death.”), but then she rejects him completely and utterly (“You will never order me again.”). Black is great at doing a lot with just a small twitch of her face and voice.
  • H: Meanwhile, Moya has gone into full labor, and Chiana has to help with the birthing process. In an interesting twist, Moya’s offspring is not normal; he is, instead, covered with Peacekeeper weaponry. I really enjoyed some of the banter between Chiana and Rygel during the scenes leading up to the birth; especially Rygel’s declaration that he’s had hundreds of progeny who were “tiny and handsome-- like their father!” I was not a huge fan, however, of the forced physical proximity of the two of them, when Moya had to vent pressure and they took refuge in some kind of storage tank. Rygel practically sexually assaults Chiana, and that’s just not funny.
  • S: It’s a little out of character for him, given he’s previously claimed to find humanoids repulsive.
  • H: Yes and no; he’s made some remarks in the past that suggest otherwise, but he’s never quite gone this far before. I guess the show is trying it to make it seem like Chiana is incredibly attractive regardless of species? I don’t know.
  • S: It was funny when he farted helium. I had forgotten about that; I don’t think we’ve seen it since the premiere.
  • H: And was Rygel’s hand on the glass of the pressure tank a reference to Titanic? I did sort of laugh at that, as weird as it was.
  • S: Totally on a different topic, I don’t know why Scorpius wears that headgear, but I love how his outfit looks like an insect carapace, like he’s a beetle.
  • H: I find the headgear distracting. Like, I find myself wondering why he needs the two little parts that wrap around the parts of his chin. Sometimes he when he talks I just look at those and wonder if it’s a separate piece that he just puts on his chin, or if it’s attached to the rest of the headpiece. So I guess I don’t love it, but it doesn’t detract from Scorpius being creepy and unsettling.
  • S: Wayne Pygram is great though. He’s very menacing. He’s one of those people whose very calmness is frightening.
  • H: And now, even though Gilina managed to temporarily shield Moya from the base’s sensors, Moya’s unable to starburst with her offspring-- meaning that she won’t get very far away before Scorpius follows, with some very real motivation to re-capture John.
All screencaps courtesy FarscapeCaps.com.


  1. I know you wrote this a while ago but I just read it and had to comment... your remark about Gilina having to die so as not to mess with future episodes is really interesting because it shows how Farscape was in transition -- one might even say in the vanguard of the transition -- from the typical "reset button" mode of 90s and earlier TV storytelling, to the "anything can happen to anyone" high-stakes storytelling of today. Sometimes they go the obvious route to maintain status quo, and sometimes they REALLY don't.

    1. Yeah, Farscape (like Deep Space 9, which ended right after Farscape started) are definitely at this transformative moment-- in a good way, I think, since in our Netflixxed arc-heavy world, there are some aspects of "reset button" TV I miss. Gilina is interesting, because a less serialized show wouldn't have brought her back, but this show couldn't add her to Moya because it could complicate things too much. (Of course, Stark seemingly DOES join Moya's crew in this episode and then next episode he's just GONE with no explanation, so maybe she could have come aboard!)