Farscape Rewatch! — “PK Tech Girl,” “That Old Black Magic”
These two episodes couldn’t be further apart on the scale of awesome. Well, actually, that’s not true, but it totally sounded good. And that is why hyperbole is the best thing ever. Anyway, one of these episodes is great, the other is . . . meh, but it’s not really the episode’s fault, but more of a general conceptual problem for the show that fortunately is fixed by the end of the season.
The great thing about both of these episodes, aside from how enjoyable they are or how effective they are, is the great amount of back-story we get on Aeryn, Rygel, and Zhaan. Even Crais gets a little back-story action. Both of these episodes also introduce recurring villains and set up crucial moments in the future, which isn’t something we’ve really seen since “Premiere.” Plus, we get jealous Aeryn and bitchy Zhaan, which is always nice.
1X07 — “PK TECH GIRL”
We open on Rygel’s eye, the barest smidge of a reflection is in his pupil. It’s a ship. And as the camera pulls away we can see by the rest of his face that he’s afraid of it. The Moyans have found a dead Peacekeeper ship floating on the edge of space. Whatever battle it was in, it lost. Zhaan and Crichton want to skedaddle, but D’Argo thinks it’s worth their while to go aboard and check it out. Aeryn agrees. She wants weapons, and she wants to know “who she is,” i.e. the name of the ship. Rygel, without a trace of anything but doom in his voice says, “It’s the Zelbinion.” The Zelbinion, being the most feared ship in the Peacekeeper Armada, missing in battle for over one hundred cycles. Crichton, Aeryn, and D’Argo board the derelict battle cruiser, wanting answers, being scavengers. While investigating the command deck, a small blonde woman pops out from behind a skeleton. She recognizes Aeryn and makes the connection: these are the escaped prisoners. Aeryn tells them she is from Crais’s ship and John slowly backs away. Danger!
Aeryn puts the girl — Gilina, a tech — through the wringer until John stops her. The poor thing looks like she’s about to fall over and she’s clearly terrified out of her mind. Back on Moya, Rygel wants to know what’s going on, but is too scared and stubborn to go and find out. Zhaan tells him to confront his fears, or they will haunt him “from the pyre to the grave.” On the Zelbinion, Gilina is spilling details. Crais ordered her unit to do a full tech workover, but a race of beings called the Sheyang destroyed their Marauder transport and killing all but Gilina. Upon Aeryn’s insistence, she tells them that who destroyed the vessel originally is unknown as scavengers throughout the years had taken apart all the “data spools.” She also calls Aeryn a traitor. She got some balls on her. Rygel appears on the Zelbinion, appearing to take Zhaan’s advice (or her goading) to heart and runs into John and Aeryn, with Gilina in tow. He spits in Gilina’s face. Serves him right then, because two seconds later he starts having visions of a scary man with glass eye and a scar running the length of his face. “Welcome home, Rygel,” says the ghost.
Upon discovering one of Gilina’s dead comrades, Aeryn learns he was a member of her old squadron, who were demoted upon Aeryn’s defection and who can only be reinstated after her death. When Pilot and Zhaan inform them that the Sheyang are returning, Aeryn attacks Gilina — again — but John stops her. He shocks Aeryn by telling Gilina that Aeryn isn’t a traitor, that Crais never gave her a chance, “not like the chance we’re giving you.” Gilina admits she heard the Sheyang saying they were coming back for the non-operational Defense Shield, and they set to work trying to repair it. D’Argo and Zhaan must figure out a way to hold off the Sheyang for eight hours. Aboard the enemy vessel, we meet the Sheyang, who are basically giant lizard fish (who we later learn spit fire in great quantities). They salivate at the thought of taking Moya, a Leviathan. D’Argo goes into a little fit of hyper-rage in his frustration, and Zhaan thinks to broadcast it to the Sheyang, which scares them off for a time.
While D’Argo and Zhaan bluff their way to safety and Aeryn is off fetching supplies, Crichton and Gilina have a sweaty four hour bonding session, and they start to get all touchy. Rygel is hiding on Moya having flashbacks of his first time aboard the Zelbinion. He is cowering and shaking when Zhaan finds him. She tells him to go and find the corpse of the Captain, and to confront him. Crichton and Gilina get the Defense Shield working just in time, as a mutiny aboard the Sheyang ship goes wrong and they initiate weapons against Moya. It holds, but not for long. Crichton has the bright idea to take the other half of the system and installing it on Moya. In the process, Crichton and Gilina get all smoochy and touchy-feely, which is nice for them until Aeryn walks in and goes all He-Man. John being John, he follows her and they have it out, John letting her know that loyalty to crew is important to him, and Aeryn accidentally letting John know that she finds him attractive. Rygel finds the captain’s corpse — Captain Durka, who appears to have killed himself, the coward — spits on it, and takes back his things, and his dignity.
After the Sheyang board the Zelbinion, Aeryn, Crichton, and Gilina defend themselves in an honest to God fire-fight, the fire of course originating in the mouth of the Sheyang. Aeryn drops in at the last minute, killing the Sheyang, and says calmly, “Sorry about the mess.” It’s hilarious. Back on Moya, the crew are trying to decide what to do with Gilina, and arguing about whether or not if they let her go, she will reveal their presence to Crais. Aeryn vouches for her, saying she won’t want to be deemed “irreversibly contaminated.” As a result of the Peacekeeper distress call they start beaming, the Sheyangs are scared away. As it’s time for Gilina to leave Moya, she leaves Aeryn with a handshake and Crichton with a kiss goodbye. “I’m never going to see you again, am I?” she says, but he says they will. Later, Crichton finds Aeryn in Command, and he wrangles her feelings out of her, impresses her even. “I stand corrected,” she says, and walks away.
- This was the first episode of Farscape shot as a single episode (the previous six were shot in three back-to-back blocks), much to the relief of everyone involved in the production of the show.
- [SPOILER!] In the original script for “PK Tech Girl,” Gilina was to be killed off at the end of the episode aboard the Zelbinion, but when executive producer David Kemper saw Alyssa-Jane Cook, he had the script re-written, figuring they’d have a two-parter later and kill her off in that.
- This episode was actually the first to be broadcast. It aired as a special preview to the upcoming series on Sci-Fi Channel’s sister channel USA Network four days before “Premiere” aired on Sci-Fi.
- A Sheyang can actually be spotted in “Premiere,” speaking to Zhaan in the background while the crew are down on the commerce planet.
- The first time Ben Browder filmed the scene with the line about the Zelbinion: “Just ask Leonardo DiCaprio. Even the big ones go down,” he ad-libbed Bill Clinton’s name in the place of Leonardo DiCaprio. They were forced to shoot it as written because it was decided such a line might be inappropriate.
And here is perhaps the first time we see John in his native element. No, not being aboard a derelict Peacekeeper vessel, but acting as a lover. Because that is John Crichton’s true talent in life: Boy knows how to love, and everything that implies. And I’m not just talking about dirty stuff (even though that’s a big part of it — I mean, those lips, that ass), I’m also talking about it in the Biblical sense. Love thine enemy; love thy neighbor as thyself. It’s a Hallmark of this show that while Crichton has enemies, and some of them most certainly hate him, he never hates them. He can’t hate them, you see, because he always — in the end — understands them, just as he understands Gilina. Just as he doesn’t even give it a second thought that he should treat her as a person instead of a Peacekeeper, and that he shouldn’t teach her to do the same. (Think of taming Gilina as practice for taming an even scarier beast: Aeryn.) Make no bones about it: if John Crichton hadn’t been aboard the Zelbinion, Gilina wouldn’t have been long for this world, and neither, perhaps, would the escaped prisoners aboard Moya.
If John’s reaction to Gilina is telling, then Aeryn’s reaction to her, and to the Zelbinion itself, is a mind-blowing revelation. Gilina’s presence aboard that dead cultural relic of a ship brings out everything bad in Aeryn’s personality, perhaps because it brings up so many emotions for her that even she with her Peacekeeper training is having a hard time suppressing them. Her pride and patriotism. Her burgeoning humanity. Her prejudices and fears. Her loneliness, her sense of displacement. Claudia Black’s performance in this episode is masterful; she conveys all of that with a single glance, or a gutturally uttered word. The hollowed out shell of the most legendary Peacekeeper ship of all time is of course the perfect setting for all of this to happen. It represents all the things that Aeryn stood for, the things she can’t have both because of banishment, and because they are slowly being driven out of her by her experience outside of Peacekeeper life. On the one hand, John shows her how to trust a former comrade — a lowly tech at that — and on the other, he’s defending her to Gilina, saying that she’s not a traitor as everyone believes. He gives them the option that neither would have ever seen by themselves. I also love the interplay between the fact that this ship means home to her, and that John and Rygel see it as an “abomination.” It’s a pretty intense moment when Aeryn is telling Gilina that “The punishment [for irreversible contamination] is death, or worse, banishment.”
And then there’s the whole sex thing. Aeryn’s new at this interpersonal relationship and trust thing, so we’ve got to cut her some slack. So what’s great about The Scene (scroll down to my #4 classic Farscape moment) is that we learn so much in such a short time. John is genuinely puzzled by Aeryn’s reaction and reaches out to her as a buddy, as a shipmate because he’s never gotten that vibe from her before, you know. But she’s coming from a very different place. I said before that John is the one who Understands, so the reason then that he didn’t Understand about Aeryn and her feelings towards him, confused and embryonic as they are, is because she didn’t know herself. Not until she saw him wrapped in another girl’s arms, another Peacekeeper’s arms at that. But now he knows that there’s something there and his behavior can adjust accordingly, even if Gilina does happen to be on his mind at the moment.
As for Rygel’s story, it’s pretty straightforward. It’s about facing your fears, getting rid of your demons. Clearing the air. It’s also about trust and finding the person under the emblem. I also enjoyed the subtle suggestion that the Moyans are basically scavengers in space, hunters of refuse. The Sheyang may very well be “opportunistic foragers,” but the only thing separating them and the Moyans is the desire to wreak havoc and destruction, to commit violence for violence’s own sake.
The Rygel-story could have done with a bit more fleshing out, although if I’m remembering correctly, eventually it does. I would have liked it here, though. As is, it felt kind of shoved in and under-developed (it’s a pretty big event in Rygel’s life) in comparison to Aeryn and Crichton’s, and even D’Argo’s stories. Not the proper ratio of story importance to amount of screen time, but nobody’s perfect, I guess.
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1X08 — “THAT OLD BLACK MAGIC”
Down on some crazy commerce planet, the crew are searching for some medicine for Rygel’s man-cold. While Zhaan is getting to know this red alien dude named Liko, Crichton goes exploring and gets waylaid by a jester, who tells him — among other things — that he knows his name and that he’s being hunted by the Peacekeepers. The jester tells him to go see a guy called Haloth, who can supposedly help him with his problems. Crichton, being new to his own life in this show, doesn’t yet understand what that tingly sensation on the back of his neck means (Note: it means Danger! Trap!) and agrees. All of a sudden, Crichton is magicked into this mansion-like place in a cloud of red dust, and there’s an old heap of bones with a goat beard calling himself Haloth. When Crichton demands an explanation, Haloth replies: “Suffice to say, I simply wished you here.” And now he begins to understand just how much shit he has wandered into.
While Zhaan and Liko pretty much admit to one another, in the strangest trade relationship I’ve ever seen, that they want to bone, Haloth is telling Crichton that even though he can’t send him home to Earth or even point the way, he can help Crichton to mend fences with Crais. He tells Crichton that he can provide means of talking with Crais, so that he might have the opportunity to make Crais understand that his brother’s death was only an accident. Aboard his command carrier, Crais receives recorded orders from Peacekeeper High Command to stop searching for Moya and her crew and to return for new instructions. Crais isn’t happy about this and orders his Lieutenant not to say a word about it, destroying the transmission so that he might pretend he’s never seen it. Just as he’s finished, Haloth totally kidnaps him, and we learn that Haloth is most definitely two faced. He offers to give Crichton to Crais for a price. Outside, the others have noticed Crichton’s absence and go looking for him, finding an apparently unconscious Crichton on the ground.
In what I’m going to call the Room of the Beatdown, Haloth reveals his true face as that of a sorcerer (space sorcerer? really?) named Maldis who has no desire to help either Crichton or Crais, but simply to see them fight one another to the death. In Liko’s tent, Zhaan tries to revive Crichton to no avail. When a cut on Crichton’s hand appears — delivered to him by Crais over at Maldis’s — Zhaan is puzzled. Liko tells them that Crichton has obviously been taken by Maldis, who took over their planet, killed half of their people, and who apparently feeds on death and hatred. Aeryn doesn’t seem to understand the situation, calling the Liko and his people “primitive” and suggesting that what Maldis really needs is to fight a couple of soldiers like her and D’Argo. While Crais and his stupid ponytail search for Crichton, and Crichton is beating up walls or whatever, the others bring Crichton’s body back to Moya. Meanwhile, Zhaan has decided to try and fight Maldis’s spirit with her own, and needs Liko’s help. He doesn’t think she’s capable of harming anyone, but she says, holding him by the jaw, “I once was!”
Crichton and Crais have entered the Room of Fire now, and just when Crichton has almost talked Crais down from the ledge, convincing him that his brother’s death was an accident, Maldis shows up to stoke the fire some more. He shows them a moment from Crais’s childhood, and we learn that Crais was not born a Peacekeeper, but taken from his family and charged with his younger brother’s care. Maldis then shows Crais his brother’s death and Crais goes apeshit. Also going apeshit is Zhaan, who in her desire to defeat Maldis, must learn to give pain once again, first to the two headed bird thing, and then to Rygel. Crichton tries to strike a truce with Crais, but Crais is beyond reason. Hilariously, Rygel gives Crichton a Hynerian funeral aboard Moya, mostly so he can have Crichton’s things. Then things get ugly (and kind of boring, honestly), when Crichton decides it’s time to stop talking to Crais and just fight, and when Zhaan goes on her killing spree. Anyway, fast forward. Maldis returns Crais to his ship so that Crais will continue looking for Crichton and so that he might get his hands on the Command Carrier, but now it’s time for John to die.
And then Zhaan totally busts in and puts the Whammy on Maldis. Crichton defeats the now-tangible Maldis with a single punch to the throat and then wakes up with Rygel rummaging in his clothes. Crichton, exhausted, gives Rygel a big kiss and then passes out cold. Zhaan and Liko’s efforts, while defeating Maldis and banishing him from the planet, are too much for Liko, who dies in Zhaan’s arms. Back on the Command Carrier, newly crazy Crais bent on finding Crichton even more now, snaps his Lieutenant’s neck and takes his ship deeper into the Uncharted Territories. Zhaan tells the others that though defeated and dispersed, Maldis will coalesce again someday. Aeryn apologizes to Zhaan and tells her she admires her courage. Zhaan doesn’t take this so well. The episode ends with John recording a tape for D.K., but he’s interrupted by Zhaan, who confesses that before she was a priest, she was a “savage.” This thing with Maldis has brought something up in her and now instead of being a taker of pain, she’s a giver. Ruh roh.
- Much of the fire on the set had to be added digitally, since the real fire couldn’t have been that big and stay safe.
- This is the first episode in which Pilot does not appear.
- The episode’s title comes from a song released in 1942, which has been performed by many people over the years, including Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Glenn Miller’s Orchestra, and Sammy Davis Jr., among dozens of others.
- Virginia Hey (Zhaan) counts this episode as one of her favorites from the first two seasons.
I don’t really have much to say about this episode on a deeper level because I think it’s one of the least subtle episodes Farscape ever made (see villain themed rant below). I could probably try and pull some connections out of my butt about the vampiric nature of life, and how we all enjoy a little pain every once in a while and that Zhaan represents both sides of the spectrum, blah blah blah, but my brain hurts and I’m feeling whiny. Plus nobody but Lindsay and Emily commented on my last post, so I want to punish you. A year down the line, this episode would indeed have been more subtle and nuanced, but right now it’s mostly just an action set piece and a kind of jumping off point. Crais has renewed his search for Crichton with vigor, committing murder and lying to superiors and breaking Peacekeeper laws and orders all over the place, and Zhaan has re-discovered her inner savage (that really does come in handy for the next episode, which is fabulous). And besides the tiny insight Crichton receives about Crais’s motives — which plants even more of a seed in Crichton’s already sympathetic mind — this episode doesn’t really do anything for John either (unless you count the Rygel/Crichton kiss as some kind of revelation about his circumstances).
That’s not to say the episode was a total loss; there were some very interesting moments involving cruelty (even if they didn’t come off right). Even as campy as it was played, and dumbed down by the rest of the episode, the scene where Zhaan voluntarily gives pain to an already sick Rygel — and enjoys it — is shocking, as is the scene where Maldis shows Crais his brother’s death. And of course, Rygel is the comic relief, but he too is acting as a kind of vampire, giving Crichton a premature funeral and attempting to appropriate his possessions. So at least there’s that.
Upon first viewing, I hated this episode — even more than I hated Matala in “Back and Back and Back to the Future” – and upon second viewing, and more familiarity with the show and how it works, I’ve realized it’s all because of the bad guys. In the show’s early run, it had a tendency to develop these insanely over the top and non-sympathetic villains. Crais and Maldis are perfect examples of this. Of course, later the show came to understand that [SPOILER!] it worked best when its villains were simply people who wanted the wrong things. People with thought processes and emotions; people who occasionally were on the right side. In fact, I’ve always loved Farscape‘s tendency to turn its villains good. (It’s the same reason I love Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.) But more than that, they discovered that their villains worked best as complex characters whose loyalty was only to themselves. At this point in the show, Crais is a thin character, motivated by something we can’t really see, and that makes him look stupid. Of course, later he will turn out to be a very complex character full of his own little idiosyncracies and loyalties, but for now, he’s too obtuse. He’s a type, not a person, which is only really stands out, if I’m being honest, because the rest of the characters are so real and alive. [/SPOILER!]
This episode does the best it can with Crais, attempting to give him motive, and for a while it works when he seems to be listening to Crichton’s reason, but the writers were backed into a corner with the plan for the season (which did not involve Crais being good or sympathetic at this point), so he had to stay bad. “Insane” is what they call him in the opening credits, but I just can’t get a handle on this version of him. He doesn’t feel true to life. Lines like “Return me at once, or die!” are what Lani Tupu has to work with, and he just can’t pull it off yet. His performance is too campy. I don’t know. Like I said, I can’t figure it out. The same issues that exist with Crais exist with Maldis, just on a larger scale. Maldis is absolutely a one-note villain with no redeeming qualities, even though it must be noted that the actor who plays him is quite good. The episode makes an attempt to do so by making the vampire reference and pointing out that we are all feeders on death, but it doesn’t take the connections far enough. Maldis is just too over the top to be real.
Also, Crichton looks so dumb in his IASA uniform. I can’t wait until we get rid of that thing.
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- “I’m sure it looks better with carpet.”
- “Yeah, well just ask Leonardo DiCaprio. Even the big ones go down.”
- “Human, kinda like Sebacean except we haven’t conquered other worlds yet, so we just kick the crap out of each other.”
- “Yeah, well, I try to save a life each day. Usually it’s my own.”
- “They spit fire?! How come nobody tells me this stuff? They spit fire? Aeryn!”
- “Listen, Gashole! You kill us, you kill yourself!”
- “It’s not Kansas, and you’re way too homely to be Aunty Em. . . come here, ToTo.” [He kisses Rygel and then passes out cold.]
- The puppeteers at the Henson Creature Shop are masters at their craft. In “PK Tech Girl,” the expressions of anger and fear and hatred that they manage to give Rygel are so lifelike it’s almost unreal. I actually forget all the time that Rygel is just a puppet.
- The Sheyang are scary. They spit fire. I don’t like them.
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“Crackers Don’t Matter!”
- A Farscape Glossary: A “microt” is a unit of time analogous to a second. A “defense screen” is a type of force field used to protect a space-going vessel. A “grot” is presumably someone who performs routine or mundane tasks; in the Peacekeeper military, analogous to “grunt.”
- Interstellar Swearing: “Frax” is an expletive, as in, “Frax your father!” “Trat,” possibly vulgar, is an unpleasant-smelling substance; Rygel says the yuvok ointment “smells like trat.”
- Zhaan: “How long have we known each other?”
Rygel: “Long enough for me to see your big blue butt meditating, but not long enough for you to touch me.”
- Aeryn has an absolutely GIANT gun in “PK Tech Girl.” And I’m liking her ode to Demi Moore in Ghost. (Suspenders, grey t-shirt . . .)
- Crichton has a doctorate in cosmic theory. Ha ha ha ha ha.
- At 39:05 in “PK Tech Girl,” Crichton totally says “shit.” Whoops! Censors missed something.
- [SPOILER!] This is the first time we hear about Crichton losing his virginity to “Karen Shaw.”
- D’Argo can apparently smell Crichton’s presence. Ick.
- Crichton kissing Rygel is one of my favorite Farscape scenes ever.
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Classic Moments in Farscape, #4
[Aeryn has just caught Crichton and Gilina in a compromising position, hefted up a giant thingy and hurried away. Crichton has followed her.]
Crichton: Aeryn. Aeryn! Aeryn, would you wait?
[Aeryn groans and keeps walking.]
Crichton: What the heck’s the matter with you?
Aeryn: [Strains and groans, putting the thingy down, which brilliantly masks how upset she is.] I’m sure you can see how heavy these things are. There’s at least another ten in there; do not come down this corridor without one. [She picks it up and walks off again.]
Crichton: Would you stop? [She keeps walking, ignores him.] Hey! Look what happened back there was . . .
Aeryn: [Shouts, voice cracking a little.] None of my business!
Crichton: Yes! It was. [She stops and puts the thingy down again.] You and I are shipmates. What I’m trying to say is . . . haven’t you ever just clicked with a guy?
Aeryn: What? Clicked?
Crichton: Yeah. You know, found a guy attractive.
Aeryn: Yes, but . . . I didn’t let it . . . In the beginning I found you . . . interesting.
Crichton: [Was not expecting that.] Me.
Aeryn: Yes, but only for a moment.
Crichton: Good. That’s good. I mean, it’s good to be on even terms.
Aeryn: I agree.
Crichton: [Stammers a little.] It’s always a good idea to clear the air. [Turns and walks away slowly.]
Aeryn: [Picks up heavy thingy and grunts out:] Very. Clear. Air.
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Coming up on the Farscape Rewatch: “DNA Mad Scientist,” “They’ve Got a Secret”