Or: The One Where Crichton Blows Up His Phallic Substitute, But D’Argo’s Shoots Lasers
In the first Farscape piece I wrote on here, I described John Chricton as a Star Trek hero forced to exist in a world with very little patience for that breed of non-violent idealism. There’s a narrative arc implied by that idea, a Gene Roddenberry story about one good man uplifting a fallen universe through sheer decency and rationality.
This isn’t that story.
This is a story about growing up. About realizing that there’s a point where idealism has to stop, because now you’re the liability who keeps blowing up your gun and everyone rolls their eyes when you say you have a plan. Because you’re so obsessed with impressing people that it gets you kidnapped and killed. Because you want to save people (and save them YOUR WAY) so badly you’re willing to kill them to do it. Because you keep pushing your brother or your sister away with words like “barbarian” or “coward” so you don’t have to look at how similar you are.
The great Jacob Clifton (whose sadly incomplete Farscape reviews on Television Without Pity are must-reads for any fan) has a saying: “The thing that makes you awesome is the thing that makes you suck.” And that’s this episode in a nutshell. Rygel gets kidnapped for trying to seem like he’s still the ruler of billions of subjects (and imperils Moya by stealing an important ship component because it’s shiny). He’s so pompous and imperious that it a) gets his throat crushed by his kidnapper, Bekesh, and b) gets him revived by a fellow captive, who thinks Rygel’s valuable enough to save.
Meanwhile, D’Argo, John, and Aeryn plot a rescue, alternatively hampered and helped by an energy-firing, stimulant-injecting gauntlet they take off one of the fallen attackers. Tellingly, D’Argo and Aeryn take to it immediately (before they go crazy from the ‘roid rage), but Crichton, hesitantly, asks “How does it work?” before he puts it on. “It just does,” is the response from his more martial colleagues. And even then, Crichton has to verbally contextualize it for himself (with one of many, many Crichton pop-culture references in this episode).
“Soft, yes. Weak, no.” - Pa’u Zotoh Zhaan.
And in the third story branch (I’m a big fan of episodes that give everyone something to do, and this episode delivers strongly in that regard), Zhaan tends to the injured attacker, treating him for his withdrawal from the gauntlet’s stimulant. It’s one of my favorite Zhaan plotlines, as she, gently at first but more stridently as the episode goes on, tries to save the young man from the culture that has left him addicted to the gauntlet’s violent lifestyle. It’s easy to pigeonhole Zhaan as “The Mystical One” or “The Nice One,” but this episode lays the character out in all her glory. At turns compassionate, violent, sexy, harsh, and, ultimately, wise, it’s a fantastic performance from Virginia Hey, portraying a woman dedicated to free will, but often angered by how the people she helps use it.
In my favorite Zhaan moment, the young prisoner attacks her, drawing “blood.” She casually throws him aside, drips her whitish blood into a vial of medicine, tells him he’s in no condition to refuse her help, wipes the medicine on her lips, and then applies it to him with a kiss. That’s…. kind of the whole character, in a single two-minute scene. Amazing.
“You can be more.” - John Crichton
Down on the planet, Aeryn the soldier and D’Argo the “barbarian” argue about tactics, but they’re just drawing lines in the sand. When it’s necessary, D’Argo’s seemingly archaic sword can work as a rifle, and Aeryn can strike like a barbarian. The real contrast is between the fighters and Crichton, who spends this episode acting like the fat kid picked last for gym class. He gets punched in the face, blows up his gun, makes incredibly lame threats, and, when talking inevitably fails, has to turn to his friends to fight for him.
It’s not until Crichton puts on the gauntlet that he does anything effective. Once it’s actually on, he doesn’t need to ask how it works. It just does. In the end, he does resolve the problem by talking - but only after he’s violently displayed his strength. Only by getting a little less “Crichton” and a little more “Aeryn” or “D’Argo” does he manage to save the day.
I say “less ‘Crichton’,’” but that’s bull. He’s only becoming more. They all are, even if, as the process changes them, evolves them, they’re not sure what shape that “more” will take.
Claudia Black is ridiculously funny in this one. Her deadpan is a comic weapon.
“Imagine, somewhere out there there’s a whole world full of Crichtons… How useless that must be.”
I especially love her increasing frustration with Crichton’s Tavloid/Tavlek confusion.
Zhaan Condescension Moment: When told Crichton has an idea: “Ugh, did you say Crichton?” followed by some Delvian prayer/swearing.
Crichton Pop Culture Watch: The whole riff to Aeryn about John Wayne. I can never tell if he expects people to suddenly understand him, or if he just likes being annoying. Oh, and I like that Aeryn wonders if John Wayne is a relative, since he shares a name with Crichton.
Crichton and Aeryn spend the first act of this episode pressed up against each other or lying on top of each other basically 100% of the time. Not complaining, just… pointing out.
The Consortiuum of Traal is one of my all-time favorite alien species names. I use it in improv sometimes.
Aeryn, on why Crichton walks in front: “Lots of reasons. Landmines, fire snakes, razorgrass. Night vision snipers, Morlian death spiders…”
Continuity glitch caused by airing order being different from production order: D’Argo’s Qualta Blade doubling as a rifle is a plot point in this episode, but passed without comment in Back and Back and Back to the Future.
From my notes: “Zhaan is so the wrong lady to try to shock with your dingus”
“No sermons.” *sigh*