With this pair of episodes, Farscape takes an undeniable step forward in quality. After five “monster of the week” adventures, we are now seeing events which will have more significant ramifications for our characters going forward.
“PK Tech Girl”
PK Tech Girl is is the first episode to approach what we might call a “meta-plot.” Up until now, Rygel has been the least sympathetic member of our loosely-defined crew. With the introduction of the Zelbinian, though, we get a tiny hint at his back story–learning that Rygel suffered extreme torture for possibly centuries at the hands of the celebrated peacekeeper Durka. Seeing that fear play out in Rygel reminds us, again, what the Peacekeepers are capable of but also suggests that there may be more to our Hynerian dominar than meets the eye. Speaking of eyes–you gotta love the opening shot of Rygel’s eye staring in disbelief at the source of his previous torture. This is a great “in media res” opening shot, something that will become a Farscape signature.
As for Aeryn, we have known that she has longed to return to her Peacekeeper existence, but I don’t think until now we have seen the emotional depth of her isolation. Hearing that the rest of her unit were demoted because of her “contamination” could not have been pleasant for her. PKTG gives us our second “tag” scene with John and Aeryn (the previous one being in “Exodus from Genesis”), another element which will be repeated throughout the series due to the excellent chemistry between Ben Browder and Claudia Black. It is telling that John and Aeryn have their most meaningful connection to date over their shared sense of utter isolation from their previous lives. It’s also telling that even during this moment of mutual understanding Crichton’s Clint Eastwood reference brings out Aeryn’s “what are you talking about Crichton?” look, which we will see repeated oh so often. Confusion and moderate endearment all in one quirked eyebrow. This, along with Aeryn’s delightful outburst “In the beginning, I found you … interesting!” show us a character who is not void of emotions but simply has no capacity to process them, so she represses them. We will return to this point again.
I’m not sure PKTG develops Crichton’s character in the same way it does Aeryn and Rygel, but it certainly reinforces what we know about him. He is alone in a strange corner of the galaxy cut off from anyone and anything that makes sense to him. Crichton’s immediate attraction to Gilina speaks to how desperate he is to make a connection with someone. That he makes this connection with a conventionally feminine blond who stereotypically needs a big strong man to help her out when she gets something caught in her eye (*headdeask*) shouldn’t surprise us at this point. John still sees himself as the upright, all-American hero (or at least, that’s what he aspires to be). John and Gilina’s shared interest in physics and engineering reminds us that Crichton is first and foremost a scientist. Alyssa Jane Cook deserves mention for investing Gilina with emotional depth and complexity in a very short amount of time, clearly displaying Gilina’s inner conflict as a Peacekeeper who nevertheless comes to feel sympathy for these fugitives (not to mention her connection with Crichton). And while I give her a hard time for being blond and nonthreatening to Crichton’s delicate male ego at this point, Gilina is one kick-butt PK Tech. I appreciate the mutual respect she and Aeryn develop by the end of the episode.
I didn’t really say anything about the Sheyang. I’ll leave that to Crichton: “They Spit Fire!? How come nobody tells me this stuff, huh? How come nobody tells me they spit fire?”
“That Old Black Magic”
I’m going to go out on a limb and say this is the most underrated episode in Farscape‘s first season. Admittedly, the “B Plot” with Zhaan attempting to recover her darkness (or something?) falls a little flat. Mr Red High Priest dude needs some acting lessons. And while I enjoy delving into the Delvian darkness, that will be better left to Rhapsody in Blue where it can be explored more fully. This episode has too much other work to do to give Zhaan’s conflict the space it needs and so it just doesn’t work.
Take all that away, though, and we have major character progress for our protagonist (if “progress” is ever the appropriate word to apply to John’s development over the series). Up to this point, John has encountered a range of specimens from the Jim Henson creature shop: Tavloids (“Tavlecks!”), Sheyangs. We even saw him getting unstuck in time in “Back to the Future.” But for the first time we see a real threat not just to Crichton himself but to his need for order in the universe. As we pointed out in PKTG, Crichton is a scientist. He also believes himself to be a fundamentally good person. Crichton always believes, up to this point, that reason and logic can provide a non-violent solution to any conflict. Remember Crichton berating Aeryn for taking a gun to her meeting with the Tavloids? That conviction now begins to crack for the first time.
This brings us to Crais. Much of what makes this first season hit-and-miss is that Crais just isn’t the most compelling villain. His obsessive need for to avenge his brother’s accidental death at the hands of Crichton provides a decent premise for why our fugitives are on the run, but it’s just not a hugely sustainable premise. Also, we don’t actually see Crais often enough for him to be a truly interesting antagonist. At least here we are reminded of the threat, and understand a little more about Crais how all-consuming Crais’s relationship with his brother really was (we’ll come back to that, too…)
But here’s what Crais’s character achieves in relationship to Crichton — and it’s taken me three times through this episode to really get it. Crichton–man of morals and reason–wishes Crais no ill will. He knows that if he can just reason with Crais they can resolve this misunderstanding. Here he gets the chance to do just that, and it means nothing. Crais doesn’t care. He will kill Crichton anyway. When that sinks in Crichton’s head, when Maldis (we’re just going to glance over him along with Red Priest Dude, ok?) convinces him it is kill or be killed, Crichton breaks. We actually get the first instance of what I am going to term the *Crichton Cackle* — John faces the absurdity of his situation and breaks, just a little bit. Not only that, he accepts Maldis’s terms. He is willing to kill Crais in that moment and he would have succeeded if the whole thing had not proven to be a mind game. This interaction with Crais destroys Crichton’s certainty in his ability to apply reason to this new world in which he has found himself. What will he have to become in order to survive?
Keep that simmering darkness in mind. It will be helpful next time when we encounter “DNA Mad Scientist.”