Farscape 1.08-1.09: “That Old Black Magic,” “DNA Mad Scientist”

More than anyone else on that ship, she feels utterly alone. Crichton may be the furtherest away from his home, but she knows he’ll get there eventually (a truly kind thought), and although he offers to take her with him, her initial reaction is that that would be a disaster for her. From John’s perspective, they look alike and so she might feel at home on a planet of humans, but from hers–at least at this point–their differences would only make her feel all the more isolated (although she doesn’t mention it, her prolonged lifespan alone would likely be an issue). Her opinion on this matter will come to evolve a great deal over the course of the show.

But for now, these desperate feelings are what drive her back to NamTar, who uses that desperation against her, and rather than taking a genetic sample from her to find an outlying non-PK Sebacean colony, implants her with Pilot’s DNA in order to turn her into a Sebacean-Pilot hybrid, planning on eventually tearing the “multi-tasking” Pilot ability away from her, leaving her to die. While John and NamTar’s assistant/former “owner,” Kornata, save her before it’s too late, however, the irony is that there will be a positive side effect to NamTar’s actions, namely that although they are able to reverse the exterior effects on Aeryn’s body, her mind will come to retain some of the initial mental link with Pilot, bonding her to him more deeply than she ever has with anyone else. In a way, they become literal family (which, of course, make the twists in the second season’s “The Way We Weren’t” hurt all the more, while also paving the way for their reconciliation) and so Aeryn finds a measure of home while the others, who behaved cruelly in order to find their homes, do not…yet, at least.

Meanwhile, Pilot’s reaction to what the crew has done to him is fascinating, because it alters as the story proceeds, and largely due to Crichton, who–along with Aeryn–is the moral compass of the episode. Shortly after the others hack off Pilot’s arm, John comes to him to see how he’s doing–the show’s first scene between the two of them alone, in person–and he can’t wrap his head around how stoically Pilot seems to be handling himself. He can’t imagine not being furious if the tables were turned, and Pilot responds that his job is to serve their crew. “When one of my species is bonded to a Leviathan,” he says, “we give our lives to the service of others. Ship first, then those who travel aboard her…My species is incapable of space flight on our own. If we wish to journey beyond our home planet, this is the trade-off we make for the chance to see the galaxy. I consider it a perfectly equitable arrangement.” This is the first time we learn more about Pilot’s background and that of his species, with clues as to how they come to be bonded to Leviathans, and the scene, of course, has added resonance after “The Way We Weren’t”. On some level, Pilot might think himself even less worthy than the average Pilot and willing to accept this abuse due to the circumstances under which he came to be bonded to Moya.

What’s also interesting, though, is how John’s attitude comes to rub off on Pilot. It seems that just realizing that there are people on the crew such as Aeryn and him who are on his side either makes Pilot reevaluate his decision to suppress his anger, or it simply becomes too much for him to bear, and later on, he gets extremely snappy with the others, passive aggressiveness bordering on downright hostility, as he should. It’s a sign of how little the others come to trust one another at this point that, when Pilot informs them that Moya can’t process all of the information in the data crystal, they don’t believe him until Zhaan double-checks it herself to confirm. And, of course, the discovery that they will only be able to open one of the maps leads Zhaan, D’Argo, and Rygel to turn on one another, attempting to forge temporary alliances, and eventually all backstabbing one another all over again. This had already been happening when they realized they’d have to prioritize who would get to go home first, but when it seems that only one will be able to find the way home at all, their claws really come out.

This is particularly disorienting when it comes to Zhaan, given that, before “That Old Black Magic,” she was very much Farscape‘s calm, centered, spiritual, moral compass, and now, ever since she tapped into that inner darkness–ironically, in order to save Crichton’s life–she continues to struggle with herself. Hey performs this masterfully, embedding into her line readings both Zhaan’s descent into her former savagery while at times, and with the subtlest of vocal inflections and facial reactions, indicating Zhaan’s shame at her behavior. In the last episode, we saw the darkness Zhaan was capable of on a mystical power level. Here, though, it’s even more disconcerting–particularly to John, who had always thought so highly of her–because her very personality has seemed to alter. Her temper is shorter with the others than before, particularly Rygel, and she uses her cunning as a weapon. Again, at times though, you can almost sense her struggling to regain herself and then succumbing to her darker impulses again.

She also, of course, isn’t behaving this way only because of the events of last week. It can be traced to the first scene of this episode, when she is shown the holographic map, a truly lovely piece of CGI work, and Hey sells it beautifully. The look on Zhaan’s face as she reaches out to her home planet and touches it to expand it is goosebump-inducing. She is desperate to get home, and her bad behavior in this episode may be exacerbated by having opened herself up to her inner darkness but the root of it springs from this overwhelming desire.

Author: Robert Berg

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1 Comment

  1. Although I have not finished with all of your reviews (I am starting from the beginning) I do hope you continue with all the episodes. You have perfectly encapsulated why I love this show. Even now it is still my favorite.

    Farscape forever.

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  1. Farscape 1.10-1.11: “They’ve Got a Secret”; “Till the Blood Runs Clear” | DreamPunk - […] continuing our journey with John Crichton last week with “That Old Black Magic” and “DNA Mad Scientist,” our Farscape re-watch continues this week…

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