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

And perhaps the strongest sign of the three’s completely self-involved behavior is that they are so singlemindedly locked in their struggles with one another that none of them even realize that anything is wrong with Aeryn, or how NamTar has tricked them. It takes John shattering the crystal in order to snap them out of it–the visuals of the map seeming to literally fade to dust a powerful metaphor for their lost dreams–an action which inspires Zhaan to give him a glance that looks terrifyingly like she could snap his neck for what he has done, until he explains that the crystal was never meant to work and would have simply erased Moya’s memory. Her look suddenly transforms to one of shame, and the others follow suit. They tore off their comrade’s arm and nearly killed Moya for an empty promise, making a Faustian bargain without realizing that if something’s too good to be true, it probably is.

This takes us to the final scene, in which D’Argo surprises us yet again. After we see him at his worst throughout the hour, in the end, he demonstrates his best. He never says the words, “I’m sorry” to Pilot, but it’s implied. What I love about the scene is that he’s honest with him. He outright says that he did it because he was desperate to get home and would do it again. However, he does make amends for the hurt he inflicted on Pilot. He reveals that the item he’d been constructing for the past few episodes hadn’t been a weapon, as everyone (including viewers) had expected but a Luxan musical instrument, a shilquen, which looks a bit like a sitar and sounds like a cross between that and a bagpipe, which he begins to play for Pilot–a quiet, lovely moment of grace with which to end this very dark hour. It’s a wonderful nuance, again revealing D’Argo to have a spiritual, artistic side to balance his warrior nature (as well as revealing the Luxans to not just be a fierce Klingon-like soldier race), and also hinting at the start of the crews’ healing. They may not all come out and say, “I’ve learned my lesson” a la moralistic, after-school-special-style TV, but their actions speak louder than words, as evidenced by the next episode, in which the crew arguably draws closer to one another than at any prior point.

Other odds and ends:

–What with NamTar, Kornata, the horrifying abomination with two faces (the result of previous cruel experiments of his) revealed in NamTar’s lab, the Aeryn/Pilot hybrid, Pilot, Rygel, and of course, the rattish creature into which NamTar devolves, this episode features more Creature Shop work than any other up to this point, and it is all by turns, wonderful, bizarre, scary, and breathtaking.

–Speaking of NamTar, his actual origins are buried in his name from the start. It is, in fact, “Rat Man” spelled backwards! This is one of my favorite twists of the first season of Farscape and one that helps to continue to define the show’s storytelling at this early stage. Because the concept is absolutely brilliant. Often, this sort of story is done with a robot or AI whose intelligence begins to exceed that of his creator, but to do it here with a lab rat creature who begins to outthink the scientists experimenting on him and then starts adding his own modifications, taking the best from various species, until he becomes an enormous alien Übermensch chimera of sorts, is truly genius. And the fact that the trick to defeat him is to inject him with a serum that takes away all these embellishments until he is once again that small, ugly rat creature he began as, is even more so. This also adds another Wizard of Oz reference to the show. John injecting him and his subsequent “shrinking/melting” down is highly reminiscent of Dorothy tossing the pail of water at the Wicked Witch of the West.

–While Crichton’s words to NamTar, comparing him to Mengele, could have been too on the nose, Browder makes them work, thanks to his fantastic, passionate performance, along with that of Julian Garner, as the voice of Namtar.

–And speaking of performances, Black is also just enormous in this episode. Although we have seen glimmers of vulnerability from her before, it has never been to this extreme, from her initial feelings of loneliness and hurt to her terror at transforming and losing herself, and finally her physical weakness in her new form. It’s a tremendous, deeply felt performance.

–Aeryn’s disdain at Zhaan’s behavior in particular will be turned around in “The Way We Weren’t,” when Zhaan admonishes her for her betrayal of Pilot and Aeryn cuttingly reminds Zhaan of her hypocrisy due to the events of this episode.

–The scene in which Zhaan tries to seduce Rygel in an attempt to convince him to give her the data crystal is another brilliant moment of television. For all intents and purposes, we are watching a bald woman in blue make-up getting sexy with a Jim Henson puppet, yet in the moment, Hey is so committed to the performance, and it is such a visceral, sensual, highly charged and also funny scene that one entirely forgets that these aren’t two real-live alien beings. We are completely under their spell. And this is another reason that Farscape is not so much a kids’ show.

–The first utterance of “frell” also appears in this one! Which, as a replacement for the eff word, I have always preferred to Battlestar Galactica‘s “frak”. “Frak” sounds hard and cynical. “Frell” has a touch of whimsy to its sound that suits both Farscape and me more.

–The Browder/Black DVD commentary confirms that when Zhaan says she’d give her “numa” to go home, she is referring to her soul, not genitalia, as many had thought she meant.

–The moment in which Aeryn tries to hurt NamTar, and he responds by turning his nerve receptors from pain to pleasure is a great early example of Farscape‘s darkly kinky sense of humor, foreshadowing later instances along the same lines, particularly when it comes to Scorpius.

–This is also yet another episode that continues to lay the groundwork for the John/Aeryn romance, of course. I love the food cube smiley face John makes her to cheer her up, as well as her complete lack of understanding about it. Which is so very Peacekeeper Aeryn, and another indication of her culture’s lack of art and well, culture.

Next: “They’ve Got a Secret” and “Till the Blood Runs Clear”

All Farscape Posts

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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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