I also like that the big twist isn’t that the natives are planning on sacrificing him after lavishing him with riches, as in other iterations of this sort of plot. They only turn on him when it seems he can’t accomplish what he was prophesied to do. And, in the end, the solution proves to be very literal (and figured out at the last minute by Crichton)–he “leads them to the light” by simply touching his hands to the device that was designed by his ancestors to only be activated by Hynerian hands, which restores power to the people. It’s nice writing–not Farscape‘s best, but certainly nothing near the lows of the worst episodes of some other series.
1.15: “Durka Returns” Original airdate: 13 August 1999
And we’ve finally reached it: the introduction of everyone’s favorite gray (in many senses of the word), rambunctious, thieving, sexed-up alien girl, Chiana, who Gigi Edgley plays to the nines right from the start. In many ways, I’ve always found Chiana to represent and embody the spirit of Farscape possibly better than any other single character. Extremely alien in looks, mannerisms, and behavior, dark, sexy, rebellious, fun, funny, youthful, dangerous, Chiana basically is Farscape.
Also, while she is, again, a very sexually forward character–and only becomes more so as the series progresses–she is very much a unique Farscape spin on the sexy character rather than the typical (for lack of a better word) “slutty alien girl” sci-fi archetype. She isn’t shot or depicted under a leering male gaze. Her outfit isn’t provocative for the sake of being provocative, but rather simply enhances her alienness. She is in control of her own body (at least once she frees herself) and sexuality, and her morality or lack thereof is never directly associated as being tied into her sexuality. The show always depicts her with a refreshing lack of judgment (the only exception I can think of is when she later cheats on D’Argo…with his son, no less…however even there, the show doesn’t treat her harshly or moralistically).
What I’ve always loved about Chiana’s first appearance is how instantly and seamlessly she fits into this world. Unlike some instances on other shows where there might be a bit of a rough patch as a new character/actor learns to blend in and acclimate to an already established cast, the moment she breaks out of her cell and jumps onto Rygel’s bed, nearly straddling him, calling him “Toad,” and trying to strike a deal with him, you can tell that she is where she belongs. She is so hands-on with Rygel, so comfortable in the situation, so fully, effortlessly able to sell that she’s interacting with a living, thinking person rather than a foam latex puppet that you can tell why the writers would decide to return to the idea of the two of these schemers teaming up together many times in the future.
The DNA of her relationship with John is also there, right at the beginning, with a touch of a sexual undercurrent, particularly when their first physical fight ends with her pinned to the ground, him straddling her (there’s always a lot of straddling and physical contact when it comes to Chiana), even while at the same time, despite the flirtatious vibes she sends his way, he responds by taking on a more paternal/big brotherly role with her–which remains a crucial element of their relationship from that point forwards–laying down the ground rules for life aboard Moya, whilst also showing how far he’s come from the beginning. Rather than feeling intimidated by this new alien in the mix, he is the adult here, who has also lived on Moya for a while now, and she is the young, inexperienced newbie.
Chiana also fits in so well because, like most of the others, she’s an escaped prisoner, and like all of the others, she’s on the run. Her people, the Nebari, are a terrifyingly rigid and significantly imposing society that upholds bland conformity above all else and almost make the Peacekeepers seem not scary by comparison. Anyone who refuses to tow the line and who demonstrates any “negative” attributes such as stubbornness, rebelliousness, anger, etc. are punished through a mental cleansing that effectively leaves them psychologically neutered zombies.
When we meet Chiana, she is being dragged home to receive the mental cleansing herself, and the ingeniousness of the conceit is that it keeps us on our guard around her. We honestly don’t know whether or not we should trust her. She seems fully believable when telling John that her so-called crimes wouldn’t be seen as crimes from his perspective. Additionally, the fact that her heartless Nebari jailer, Salis, cruelly tortures her in response to her trying to beg Crichton for help, and that the mental cleansing sounds hideous, leads us to sympathize with her even further. However, on a first viewing, we don’t really know if she’s telling the truth, particularly given that practically all of Moya’s passengers have dark secrets, and throughout the episode, she continues to do some morally questionable things, such as attacking Rygel and Crichton, in turn.
And then there is, of course, the never-answered question of whether or not she is the one who soon afterwards murders Salis. At the time, it is used to warn people away from blindly embracing her fully, which is a fascinating and unusual way to introduce a character, versus other shows that sometimes try too hard to get you to like a newcomer right away. Looking back on it and knowing Chiana better now, my guess is that she probably did do it but that doesn’t make me judge her harshly, because of what Salis put her through. And she was also, of course, trying to save herself. But at the beginning, it does make one wonder whether the fact that she might not be being honest about this means she could be lying about other things, as well. At the very least, she doesn’t deny it to John when he asks her point-blank if she did it, which means that on some level, at this point, she likes the idea of him thinking that she might be capable of it. And–not to keep hammering away at this point–but what sets Farscape apart from most other sci-fi shows is that on others, the “good guys” are generally above murder, no matter what the circumstances. On Farscape, things are more complicated.
Another beautifully done aspect of her introduction is that it’s quite understated. A new viewer may not even guess at the start that she’s being brought on as a new regular character, because in terms of this particular episode’s plot, she is less of a main focus than Durka, the formerly psychopathic captain of the Zelbinion, who had tortured Rygel for many cycles and who is revealed in this episode not to have died after all but to have been captured and mind-frelled by the Nebari. The fact that they were able to take out a legendarily “indestructible” battle cruiser filled with badass PK soldiers underlines just how much of a threat they actually are. They seem to have relatively easily swept in, decimated the ship, wiped out the entire crew, and caught this supposed “PK hero” as he tried to save himself by fleeing from the carnage.