But I love that, of all of them, Aeryn is the one to remind her of what is truly important, and that she later processes that moment with “Sweet D’Argo,” who, as on the paradise asteroid, says just the right thing to her, “The next level will always be there. This one will not,” to which she replies, “Then, we must cherish it while we have it. We must cherish each other.” I praise Virginia Hey often in these posts…and I’m going to do it again here, because she plays every beat throughout the episode with completely perfect tone and pitch. Magnifique.
2.02: “Vitas Mortis” Original airdate: 24 March 2000
After resolving the cliffhangers from the previous year, Season 2 begins to alter course in its second week, which largely sets the tone for an ensuing season of episodes that are even more character-based, introspective, and psychologically-based than the first. Given that the major arc of the season revolves around Crichton’s gradual descent into madness, it makes sense that that would reflect itself in other characters’ plots through stories that delve deeper into their psyches and push them in unexpected ways. “Vitas Mortis” has a very spiritual, ethereal, dreamy atmosphere, setting off a season whose directing and writing choices only get more and more surreal as it goes along. It also establishes a trend of episodes in the first half of the season which center on one or two main characters from the ensemble. This week, it is D’Argo, who crosses paths with another Luxan for the first time in many cycles and, by the end of the episode, comes to reveal a side of himself to John that he never had up to this point.
At the start of the episode, John, Zhaan, and D’Argo touch down on a planet where Nilaam, an ancient Orican, is dying. Oricans are Luxan holy women with great spiritual power that manifests in the form of what we would call magic (interestingly, she is played by Melissa Jaffer, who will later return to Farscape in the role of Noranti, a very different sort of mystical woman, in Season 4). Like D’Argo, she is out here all alone in the Uncharted Territories, and they are both the first other Luxan either has seen in many years. Nilaam is also the first other Luxan we’ve seen on the series, and it’s interesting that the writers chose to make the character female, because it allows us a broader view of the species’ physiology and appearance–she has tentacles and protruding eyebrow ridges like D’Argo, but a softer nose and no facial hair nor chin-tentacles–in addition to later providing D’Argo the ability to have a short-lived romantic relationship with someone from his species.
Nilaam also expands our view of the Luxans as a culture. It’s a rare thing in sci-fi that a warrior race is depicted as having significant culture beyond their aggressive tendencies. Sure, Klingons may have deities and poetry, but it is also still very harsh and rough-edged. Luxans, on the other hand, have genuine tenderness and spirituality. We’ve glimpsed it before through D’Argo’s dream of being a simple farmer (although that seemed to be atypical for the average male Luxan), as well as through his Shilquen, a beautiful musical instrument that a race singlemindedly focused on war wouldn’t have produced. This episode does more to shape our perception of Luxans than any other. These mystical wisewomen who wield real magic are such an important part of their culture to the point that attending an Orican in her passing to the next realm is considered their society’s highest honor. At the same time, Nilaam’s personality is still very much in keeping with our view of Luxans through D’Argo. Although she’s basically a female priest, she is no pushover. The first time we see her, she literally plunges her fingers into D’Argo’s chest to test him, and rejects him, even though he is the only available Luxan, because she has judged him a liar.
The reason is that D’Argo has the facial tattoos of a Luxan general but isn’t one. He tells Crichton and Zhaan the full story: “In my second campaign, our enemy surrounded us. My general was badly wounded. I knew he wouldn’t survive interrogation if he were captured, so I took on the tattoo of his rank to protect him.” And D’Argo seems to feel great shame for this deception, which perfectly tracks with how reluctant he was to fool the Sheyang in “PK Tech Girl,” saying it was against his warrior code to lie to an opponent in battle. In fact, his reticence to do so at that point is strengthened by the knowledge that that whole time he had been wearing tattoos he wasn’t qualified for, because they would be a constant reminder of when he did break that code. Crichton reassures him, however, that he saved a life, and Zhaan backs him up: “Your fraud served a higher purpose, D’Argo. Certainly the Orican can understand that.” And D’Argo actually listens to them and agrees. Interestingly, the last time Zhaan said something along those lines, he had criticized her for having “flexible morality,” however in that case, it was an action that would have partially been done to save himself, whereas this earlier situation was completely selfless, as it was done to protect an old man and could have led to his own torture and/or death. Significantly, he still didn’t reach that conclusion on his own, but he does accept his friends’ argument, which also goes to show how much closer they’ve all become. They really do trust each other now and respect one another’s opinions.
D’Argo does, however, draw the line at listening to Crichton when he pleads with him not to take part in the death ritual. John doesn’t trust Nilaam, nor the fact that she will be “drawing strength” from D’Argo during the process. Zhaan naturally has no problem with it, not only being a priest but having so recently considered shunning the physical world for the spiritual one herself, and yet John makes an excellent, particularly pointed point to her, “And holy women never go bad?” considering how the Delvian priest, Tahleen, betrayed Zhaan in “Rhapsody in Blue”. On the one hand, Crichton’s cynicism is likely being exacerbated by his time in the Aurora Chair and the neurochip. He seems increasingly off-kilter and quick to anger. On the other hand, he is fully motivated by concern for his friend, and he isn’t wrong about caution being advisable, since the ritual does end up going wrong. While reaching out to take some of D’Argo’s energy, Nilaam instead taps into Moya’s–accidentally, so she claims–and feels so much power there that she switches tactics and instead changes to a ritual of renewal, the result being her turning once again into a young, strong, and vital Luxan, and Moya rapidly aging into an ancient Leviathan.