And it seems even episode writer Peter Neale realized this, as one of the tag scenes includes an almost-meta conversation in which Chiana attempts to explain to Rygel what happened and he finally just shrugs and says, “Best not ponder. Questions like these only make your head hurt,” to which she replies, “Forget about it. Sit back and enjoy the happy ending,” which, while funny, also lampshades that a lot of what occurred was incomprehensible. When you even need one character to give a speech to another one partially explaining everything we’ve just seen in order to spackle holes, you can probably rest reasonably assured that it’s not an A+ outing.
With that said, the episode has some very effective moments, particularly before we know exactly what is happening. The first half of the story or so plays like an eerily effective spin on Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians/And Then There Were None, from the beginning, when the strange old woman, Kyvan (Maldis (Chris Haywood) in disguise), gives Chiana the strange painting that seems to predict the future and then begins to foretell each of their deaths. Gigi Edgley does a brilliant job of navigating Chiana’s emotions through the early scenes, starting with incredulity, growing to fascination verging on obsession, and ultimately reaching paranoia and genuine fear. Culminating in her seeming to burn to death, ironically while hiding in the freezer unit, it also has the feel of a horror story by Poe, particularly due to the sense of inevitability. She “dies” as a result of trying to prevent this prophecy.
That early on, we might also even almost fall for the ruse. As always on a scifi show, we are suspicious of all major character deaths, especially when they don’t seem to be within a big “event episode,” but given that she’s still the new girl, the truly horrific manner in which her “death” is depicted, with her screaming in fear and what we expect at the time to be agony, and the fact that the show actually take its time to show all of the characters’ genuine grief, we might go so far as to wonder, “Could it be true?” much as we might have wondered if Rygel actually had died in “A Human Reaction” before discovering the truth. And as with that episode, it isn’t until D’Argo seems to also fall victim that we realize that something else has to be going on. One major death in this sort of episode is possible, if unlikely, but two, no way. But the creative team also clearly realized that, and so instead of trying to keep up the ruse at that point, literally shatter it by having D’Argo seem to break into a million pieces and disappear upon being skewered by a sharp object.
But, again, everything before that really works, because the expressions of grief are so honest, particularly Aeryn’s. She’s the one who is the worst at processing these sorts of emotions, and earlier that very day she had said that she wished she could kick Chiana off the ship. Her guilt is a major factor in her reactions throughout the rest of the episode, which is particularly meaningful given Chiana has never been her favorite person. There’s an additional level of tragedy when you remember that just a few episodes before, she had been trying to help John cope with Chiana’s potentially suicidal emotions, and having a heart-to-heart with her. And now she’s gone. It proves an excellent way for all of the characters to realize how much she actually meant to them. I particularly love how Rygel wants to demand monetary restitution from Kyvan because “that’s what Chiana would have wanted. She was quite a lot like me, you know. She had spirit, ambition, large appetites. She would have made an excellent Hynerian.”
Even once the jig is up, so to speak, and D’Argo appears in the vaguely M. C. Escher world within the painting, there are still some excellent aspects to be had, first and foremost among them being Virginia Hey’s performance as a very fearful Zhaan. She perfectly captures her horror, a particularly great moment being when the painting reappears on the ship even after D’Argo shatters it and they send the fragments into space, as well as her seeming terror at Maldis. I love the moment in which Zhaan reactivates her unity bond with John in order to pass a secret message to him to tell Pilot to tell Aeryn to kill Kyvan at a particular time, a great moment of continuity, as well as a perfect red herring for both John and us as viewers to believe that she is only pretending to be afraid, making the final revelation that she was actually more scared than she’s ever been in her life all the more potent. And, of course, it’s alway wonderful to see Zhaan kicking ass.
Also, although the “Escher space” isn’t nearly as visually awesome as that sort of dreamscape would call for–obviously due to budgetary restrictions–the swirling effect caused when each character finally steps out of the painting is great, as is Maldis’ huge hand reaching out to try to grab them, whether or not the logic of the story actually holds up at that point. Additionally, there are some other strikingly great effects throughout the episode, most notably Kyvan’s ship, which looks almost like a series of connected glass suns. The visual effect when it finally all shatters is particularly awesome.
Just one final note: it may seem a bit strange that John confronts Aeryn about always keeping everyone at a distance the very episode after she opens up to him as she never had before, in “The Way We Weren’t,” but apparently this episode was actually produced first, which likely explains that glitch. This is really the only line in the episode that causes a problem, but for perfectionists, it might be best to flip the order of these two episodes for rewatches. Otherwise, there’s actually something I kind of like about it, because it feels real that sometimes, at a highly charged moment, one might say something they either don’t mean or which doesn’t make complete sense (yelling at someone in a fight that they “always do [x],” even when you know it’s reductive and not fully true but that it’s right enough of the time to sting), and when watched in official order, that can be read as coming out that way.
Next: “Home on the Remains” and “Dream a Little Dream”
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