Farscape 3.01-3.02: “Season of Death”; “Suns and Lovers”
3.02: “Suns and Lovers” Original airdate: 23 March 2001
“Suns and Lovers” is probably never going to make it onto any “Best of Farscape” lists. It has a fairly sparse, arguably underdeveloped standalone plot, the misfortune of being sandwiched between two very powerful, extremely eventful two-parters (the first of which came on the heels of an epic three-parter), and deals with what many fans considered to be a too-soapy conceit of Chiana and Jothee’s affair behind D’Argo’s back. And while I agree that, particularly when watched in a row, it is one of the weakest episodes in a very long while (since at least early season 2), it does have a number of elements that are worthy of note, mostly having to do with how it functions as connective tissue for better episodes that surround it:
1) The episode has a beautiful, dark, and eerie atmosphere. I’ve always really liked the dingy, industrial look to the commerce station, reminding me a great deal of a Farscape twist on the sort of ship or space station one would find in the Alien series, with a grittier, lower-tech feel than we often see in sci-fi. It’s also a parallel carried through with Aeryn traveling through the pipe system to try to save a little girl, not unlike Sigourney Weaver’s badass Ripley in Aliens. But at the same time, it retains a Farscape feel through the more colorful, whimsical alien designs, particularly of the bartender, who looks like a cross between a walrus and a spider, with a puffy, curved face and bristly facial hair, a huge hump, and multiple large arms/legs, as well as the ultra-creepy Borlik, a religious extremist with the ability to call storms to her in order to punish the people aboard the station for conducting commerce in what her fundamentalist sect believe to be a holy place for their gods.
2) The manner in which it depicts Zhaan’s condition. She has continued to deteriorate rapidly since “Season of Death,” indicative of the show refusing to reverse the consequences of the previous episode. Now, granted, there is an out-of-story reason for this, which was the fact that Virginia Hey had to leave the series due to the blue make-up not only growing to be a major discomfort for her but an actual health risk, but it also means that Aeryn’s resurrection is truly earned. And there is some lovely relationship material here between Stark and her, which include some of their tenderest moments together:
ZHAAN: Calm yourself, Stark. Please. You’re the expert here. You’ve witnessed more death than anyone else. So many dissatisfied souls dying before they felt ready.
STARK: Yes, I’m an expert on dying. I’m just not an expert on you dying.
A truly sad and beautiful line, beautifully delivered by Paul Goddard. When I first watched it, I was happy to hear that Stark seemed so optimistic about being able to help Zhaan recover by finding her a world with fresh soil, moisture, and lots of sunlight. Given that she’s a plant, this clearly seemed how they were going to heal her (Meanwhile, the growth of spores on her head to indicate the progression of her sickness is consistent with what happened to her when she was starving to death in “Home On the Remains”.). In retrospect, however, knowing as a viewer that she is going to die, you can tell from Hey’s performance that Zhaan also knows even now that the greatest likelihood is that she won’t make it, that Stark’s wishes are a long shot but that she’s largely trying to make him feel better, due to how devastated he is by her illness. Of the two of them, Zhaan really is the strong one, even in the face of her own death. And even though she’s dying, she continues to help the others around her when the storm hits and everyone else’s lives are threatened.
3) John and Aeryn also have some fun, albeit brief bits in this episode. After they both finally admitted their feelings to each other in the previous episode but Aeryn shut John down immediately afterwards because of how emotions in the field can lead soldiers to poor decisions, here she is surprisingly the one to make another move forwards. While she isn’t willing (at least yet) to have a relationship with him, she doesn’t see any reason they can’t have sex but, only of course, to relieve the tension between them. That is fully allowed in the PK Handbook, although, of course, in the PK Handbook, these soldiers “recreating” with one another theoretically don’t have any sort of deep attachment to one another. And that seems to be the problem for John. Aeryn wants to have her cake and eat it too, without realizing that because her emotions for John are so strong at this point, there would be a great deal of trouble compartmentalizing them afterwards if they were to have sex. She should know this due to what happened between Velorek and her, but a large part of her is still in denial and doesn’t want to know this–that’s because all of her (for lack of a better word) “human” instincts are compelling her to have sex with John and be in a relationship with him, while her PK instincts are desperately trying to maintain her status quo. By later on, however, once John comes around to the idea, she’s changed her mind again. It’s interesting that this happens after she rescues a group of children from their nursery, as if the reminder of the effects of the biological purpose for sex reassert for her that it’s not like last time she and John had sex. This would truly and unavoidably mean something.
4) And, of course, Aeryn’s very mature decision regarding sex (even though one might be frustrated at her reasoning; John certainly is) is directly contrasted with what again happens between Chiana and Jothee, which is finally discovered by D’Argo in an absolutely shattering scene, and all the more so because they guiltily confess–albeit without saying a word–assuming he has figured it out when he seemed to smell something suspicious, when what he was actually smelling ended up being a burned-out conduit from one of the Interion’s busted freezing units, meaning they might have gotten away with it after all. And while I agree that there is an element of soapiness to this entire scenario–if not out-and-out Jerry Springer-ness–it still works for me because it all springs from complex and realistic psychology, due to a number of things I’ve discussed before, including D’Argo treating both Chiana and Jothee like his children; his not really listening to either of their needs and instead attempting to force their relationship into what he wants it to be, regardless of this sort of situation requiring gradual, organic growth in order to be healthy; just how much Jothee has experienced without D’Argo all of these years, suffering traumas that he can’t understand, and never having been raised in the Luxan traditions and legacies that D’Argo had wished for him, etc etc. Everyone’s actions and reactions make sense, all springing from realistic pain.
When D’Argo takes the Luxan Unity tattoo he had planned to give to Chiana and instead brands Jothee with it, a damning, ironic statement of all the ways that he feels his son has failed him, it is a fiercely powerful, operatic moment that belies the notion that this episode simply trades in soapy tropes. The son that D’Argo has longed to find for so long, and the woman he loves have both broken his heart, and it is devastating. There is comfort, however, in knowing that Jothee does take his father’s anger and shame to heart and that he will reunite with him one day, far closer to the Luxan he so longs for him to be. For now, however, D’Argo is all but emotionally destroyed, and Anthony Simcoe is absolutely stunning in the role. It’s only a shame that many fans seem to overlook his work here due to their discomfort with the nature of Chiana and Jothee’s betrayal, but that’s also the point–it’s supposed to be uncomfortable, and, in a way, almost mundane. That’s what makes it hurt so much.
Other odds and ends:
–Another to add to the long list of things you never thought you’d hear a Jim Henson puppet say: “Freezer chamber. Young half-breed. Any of this getting you wet?” – Rygel to Chiana. It’s also interesting that he’s the one who confronted her, as he’s also the one who revealed Aeryn’s secret to Pilot in “The Way We Weren’t”. The first time I saw this episode, I actually expected him to do the same here.
–Jool’s cousin is awakened from his pod, when its glass shatters during the first storm, and promptly dies moments later from his illness. Jool herself will awaken in the next episode.
–D’Argo picks up a ship that he knows nothing about in this one which will end up being a Luxan ship and a significant character arc point for the rest of the series.
Next: “Self-Inflicted Wounds, Part I: Could’a, Would’a, Should’a” and “Self-Inflicted Wounds, Part II: Wait for the Wheel”
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