Farscape 4.04-4.05: “Lava’s a Many Splendored Thing”; “Promises”

After continuing our journey with John Crichton last week with “Crichton Kicks” and “What Was Lost,” our Farscape re-watch continues this week with the fourth and fifth episodes of Season 4.

Just one important note: if you are new to Farscape, you may NOT want to partake of these posts, as I plan on including potentially major spoilers for later events. They are written not for the Farscape virgin but more for the viewer who–if not as obsessive about the show as I am–has at least seen it once through and can appreciate the bits of foreshadowing and long-term arc progression that the show sets up often far in advance.

4.04: “Lava’s a Many Splendored Thing” Original airdate: 28 June 2002

"Lava's a Many Splendored Thing"

“Lava’s a Many Splendored Thing”

Following up on what feels like a very long run of dark episodes, “Lava’s a Many Splendored Thing” feels like a well-deserved blast of fresh, comedic air–which is ironic, due to how many unpleasant smells are produced over the course of the episode. In some ways, this is the most unqualified comedic romp Farscape had ever done by this point, with very few elements that one could characterize as genuinely dark, unlike every previous “comedy” episode. With that said, the set-up has a level of bleakness that dovetails brilliantly into humor (a Farscape specialty), and the continued lack of Moya, Pilot, and Aeryn keeps things feeling deliberately untethered.

The bleak element I referred to is the fact that, at the start of the episode, John, D’Argo, Chiana, Rygel, Sikozou, Noranti, and even 1812 have spent days cooped up in D’Argo’s tiny ship, still with no sign of Moya. They’re cramped, bored, feeling a bit dejected, and starving. They haven’t had a bite of food in at least 3 days, and the only planet they can find is a barren rock overflowing with pockets of molten lava, which underlines yet again just how hard life is for these characters vs. those on most other sci-fi shows. A genuine dearth of food and possibility of starvation isn’t usually a consideration we have to see our heroes grappling with. At the same time, the show weaves in a bit of humor even there with Sikozou, who is baffled by how inefficient their bodies are, needing to eat so “frequently”. In retrospect, this is likely another sign of her bioloid (organic android) biology. This hunger also leads directly to the episode’s main plot, when Noranti gives them all “restorative” herbs to chew on, in order to abate the hunger. Moments after starting to feel satiated, however, they all become violently ill. As it turns out, the real reason she gave it to them was to induce vomiting and therefore take away their desire to eat! Which, even though we don’t know her very well at this point, already feels so very Noranti (by this point, the Farscape writers had grown masterful at creating fully fleshed-out characters with admirably economical writing).

It’s also what inspires them to land on the nearby hellish planet. They all run out of Lo’laa and puke their guts up everywhere. Name one other serious sci-fi show that would set a plot in motion by having the spaceship-bound protagonists landing on a nearby planet for an emergency bathroom break. I doubt there’s a single other one. And also, in the grand Farscape tradition, it happens at the worst possible time, as Rygel wanders into an underground cave in order to relieve himself and basically interrupts a robbery in progress. Well, technically, he discovers a horde of treasure, tries to steal some, and gets caught in a trap that encases him in amber from the neck down, and is soon afterwards caught by two humanoid/Sebaceanoid men who seem to be the owners but actually turn out to be robbers as well, along with a scary, bug-like boss with a helmet, although it takes a while to discover this, because Noranti has identified it as belonging to Tarkin Freedom Fighters, who she claims to be a noble race of selfless individuals, incapable of harming anybody, not realizing that these people are simply looting the Tarkins’ hold while they’re off feeding orphans on another planet.

What follows is an endlessly entertaining, all-out romp that blends Farscape‘s freewheeling sense of imagination and whimsy with its love of warped humor, particularly of the bodily function variety. Over the course of the episode, we are treated to such wonderful (and wonderfully deranged) moments as D’Argo tossing John and an unconscious Noranti over a lava-filled chasm, and then himself jumping, nearly losing his balance but managing to save himself at the last moment by the old Luxan tongue trick, flicking it out, wrapping it around Noranti’s neck, and pulling himself up; Noranti using her magic powder on two of the underlings and then seductively dancing, making them see her as an erotic belly dancer with the head of a stereotypical 1950s B-movie alien, and finishing it off by flashing her breasts at a horrified D’Argo and John; Rygel desperately needing to relieve himself while completely immobilized and squeezed in his amber prison, and Chiana and Sikozou in turn covering their hands in D’Argo’s vomit (Chi’s innovation) so that they’ll be able to operate his ship to blast their friends free, since the controls only respond to his DNA ever since he became its master. This latter scenario is especially fun because Chi and Sikozou are at each other’s throats the whole time (Chi to Sikozou: “Hey, I’m the one that put my hands in the vomit, okay? You want a turn? Go get your own vomit.”), largely due to Sikozou’s superior attitude, which results in her being very proud of herself for figuring out all sorts of complicated technical things about the ship but being unable to suss out how to fire the cannon, until Chiana pressures her into just pressing a single random button which works instantly.

It also features some delightful sci-fi silliness in the form of the bad guys’ body armor, one of which John gets his hands on. These devices form an invisible shield that protects the wearer against any form of kinetic energy–a pulse pistol blast, a rock, etc.–but which won’t respond to something passive, such as being submerged in lava. Furthermore, the shields power down shortly after usage, in order to save energy. When Rygel is later fully covered in amber and then is dropped into a lava pit, Crichton the scientist reasons that if he “activates” the shield with kinetic energy, it will continue to protect him from lava, and he’s right: he is able to harmlessly shoot himself and then  walk into the lava pit, the only catch being he has to repeatedly shoot himself every now and then in order to maintain the shield. Naturally, this gets complicated when the bug-faced guy who seems impervious to the lava, jumps in, as well, to fight him, which leads to the terrific moment where John has to instruct Chiana to shoot him–reminiscent of when they all told Zhaan she had to shoot Moya in “Out of Their Minds,” but, in this case, it’s even funnier, because Chi is totally game for it, with only half a microt of surprise–which is so very Chi. And the whole scenario is so very Farscape.

This all culminates in the best subversion of the entire hour. Throughout, given the big bad boss guy was the scary bug creature and the humanoids were the ones he was oppressing and killing, we had been led to assume that, if any of them were Tarkins, it would be the humanoid ones. However, when the Tarkins finally return at the end, they are all identical to the terrifying bug creature, who is revealed to have been a rogue evil Tarkin! Which is a great Farscape twist of the sort they’ve been doing since all the way back in “Exodus from Genesis”–a scary visage does not necessarily mean evil on Farscape. And I just love the image of these terrifying bug creatures helping feed orphans and poor widows and the like! As well as the fact that they still all have to high-tail it out of there, after Noranti bestows her restoratives upon them, which she again sees no issue with whatsoever.

And after that particularly hilarious hour, the story wraps up with a truly uplifting scene, in which they discover a recorded message aboard Lo’laa from none other than Pilot, who has finally picked up on their signals and provides them with rendezvous coordinates. And after 4 episodes away, it is such a relief to hear his voice, both for the characters and the audience. Now, of course, once the reunion actually occurs it won’t be nearly as perfectly joyous, due to other complications–because Farscape–but the note of hope and optimism that closes this episode is just beautiful and very much appreciated.

Also, I just wanted to mention how much I love that they clearly spent such a great deal of money on a very impressive, expansive-looking set accomplished via practical effects rather than CGI for an episode that is primarily a lark. It’s yet another reiteration of the series’ team’s commitment to loving detail and in wanting to make every episode, no matter the subject matter, look as brilliant and cinematic as possible.

4.05: “Promises” Original airdate: 12 July 2002

"Promises"

“Promises”

By the time you get to “Promises,” particularly if you’ve been doing the episodes one by one rather than marathoning, as I’ve had to do in order to write these analyses, it truly feels like a long time coming: the eagerly anticipated reunion between Crichton, D’Argo, Chiana, and Rygel with Moya, Pilot, and perhaps best of all, Aeryn. Of course, this being Farscape, it doesn’t go nearly as John might have envisioned it might, firstly because he wasn’t expecting Aeryn to be there at all, but even more crucially due to the appearance of two other unwelcome elements, the first being Sebacean heat delirium, from which Aeryn is currently suffering, and the second being Scorpius, who claims to have saved her life and who, to add irony to all of the injuries he’s done Crichton over the years, is taking a page from Crais’ book and requesting asylum aboard Moya. Before proceeding with the plot of the episode, though, I’d just like to say how very effective Aeryn and Moya’s prolonged absence is. Had there simply been the time jump in the season premiere to account for the missing time, followed by swift reunions with all of the characters, the gravity of the separation would have been signficantly weakened on rewatches and the cliffhanger wouldn’t have felt earned. This way, even without a long hiatus between episodes, we still experience a measure of the upheaval and the divide that the characters do. And the fact that even when everyone is back together, there are still questions, further contributes to this. No one is fully forthright. Pilot admits that he and Moya were “examined” but won’t say by whom, possibly due to Scorpy’s presence. Scorpy won’t tell him exactly how he survived or who his spy is. Aeryn won’t reveal what she did as part of the former PK squadron, and doesn’t even offer the information about her pregnancy to John, all of which contributes to the slightly off-kilter sense of distance between everyone, as well as the season’s overall dreamy feel. The series promised that the destruction of the Command Carrier would be a pivotal turning point, and they make good on it. It feels like the show has experienced a fundamental shift into even murkier, more uncertain waters than before.

But let’s back to the beginning and the sense of joy that all of the companions have upon seeing Moya. She has truly become home to all of them, and as an audience member, we feel the same elation and warmth at seeing her again. The FX shot when she is first revealed is absolutely perfect. It’s one of the most gorgeous depictions of her we’ve ever seen, in a truly shimmering sky, so that when John tells Pilot that Moya looks beautiful, we also experience that awe, as well. Even Sikozou seems stunned for a moment. Of course, it’s not soon afterwards that she gets over that instance of silent reverence and starts trying to boss Pilot around and take over the ship, but for that second, even she can see this ship is special, whether or not she can admit it later. This brief happy scene is soon interrupted by a feeling of foreboding, however, when they begin to wonder whether Pilot isn’t being fully forthright due to a malicious presence on the ship, and so a damper is already put on the happy homecoming, until an instant later when John sees Aeryn and everything seems okay after all. Until she collapses in his arms, he learns of her illness, and then Scorpius appears. And thus another should-have-been-joyous Farscape reunion is frelled by circumstance.

What’s more, Aeryn demands that the others not harm Scorpius. She mad a promise to give him safe passage in return for his having rescued her, and she intends to make good on it–which, of course, frustrates Crichton to no end, just as the times that Aeryn argued for mercy for Crais frustrated him. And it also leads him to assume the worst, his brain going into overdrive, concocting scenarios for how and why Scorpy did what he did. He imagines Scorpy finding Aeryn unconscious and slowly, triumphantly licking her face, which is ironic as that’s exactly what Harvey did to her after he took over Crichton’s body and knocked her unconscious. He imagines Scorpy shoving a spike into the back of her neck, just as he did to him when implanting the neural clone in the first place. When he sees her in a leather coolant suit that Scorpy has modified for her–a brilliant and disturbing image, as well as ironic, since the symbol of his most hated enemy is what’s keeping the woman he loves alive–he imagines Aeryn transforming into Scorpius, again, just as he did in “Die Me Dichotomy”. He even paranoishly wonders if Scorpy had somehow made her sick in the first place in order to come to her rescue and thus put John in his debt. But, no, Aeryn insists that she fell ill before Scorpius found her, but since she won’t explain the circumstances, it takes a long time for John to even approach being anywhere near the realm of okay with what’s happening.

But the irony is that Scorpius, at least for now, really seems to be acting in John’s best interests. Not only did he save Aeryn but by just over halfway through the episode, he saves John, as well, finally removing Harvey from his mind for once and for all with the very device that put him there in the first place. As it turns out, John’s nightmarish vision of Scorpy using it on Aeryn is flipped, and he instead stabs John in the back of the head again, but this time to finally end his mental anguish, a staggering symbol of truce from the half-Scarran. What’s particularly interesting is that, throughout the episode, Harvey had been appearing to John, encouraging him to distrust Scorpy and to kill him. At the time, it seemed he had entirely come around to being on John’s side but by this point we realize that he was once again acting for his own self-preservation, knowing that Scorpy would eliminate him otherwise, although it really says something that whereas Talyn-John’s Harvey had gone so far as to take his John over in the hopes that Aeryn would kill them both, as revenge, when he realized it was too late for him, Moya-John’s Harvey instead goes so far as to suggest killing his own progenitor to save himself. To be fair, the real Scorpy likely would have done the same, if the tables were flipped–like Chi allowing her double to be killed so that she could escape in “Eat Me,” but with no regret whatsoever. John and we had grown so accustomed to Harvey that we had begun to underestimate him, or even to think he might have started to become “good,” but ironically, Scorpy is the one to remind us that he had saved Aeryn’s life while Harvey–and not he–had been the one to kill her. And so, just like that, Moya-John comes one step closer to reaching the temporarily-happy-ending that Talyn-John achieved. And this works beautifully on both in-story and production levels. Regarding the former, it’s a wonderful moment of dramatic irony, as well as one that seems to indicate that, at least for the time being, Scorpy is unequivocally playing nice, and as for the latter, Harvey was first brought on to the show as an innovative method for keeping Scorpius active on the series without having to simply repeat the bad-guy-nearly-catches-Crichton-then-loses-him scenario each week, but with Scorpius now living on Moya with them, Harvey isn’t necessary anymore and would likely have made things too complicated, from storytelling and performance/production standpoints.

With all of that said, of course Scorpy has a motive for wanting to be on Moya, but the funny thing is he’s being completely upfront about it, making him even more honest towards John than Aeryn at the moment. With his massive research project gone, his agenda is now simply to protect John and the wormhole knowledge in his head from the Scarrans and Grayza. He may not have gotten what he’d wanted, but he’s damned if he’s going to let anyone else get it and doom the galaxy in the process. What other “supervillain” but Scorpy actually does what he does in order to save the world–and, okay, get revenge at the same time–rather than to try to destroy or take it over? And, of course, at the same time, he’s no fool. He also has leverage to keep himself alive, namely the fact that, just as Crichton is the only known person with wormhole knowledge in his head, Scorpius is the only person who has information that’s just as crucial to John that he doesn’t have: the location of Earth. As he tells John, it’s his decision. He can kill Scorpius and ensure that his home remains safe or keep him alive and have the chance to ever find it again.

Another lovely irony is that, although John instantly suspected Scorpy of being the culprit in Aeryn getting sick, it actually turns out to have been due to Aeryn’s own actions. Although Crichton initially doesn’t want to believe it, the ex-PK squad she was a part of while she was gone carried out assassinations, which he would have considered her above–after all, isn’t that something bad guys do? But, in keeping with Farscape‘s rich, morally complex universe, a character who we love can make decisions exclusively reserved to villains in most other stories. Aeryn made a choice at the end of that similarly titled episode, and it was to go back to being a soldier, but given she can’t go back to where she came from, this is the closest she can do. Also, at the time, she felt it the best of both worlds, because whereas the PKs were fighting for unjust, corrupt reasons, this squad at least theoretically only used violence for noble causes. Their actions might have been considered terrorist by some but Aeryn stands by her conviction that they were for the greater good, at least at this point. What led to her current condition is that, while she and her associates were taking out a number of corrupt political leaders, one of them managed to infect her with synthesized heat delirium and get away, and now he is out for revenge against her. Because it was synthesized, he has the only cure, and he tells Aeryn that she can have it, in exchange for the names of her compatriots, which she refuses to reveal. She would rather die.

And that is when one of John’s patented plans comes into play, which this time actually works out surprisingly well as it involves having Aeryn wear a Tarkin body shield to protect herself. Furthermore, Sikozou realizes that their enormous, imposing ship is actually largely a holographic illusion. Their ship is actually tiny, with a crew of only 4 or 5, a fact which Crichton and Co. use to their advantage. Moments later, he solves another problem the same way. Grazya had sent Braca to find Moya and target her with a Leviathan-killing missile (one that would kill Moya but leave her inhabitants alive), but John manages to trick the PKs by having Sikozou plug into the hologram ship and turn it into a Leviathan, while he has Pilot turn off all of Moya’s biological functions–which is dangerous, but the only way to save her. And so Braca shoots at the “living Leviathan,” and right after destroying it, Moya powers up again (though it’s touch and go for a moment) and starbursts away, an extremely clever device reminiscent of the mock space battle John and Pilot cooked up to trick the “Debbie Harry” Nebari in “A Clockwork Nebari,” but in a way even better. Interestingly, though, odds are that Braca was partially in on it. We don’t know it at this point, but Braca is Scorpy’s inside man (though the show does an excellent job of indicating it’s actually a tall arrogant pilot who had called the mission impossible, making it seem he might have been doing so to protect Scorpius, knowing he was on board Moya), so Scorpy’s likely in contact with him now, making him aware that it’s okay to take the shot.

And then we close on what seems like it could be a sweet John/Aeryn moment, except for the fact that she lies to him, telling him she has no more secrets to tell him, at which point he confronts her about the pregnancy and walks out, truly hurt that she still won’t open up to him, not only about missions she felt honor-bound to not discuss, but something so deeply personal that involves him so directly.

Other odds and ends:

–I love Chiana’s scene with Pilot at the end of the episode, reconnecting with him, and–best of all–telling him not to let Sikozou order him around. “Nobody…nobody should talk to you like that. Nobody should tell you what to do,” she says, and it’s extremely touching. He even jokes that Sikozou is making him miss Jool! He also makes a request: that they pick a captain, a single voice for Moya and him to respond to, rather than having to listen to tons of people constantly telling him to do sometimes conflicting things. This decision will happen in the next episode, “Natural Election”.

–After their first meeting in “What Was Lost II,” when Scorpy saved Sikozou’s life and she attempted to reciprocate the favor, their partnership really starts to be cemented in this episode. When Scorpy shows up alive, everyone ironically assumes that Sikozou must have been working with him all along, when in truth, their suspicion of her is likely one of the reasons she feels so drawn to Scorpy, in addition to his cunning and intelligence, which she considers to be on the same level as her own, unlike everyone else on the ship.

–As dismissive as she is, though, I do really love how she lists a “counterfeit” Pilot as being another mark against Moya, implying that he isn’t running the ship correctly. Why, even the DRDs haven’t programmed to her standards! As irritating as she is, I do like the idea that, although we as viewers have no idea about it, a Leviathan expert could see that Pilot is still very green and not operating Moya the way a more skilled one would. It’s a nice reminder of his youth that for the first time equates that with the outsider status of everyone aboard Moya. They all suit each other nicely.

Next:  “Natural Election” and “John Quixote”

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Author: Robert Berg

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  1. Farscape 4.06-4.07: “Natural Election”; “John Quixote” | DreamPunk - […] continuing our journey with John Crichton last week with “Lava’s a Many Splendored Thing” and “Promises,” our Farscape re-watch continues this week with …

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