Deconstructing Moya

A Farscape Re-watch Project

Episode [1.02] – “I, E.T.”

Today, on Farscape

“This place reminds him of home.”
“What?”
“Crichton. He says that this primordial rock actually reminds him of his Earth.”
“No interplanetary travel. Retrograde technology. Fossil-fuel-burning ground vehicles. He’s a savage.”

When a piercing signal erupts along Moya’s hull, it’s discovered that a Peacekeeper beacon had been implanted on her primary neural nexus. Landing the entire ship on a swampy world so as to muffle the signal with a layer of mud and water, John, Aeryn, and D’Argo set out to find a compound that will numb Moya’s pain from the device’s necessary removal.

Separated from the others on a planet still a decade or two away from its first off-world steps, John comes across the country home of radio-astronomer Lyneea and her young son Fostro. The usual First Contact scenario plays out with a mix of mutual understanding and unfortunate misinterpretations. And then the military shows up.

Meanwhile, Moya is starting to succumb to her own weight in the planet’s gravity, so it’s decided they must go ahead with the procedure. Zhaan will use her abilities to do what she can for Moya’s pain, and it’s up to a very reluctant Rygel to squeeze into the tiny service corridor and hack the device free.


Noel

I really don’t like the alien world plot. Seriously. A human astronaut lands on an alien planet only to find that they are so similar to us that they experience Martian Madness and break out the guns and the hounds and the military eager for a dissection, and his only hope is a single mother scientist. It’s a nice idea…for a pulp mag in the 40s or an old episode of The Twilight Zone. Farscape is a show that will be known for always doing its own thing, so I find it disappointing that their second effort is a conventional tale that would play out almost exactly the same if you swapped Moya’s crew with Kirk and Spock, or Riker and Worf, or the Doctor and [insert companion], or SG-1, or the Family Robinson, or even the students of the Space Academy. And this isn’t a new feeling as I distinctly remember this part of the episode being a let-down way back when it first aired.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not poorly executed, with Lyneea bounding from terror to excitement and back again, and John initially trying to pump himself up as more all-knowing than he is (“We chose you.”). But the military is underused and easily escaped from, there’s not enough interaction between this plot thread and the rest of the crew (Aeryn literally hops back to Moya for no real reason), and that damn annoying kid is a damn annoying kid. Worst of all, it has nothing new to offer as all the plot points fall exactly where you’d expect them to.

I think what bothers me most is that it goes against the alienness of the show. I pointed out in the last episode that, despite their unusual looks, the crew of Moya largely do fall into archetypes. Here, we have an entire society intentionally designed to evoke Earth and I can’t help feeling it’s absolutely the wrong direction for a show to go in when it’s trying to make its mark, establish its own reality, its own universe. The way they fall back on the familiar feels cheap, even though I know this is something they will soon be rectifying.

On the other side of the coin, we get the plot thread I really like, that of performing emergency surgery on Moya. While still not all that unpredictable in the way it plays out, that has much more to do with the highly logical deconstruction of the scenario than it does a lack of creativity. How do we threaten the entire ship? A beacon on her nervous system. How do we deal with the pain? Zhaan goes all mystical mind-meld. Who’s least likely to perform the surgery? Rygel. How do we make it dramatic? He’s afraid of frelling up (great speech from Zhaan, by the way). How do we force his hand? He’s the only one small enough to fit in the hole. [Note to production crew: when he’s supposed to be the only one who can fit through the hole, don’t make it visibly big enough that Aeryn, Zhaan, or even John could squirm in and out. Just sayin’.] How do we force him to wield a bone knife that D’Argo possibly used on his own genitals? Add a booby trap that takes out metal. What do we do with John, Aeryn, and D’Argo? Toss them off on a sideplot to keep them busy, even if Zhaan’s mind-meld does eventually make it a bit moot.

There’s a few little nitpicks in there, but I really did enjoy how this thread played out and the firm view it gave us of our characters. D’Argo’s pissed that he can’t fix things with his Qualta blade and that Aeryn didn’t warn them about Peacekeeper tech. She’s pissed because she’s “new to all this escaped prisoner crap.” Rygel barks a lot but waffles under pressure. Pilot’s all “Canna’ give it more power, Captain!” John cuts through alien weirdness to the simple solutions, even as the sonic waves do weird things to his face. Zhaan does what she has to do to keep everyone focused. Though these characters will greatly evolve from this point, we’re already seeing a solid foundation from which the group dynamic will build as this unlikely team is forced to put differences aside and do the crap that needs to be done. Even as Rygel gets to the point where he smugly eats a chunk of Aeryn’s arm (bloody Muppets are creepy…and awesome).

Half the episode is really good and the other half boringly conceived but still decently executed. In other words, typical first season blues for a show that hasn’t fully found its footing. But it wasn’t far from getting there as we have tasty little moments like when the crew breaks out their versions of the tiny communicator patches series like this always seem to conveniently have, and not only do they not work half the time, but an initial conversation starts to overlap until John throws out an oh so realistic “You go.”


Weston

There are a couple things I have to point out right off the bat. First is that this episode is number seven on the Netflix listing—we’re tackling episodes in the order they were produced. This makes sense for many reasons; largely that certain events occur that make little sense out of order.

Second, the little alarm lights on the DRDs? So cute. You know the producers have about eleven different types of DRD depending on what needs to be done in any given scene, but it gives a fantastic illusion of multipurpose critters running around the ship.

This episode always makes me cringe for the first few minutes. If the Peacekeeper alarm sound were mounted to an alarm clock, I would smash it, take it outside, drive over it with my car, shovel it into a garbage can, and then drive over the garbage can. It’s annoying as hell. This has to be intentional. It looks to me like the show is trying to give the viewer a reason to see the beacon destroyed, something in addition to the location-broadcasting bit.

The “Leviathans landing on planets” mechanic introduced in this episode is emphasized as very dangerous, very rare, and winds up being a one-time event… at least, through most of the show.

I love how the locals are referred to as being decades away from starflight, but their military is using jeeps with no helicopter support. And how they’re fooled by D’argo and Aeryn climbing a tree. (Which leads into a joke. How does a Luxan hide in a cherry tree?) Technologically, I think that puts them around 1940s Earth, with a bit more emphasis on radio telescopes. That monster in Lyneea’s back yard is gigantic. Actually… in retrospect, the “decades away” bit is probably accurate. Though it doesn’t explain their numbing tasers.

Pilot always amazes me with his expressiveness. His hesitation, lack of confidence, how both of these are overridden by his defensiveness regarding Moya. He gets such fantastic development. This is good in any character, but as a giant four-armed muppet it’s absolutely astonishing.

Rygel taking a bite out of Aeryn’s arm is one of the greatest moments in muppet-human interaction. Little bastard is dangerous.

All told? This episode is a decent second. It serves largely as a vehicle to show that John is as alien to the people he meets as they are to him. The only downside there is that the aliens he meets will usually have more experience with aliens than he does. This is one of the very few instances where the opposite is true… even if only by a very little bit.


Adam

First off, I love how everyone felt a need to stick their heads into the crawlspace. Even Crichton, who obviously has no clue what he’s looking at.

And on the subject of Crichton, his eye twitch during the scenes on Moya was a really good bit of acting. We’ve talked about the great “face acting” on this show in the last episode and the trend continues here. And we get more interaction with Pilot, which is always a good thing. But the surprise of this episode (at least for me) was the amount of development Rygel gets. Sure he is a greedy, arrogant little mutant, but that isn’t ALL that he is. He is on the verge of real panic when he realizes he’s surrounded by mud, and later during the operation he is visibly shaken when the lights go out. And he RIPS OFF A CHUNK OF AERYN’S ARM WTF AUGH. Claudia Black deserves some kind of award for the sheer, undiluted venom in the look she gives Rygel after that.

More fun with costumes in this episode. The military uniforms are well done, with some russian and german influences in the helmets and jackets. You can especially see this in the helmets the gas mask troopers wear, which could very well be old Wehrmacht helmets. I’m not really sure why the (presumedly) elite commandos are wearing bright red jumpsuits under flak jackets, but the effect is striking nonetheless.

The only thing I found wrong in this episode is the design of the natives. They look almost exactly like humans/sebaceans except for their ears, which is a trope so old it has mold growing in it. If Crichton or Aeryn were to just put on a doo-rag they could pass as locals. I really can’t give them too much stick about this since every Sci-Fi show does it, but I sort of expected better from this series.

Lastly, one glaring plot hole: how does Lyneea understand Crichton? Does she have translator microbes? How can she have those if her planet hasn’t had First Contact yet? Other than this, a very solid second episode.


Kevin

“Premiere” served its purpose as The First Episode. Characters were introduced, conflicts arose, and we were given our home set and bonus character in the form of Moya herself.

“I, E.T.” serves a different purpose. Exposition out of the way, it jumps right into deconstruction and subverts one of our favorite concepts: First Contact. Not only do we see it from the alien’s point of view – they’ve landed for a reason, and it’s completely unrelated to the natives – but we see it turned inside out again.

Not that long ago, Crichton himself was in Lyneea’s rather simple boots. He was the scientist with the theories and the high-tech toys that found his world completely turned upside down. He was trying to make sense of a situation that, after all the razzamatazz, really did have nothing to do with him.

Noel’s correct in that this episode is about as far as you can get from what the show evolved into, in terms of design, archetypes, and even the main tropes of the series. But it is a damned good concept, and it subtly takes us out of our comfort zones without us being the wiser. Let me give you an example. Everyone here thus far has mentioned Rygel biting Aeryn. Pretty brutally, too—he just rips into her. Why does that stand out?

I watched this episode with my girlfriend (Trekkiegirl). She is a Farscape novice; this is a first viewing for her. This scene in particular really got to her, to the point where she was still talking about it and shuddering hours later. After asking her about it, I got a hint of the truth behind it.

“Rygel’s a Muppet. Henson knows their stuff, they’ve been doing it for a long time. There’s a boundary, though. Muppets are safe. Watching one bite a person, deep enough to draw blood…that’s disturbing.”

That’s the secret. And that’s what this series is known for, and what it will perfect later on. Taking you out of your safe zone. This is a living, breathing world, and everything you know is wrong. That much is obvious even in a by-the-numbers plot such as this episode.

We also start understanding the dynamic between Pilot and Moya, and a hint of her personality. When Pilot says “She is…very scared”, you really feel it. Keep an eye on his conversation with Zhaan in the Pilot’s Den, where he talks about when Moya was put to sleep while the Peacekeepers modified her. He’s shifting around, very obviously uncomfortable. You get a sense that Pilot himself is fairly young and unsure of himself. More than that, though; if you pay attention, you can tell that he’s not really saying everything. Everyone on Moya has a secret, something they’re hiding from everyone else, and Pilot is no exception.

(For that matter, neither is Moya herself, but that’s another story.)

Some other things to keep watch of:

  • Crichton’s pop-culture references. It’s a rare episode (if any at all) where he doesn’t say something obviously human. (There used to be a website that kept track of each episode’s references – Crichtonisms – but it appears to be down at the moment.) He never changes this aspect of himself, but the rest of the crew’s reactions definitely fluctuate. Right now, they’re still in “What the frell is he talking about?”, but they slowly start to learn to either take the gist of what he’s saying through context, or to ignore it outright. (A great exchange between Aeryn and Zhaan in an upcoming episode: “What’s with him?” “*shrug* He is Crichton.”)
  • Speaking of Aeryn, watch how she interacts with the whole “escaped prisoner crap”. She’s hostile, but watch her interactions with Zhaan in this episode.
  • Keep an eye on how D’Argo looks after his Qualta Blade. This is important.
  • The DRDs. Like Weston said, there are a bunch of them, but you’ll see the same ones pop up. Watch for “One-Eye”, the one Crichton repaired with the blue electrical tape. He’s still around and will turn up here and there.
  • Crichton wistfully watching the planet as they left atmosphere. Aeryn tries to mock him (“What, are you actually going to miss that rock?”) but even she can see it’s not going to work. (“No. Not that rock.”)

All in all, not the strongest episode, but still a quality episode nonetheless. You can tell this is something they wanted to get out of the way before they started tearing the conventions apart.

Final note: Did that scene in the woods at night, with the trucks and dogs and hunters with rifles, look familiar to anyone at all? Brian Henson, I see what you did there.


Episode [1.01]: Premiere || Episode [1.03]: Exodus from Genesis

3 ResponsesLeave one →

  1. Noel

     /  July 16, 2010

    If Crichton or Aeryn were to just put on a doo-rag they could pass as locals.

    Ah, the old VOYAGE HOME trick. 🙂

    Just to clarify my point, I don’t have a problem with the entire episode, just the stuff with John on the alien world. It honestly felt, to me, like it started as the type of basic “writing sample” script that typically made the rounds of the scifi shows of the day. As I mentioned, you could swap John and D’Argo with any of those other tv crews, and nothing would really change. Seriously. Nothing. The stuff on Moya is a different matter, but for this plot thread, there’s nothing there that screams Farscape.

    Now, yes, maybe it is an essential step in John’s readjustment, but not much is made of it. Play up the alien aspects. Make it unique. Anything. Hell, take advantage of the translator gaff Adam so correctly pointed out, making basic communication an issue. Just don’t go the old route of dogs and soldiers and the single mother in the isolated farmhouse that takes him in, with everything being juuuuuuuust slightly off from Earth.

    And, honestly, would you really rather see the Human dropped back into a comfortable environment merely 2 episodes in, or keep hitting him with the Epic Weird? I’d go Epic Weird and save the comfort zone until he’s readjusted to the point where home no longer feels like home. Which I know we’ll get to down the road.

    Rant over. 🙂

    One more nitpick: how small was that military? The dialogue would suggest they’re the ruling party, but they actually take guards away from the very first extraterrestrial creature they’ve ever discovered simply because they’re short on troops with which to search the swamp? Really?

    Reply
    • To be entirely fair on the military, Lyneea and her son were living in the science station – or rather, the telescope was built at her house. There’s a subtle implication hers isn’t terribly important to her nation’s government – if it was, it’d be a government facility, not her farm with government money attached. The fact that the military is there at all means that there’s a small outpost nearby, which may or may not have been put there specifically because of her radio telescope.

      It’s reasonable to assume that the military detachment at her house is all that’s in the area; the commander may have called in for more support, but if there isn’t anything else right nearby, they wouldn’t have made it there before Moya broke atmo. Crichton and company were there for less than a day, after all.

      It’s even implied that the outpost isn’t all that close, either; the hunting party Crichton, D’Argo and Aeryn were running from looked extremely civilian, even redneck. The general didn’t arrive until sometime after breakfast.

      Reply

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