Deconstructing Moya

A Farscape Re-watch Project

Episode [1.05] – “Back and Back and Back to the Future”

Today, on Farscape

“He says he is experiencing the future.”
“The future? He can barely function in the present!”

A distress beacon brings Moya and her crew to a ship, which is destroyed by a quantum singularity. Moya takes on the survivors, but a close encounter grants Crichton a temporal displacement. He discovers that their new passengers are not entirely as they seem…


Kevin

One of the selling points of this series to Trekkiegirl was that “It’s kind of like Lexx, but good.” A bit of an exaggeration, but one that got her interested in watching it. After this episode, she told me that I was right.

I think one of the things everyone notices is that Matala is…probably not played by the best actress around. In my opinion, she’s Narm on legs. Especially the hissing evil voice once she’s discovered to be a Scorvian. But even before then, just the way she moves, the way she talks even normally…it’s too dramatic to be taken seriously. Narmy goodness.

That aside, it’s a neat episode. We get some very interesting knowledge about D’Argo’s crime – namely, that he didn’t kill his commanding officer, like he previously claimed. What it is, well, that’s not revealed as yet. What we do know is that it’s something he’s extremely ashamed of.

Note how John constantly breaks Zhaan’s prayer-mask thing as he keeps time-shifting back to that conversation. The first time he did it, Trekkiegirl gasped. “That’s not his, why is he touching it what is he doing OHGOD HE DROPPED IT.” She hated the fact that he kept doing it – especially the last time, when he did it deliberately. What the frell, John?

Zhaan gets her digs in, though. “What is the matter with him?” “…he is Crichton.” Even later, when Matala asks about him, she replies, “Far too complex, I’m afraid, for you to know in the short time that you’ll be here. I suggest you shouldn’t try.”

The main thing I noticed here is that the pacing is extremely wonky, but for a time-travel episode, it’s actually done well. We feel Crichton’s discomfort as he keeps getting bounced back and forth. We think we’re safe in the timeline, but then something happens and bam, right back in Zhaan’s chambers.

Little details to note in this episode:

  • Rygel stuffing his face. I’ve noted before that he’s an extremely tactile person, always touching and tasting everything. This is no exception; outside of the initial discovery of the Ilanic ship, all you see of him is eating in the mess hall.
  • Aeryn’s shirt keeps getting shorter. Not sure why, but she’s very quickly becoming Ellen Ripley. This is even more apparent in “PK Tech Girl”, when she trades up to the giant railgun.
  • Speaking of Aeryn, notice how she’s constantly trying to understand Crichton. Normally, you’d think she’d just dismiss him as the rest of the crew does, but she’s always pushing and asking.
  • Keep an eye on how much D’Argo’s emotions are imbalanced. He keeps getting pushed into anger and shame and annoyance; it’s usually outside influences, but they’re way out of check in these first few episodes. It’s a constant thing thus far.
  • What the frell is that “nerve strike” thing Matala does? Is it a psychic stun before she jabs her fingers into the chest? Is she just distracting them with the fingers? What is that?

Like I said, the entire format of the episode is extremely unbalancing. The pacing, the dialogue, the time-skips; everything. It’s actually genius how it follows the theme of this week’s plot.


Noel

I’m so glad Kevin jumped on Lisa Hensley’s performance as Matala, the Scorvian spy, because I completely agree. From the flow of John’s visions, I get the sense she’s initially supposed to come off as an exotic temptress, growing more and more suspect as details are revealed, but everything she does points straight in that direction from her very first appearance. I think the problem is Hensley trying way too hard to appear alien; the constantly staring eyes, the ultra-precise movements, her breathy, oddly pitched delivery. She put the focus on the alien and lost the ambiguous development of the femme fatale. Oh, and when she gets really mad, she sounds like Donald Duck.

She was the most glaring problem in the episode, but not the only one. I really love the idea of John, instead of physically flashing through time, merely perceiving future events, which gives him the room needed to change things. Where this falls apart is in how very little actually changes. Everything leads to death and destruction when, honestly, you can’t just ask Pilot to seal some doors and trap Matala in a corridor for a few hours? They’re trying to set up an inevitable destination of events, but the repeated scenes of murder start to feel awfully staged after a while with not enough thought given to the variation of consequences. Little things can bring sweeping change, yet they repeatedly claim that big things make no difference. Doesn’t taste right to me.

But it is certainly different, and I give them full points for that. Farscape has definitely started running out of the generic fields and into its own realm of the scifi kingdom. This episode, we have a Muppet getting ill after a binge on more than cookies, multiple fatalities for our lead crew, Aeryn’s ever-exposed midriff that’s sexy without feeling like fanservice, our first glimpse of wild alien/human sex, an erogenous bundle of chin tentacles, John struggling to be taken seriously even as he admits “I mock everyone.”

Good moments all, as is the building of D’Argo’s history. He’s exiled from his people for a secret crime we don’t yet know about. He’s been lonely for a long time. The Ilanics are genetic cousins to his race and we learn that the Luxans have fed them soldiers and resources in their war against the Scorvians. Granted, these last bits would be a lot more relevant if the Ilanics or the Scorvians ever again appeared on the show (spoiler – they don’t), but it’s still interesting backstory for one of our leads. And as Kevin pointed out, D’Argo does go through some pretty radical emotional shifts throughout the episode. I’m guessing this ties to the bit of exposition from back in “Premiere” about how he’s still a youth of his race.

In the end, it’s a decent episode. There’s some inconsistencies in there and some logic gaps (why would a well-trained spy like Matala use a move against Aeryn that totally blows her cover?), but the broad cosmos of alien weirdness are in full bloom, and we and John are starting to both adapt and go a little frelling mad at the same time.

As for “It’s kind of like Lexx, but good,” the same could be said for the average teenager’s wet dream. Ugh. Frelling Lexx.


Weston

Hey, what’s wrong with Lexx? It’s a fun series. Random vaporizations, extensive symbolism, the Brunnen G Fight Song. And Zev is hot.

The DVD commentary for this episode is pretty awesome. They make three points in it that I’m contractually obligated to bring up.

The first is that this is the first of many Black Shirt Episodes. Essentially, if you see Crichton in a black shirt rather than his usual white, you know that he’s in for a rough fifty minutes. This gets worse when you realize that he spends most (all?) of season two in a black shirt.

Second, the camera pans to the right when leaping forward in time, and to the left when leaping back. This only holds true for the first half, when John is flashing forward. After he starts rewinding it goes to a slow-motion fade, but it’s a neat way to illustrate the time shifts.

And third… this point is one that I’ve been harping on since episode one. Muppet interaction. Rygel spends most of the episode eating, and not in a Cookie Monster “OM NOM NOM” way. The food doesn’t disintegrate and fall right back out. Usually. Unless we’re talking about crackers. But that’s something else entirely. I mean, everyone loses bits when they eat crackers. Rygel has a deep enough mouth that things go in and they don’t usually go back out. But all of this is really secondary to the two interactive bits: D’Argo grabbing Rygel’s fantastically expressive eyebrows and twisting, and Rygel’s expression of pain. Very good characterization. The second is when Crichton damn near tackles Rygel after flashing back to the present. Apparently there was danger of actually damaging the muppet when he did that, and the effort pays off.

The Narm-tastic Matala is, as previously stated, severely over the top. The voice, the motions, pretty much everything. More than that, every time she shows up the music changes to something more ominous. But! All of this, I think, emphasizes the alienness of the species in this series. Season one is just full of things that are over-the-top weird. And it’s so awesome.

Aeryn’s fighting style, however, is not. For someone who was trained to kill from birth, she’s severely awkward at it. They mention several times in the commentary across the series that Claudia Black was supposed to have actual hand-to-hand training with the Australian military, but that kinda fell through. So her melee combat skills remain kinda awkward through season four. But man can she handle a gun.

Rygel seems really, really happy when people die. Maybe because he no longer has to convince his crewmates that they shouldn’t rescue them. Maybe because he can loot the bodies. Maybe he just likes knowing that there’s one less being in the universe to compete with.

D’Argo is astonishingly stab-happy on episodes with reset buttons. This becomes a theme. Also, you see a lot more in this episode about his youth and awkwardness around women. Sure, he’s a super angry soldier, but he’s also very young for his species. It’s a great starting point for his maturation over the series. Eventually he gets a little wiser and less furious, but it’s a long path. About eighty episodes. Tune in to Deconstructing Moya on January 20, 2012 when I return to this topic!


Episode [1.04]: Throne for a Loss || Episode [1.06]: Thank God it’s Friday. Again.

11 ResponsesLeave one →

  1. I’m sorry I don’t like LEXX, guys. Really I am. Yes, there’s neat, weird wildness in the series, and, yes, Zev is major hotness, but it’s just way too juvenile and repugnant for me. Granted, I’ve only really seen the pilot films and season 1.

    Weston: But! All of this, I think, emphasizes the alienness of the species in this series.

    Agreed, but the problem with Matala is that the story plays her one way and the actress another. While the performance does make her deliciously alien, it completely kills her character’s dramatic reveal. It’s a tough balancing act, and here’s a spot where they slipped.

    Reply
  2. Weston

     /  August 6, 2010

    Eh. She was set up as an antagonist from the word “go”. We (the audience) know that she’s the episode’s villain (because we are smart), but the protagonists (world-wise and proud of it) do not (because good is dumb). Half the fun is watching them figure it out.

    Or worse. Maybe all Ilanics act like that.

    Reply
    • She was played as an antagonist from the word go, but look at the structure of the story. First, there’s an immediate bond with D’Argo as he recognizes a cousin race, then John has the flashes of sex, making her into a potential object of temptation that will come between the two dudes. It’s only when John has his first vision of the murder that she’s suddenly suspect.

      What I’m getting at is that the material is trying to take some dramatic twists and turns, but the actress is making it worthless. There’s a clash of intentions. It’s not as simple as who’s smart and who’s dumb, it’s that the writers set up a genuine mystery only for the actress to badly telegraph her role from scene one.

      Reply
      • Weston

         /  August 7, 2010

        Mmm. Point.

        Should we cross reference other media that she’s been in? See if she’s always bad? >:D

        Reply
  3. In my defense, for the “It’s like Lexx but good”, it was a great way to sell Trekkiegirl on the series. She’s a huge fan of Lexx, both because it’s so campy and because it has such rich backstory and a really well-developed mythology. You just can’t see it most of the time ’cause the series is about the main characters trying to get laid all the time.

    But the analogy worked and she’s hooked on Farscape. I’d say it’s a success.

    Reply
    • That’s a good point as the two do naturally invite comparison and likely have a crossover in their fanbase.

      I’m trying to remember … I know both aired on SciFi, but didn’t they play back-to-back at some point?

      Reply
      • They might have, actually. If I remember correctly, Lexx had the midnight slot, and Farscape was either just before or maybe with an episode buffer.

        Trekkiegirl has a rebuttal about Lexx and how the sexuality of it is a more literal parallel to the theme of lust and consumption that the series is about.

        Reply
        • I’ll wait a few years and give Lexx another shot. I’ve never seen past the first season.

          Reply
  4. RaslakOnLomo

     /  December 25, 2010

    Just found your site from a link at SaveFarscape. Keep up the good work.

    I think perhaps that Matala is a siren for Luxans, not Humans. Hensley must convey an archetype without becoming a romantic interest for Crichton. I agree her performance is a bit unsettling. To his credit, Verell has some similar speech patterns.

    Reply
  5. Adam BubuBORG Reid

     /  April 29, 2013

    By the time I’d noticed that Matala was using her Weird monotone voice only when D’argo and Varell were present, the jig was up. And D’argo’s expression when Crichton revealed that he knew his true crime? It very much was the expression of a lost kid.

    What else? Zhaan’s expression when John broke her mask. She dismissed it, but her face clearly said it: “This is why we can’t have nice things”

    Reply
  6. constantly i used to read smaller articles which also clear their
    motive, and that is also happening with this paragraph which I
    am reading here.

    Reply

Leave a Reply