Deconstructing Moya

A Farscape Re-watch Project

Episode [1.09] – “DNA Mad Scientist”

Today, on Farscape

“I was born a Peacekeeper soldier. I’ve always been one among many. Member of a division, a platoon, a unit, a team. I’ve never been on my own, John. Never been alone. Ever.”
“When I find a way home – if I find a way home – I’ll take you with me.”
“Me, on a planet full of billions of you?”

A trip to a geneticist grants D’Argo, Zhaan and Rygel the opportunity to find their ways home – even allowing them to evade Peacekeeper-controlled space on the way. Aeryn is initially dubious, but she finds out that this microbiologist is more than meets the eye…


First off, I believe I am speaking for all of us when I say “Eugh”. Add to that a shiver and a resounding “Gyah”. Needles in the eye? Really? To this day, I still turn my head at the beginning of Star Trek: First Contact. Although, I have to give credit where credit is due. Even disregarding the whole “taking fluid from the eyes would result in permanent blindness” aspect, it’s actually used well in the context it’s in.

Here’s the thing. This episode, even more than other episodes, requires a suspension of disbelief where science is concerned. Ignore the aforementioned blindness problem. Ignore that simply being injected with Pilot’s DNA would not, in fact, cause Aeryn to go through her Body Horror Transformation, but would only make her slightly sick at the most. (Far more likely, her body would just treat it as any other foreign material and either tear it apart or flush it away.) In fact, ignore pretty much anything that flies in the face of science. Accept it. Live with it, move on.

Normally, I’d be nitpicking the everloving hell out of these things, but this episode totally and completely brings it.

Observe the wiggins-inducing NamTar, who treats people as his own personal playthings, merely because he was able to overpower and transcend the scientist who treated himself as such. He became that which tortured and disfigured him, and found that he liked it much better on the other side.

Observe the ever-expanding grey area that the crew of Moya live in. Rygel, D’Argo and even Zhaan brutally maim Pilot, without even giving him a choice in the matter. Rygel and D’Argo, we can see doing this, but Zhaan? The effects of taking down Maldis are plainly not going away anytime soon.

For that matter, Pilot’s reaction to the whole thing is incredibly real. His terror and pain when they chop his arm off is one of the best aspects of puppetry I have ever seen. Similarly, the look of mistrust and betrayal afterwards when Crichton is trying to sympathise with him is extremely heartbreaking. I love that we find out more about his species, though; how they become voluntary slaves for a chance to see the stars. He even gets his retaliation later; the bitter “What body part are you willing to offer, Your Eminence?” is priceless.

Things to take note of:

  • Pilot and Aeryn Bromance Tally. Aeryn is immediately protective of Pilot, both when NamTar asks for the arm, and when she’s ripping D’Argo and Zhaan a new one afterwards. For that matter, she tells him first about her condition. It could be that as a Pilot, only he could tell her what’s going on, but I say the friendship that they’ve been developing had at least something to do with it.
  • Drunk Crichton. Need I say more?
  • Aeryn starting to show her vulnerability to Crichton. (See the quote at the top of the page.)
  • There are some absolutely gorgeous special effects here. That galaxy map at the beginning? Fantastic, even if it’s impractical.
  • THAT MAKEUP. Adam’s been talking about the fantastic makeup that this show has. Zhaan sheds a tear and it doesn’t smudge her face in the slightest.
  • Why didn’t NamTar’s machine register Crichton as Sebacean? A question to think about.
  • Continuity note: Zhaan’s painting of Rygel I is prominently displayed in Rygel’s quarters.

I’d best leave it at that, lest I rob the others of topics to talk about themselves.


Kevin is spot-on about Zhaan this episode. Well, he’s actually spot on about everything, but let’s focus on Zhaan for the moment. Of all the characters who would be willing to hold back her own victory to try and help the others through theirs, you’d think it would be the wise and patient priestess. But no, she instantly dives into the mob to hack off a comrade’s limb, and even goes so far as to try whoring herself out to Rygel, all while calmly explaining her way around moral implications like a game of Chutes and Ladders. Up until last episode’s bout of rediscovered inner evil, she was the one we could always trust, could always look to in the midst of a chaotic situation for words of soothing guidance, but now we see that she’s capable of anything if the circumstances are right, and when her eyes go from a destroyed starchart to its destroyer, John, there’s nothing but murder in those pools of blue.

Back in our intro piece, I pointed out that one of my favorite aspects of Farscape as a whole is the ethical gray zone in which it will exist. Yes, there is friendship and love and the constant fleeing from even greater evils, but this is a very real universe where the “good” guys don’t always make the “good” choices. Hell, when D’Argo stumbles out an apology to Pilot following the episode’s events, he flat out tells the man that he would still do exactly the same thing if such circumstances again arose. Betrayal from Rygel is expected at all times, we’ve already covered Zhaan, but D’Argo turning on a comrade with whom he’s stood in battle (if you squint and tilt your head a little at the past episodes, it counts as standing together in battle) screams against the moral code the Luxan so closely holds dear. Which makes his chiding of Zhaan’s loose ethics in “PK Tech Girl” all the more empty.

And then there’s John and Aeryn. We know they’ll get together, newcomers to the show know they’ll get together, hell, they’ve spent a good chunk of the preceding episodes falling into one another at every available moment, but this is where I feel the seeds are first sown. While the other three are squabbling over travel rights to destinations they don’t even have a handle on yet, John and Aeryn take their first stock of themselves as a pair of outsiders. John’s DNA didn’t click with the program, leaving him without a home to find. Aeryn is an outcast, an exile, with a home she can’t return to. So they start to openly toy with the notion of being stuck lost in space with one another once the others clear out. You can see both the terror and the temptation on their faces as big life changes loom around the corner, the hesitation and the draw, and as circumstances change and the others are suddenly still sticking around, instead of seeing regret or relief at what won’t be, you see a newfound warmth in their interaction. All over a smiley face plate of food cubes.

Anyway, I’m rambling. As for the broader plot, Kevin is quite right about the scientific issues. I guess the DNA injections could be explained with some handwavium about them being processed DNA treatments instead of the raw stuff itself, but the speed at which everything mutates is ridiculous, especially the fast acting antidote whipped up for the climax. And the regular compliments to Henson Studios aside, the sinister NamTar and his mangled “assistant” Kornata are a bit inconsistent. NamTar is an impressive sight, a bondaged up kangaroo man with a sleek head and stilt feet, but the animatronics on his face are disappointingly stiff and his long-fingered hands clumsy and unconvincing. Kornata is equally impressive at first glance, with excessive experiments leaving her head a swollen mass barely held together with some leather Tetsuo Hara binding, but she’s lugging this gargantuan wobbly rubber hand that looks like something you’d wave around at a sporting event for the Mutant League. These little things don’t entirely unmake the great work they’re attatched to, but they do call attention to themselves.

Yet, again as pointed out by Kevin, those gripes pale in the face of an episode that Goes There. Eye injections. Cancerous growths. Massive blaster gore. Alien booze. Nazi trivia. Pleasure sought from pain. Interspecies seduction. Lab animals making lab animals out of their scientists. A main cast member struggling against other main cast members as they hack off his limb. If Farscape‘s balls haven’t yet finished dropping so as to repeatedly swing in our faces as the show refuses to stop Going There, they’ll be dangling in full view very very soon.

And correct me if I’m wrong, but is this the first use of “frell”?

If so, it’s about frelling time.


Yes. Definitely the first use of the word “frell”. I’ve been looking for it.

NamTar is hideously overpowered. An amoral nine-foot-tall telepathic telekinetic rapid-regenerating super-genius who has been stealing other species’ unique traits for himself. He’s the Sylar of the Uncharted Territories. Space Sylar. Spylar, if you will. And how do you kill Spylar? Take advantage of his overconfidence, get him monologuing, and hit him with an anti-quantum genetic serum.

All tropes aside, NamTar is pretty horrific. The intent is reasonable, but the methods he employs in the pursuit thereof are so over the top that any results would be invariably tainted. The two-faced… thing he looks in on halfway through the episode is representative of the eleven million species that NamTar has had access to over the course of his research. The Mengele wannabe has been at his work for a long, long time, hurt potentially thousands of sapients, in the selfish attempt to improve himself. In light of the previous episode, we could ask what would happen if he were to achieve his goal. In an attempt to avoid squicking ourselves, I will not.

There are several new external shots during this episode; really beautiful shots of Moya orbiting the planetary fragment that NamTar resides on. They give a nice sense of scale – especially the one from above. You can see a giant toothed jaw along the surface, possibly belonging to a Budong or some other giant space nasty.

The camera work leading in to Aeryn’s confrontation with Zhann and D’Argo is nice. The short zoom as she turns the corner that frames her holstered pulse pistol against the others sets up the scene perfectly.

Each character plays true to type while attempting to gain control of the navigation crystal. Zhaan negotiating with or seduce the other two, D’Argo aggressively threatening, and Rygel manipulating and stealing. The initial maiming of Pilot is surprising, but underscores that these people are desperate, thrown together by circumstance, and don’t really like each other all that much. Each has priorities and goals that go against those of their shipmates. This remains true for quite some time.

D’Argo’s stringed electric bagpipe is surprising. It’s not a weapon, it’s not the sound you’re expecting, it’s upside down… and it reveals Pilot’s love of music. It’s a neat little bonding moment that, while not annulling the point of the previous paragraph, is still heartwarming.


[The following is a translation from the original article, which was written in a dialect known as “gibbering terror”. Watching this episode freaked Adam out so badly that he had to go to a…farm. A very nice farm in the country. To recover. Not a psych ward.]

Oh god, this is gonna suck. I can handle regular everyday squick, but this is next level shit right here.

One thing that strikes me is just how hollow Zhaan sounds. She has, especially in the past few episodes had to go against her beliefs more and more often. Each time it seems to be a little easier to do. And when Aeryn Sun, a former Peacekeeper scarily competent commando, can claim the moral high ground you really need to stop and re-evaluate your territory.

D’Argo really shows his colors here. He pretty much only has one method of problem solving: hitting someone until they agree with you. Of course, it’s hard to find fault with this line of thought when dealing with Rygel. The little runt pretty much only responds to violence or appeals to his own gluttony, and no prizes for guessing which approach our Luxan friend chooses.

Makeup and costumes this episode are in keeping with the high standards we’ve seen so far. NamTar’s overall design is very creepy, and a lot of this comes from his digitigrade legs and frankly bizarre head shape. For some reason he reminds me of a Displacer Beast from D&D that’s standing on his rear legs. The Aeryn-Pilot hybrid makeup is quite good, but Claudia Black’s acting makes it obvious just how debilitating the changes are.

Now, if you excuse me, I’m gonna go hide behind the couch until next week.

Why can’t we go anyplace nice, like a hot spring planet?

Noel’s Re-Rewatch (5/1/2022)

Definitely fitting that I began my metaphor about the bursting emergence of Farscape‘­s peduluming alien scrotal sack in our writeup of the episode that debuted the word “frell” into the lexicon.

This is Farscape. No longer are aliens just some dude standing around stiffly in purple body paint. No, NamTar is a looming bondage kangaroo with stilt legs, fabric finger extensions, and an eerie facelift around the constantly peering eyes of his huge, inquisitive face. No longer do we just have a flourishing Shakespearian actor in contact lenses. No, Kornata is a twisted figure of flesh gone wrong with a uselessly gigantic hand straight out of “Everlong”. This is an episode were people voluntarily let a stranger stab them in the eyeball with a needle in the hopes of finding a map home, then brutally maul and maim one of their own when the price of that map is revealed, and further turn on themselves when a catch is discovered. And this isn’t our leads hanging back and watching as the chaos unfolds. No, they’re the ones in chaos, as this is where the show begins subverting its own status quo. We expect Rygel to cheat and scheme, but we haven’t yet seen him so thoroughly have the upper hand on everyone else, luring them into traps, flipping their bargains and threats back on them, almost seeing his machinations through to the crashing end. For all the talk of warrior codes and honor, D’Argo isn’t Worf, isn’t Teal’C. He’s a blunt weapon who will tell you straight to your face that he’s not sorry he lopped off your limb, and he’ll do it again if the situation called for it. He’s not noble. But nor is he ruthless. He’s just honest. Painfully honest. And plays a lovely guitar.

And then there’s Zhaan. Chronologically, yes, we got a taste of her darkness in “That Old Black Magic”, but here, she’s buried the conflict. She never expresses regret, she never questions her choices or actions. She IS ruthless and conspiring and manipulative, and while the last episode revealed she had some skeletons in her closet, this tells us any trust we put in her role as the ship’s den mother should be taken with many a grain of salt. Even in the end, when John is forced to shut it all down, you’d expect D’Argo to make his hissy noise and fly into a rage. But he just stands there stoically, the loss of hope dawning on him, as Zhaan is the one who snarls out in anger. This is an important milestone because it sets in motion what the characters in Farscape will consistently become. Everyone is both a hero and a villain. Everyone will make bad calls for messy reasons. Everyone will lash out and turn on each other. Everyone will stew in regrets, then go on making more bad calls to come. This allows us to defy standard dynamics, as characters break the molds they’ve been establishing and reveal the lines between them are blurrier than we thought. John and Aeryn are somewhat removed from that by circumstance in this episode, but just wait, they’ll have their chance in the blacklight too.

This is the creators, just as things are starting to settle, breaking things and seeing what comes out of the collision. And they’ll break it again. And they’ll break it again. Not out of malice or spite, like lesser shows can get when they just start trolling their audience. No, they do it because it’s a hard life living on the fringes, and status quos aren’t as easy to find as syndicated scifi programming will often suggest.

Even John and Aeryn’s blooming romance comes out of existential dread. Neither has the same chance to go home as the others currently do, and they’re left with the very real possibility of being stuck with each other. John is in a drunken sulk over another fleeting glimpse of hope being snatched away, with the empty promise of taking Aeryn home with him one day. And Aeryn looks at this man she’ll eventually be the OTP with, and she instantly bolts down to the mad scientist in the hopes of getting another option. In a way, the show punishes her for it, thrusts this experimental mutation upon her for daring to cross the fates of the plotting gods. Which is odd in how it seems to contradict the plotting gods discarding of their own fates. And as they come together, you can see John is attentive to her. Seeing she’s in distress, he wants to find a way to help, and she just wants him to leave her alone as she’s drawn to Pilot, the only friend who can understand what she’s going through. This is oddly how relationships work, that you don’t always run into the hands of your soulmate, that they aren’t always the thing you need in every moment of distress. Sometimes their attempts to help just further the distress, and you can see that in Aeryn’s continued breakdown as her reveal to John finally comes because she just can’t avoid it anymore.

I’m running way off track and digging way too far into this, but god damn I really love this episode. The technical science and morphing effects don’t make a lick of sense, but it keeps things lively and wild. I love how calm NamTar is, never really lashing out in violence, because between his regenerative powers and situational one-upsmanship, he doesn’t need to. I love the reveal of what he is and where he came from, and what he’s ultimately returned to before John’s boggled eyes. On an interesting note, NamTar was played by Henson workshopper Adrian Getley, who only had a few on camera performances as far as I can tell, but carried on in makeup design and as a concept modeller for effect studios, working on designs for the likes of the first two Harry Potters, 28 Days Later, Event Horizon, and even worked on the Batsuit for The Dark Knight.

In further behind the scenes notes, this is director Andrew Prowse’s return after the pilot, with him continuing to use a swaying camera and a wide lens to great alien effect. I just learned about his earlier films Driving Force and Demonstone, which look like a lot of fun, and definitely need to check out both. This is surprisingly the only episode for writer Tom Blomquist, a veteran of Riptide, A-Team, and Walker Texas Ranger, who was also one of the main writers and producers of the 90s Swamp Thing tv series. Given how much I hear this story was reworked, and how heavily O’Bannon and Kemper were involved in honing scripts at the time, I’d be curious to learn how much of Blomquist’s draft remains.

This is a great episode because, as many a Farscape story will come to do, it leaves our characters on a mess they’re still trying to figure out how to clean up. They’ve reached a resolution, but it comes with consequence and fallout, and the steady amassing of baggage, and oh how I remember some of the messes we’ll leave them hanging on.

Episode [1.08]: That Old Black Magic || Episode [1.10]: They’ve Got a Secret

15 ResponsesLeave one →

  1. That’s…that’s an interesting metaphor, Noel.

    • Oh, I’ll have plenty to say about Farscape‘s balls as we go along. A trio of multi-hued, tendril-waggling alien balls.

  2. CantStrafeRight

     /  September 3, 2010

    This episode freaked me out so much when I first watched it (I was about 11) that I find it hard to watch now.

    • I was hitting 20 when I started watching this series and there were episodes that definitely still freaked me out. The cliffhanger ending season 2 is an especially vivid memory that I’m anxious to revisit.

      • CantStrafeRight

         /  September 3, 2010

        The cliffhanger ending season 2 has driven me mad for years because I missed the 1st episode of season 3 when it was on originally, and for 7-8 years I never had an opportunity to see it. So I went years with no idea how a lot of that stuff got resolved, and I didn’t want to read about it on wikipedia because I wanted to see the episode for myself.

        I was so happy when I got to see E01S03 for the first time earlier this year and find out what happened.

        • Oh, wow. I can’t imagine being left hanging on a cliffhanger like that.

          To be honest, my own memory is a little fuzzy on how it was all resolved, so I’m looking forward to the rediscovery.

  3. KevinCV

     /  September 3, 2010

    I’ve been following this blog for quite some time, but never bothered to post a comment. But man, is it a lucky coincidence that you guys are reviewing my favorite episode of Farscape season 1 on my 24th birthday or what?

    That said, the first time I saw this episode about 5 years ago was the first time in along time that watching anything sci-fi scared me out of my wits. The last couple times were seeing the Autons in Jon Pertwee’s debut as the Third Doctor in the story “Spearhead From Space”, and bearing witness to the horticultural horror that is Audrey II from “Little Shop of Horrors”. Everything you said about it mirrors my feelings on it exactly. Thanks for the little smidgen of nightmare fuel on an otherwise bright and cheery day. I may actually post again once you get to another one of my favortite eps. 🙂

    • Happy Birthday, KevinCV! And thanks for following along. I hope that nightmare fuel is counteracted by cake. 🙂

  4. Here’s a question I’d like to raise to everyone …

    What was the freakier element of the story: NamTar and his goulish experiments, or the main cast turning on one another, largely without hesitation or regret?

    • Taking NamTar as a whole averages out the FRELLING EYE NEEDLE deal quite a bit; the rest didn’t bother me nearly as much as all that.

      Seeing Pilot torn asunder? Heartbreaking.

  5. KevinCV

     /  September 3, 2010

    It was actually counteracted by some delicious homemade spaghetti and meatballs. I won’t be getting any cake til Sunday, which is when I’m heading over to my brother’s house to celebrate my birthday, her birthday, and her mom’s birthday. She was born on the 10th, and her mom and I were born on the 3rd, so we’ve since had a little tradition going to celebrating all 3 birthdays at once.

    And, to answer your question, Noel: I personally thought it was a mixture of the 2 that freaked me out more than one or the other.

    • KevinCV

       /  September 3, 2010

      “her” being my brother’s wife, btw. Sorry for the lack of clarification.

  6. flores

     /  September 4, 2010

    “What was the freakier element of the story: NamTar and his goulish experiments, or the main cast turning on one another, largely without hesitation or regret?”

    Both? NamTar’s eye needle was um, yes, disturbing, but it was equally disturbing seeing how they turned on Pilot, before this I felt their desire to go ‘home’ was extremely strong but I didn’t realize how far they would go until I saw this ep.

  7. Hi guys! Reading this blog in the year 2018 having embrked if a rewatch of all of Farscape. I am also watching Star Trek Discovery, which is great and has embraced some shades of grey too. Nothing matched Farscape though. I think it is my Favourite of all sci-fi series. This was a great episode with fabulous costumes, design and visuals for program from so long ago! It’s so easy to fall in love with John and Aeryn and I am looking forward to journeying with them again. I also agree ‘re. eye syringes – squick!


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