Deconstructing Moya

A Farscape Re-watch Project

Episode [1.18] – “A Bug’s Life”

Today, on Farscape

“You ever fly anything a little sexier than a Leviathan?”
“Let’s see…. started flying Scrub Runners at fourteen cycles…. half cycle later, a KL-80…. and an 81…. and then Prowler attack school at sixteen.”
“Sixteen? Why’d you wait so long?”
“I had to. My feet didn’t reach the pedals.”

When a damaged Marauder filled with Peacekeeper Special Ops commandos docks with Moya, they find D’Argo, Zhaan, and Rygel locked in their prison cells, Chiana serving up food as a domestic slave, Aeryn armed to the teeth as a guard, and a man looking a lot like John suited up in the leathers of a Peacekeeper Captain. This, of course, is all a deception on the part of our main crew so as to catch the soldiers off guard, and maybe sneak a little info about a nearby secret science base, but things go very very bad when a) D’Argo loses his patience, b) Rygel and Chiana get a little too curious about the soldiers’ secret cargo, and c) a sentient virus starts jumping from one body to another, looking for an identity it can settle into long enough to start a little spore action.


I can’t think of a single scifi series from 1990 onward that doesn’t feature at least one episode hearkening back to John Carpenter’s 1982 film The Thing, and its source material, Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell, Jr. Paranoia. Identity confusion. Viral contamination. Standoffs where everyone has a gun in everyone elses’ face. Some series make it work, some don’t, but we really get the goods here as it’s layered on top of a plot that’s already boiling to the brim with tension. And instead of being a total knockoff, they change the rules by having the virus only infect one person at a time, and nobody can get infected again once the bug has passed through them. A clever twist, it adds some strategy on the germ’s part as it has to decide when it’s the best time to jump, and when it should linger.

All that aside, this episode is infamous for one thing: John Crichton doing his first full-on Peacekeeper impersonation, with Ben Browder affecting a pissy “British” accent that’s both coolly badass and hysterically ridiculous. Though they never do explain how, exactly, someone can affect an accent while speaking through translator microbes, it’s great fun seeing his frustration in the role as he’s essentially the one in charge, the one with the authority symbol, the one the entire deception hinges on, yet the others are dragging out their old doubts about John the Useless Human both behind his back and to his face. Sure, he does save the day in the end, but respect is something he’s still earning inch by inch. Very humbling, given their great teamwork in the last episode.

Granted, a lot of this does come from very real frustrations. Zhaan, D’Argo, and Rygel, the escaped felons of the bunch, are being asked to allow themselves to once again be imprisoned. Zhaan’s tension is obvious, but she takes it in stride. Rygel clings to every little piece of comfort he can, and when even his Hov-R-Boy is taken from him to maintain the illusion, he retreats into his old escape tunnel and scurries away. D’Argo has it the worst, with chains once again around his arms and through his bone piercings. He’s a man who, when he swears he’ll never be imprisoned again, he frelling means it, so it’s no surprise that his reaction is the strongest, leading to the typical D’Argo mess the others need to clean up after.

And then there’s Aeryn. It’s always fun seeing a bit of the old commando rise to the surface when she finds herself among her own kind, but things are a little different here. Instead of the spit’n’polish, regulation-driven Peacekeepers of old, this Special Ops team goes the rough and rowdy route. Their uniforms are sloppy and dirty. They speak out of turn. They stay seated when a commanding officer enters the room. Don’t get me wrong, they’re a crack team that’s always capable and at the ready, but they’re a pack of dirty grunts that act as a strange contrast to the faux Peacekeeper posh taken on by John. In other words, he becomes more of a traditional Peacekeer than they are. At first, Aeryn is a little taken aback and disgusted by their looser discipline, but there is a charm there, one that likely appeals to the more open mind she’s earned since her exile. And when McDreamy Captain Larraq starts asking her if she ever thought about transferring to Special Ops, you can see she’s actually chewing the idea over. It must be a tough temptation for a girl who’s been flying Prowlers since she was a teenager.

It’s a good, cracklin’, tightly plotted episode. The direction keeps everything moving. The performances by both regulars and guests are all striking and memorable. The esplodey climax, which could have been nothing but silly, was rousingly awesome. And don’t think I didn’t notice, writers, how you conveniently didn’t leave a single Ops soldier standing for our heroes to have to make tough decisions about. While I’m sure that could have made for some interesting drama, this still works for me. If I have any complaints, it’s about the cheapo $2 eyeglow effect they use to emphasise to the audience who’s been infected. Because their performances as they maliciously grin in closeup while the music gets all dramatic wasn’t enough to sell it, I guess.


Crichton’s accent is the first big thing in this episode. Random characters on the show display an accent to distinguish themselves from the regulars, to demonstrate that they aren’t Crichton. Also, that they tended to do the casting calls in Australia. But! Crichton’s assumption of an accent in this ep may be more about him getting into the mindset of a Peacekeeper – they’ve always had accents to his poor human ears, and if throwing out a “leftenant” or two when everyone else is saying “lieutenant” helps him settle into the role as an arrogant Peacekeeper captain, hey, it works.

None of the commandos seem to notice Crichton dropping the accent after he’s infected, which may reinforce that point, and may be intended as an audience cue that he’s not quite Crichton anymore.

I wanted to make an argument that the translator microbes were generating the accent as a way of telling the listener that the speaker wasn’t speaking the same language, but various interactions throughout the series indicate that it’s impossible for someone to distinguish between languages.

The DRDs can kick a surprising amount of ass. It’s rare that they whip out their tiny pulse weapons, but when they do things explode. Or get disarmed. Or occasionally get stunned or glued or all the fun little things DRDs can do. It’s a little bit of a shame they aren’t used more often, but when they are they’re used well.

There’s a group spinnycam shot when the prisoners and the commandos begin formulating a plan to go after Rygel. I love group spinnycam shots. They’re a fantastic way to get everyone in the room, to show that rather than imply it with back-and-forth face shots.

There’s a moment on Command when virus-Crichton tells Aeryn to continue pumping Larraq for information about the Gammak base, then jumps right over her and starts asking about the hunt. This sentient virus has been on the run for a full cycle, not existing in any one host for more than an arn, and now it has the chance to interrogate its hunter. It’s a neat little confrontational moment that Larraq doesn’t realize is happening… until the “prisoners” burst in.

Then, of course, the commandos pick up the idiot ball and tackle the body-swapping virus host. Granted, Aeryn had just disarmed them, and virus-Crichton was striking multiple people so it could have jumped out on any one of them, but the dogpile? Oy. But it does lead to the fantastic set of follow-up scenes.

Bunch of notes on props. Let’s see. When the paired-off groups are searching for Rygel, Zhaan is using the prop from “I, E.T.“, the little black thing Crichton used to find Leviathan anesthetic. The stasis gun is a modified pulse pistol painted white with a… what, little silencer on the end? The knife Larraq stabs Aeryn with looks like a tiny version of the giant perforated paddle from a couple eps back. The alien-in-a-box looks kinda like it might be the thing we had the super closeups of in the previous episode. And of course the micro-to-macro microwave from The Fifth Element.

D’Argo’s concern for Aeryn after she’s stabbed reflects their developing relationship over the season. I know Kevin will hit that point, so I’ll leave it for him, but it’s touching.

The method by which virus-Larraq is dispatched is clever, set up right off the bat, and uses a mechanic that we’re already familiar with. It seems similar to how Durka was dispatched, but it makes a lot of sense to get the bad guy off the ship before blowing him up.

And of course, the stinger.

CRICHTON: “You’re lucky he missed your heart.”
AERYN: “Closer than you think.”


I’m noticing a bit of a pattern here with the episodes as of late. We seem to keep getting episodes that build up the crew’s sense of family and trust, followed immediately by episodes that calls what was just built up into question. It’s been working well up to here, and gives good opportunity for character growth. I just hope that the writers don’t rely on this back-and-forth for too much longer. It has the potential to get a little tired when we keep bouncing between “we’re family, we’re all out here for each other, whee”, and “I don’t trust you, I don’t like you, your plans suck”.

This is probably going to be the thing in this episode that everyone mentions to some degree, but yes, Crichton’s accent is hilariously bad. Though up until he gets infected and gets his persona thrown out of whack, “Peacekeeper” Crichton is an interesting persona to see him take on, and all things considered was a magnificent idea on John’s part.

The commandos give us a different look at the Peacekeepers, letting us know that they aren’t completely uniform in their approach to their jobs and their personalities, which is nice to see. I really like that so far when we’ve met individual Peacekeepers, they’re played off as actual people (and usually at least halfway decent ones) as opposed to flat “evil just ’cause” villains.

Something odd… why doesn’t Moya – and therefore Pilot – know that Chiana was also involved in the opening of the crate, given that she had a DRD help her make it? Granted, it would probably have ruined a lot of the suspense for Pilot to call Chiana on her story right off the bat, but it seems odd that she’d just get away with that without any remark, given that we’ve already established that Moya sees and hears everything that the DRDs do.

Maybe a minor nitpick, but the puppetry is a little off this episode. Rygel has a few words that are out of sync with his lip movements when talking with Chiana at the crate, to the point that at one point he’s talking without moving his mouth at all. It’s not a big flop, and I wouldn’t normally point it out if it wasn’t usually so well done.

Also this is the second time a villain has gotten themselves blown up mid-escape off of Moya, and the third time that antagonists that boarded the ship have met with unpleasant ends. For a ship with no actual weaponry on it, Moya is turning out to be a deceptively dangerous vessel to antagonize. While this is almost entirely thanks to the crew (although as Weston mentioned, those DRDs can turn nasty quick), it’s still a really interesting point.


Okay, I’d just like to point out that as this season is rapidly nearing its close, the writers are really starting to find themselves and what they want this show to be. The beginning of the season had the occasional B-plot and exposition episodes, but from around this point – reader Ashley would say it was at “A Human Reaction” and Weston would argue that it’s next week’s episode that really kicks it off – we’re seeing a lot tighter narratives, harder-hitting plots, and much, much freakier concepts and visuals.

Pay for the whole seat, folks, but you’ll only need the edge.

What I love about this episode is that it takes yet another standard science-fiction concept as its base thread; Noel’s right in that it evoke’s The Thing, and that almost everything borrows from this at some point. (Deep Space Nine comes to mind.) This is a well-loved plot, and once again Farscape turns it on its ear and makes it do tricks. There’s the fact that the virus is sentient, and jumps from host to host. It blanks the memories of its previous host, but we also see that it keeps everything it learned from its possession. Not only that, it uses its host’s memories to perfectly mimic its reactions and responses; we see this especially when virus-Crichton starts tossing his Earth-culture references willy-nilly.

(Trekkiegirl: “Wait, so the virus has seen Ghostbusters? They’re screwed.”)

It’s a John Carpenter-palooza this episode, though; anyone else catch the nod to Assault on Precinct 13? When everyone’s at risk, it’s not unreasonable to warn your prisoners and let them help if need be. It may be unconventional, but everyone wants to get out of there alive.

That said, we have a very direct example of how much trust Crichton has earned. Take a look at his plan: He and Aeryn dress up as active Peacekeepers and return Moya to being a prison ship. Everyone on board, themselves former prisoners, agree to putting themselves back in their cells for the good of the plan.

Pay attention to that point, folks. Especially with D’Argo; he has claimed multiple times by now that he will never be a prisoner again, that he would die before being locked up. Crichton asks him to be chained up again, and he does it. He mutters and thrashes and complains the whole time, but he willingly submits to the plan. This is a prime example of how much he respects John now. Even when the day is over and he vows never to be put in that position again, that he would die before it ever took place? He’s referring specifically to the chains. Not Crichton’s plans.

I could go over the rest of the crew feeling the same way, but D’Argo’s example is the strongest, and only proves my point further. If Crichton’s word is enough for D’Argo to go back into (feigned) captivity, it’s enough for everyone else.

(Except maybe Rygel, but who’s surprised by that?)

In other words, this is only a further example of how the crew has come together as a family. They may bitch and moan, they may snark and insult, but when the chips are down they stand together. Weston mentioned D’Argo’s reaction when Aeryn gets stabbed at the end, and I’m going to draw your attention to that. D’Argo’s scream of terror and concern when she goes down is powerful. You can feel his heart breaking when he sees a member of his family hurt, Sebacean or not.

That’s the Wheel of Morality lesson of the week, ladies and gentlemen. The people you choose to be around you, to share your life with you, they are your family. The bond between you is thicker than blood.

Things to note:

  • This is now the third time Moya’s denizens have driven out Peacekeeper invaders (The first was when they escaped just before Crichton arrived; I’m not counting Durka since he was Nebari-affiliated when he boarded), and the second time they’ve driven off a Marauder-class…what, troop transport? Armed shuttle? Whatever it is, it’s one of the most feared ships in the Peacekeeper fleet, and two of them thus far have been turned aside by a glorified cruise liner slash heavy freighter. Which, as is constantly pointed out, has no weaponry.
  • On a similar matter, for “the single defensive maneuver a Leviathan is capable of”, Starburst can do a frelling lot if you think outside the box. Using the power surge to ignite the Marauder’s trail of leaking fuel? That’s something only a D&D player or Wesley Crusher would think of. Too bad not everybody likes using it.
  • I’m actually having a hard time locking down Pilot’s feelings in this episode. His voice and facial expressions aren’t giving me any clues. Is he amused by Crichton’s plan? Is he flustered and annoyed? Or is he just playing along as if nothing was wrong? Normally, Lani Tupu’s voicework and the puppetteers do a really good job of conveying Pilot’s emotions, but it’s not as clear here. What do you guys think he’s showing?

Episode [1.17]: Through the Looking Glass || Episode [1.19]: Nerve

3 ResponsesLeave one →

  1. Weston: The knife Larraq stabs Aeryn with looks like a tiny version of the giant perforated paddle from a couple eps back.

    With its white coloring and curved blade, I kept thinking of Saba. 🙂

    Tessa: Maybe a minor nitpick, but the puppetry is a little off this episode. Rygel has a few words that are out of sync with his lip movements when talking with Chiana at the crate, to the point that at one point he’s talking without moving his mouth at all.

    They dub his voice in after the fact, so I’d say it was a gaff on the part of the audio editors more than it was the puppeteers.

    Kevin: The beginning of the season had the occasional B-plot and exposition episodes, but from around this point – reader Ashley would say it was at “A Human Reaction” and Weston would argue that it’s next week’s episode that really kicks it off – we’re seeing a lot tighter narratives, harder-hitting plots, and much, much freakier concepts and visuals.

    “DNA Mad Scientist”? No, the series as a whole hadn’t anchored down by that point, but I’d say that episode was the true start of Farscape defining itself.

    Kevin: It’s a John Carpenter-palooza this episode, though; anyone else catch the nod to Assault on Precinct 13?

    I should have, but didn’t. You’re spot on.

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