Deconstructing Moya

A Farscape Re-watch Project

Episode [1.19] – “Nerve”

Today, on Farscape

“Segment his mind. As many layers as it takes.”

In which the crew decides to undertake a risky mission to save Aeryn’s life, an old friend saves the day, an old enemy returns, and John sits in a comfy chair.


I am totally not kidding when I say that this is one of my top five favorite Farscape episodes ever. I am also not kidding when I say that I have taken 50% more notes on this episode than on any previous. These notes were in particularly small print. It’s ninety minutes of awesome in a fifty minute package, and it is glorious.


This is the episode where the Moya crew starts leaping into unfathomable danger to save a companion. Success here isn’t just unlikely or nearly impossible – the odds are so low that you couldn’t even give money to a Vegas bookie. Crichton, alone, intends to pull his Peacekeeper imitation on an aggresively paranoid hidden base to retrieve a nerve transplant necessary to save Aeryn’s life. Despite pangs of self preservation and common sense, the rest of the crew goes along with it. Even Rygel. Even Chiana, who goes so far as to accompany Crichton on the trip as designated distractor and pickpocket.

It’s going as well as it could, Crichton bluffing half the security and Chiana seducing the other half, before the first major roadblock presents itself: A comparison scan between the data on Larraq’s stolen ident chip and Crichton’s own DNA. To everyone’s surprise, he passes. The good guys have a friend in low places, Gilina, a recent transfer from Crais’ Command Carrier. It’s telling that Crichton’s first reaction when he sees her is to ask whether Crais is nearby. It’s a little heartbreaking, watching Gilina’s reaction as Crichton sinks her battleship.

Yesterday’s Jam

Still, she comes through. Gilina doesn’t just come up with the tissue transplant, she whips out a universal donor. Crichton is on his way back to the ship with it when the second major roadblock shows up in the form of… well.

I am one magnificent son of a bitch.

Meet Scorpius. He’s two parts Xanatos, one part Shishio in an outfit that’s one part tuxedo, two parts gimp mask, and seven parts leather. This is much, much better than it sounds. Unless it sounds awesome. In which case it’s exactly as awesome as it sounds. He’s a non-Sebacean that Peacekeeper Command has set in charge of the Gammak base to research wormhole technology. He sees through Crichton’s ruse, sets him in the torture chair, and shortly comes up aces. Crichton’s mind doesn’t show anything about spying or military secrets, but it does have exactly what Scorpius is looking for: A shortcut to wormhole tech, kindly left there by Jack to guide John on the right path.

Scorpius doesn’t want a guide. He wants an explicit roadmap. And he does have that chair… it’s ten seconds of instant clip episode, just add Crichton.

So that’s the recap. On to the details!

  • There’s a guy in the cell that Crichton briefly inhabits named Stark (who you probably don’t recognize) that is completely insane. He’s so far past sanity that he’s starting to come back around the other side. This is what the chair does. This is what will happen to Crichton if he doesn’t find some way to get the hell out of Dodge.
  • Immediately, people are coming up with nicknames for Scorpius. Crichton calls him Nosferatu, Stark calls him Scorpy… he can’t get any respect.
  • Scorpy’s redheaded assistant is both a redhead and an assistant. Not sure how much more I can say there. I may already have said too much.
  • Scorpius’ outfit is amazing. I don’t know how many cows they had to butcher for all that leather, but it’s well spent. The layered shoulderpads, the spikes, the hackled spine, the low-slung belt, the tuxedo back, the gimp mask, the little up-turned tail. It’s fantastically detailed. Can’t be good for moving around in, but it looks fantastic.
  • Chiana’s attempt at tech speak is completely fail and totally adorable. She’s far better at seduction, pickpocketing, and barbecue.


I’ve been hearing that this is the episode where the series really takes off, and so I’ve been looking forward to it for a bit. I have to say… wow. You guys weren’t exaggerating.

We start out immediately with some interesting character insights with Aeryn. On a second watch, we know at this point she already knows she only has days to live, and she’s spending it… exercising? She ignores calls on the com, pushes away John in his attempt to even talk to her… it takes her coughing up blood and collapsing before she’ll even hold a conversation, and even then refuses to tell him directly what’s going on until he works it out for himself.

On the surface, this looks like Aeryn trying to keep up her normal tough-chick commando thing, but there’s a lot more to this just underneath the surface. The assault on the punching bag? She’s frustrated and angry. She knows she’s going to die, and that as far as she knows, nothing can be done about it, and she’s lashing out. She’s afraid of dying, to the point that she doesn’t even want to acknowledge to the others that it’s happening until she has no choice.

Think about it. Had Crichton not come by to talk to her and found out what was going on, would Aeryn have just dragged herself to her Prowler and taken off before anyone could work out why? This could be taken as a slight to the other crew members, but I don’t think that’s likely, given what we’ve seen out of her so far. I think in addition to dying, she’s afraid of saying goodbye to these people that, against all odds, she’s become very close to.

I think it’s interesting that, when talking to the others about his plan, D’Argo is the only one out of them who doesn’t directly dismiss the idea. At first it does sound like he’s echoing the others in telling John that infiltrating the base is implausible at best, but listen closely to what he says. “When you get inside the base, you’re going to have to find a tissue match”. He doesn’t say “if”, he says “when”. His follow up question is another that really could be taken either way, when he asks if Moya could realistically get them there and back in her state of pregnancy. That could mean “you shouldn’t do this, because Moya’s pregnant”, or it could mean “how can we make this work?”. His tone of voice also sounds very contemplative. You can tell he’s giving very serious consideration to John’s plan. There’s a lot of attention paid to D’Argo’s relationship with Aeryn in this episode, and I know Kevin will want to go into those points in detail, so I’ll leave the rest of that thread for him to pick up.

And we get to see Peacekeeper Crichton again! It’s a really fun concept that I’m very glad wasn’t just a one-shot thing. I hear this isn’t the last time we get to see him pull of the charade, either, which is good to hear.

Aaaaaand Scorpius. It’s interesting that a society that tends to be so defined by their xenophobia and insistence that they are the superior species would have a non-Sebacean hold what appears to be a very high position. It grays that stereotype, which I’m very happy to see, but I’m also really curious to learn more about him, what species he actually is, what his position within the Peacekeepers is, and how he came to get in that position.

Poor Gilina. Weston pretty much hit everything there, but as someone who really liked the idea of her and John paired up, it’s painful to see that idea completely fall apart in this episode, especially since it’s evident that she can tell things have changed. John doesn’t even offer to take her with this time, and pulls away from her attempts at intimacy. Chiana attempts to offer her consolation, but it’s sort of an empty comfort by that point.

Awesome face and body acting on the part of Ben Browder and Claudia Black in this episode. Between very convincing reactions to the Aurora Chair on Crichton’s side and being hooked into and, by all appearances, having fluids pumped into her from Moya on Aeryn’s side, the two of them must have gotten a hell of a workout while shooting this one. John especially looks extremely… damaged by the end of his first run in the chair. It’s very impressive, and must have been hell to try to do convincingly.

One last observation, the make-up jobs are really awesome in this episode. Scorpius is impressive, of course, but the really great example in this one is Chiana attempting to look Sebacean. They could have just removed Gigi Edgely’s monochromatic makeup and left her looking “normal”, but instead it really does look like a grey-skinned person trying to look like a pink skinned one, as opposed to a pink-skinned person no longer trying to look grey-skinned. It doesn’t sound like that big of a difference, but it really shows, and helps tremendously with the “realism” of the character. Whatever the combination a make-up and lighting went into that look, it’s a very awesome touch.


(Let me just take a moment to note the awesomeness of the opening credits. When you see Lani Tupu credited both in the opening sequence and in the “Special Appearance By” afterwards, you know they’re having fun. That said, I’m glad Futurama never did the same thing. Imagine. “Starring Billy West, Billy West, Billy West, Maurice LaMarche, Billy West, and Katey Sagal. Special appearances by Billy West, Maurice LaMarche, Maurice LaMarche, and Billy West.”)

There are amazing subtleties in this episode – including ones that even I didn’t pick up on. D’Argo’s careful tone when he’s challenging Crichton’s decision is one of them, and thank you Tessa for picking up on it. I’d hate to have something like that get missed completely.

As long as we’re talking about D’Argo and his newfound interactions with the rest of the crew, I’ll bring up a point I’ve made before. D’Argo has always stuck by his comrades, even when his Bull In A China Shop approach makes it hard to see this point. (I’m ignoring how he acts in “DNA Mad Scientist“, as that’s the only departure from this. Well, that and his initial response in “The Flax“.) Ever since “Till The Blood Runs Clear“, he’s been making a noticeable effort to be a lot more forgiving and understanding. He’s trapped on a ship full of people of entirely different cultures and there’s a lot of opportunity for miscommunication.

Enter Aeryn. Once the symbol of everything he despised, she’s grown into something completely different to him. She was the one who stood up for Pilot, someone she would previously have considered a lesser race. She agreed to keep his son secret, when it went against all her teachings and training. Even more than that, she’s been a fellow warrior, a reliable gun hand and has had his back more times than he could count.

It’s no wonder, then, that he would understand her feelings and fears the most – especially since he himself has been in her position, and it’s been Aeryn who has helped him through it.

What you once said to me: ‘You will die, but not today.'”

The acting is fantastic, and even though Scorpius is slightly different now than how he develops later (I distinctly remember a slightly different vocal pattern), the introduction of his character is superb. Notice how he’s first introduced on camera (the picture above in Weston’s section). Physically imposing, very menacing. This obviously looks like someone you don’t want to have throw a punch at you. But there’s a delicious subversion when we’re finally given some interaction with him. He’s devious, he’s intelligent, and he delights in tormenting. He’s a sadistic genius, and he’s all the more terrifying because he knows when to stop. He pushes Crichton’s mind as far as it can go the first time, but he stops to let it rest so he can tear into it more later.

You spin me right ’round, baby, right ’round.

It’s obvious that while Crais may be John’s foil physically, Scorpius has him matched in almost every way mentally. I’ve mentioned Crichton’s prediliction for Batman Gambits before, and here we have the counterpoint in Scorpius’s Xanatos Gambit. Crichton’s plans are amazing, and it has an impressive net gain when they work, but if someone calls his bluff, he’s screwed. With Scorpius, it doesn’t matter what happens; the winner is Scorpius.

And this is only the first episode he shows up in. If he can counter, seemingly effortlessly, everything John throws up at him this early at the game, what can we expect in the future?

If this episode is indicative of anything, the answer is “A lot more of this.”

Everyone loves bulleted lists!

  • Tessa brought up Chiana’s makeup, and I think I’m going to mention that a bit more. It would have been so easy for Gigi Edgley to show up as herself; drop the makeup, drop the wig, drop the contacts. I mean, she’s almost completely unrecognizable without it. But instead, they went one step further; they gave her yet another wig, kept the contacts and the black lips, and had it so bits of grey showed through on her cheeks, and a visible neckline where it’s pure grey beyond. I can’t even tell if it’s her natural skin with grey highlights, or if they went so far as to layer False Sebacean Pink on top of her regular grey. It’s that good. The last time I saw an effect like that was Jack Nicholson’s Joker.

“Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?”

  • On that note, Gigi Edgley continually impresses me with the subtleties of her acting. When she’s pretending to be a Peacekeeper, you can see her struggle with her “regular” avian motions peeking through the performance. When she’s found out, she drops all pretext and you have her normal mannerisms and stance with a near-Sebacean look. It’s definitely striking.
  • What’s that whole “sexual tension” thing she and Crichton do in the Maintenance Bay before they leave Moya? It detracted from the scene, I think.
  • I love the design of the Aurora Chair. I love how everything about it is designed to keep the occupant unbalanced and vulnerable; the constant spinning, the awkward positioning of the chair itself, the platforms where Scorpius can stand and invade personal space… The only nitpick I have is the convenient vidscreen so Scorpius can have Instant Clip Show, but I guess it works.
  • I never noticed that Scorpius had a tail until Weston mentioned it just now. Huh.
  • Is this the first “To Be Continued”? I think it is. Tessa and Trekkiegirl wanted to keep going, but I made them wait for next week. Never let it be said that I cannot be evil when I want to be.


Man, this episode is a huge, tasty, delicious steak of a meal …. but everyone’s already cut away and devoured the finest bits (fantastic writeups, all), so pardon me while I try to chew out the last spurts of flavor from the trims of edge gristle they left behind.

I find it interesting that Rygel, who was, in his day, more successful and powerful than all the others could possibly imagine, is still the outsider of the bunch. They’ve pulled together into a unit, a support group in both action and emotion, but he still lingers on the edges, declaring empty sentiments to his own ego and lingering over the suffering in the hopes that they won’t catch him as he rifles through their belongings. We’ve seen his past, his dreams, his hopes and fears, but instead of it bonding him to the rest, he’s still the pompous jerk that would probably benefit everyone if they just tossed him out an airlock to keep him from gorging on food cubes. I don’t mind that he’s still around given how entertaining he can be, but I don’t feel the series has fully justified his continued presence. His past as a politician has allowed him to strike a few life-saving bargains here and there, but he mostly floats about, consumes what isn’t his, and tries to make everyone feel miserable just to boost his own injured pride. It amazes me that he hasn’t been unceremoniously dumped on each of the habitable worlds they come across. Hell, there’s times where he pisses the others off to a point where habitability wouldn’t even be much of an issue.

On the other side of the coin is Chiana. With her mannerisms and delivery, I still don’t have a clue where she really stands half the time. Why is she really going to the base with John? Why is she really flirting with every Peacekeeper to cross her path? Does she really have no interest in Commander Javio’s offer to “buy” her for a fine price? Throughout the entire episode, her performance had me on the tippiest tips of my toes as I was trying to figure out her angle, her true motivations, if there was an endgame in sight that was just on the edge of my periphery. And John saw it too. The scene Kevin mentions, the one with all the sexual tension, is her playing the game in her usual way, and John throwing a bit right back at her before declaring the upper hand. He proved himself to Zhaan with intellect. He proved himself to Aeryn and D’Argo through strength and strategy. Now he’s proving himself to Chiana through duplicity.

But Chiana just keeps me guessing. The others have had blood on their hands, but look at how delighted Chiana is after aiming the flaming jet of fuel at Javio and torching him alive. She’s still very unstable, unconcerned with the consequences of death. Yes, it was a very necessary kill in order to survive, but she paused, she lingered to take in the results of her actions. And she grinned. All this aside, however, when she made it to the Prowler, she actually went back to Moya instead of just tossing Aeryn’s cure and skipping the cosmos on her own journey to destinations unknown. In her own odd way, she is finding herself a part of these peoples’ lives, and while she may gripe and play and constantly prod at boundaries, she does, in the end, go home to them.

Can I just say how awesome it is to have Crais back? I know he only became a larger part of the show as it went along, but I forgot just how uninvolved he was in season 1. They had this great setup of a crazed commander with a ship full of soldiers and weapons at his beck and call, whose one mission in life is to hunt down and slaughter the lead character, but they never did anything with him. The one and only time John and Crais crossed paths outside of the first episode was the bizarre “That Old Black Magic“, where they met on the mystical plane of a transcended alien mind. This series has lost that lingering threat of his command carrier constantly on Moya’s heels, instead wandering him off to frustration and increasingly frizzy hair. And even here, when Crais finally gets the upper hand on a Crichton that has no hope of escape, his quest for vengeance is rebuffed by an entirely new villain who’s destined to steal the show. Seriously, there’s no turning back once Scorpius takes over, and while I fondly remember some of the fascinating shifts Crais goes through after this point, he’s been vastly underused up till now.

And then there’s Gilina. It was a fantastic decision to bring her back, even if, as the others have pointed out, she gets a cold shoulder in return from John. Look at the playful way she initially lures him to her quarters, to a cylindrical chamber resembling the tight little space where he once brushed something out of her eye before kissing her. The hopes and motives in that act alone speak volumes, and what does he do? Point a gun in her face. Even when he finds out it’s her, the gun still lingers until he can be sure of her plans. Her reaction isn’t large, with tears or cries, just a stiffening of heartbreaking realization that their reunion won’t go as she planned.

If I may voice a serious complaint, I absolutely hate the idea of the creatures from “A Human Reaction” giving John the formula for wormholes and burying it in his subconscious. Yes, it gives Scorpius something to dig for, but the whole formula is a massive shortcut. I loved that we were starting to see John, half through blind luck, half through genuine ability, start to pull together the science behind a wormhole, and waving a fully formed formula before his face completely robs him of that journey of discovery. It’s not necessary. Not in the least. Would you rather watch a man try to unlock the secrets artificially buried in his brain, or see him uncover the elements of a natural puzzle that lies before him? I’m sorry, but John working out the secrets of wormhole technology on his own, giving him the one area of insight where he’s technologically superior to those around him, is vastly more dramatically pleasing to me as a viewer. It makes the investment both more real and more personal, and to see that all flushed away by a weak plot contrivance hurts. Doesn’t kill what’s otherwise a fantastic episode, but it hurts.

But in the end, that’s what this is: a fantastic episode. It’s the birth of an epic conflict between a hero and a villain which will carry us right up to the end of the series and through an entire movement of slash fiction/music videos. The plot itself is a twisty, unexpected pot-boiler of a drama as our heroes lay all their bets on the table only to watch as their opponent is dealt a far more promising hand. The look is amazing with the bold reds and oranges continuing to give heat to the cold-blooded race of fascist mercenaries. Overall, a really well put together show, one that makes for a hell of a season finale. Which is all the more true to the storytelling style of Farscape in that this isn’t the season finale.

Episode [1.18]: A Bug’s Life || Episode [1.20]: The Hidden Memory

2 ResponsesLeave one →

  1. Kernezelda

     /  November 17, 2010

    Your reviews of the series have been wonderfully entertaining and interesting. I’m glad you decided to do this.

    • It’s been an absolute blast! I’m glad you’re enjoying reading this as much as we enjoy writing it.


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