Deconstructing Moya

A Farscape Re-watch Project

Episode [2.06] – “Picture If You Will”

Today, on Farscape

“Oh, frell. Who’s the ugly old man?”
“His name is Maldis, he’s your basic evil vampire.”
“He sucks the life force out of you.”
“He just plain sucks.”

When stopping by a trading ship, Chiana picks up a portrait that can apparently tell the future. But when misfortune befalls all whose image appears in it, it becomes apparent that the picture isn’t predicting events; it’s causing them…


Maldis. Maldis, Maldis, Maldis. I haven’t enjoyed such a delightful villain since Sunnydale’s Mayor. Since his first appearance this episode as the creepy saleswoman Kyvan – which, I may add, was an awesome bit of drag on Chris Haywood’s part, even if his accent kept sliding all over the place – he’s continued to captivate and enchant me, even as he captivates and enchants Moya’s denizens.

Let’s face it, the title of the episode clues us in to the fact that it’s a Twilight Zone tribute. As such, it’s amazingly well done, keeping the morbid and creepifyin’ up to extremely tense levels. But – and I do want to make myself clear here – it reminded me less of The Twilight Zone and more of Say Cheese and Die! I’m not sure if that’s a generational thing (they may have done the haunted camera/portrait/etc. thing first, I haven’t seen all of it), but my mind immediately flocked to what was more familiar to me.

I love that Zhaan gets her moment of focus again. She’s been extremely unlikable lately – Tessa’s been noticing that – and this brings her back to her Mama Bear beginnings when she does everything she can to rescue her friends. And I love, absolutely love, that they didn’t ignore the development they’ve given her since the last time she and Maldis met, and kept her unsure of herself and extremely frightened. Given where the episode ends, with Zhaan just having told Crichton that she was more terrified than she has ever been in her life, and Crichton simply staring at her in wonder, it’s telling that her courage in the face of fear is what impresses him the most.

After all, you can’t be courageous if you aren’t overcoming fear. That’s what courage is.

Things I noticed this episode:

  • The CGI has gotten way more awesome. Look at how gorgeous all the exterior shots have been of Moya, Farscape One, and Kyvan’s junk barge.
  • The real-world scenes of the show were definitely Twilight Zone and Goosebumps, but the Portrait Dimension struck me way more as a Freddy Krueger dreamscape. Especially considering how his power grows the more people fear him, and that his will is what shapes his realms; there are more parallels than there are differences.
  • Speaking of the Kodakscape, I love how unsettling the constant wavy distortion effects made everything. It keeps us, the audience, way off balance, and definitely triggers our supernatural dread. Gives a little bit of body horror there too, especially around Maldis’s shifting and bulging eyes.
  • What is up with Kyvan’s accent? First it’s a bit Irish, then it’s Voodoo Cajun, then it’s Jamaican. Is it just me?


This is the episode where Chiana dies. Not really, of course, but think what it would be like to watch this episode for the first time. Fearful of spontaneous combustion, she locks herself in the freezer, and everyone is helplessly trying to get the door open as she bursts into flames and screams and screams and screams. They finally get the door open, revealing a pile of ash and her metal necklace. Since Joss Whedon had already started the art of the unexpected death over on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I can just imagine first time viewers sputtering or shouting at the screen, or just taking things in with a gaped stupor, uncertain how to react. And they telegraph it so perfectly, what with Aeryn angrily joking about kicking her off the ship or Chiana and D’Argo finally opening up about their feelings for one another. Hell, the show even plays it straight for a while, letting us soak in everybody morning in their own ways as if she really were suddenly and shockingly taken from us. But then we get into Painting Land, Chiana is revealed to be alive and well (though still with a broken leg), and everyone gets to breath a sigh of releif.

Well played, Farscape. Well played.

I’m still conflicted when it comes to Maldis, though. As with John, this Magical Mystery crap isn’t my thing, especially in the world of Farscape. I will give them credit for making it feel a little more hyperdimensional wibbly-wobbly science-ish this time around. The painting itself feels very much like a dimensional construct, something that was designed and built, just on a different level of mathematics. And the way Maldis gradually lures the crew into his world has a complexity to it that feels as though he’s still bound to the rules of reality, it’s just that he’s far more versed in the finer print than everyone else.

For the most part, Maldis worked far more for me here than he did in “That Old Black Magic“. I loved his performance as Kyvan and found the slipping of the dialects almost playfully deliberate. I like the way everything he gets involved with is so tenuously tied to our plane that it shatters on impact. I enjoy how, even more than Q, his medieval dress and theatrical nature conjure up memories of David Bowie’s Jareth in Labyrinth.

It’s a strong, memorable character, and a worthy foe for everyone, especially the terrified Zhaan…. but it completely falls apart in the third act. I expected a great battle of the wills, but then a portal opens, things are blowing up, Maldiss is yelling, everyone opens fire on his giant hand. I have no idea what the hell happened. And neither did the writer! They literally stick a scene in there where Rygel is trying to piece it all together in his head and eventually gives up.

CHIANA: “Forget about it. Sit back and enjoy the happy ending.”

No! I’m sorry! That’s lazy writing! What the frell happened!?!


Sorry about that, but this twist really irked me for some reason. It’s like being 20 pieces away from finishing a puzzle, and someone kicks the table, scrambles up all the pieces, then holds up the box and says this version of the picture is just as good and doesn’t require any effort, so I should really just relax.

It doesn’t work that way. You can get away with a lot of crazy on this show, you can even withold explanations, but you don’t get to set up the promise of a master plan and a battle of wills, then have it turn into a giant hand groping through a dimensional portal while Zhaan holds up a DRD so it can zap away with its little laser blasters. It just doesn’t work.

At least not to me. Maybe I’m making a mountain out of a molehill here. You all tell me what you all think.

Stark Unexplained Episode Count: 8


Kevin and Noel have a solid hold on the surreal nature of the episode. It’s definitely A Nightmare on Elm Street with less sleeping and more foreshadowing. Maybe Maldis is playing on that idea. We’ve seen how he can pull information from John’s brain with little to no effort, it’s possible he saw Freddy Kruger in there and thought that Wes Craven was on the right track.

Pulled information from his brain… man, it’s a good thing Maldis hasn’t met Scorpius. They’d probably strike a deal where Maldis pulls the wormhole data from Crichton and Scorpy sacrifices a couple of planets to him. *shiver* Of course, being villains, they would wind up pitting their enormous intellects against each other in a bid to gain more than was bargained…. I may have to see if anyone has written this yet.

The whole portrait universe thing works for me. Mostly. After I generate a couple of justifications about Zhaan’s metaphysical-fu and pulse weapons acting as boosters for willpower. And Maldis being psychically tied to Zhaan (or just people who already know him) rather than blipping off to some unsuspecting planet to feed on. And the giant hand being… uh… yeah, that’s totally camp.

I’m about two steps away from generating a list of Zhaan’s various outfits and comparing them. As a guy, I find this thought somewhat repellent, but they’re just so fantastic! She’s back in the gold collar she’s been using through Season 2, but with the diaphanous turtleneck robe from… actually, this may be new. She’s had translucent robes before, but they have scoop necks that show off her fantastic tracts of land. And her usual turtleneck is that heavy well-tailored dress.

Related note: Maldis’ cape and mantle are also fantastic. They’re a new addition to his feathery raven outfit which, unfortunately, we don’t see much of. And even then it’s in the distorted twilight of the portrait realm.

I’ve been a D’Argo/Zhaan shipper for a long, long time, so watching the D’Argo/Chiana relationship develop is always a little hard. Still, it’s kinda touching. They’re both damaged in various ways. Getting a little bit of healing is a bright moment in a dark series.

Aeryn notes early in the episode that, despite the crackers from the previous episode, they’re low on food cubes. Between Scorpius’ thoroughness in his pursuit and their perpetual dearth of trade goods, there just isn’t any place the crew can resupply. At one point, Crichton literally climbs the walls looking for something to eat.

D’Argo philosophizes briefly on fate and the benefits of not knowing the future. When his turn comes up on the portrait, he submits to it quickly. I wonder if this is unique to him or if it’s a cultural theme. It could stem from his warrior heritage – following orders must be a strong aspect of a soldier’s society.

And, of course, at the very end, Zhaan asks if Maldis is really gone for good. I do so love recurring villains.


This episode either did a very good job at setting a tone and foreshadowing, or I just happen to be good at guessing these things, because very early on, even before Maldis’ name was even mentioned, “That Old Black Magic” was jumping to mind. While I did immediately catch that Kyvan wasn’t actually a woman, I didn’t realize until later that it was Chris Haywood (the connection immediately was made once Maldis was mentioned).

I’m sorry to say, I didn’t buy Chiana’s supposed death for a second. Maybe it’s because they’ve pulled this once before, or maybe I was just that resistant to the idea, but in either case, I was basically waiting for the “nope, wait, she’s fine” moment to pop up at some point after her “death”, and was rewarded with just that.

So, after TWO fake-out “deaths” in the show, I don’t think anyone should take a character death in this series at face value unless the episode at least ends while still playing it straight.

Maldis has to be my favorite villain in the series thus far (yes, even more than Scorpius, though it’s admittedly close), and I loved seeing his return. I really wish the show did more with him than they’ve done (and from what I understand, this is pretty much it for his character). I will agree with the others that the very end of the episode fell a little flat for me, though. All of that very awesome build up and then… it feels like they win far too easily. For all of Zhaan’s talk of having a plan to get them out of what looks to be a hopeless situation, there’s surprisingly little to it. And yes, Maldis as Master Hand at the end is fairly ridiculous and kind of lost me a bit. I wouldn’t mind it so much if this wasn’t apparently the last time the character would get a spot in the story. He deserved a better finale than this.

Episode [2.05]: The Way We Weren’t||Episode [2.07]: Home on the Remains

2 ResponsesLeave one →

  1. This episode was OK for me. Not bad. Not very good. Just OK. As mentioned above first half with creepy painting and future death imagery was hair raising. Crichton’s taunting of Maldis was amusing too. The problem was guest star of the week. Chris Haywood is a very talented actor but as Maldis he overacts sometimes and becomes a too much of a comic book villain as Crichton referred

  2. John

     /  January 27, 2011

    Thanks for the rewatch. I only found Farscape last fall when I was searching netscape for some decent SciFi to watch. I don’t know how I missed this show all this time. I vaguely remember hearing about it when it first aired but never did check it out. I’ve already gone through it all once so this rewatch is a good chance to hear from others in the present day (everything else seems to be 5+ years ago) .


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