Deconstructing Moya

A Farscape Re-watch Project

Episode [2.17] – “The Ugly Truth”

Happy Birthday, Weston!

Today, on Farscape

“Look, you guys gotta understand something. Everybody’s stories are gonna be a little different. Nobody sees things the exact same way.”
We do.”
“What, ten Plakavoids see a fender bender and you get ten identical reports?”
“Well the rest of the universe doesn’t work that way. There’s gonna be some inconsistencies.”

The crew meets with Crais to discuss the possibility of disarming Talyn. When the weapons traders that are supposed to do the job arrive early, however, someone fires Talyn’s cannon at them during the confusion. Crais and Talyn escape, leaving the others to be captured and interrogated by the traders to find out who among them is guilty.


I was really fascinated by this episode. While the story itself was fairly predictable locked-room mystery, the plot itself isn’t so much the point of this one. It’s an excellent character study with the crew members that we’re given for it, getting really interesting insights on their perspectives and opinions, assuming the crew is being honest in their accounts (aside from the few obvious white lies from Zhaan and the big one from Stark).

We’re given the following scenario: 6 people are aboard Talyn, and somehow the cannon fires on a Plokavian ship that reportedly was arriving to assist with disarming Talyn. Talyn’s weapons were in manual override, so presumably he couldn’t fire it himself. The Plokavians, eager to dole out justice for the act, begin interrogating each of the captured crew members in turn.

Of course, everyone involved saw things differently and had their perceptions colored by their own biases, and so the Plokavians reach the conclusion that they are all lying.

This episode was very evocative of the Kurosawa film Rashomon, which was apparently the inspiration for making the episode in the first place.

It’s interesting to note that beyond the initial pre-opening break, we never really learn the actual course of events and dialogue, since everyone’s account is subject to their point of view. While there’s an actual answer to “how did the cannon fire”, we don’t know exactly how everyone was acting during the whole thing, because none of them are totally objective. The argument can be made that Aeryn and John’s accounts are likely the closest to the truth (particularly because John actually has the key piece of information to the mystery that the others lack), but they’re just as subject to their own biases and probably aren’t totally accurate either.

What we do learn about in the course of the whole thing is how each person sees the others involved (they each seem to portray themselves as the most reasonable person in the group in their own accounts, also). The conversation goes similarly in each account, but the details of the actions, the body language, and the tone varies wildly.

Aeryn’s account is particularly forgiving of Crais, suggesting that she probably trusts him the most out of all of them, while D’Argo comes off as far angrier and more compulsive in her account than in anyone else’s.

Zhaan’s version of events has everyone being comparatively polite, calm, and agreeable (even her account of D’Argo “losing his temper” is fairly low-key), although her reliability as a witness is somewhat suspect with it being slightly obvious that she’s cleaning up her account for her captives by throwing in flattering remarks about them (the fact that everyone involved in her scenario seems nervous and almost out of character at times may be reflecting the fact that she’s struggling to put the situation in the best light she can and is having to fabricate parts).

Stark, on the other hand, depicts Crais as plainly antagonistic, with everyone reacting very negatively and suspiciously to him immediately. He puts forward a scenario where the crew quickly decline’s Crais’ offer, and Crais fires on the Plokavian ship and escapes to leave them to punishment at their hands. It’s well known by now, however, the Stark hates the Peacekeepers, and his story is so radically different from the other accounts that we can pretty easily discount his version of events as unreliable.

D’Argo’s version of Stark is cowardly and near-deranged, with Crais only coming off as slightly less outright “evil” than Stark’s version. Aeryn is depicted as unsure and nervous, and all of the crew appears to defer to D’Argo as the leader of the group, with D’Argo taking center stage and doing the vast majority of the talking. This is nothing too surprising, as we’ve seen from the start that he’s always leaned towards declaring himself the leader of the team. When the Plokavians arrive, Stark panics and fires the cannon himself.

Finally, John’s account of the events seems the most reasonable, and almost seems like a compilation of all of the others (the idea being I guess that he’s the most objective party there and wasn’t seeing things through as much of a “filter”, though that doesn’t seem quite right given his opinion of Crais). In the end, of course, he’s got the key to the whole thing – he turned off the manual override so that Stark couldn’t fire, and Talyn made the decision to fire the cannon himself after Moya told him what was on board the ship.

All in all, this episode was great for character deconstruction, and interesting from the philosophical standpoint of analyzing the concept of truth with perspective and biases thrown in to muddle things.

As for the death of Stark… Come on now, two episodes in a row where a character is “killed” off? You really couldn’t even have one episode in between? To be fair, this one isn’t handwaved by the end, and at least for the moment, Stark is really gone. Granted, they gave the potential for him to reappear later, and I’m not really convinced that they aren’t going to use it (this is what overusing the “death of a character” twist gets you), but its an improvement over the others. If he really is gone, he had a good and impactful run as a minor character, and I can see his death having actual consequences with Zhaan if not the rest of the crew. If he’s not… Well. You guys know how I feel about that by now.


The episode is an absolutely fantastic concept, and in my opinion it was very well done. Aside from the whole differing perspectives angle – different angles, if you will – there’s another thread in the undercurrent here, almost treated as a sidenote to the entire plot: Talyn’s emerging dominance and personality. It’s almost the preferred way to get Talyn’s character development in the show; it’s always an after-the-fact revelation, and it’s particularly genius in that it signifies that Moya and Company are just as in the dark about Talyn’s thoughts and motivations as We The Audience.

Even with the episodes that heavily feature the Leviathans’ sentience and personalities, we sometimes forget that they are full-fledged characters in their own rights. Talyn may have only been a fledgeling, but he’s fledged out and occasionally told Our Heroes to fledge off. Tessa really hit the nail on the head in “Mind the Baby” about how Talyn never lets us forget that he’s there, and it’s only getting stronger as he gets older.

Consider Crais’s choice of words, that his control is only “up to a point”. He also makes the concession that at times – especially during the Halosian conflict – it’s all he can do to rein Talyn in. It could be that he’s male, it could be his Gunship heritage, or it might just be that he’s a stubborn youth, but Talyn is a dominant force to be reckoned with, and it’s absolutely frightening that the strong-willed Bialar Crais can only redirect Talyn’s power.

It tells us, the Audience, that if Talyn actually wanted to do something bad enough, no power in the ‘verse could stop him.

Calgon Bullet points, take me away!

  • Zhaan/Stark Shippers, start your engines.
  • A fascinating detail in Crichton’s perspective is that everyone constantly uses the term “Plakavoids”. But what’s even more fascinating is that they don’t harp on it; they don’t play it off as Wacky Crichton Antics. It’s a continuity/characterization nod, about how Crichton basically tries only as hard as he needs to when getting a working understanding of the galaxy, but they just make the nod and then they move on. Well played indeed.
  • On a similar note, I love how they very easily could have played off everyone’s idealized versions of their shipmates as a Wacky Humor Episode, and they don’t. There were a whole lot of opportunities where they could have just made the base jokes, and it’s incredibly heartening to me to see that they don’t. I’m not saying that there wasn’t humor in it – D’Argo’s Crichton just sitting back and saying human things, and Zhaan’s transparent attempts to placate their captors stand out – but all told, it’s a serious and thoughtful episode.


The others have covered the episode in great detail already, so I think I’ll jump right into a random list:

  • I love that the Plokavians are essentially cranky old people that weakly wave their canes around as they shout “LIES!” I also appreciate that, despite the talk of their cruel weaponry and evil dealings in the past, they genuinely are looking for justice for their innocently slain comrades. They just want answers, the same as the rest of us.
  • The biggest key to the success of Rashomon is that, even in the end, we never know what really happened, so I feel it robs the story of a little impact that, once our heroes are free, they quickly sort out the truth as opposed to themselves being left in the dark. I actually thought they would go that route, with John’s explanation of shutting off the console being left an ambiguous detail, something he could have concocted while waiting for his turn. As it is, though, it still benefits from the always suffering Stark being executed for Talyn’s crime.
  • Shameless plug: my review of Rashomon.
  • I agree with Tessa that they’ve way overplayed the death card, but I give them points here by not psyching us out within the same episode. Even then, it’s a good death, and his potential to return has a solid balance of both hope and doubt. And it’s fully explained, so I don’t need to start another frelling counter.
  • I love that Aeryn, in many of the confessions, is still willing and ready to become Talyn’s captain.
  • I agree with Kevin that it’s great they largely played it straight. Other than John’s mispronunciation of alien names (while talking to that very alien species), there is some amusement in the machismo of D’Argo’s confession and the passiveness of Zhaan’s, yet it never gets zany and has the underlying tension of being something we recognize as an exaggeration as we wonder whether or not they’ll be caught on it. Which they are.
  • While Chiana does make up for it a bit in the end, her and Rygel being left alone on Moya is good proof as to why they’re rarely the ones calling the shots. They’re tactics are to either yell to the point where Pilot cuts them off, or run away.
  • I love the interrogation chair, especially how it holds a prisoner’s legs apart as this phallic eyestalk invasively rises up between them. Instant sense of unease. And I also love how it can project previous testimonies on the face of the latest confessor.
  • Talyn kicks ass. And how awesome is the shot of the ship exploding and the body of the still living and flailing Plokavian smashing into Talyn’s windshield like a bug on a highway.


Tessa nails the various versions. Each storyteller portrays themselves as the calm one that everyone listens to, and reflects their perception of the others onto their actions. And, this being Farscape, there are a couple of people looking specifically to their own interests.

Despite my love for D’Argo/Zhaan, nascent Zhaan/Stark is fantastic.

Good GRAVY the Plakavoids are hideous. Like they got hit by a drop of Budong goo.

Crais has had more character development this season than when he was a full-time villain. He’s so fantastically deep, and he’s got so much room to grow. And Talyn… man, that kid’s got issues. A shoot-first mentality and control issues with his father figure… I’m sure this won’t become a problem later on. When he’s bigger. And shootier.

For an episode that consists largely of five different takes on the same scene, it works very well.

Episode [2.16]: The Locket || Episode [2.18]: A Clockwork Nebari

2 ResponsesLeave one →

  1. Aeryn’s
    John sure does say “frell” a lot in Aeryn’s mind.
    Stark reaches for the console.

    “I missed you, too, John, hold me.” – hee.

    We are all reasonable and evolved beings, let’s have tea!
    Crichton reaches for the console (Zhaan is protecting Stark by lying about him being anywhere near the console), he an Aeryn embrace (Zhaan ships Aeryn and Crichton).

    The Gang versus Crais. No one moves at all, Crais is the only active person in the scene and purposefully fires.

    Pilot has a backbone! I wonder if this is an indication that Pilot places himself above Rygel and Chiana in the ship’s hierarchy.

    The Phaaaantom of the Uncharted Territories is heeereeee inside Zhaan’s… unf! (Well, not anymore.)

    When the Plokavians arrive, D’argo and Zhaan step away from the others to confer over the hologram of the Plokavian ship. It’s reminiscent of the pilot episode, in which Crichton finds D’argo and Zhaan on the bridge of Moya. Does D’argo trust Zhaan more than the others? Does he feel kinship with her because the others are all Sebacean (and Stark)? Is he trying to make sure Zhaan is protected when he throws Stark under a bus?
    Unequivocal Stark firing.

    Both he and Stark are putzing around the console, which opens the possibility that Aeryn was protecting Crichton in her account the same way Zhaan was protecting Stark in hers. Crichton completely misses this when he zeroes in on Aeryn failing to “finger” Crais in his conversation with her at the end of the episode. Oh, Crichton… He also correctly uses “Plokavian” in that conversation, so I take every instance of Plokavoid in his account as a subtle “fuck you.”

  2. Jen

     /  April 8, 2011

    I’m putting down the Stark/Zhaan ship for a moment to say that the Plokavians, aside from looking like Raiders of the Lost Ark Nazis mid-melt, reminded me of the Robot Elders from the Futurama episode “Fear of a Bot Planet”.

    Also the female Plokavian’s voice reminded me of Terry Jones from Monty Python doing his standard “woman voice”.

    Such a great episode though- you never really see this sort of character study again, based on perception- other than John going crackers with Harvey.


Leave a Reply to Jen