Deconstructing Moya

A Farscape Re-watch Project

Episode [3.13] – “Scratch ‘n Sniff”

Today, on Farscape

“Can you handle some girls looking to party?”
“I am a full-blooded Luxan, and ladies, I have so much cash in my pocket that I can assure you that the three of us will be out of here on our hands and knees come sunrise tomorrow morning.”

Moya and Pilot kick the crew off the ship because they’re tired of the constant bickering and want ten days to themselves in peace. On the surface of a nonstop party planet, Crichton and D’Argo get their drinks spiked and their money stolen, while Jool and Chiana are doped up and lured into the mansion of the local drug lord, who sees them as nothing more than fresh ingredients for yet more drugs.


Noel

This episode is frelling nuts. In a good way. Not only are our characters being stoned out their gourds half the time, but the episode itself goes all Guy Ritchie in the frantic editing of wild, subliminal cuts that jump forward and back in the timeline, and constantly keep us off guard as we never know what image we’re going to bounce to next. But it’s not played for horror; no, this is almost entirely done for laughs. Like the scene of John trying to remember what happened the night before and we get a quick flash of his boots bouncing as he falls flat on the floor. Or let’s look at Jool’s comm, which we know is hers because the edges are melted from her constant – cut to a quick flash of her – screaming. And the episode goes farther by pulling Max Headroom loops of moments repeated for emphasis. A character calls someone an idiot and mocks them with a “d’uh”, it’s staccatoed into a “d’uh-d’uh-d’uh” before the idiot knocks her down.

This gives the episode a playful energy, with everyone cutting loose for some giggles and sways, a non-stop stream of dance remixes and organ lounge music oozing off the soundtrack, and three of my favorite images from the show’s history coming to life: 1) John rolling his eyes as he watches a recording of Jool and Chiana doing a slow bit of bump’n’grind; 2) Gigi Edgley showing off yet more of her amazing physical talents as Chiana does a bit of fire twirling; 3) John waking up on display in a window with the public looking in and laughing as he screams at the realization he’s straddling D’Argo while wearing fishnet stockings.

As mentioned, drugs do play a big role in this story, primarily an inhalant called Freslin. Freslin comes in many different forms: some make you attractive, some attract you to others, some make you party all night long. Two of these come into play through D’Argo when he goes spastic on the dance floor for hours, and again when his appearance drastically changes to that of another species entirely because he’s giving off fumes that alter perceptions of his appearance. For all the fun the episode has, it hits some genuine dramatic punches as drug kingpin Fe’Tor uses the Freslin to lure in Chiana and Jool, giving them another hit every time doubts or questions arise, all so he can strap them up to a machine that will slowly milk from them the hormones needed to make more of the drug, even if it kills them in the process. And then we get to the climactic auction sequence where he chains Chiana up like a slab of meat to sell her and her fluids to the highest bidder.

On a lighter note, Ben Browder’s wife, Francesca Buller, makes her third appearance on the show as Raxil, a weasely little dealer who used to be Fe’Tor’s prime competitor until he stole her milking technology. She’s a great presence, constantly adding to the energy with the hyperactive bounce of her cockney street hood delivery. Up to the very end, you never know quite where this character stands as she and our heroes keep working together up to and beyond the revelation that she’s just manipulating John and D’Argo for her own ends. They don’t like her and certainly give her a share of knocks, shoves, and hoistings against a wall, but they need her and she needs them, so, hey, might as well.

We’ve seen Farscape go nuts before, but it was a little different this time around. Instead of people shrieking at each other as they lose their frelling minds, John and D’Argo mostly stay sane as they try to shoulder themselves through the surroundings of an insane world where androgynous bondage wear is the fashionable decor, security and private recordings are made by a giant hammer-headed locust with detachable eyes and nerve endings that allow others to experiences his memories, and Pilot refuses to believe any of this nonsense when John comes home early, drink in hand, and tries to babble through an explanation as to why.


Weston

First off, I absolutely love the editing in this episode. The back-and-forward flashes of things that haven’t happened yet are fantastically well done, even without the storytelling context. Foretelling, flashbacks, all of it disjointed and complete with the soundtrack from each scene. Second point, the audio in this episode is fantastic. The music is stellar, the sound effects are amazing, and the timing on everything is perfect. Speaking of timing, Pilot’s interruptions during John’s retelling of events are wonderful. Pilot has always made a fantastic straight man to everyone else’s crazy, and he rocks it here.

I’ve just finished the first paragraph and I’m already running low on adjectives. This may be difficult.

So. I usually run down the episode the order that things happen, but that’s harder when events are jumbled. I’ll try to sort through it as best I can.

Once upon a time there were two drug distributors, Raxil and Sarl. Raxil developed a process by which the glands of a sentient being can be “milked”. Essentially, a person’s pheromones are removed, distilled, and mixed in such a way that they can then be ingested as a vapor. The results are a high that varies depending on the species and specific individual that was milked. Sarl betrayed Raxil, stole the process, and sold it to another distributor named Fe’Tor. Fe’Tor, in turn, betrays Sarl and milks him to death.

Elsewhere, Moya and Pilot have become completely fed up with D’Argo and Crichton’s constant bickering. Constant. Bickering. Every time Pilot turns around (metaphorically) these two are arguing about wormholes and courses and how to get energy aliens out of Pilot and whether to let Moya go off on her own and he is just sick of it. So he dumps them off on a random pleasure planet for ten days and sits in orbit to enjoy the peace and quiet. Except that it’s not quiet. They come back a mere two days later with some ridiculous story that he is not inclined to listen to. But he does anyway. Because he is Pilot.

Raxil discovered that Crichton and D’Argo were on planet, and was immediately excited by the prospect of enlisting the overwhelming firepower at their command. These are the guys who blew up a Shadow Depository. A small time drug kingpin should be cake for them. So she enlists a couple of thieves to spike their drinks and separate them from Chiana and Jool. The girls, now lacking wingmen, get whammied by Fe’Tor. They get maybe half a day of bubblebaths and super happy fun times before he reveals the milking machine.

Elsewhere, Crichton wakes up shirtless, in stockings, and under D’Argo. The boys discover that they’ve been robbed, and attempt to reconstruct the events of the previous night. Raxil approaches them with information that the girls have been taken, and offers “assistance”. She introduces them to a hammerheaded praying mantis alien with remote control eyeballs and built-in TiVo. He gives them a replay of the previous night’s events, which sends D’Argo off to attempt to retrieve the ladies. That goes… poorly. D’Argo’s possessiveness of Chiana resurfaces, he attempts to take control of the situation in his usual fashion, and he’s kicked out at gunpoint.

Back on the beach, Raxil spritzes D’Argo with freslin in self-defense. Big D goes straight into Roxbury Guys mode, bobbing his head with the music and hitting on anything that moves. Raxil uses that time to describe how the freslin process works, the auction system, and feed a false motive for her involvement. Crichton uses this information to talk his way into acquiring an invite to the auction, where he intends to just buy the girls from the bad guys. Once D’Argo sobers up, he and Crichton use the alien TiVo to survey the site of the auction and the milking room. While linked through the alien’s tentacles, Harvey pops out to introduce himself to D’Argo and point out that a set of circuit breakers could be disabled to darken the building.

Raxil whips up a disguise for D’Argo out of her freslin reserve, and accidentally lets slip that she planned the whole thing. The freslin disguise works fantastically, and D’Argo gets a completely new face for a few hours. The boys slip into the auction, and Crichton is outbid by one of the regulars. D’Argo’s disguise slips, and they go to Plan B: Chaos and Mayhem. Crichton shoots out the lights, grabs Chiana, and goes to the milking room for Jool. They retrieve her, and are set to leave when Chiana gets another prescient flash. Crichton is sucker punched by Fe’Tor on his way out, they struggle, and Fe’tor winds up with Crichton’s gun. Chiana saves the day by hurling a canister of Jool’s freslin at him. Already overdosed, Fe’Tor can’t resist when she pours another bottle down his throat.

Raxil retrieves her program, enabling her to continue the freslin trade on the same world or any other she chooses. Fe’tor dies happy. Chiana and Jool return to Moya to sleep off the effects of the excessive partying and subsequent fluid draining. Crichton and D’Argo also return to Moya, but Pilot kicks them right the hell off after hearing Crichton’s retelling of the previous events. The boys continue to argue as the screen fades to black. The music continues to play through the credits.

All told? Fantastic episode. The folks on Moya seem to be having all the wacky alien hijinks while the ones on Talyn get frelled.


Tessa

When the cast first split into two different crews a handful of episodes back, I quietly lamented to myself that the Talyn side of things wound up with the better deal and the characters involved would make for more interesting episodes, while the crew left on Moya would feel somewhat less exciting in comparison. Talyn not only had what seemed like a compelling antagonist hot on his heels, but wound up with the very juicy triangle of emotions between Crais, Aeryn and John, and the awesome awkward comedy that both Rygel and Stark could bring in their own very different but equally effective ways.

It’s interesting, then, that I’m finding myself falling further and further out of love with the Talyn crew as each pair of episodes pass, and eagerly awaiting the Moya crew’s episodes. I know I’m in a bit of disagreement with the others here, but by my count the T-crew has had one really good episode followed by two mediocre ones, while the M-crew has had one mediocre episode followed by two absolutely stellar ones.

Seriously, if I had to rank the episodes of this season so far, this one follows in a very close second to Incubator, admittedly for entirely different reasons.

First of, I’ll echo the others in that I totally loved the editing job, but I also really liked the atmosphere and decor of the planet the crew was on. It had a very 70’s-ish feel to it, and the weird almost-hypnotic maze patterns on the walls of Fe’tor’s place reminded me of some of the crazier bits of Casino Royale (the David Niven version, not the more recent Daniel Craig one).

I absolutely love where John and D’Argo’s relationship has come to. Sure, they’re bickering almost constantly (it’s the reason they’re down on the planet in the first place, after all), but it’s friendly bickering. They’re having disagreements and taking shots at one another, but they’re also sticking very much together the entire time, having no issues with working together to reach a common goal, and slip easily from arguing into trying to have a good time.

And the ho-yay. There’s a ton of that here, too. They were taunting the shippers hard with this one.

There’s actually a neat bit of moral grayness here involving Raxil that actually has a bit of a twist in the end. At the start she sets out to trick John and D’Argo into helping her by helping themselves, making the case that she’s in the same position they are, with her mate also captive and being harvested. It’s not until the very end that it’s revealed that she’s not actually interested in said mate in the slightest, but instead in stealing back the harvesting device itself, which was her invention the entire time. The two actually helped her get her hands on it, which means that even with Fe’tor totally out of commission by means of the very drug he was making, there’s no reason to believe that the Freslin production and distribution process is going to stop or even slow down (considering the machine is back in the hands of the person who made it in the first place and presumably understands it better, it may even speed up). We spent an entire episode learning why this is a very bad thing, and yet our heroes have no interest in stopping Raxil after this revelation. Once Jool and Chiana are safe, it ceases to be their concern in the slightest.

I suppose it’s just another chapter in the legend of John Crichton, terror of the uncharted territories.


Kevin

Some of the greatest episodes in television history are the ones that come from second-hand accounts. This one blends the best aspects of Flashback Episodes with a tiny, almost-too-subtle-to-mention-it pinch of Unreliable Narrator, since Crichton A: is trying to persuade Pilot to be lenient and B: still has half a Gargleblaster in his hand while doing so.

And yet, it’s Pilot who looks like he’s been smashed in the face with a lemon wrapped around a gold brick. He’s not having with any of Crichton’s crap – which, I love how far Pilot has come from the meek “Sure, cut off my arm, whatever you guys need” and has the confidence to actually give the orders now – and even threatens to return the old biddies to the planet they were practically run out of.

Thankfully, Pilot has a change of heart after hearing the story. He instead decides to strand them on a fresh planet, and also will probably lock the hangar doors, shut down the docking web, and play Vogon poetry though the comm as insurance. I know I would.

The possibility of Crichton maybe embellishing a little bit notwithstanding, there’s an even more frightening dynamic in play, and that’s the reputations of Moya and her passengers. We’ve seen this in play before, but it’s starting to bit more widespread than that. I’m reminded of an early episode of Star Trek: Voyager, where the eponymous, generally friendly but woefully unlucky ship comes across a peaceful space station with a peaceful crew who peacefully open fire the moment they see the dangerous newcomers who have been slaughtering Delta Quadrant citizens.

“Captain, are you aware of how your ship is regarded? That when Voyager appears, people fear destruction?”
“Your ship is known as a ship of death.”

Our Heroes don’t want any trouble. They just want to go their way. The Universe, however, has other plans for them, and keeps dragging them back in against their will, and often times through no fault of their own. Although to be entirely fair, their decisions while in trouble don’t really help their situation. As evidenced here.

Season Three should be subtitled “It Gets Worse”. Or maybe “Dren Just Got Real, Frank”.

Notes!

  • Yes, I like Voyager. Want to make something of it?
  • Three seasons, three instances of Mrs. Ben Browder playing a sort-of bad guy. Although this is the first time she’s not actively trying to kill them.
  • This is the second time since being possessed by an energy being that Chiana is having precognitive flashes. This time around, she’s so drugged up that she doesn’t even notice she’s doing it, and it’s another blink-and-you’ll-miss-it subtlety.
  • Oh, D’Argo.
  • I have to give huge respect to the makeup and creature design department for this episode, if only for the Alternate D’Argo costume. It’s pretty great that we can see even more of the actor’s real face in the new get-up, but it’s even more fantastic how wrong it feels, since because we’re so used to D’Argo’s face (and how well-made the prosthetics are) his true face doesn’t seem real.
  • Italics mean I’m being passionate.

Episode [3.12] – Meltdown || Episode [3.14]: Infinite Possibilities Part I: Daedalus Demands

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  1. Kernezelda

     /  August 19, 2011

    One of my favorite episodes! I love the editing, the music/sound, PILOT! Chiana’s fire-twirling, John and D’Argo’s fervent denials of couple-dom, Jool in bubbles, Harvey introducing himself, and PILOT!

    Reply
  2. What a joy to find such clear thgikinn. Thanks for posting!

    Reply

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