Deconstructing Moya

A Farscape Re-watch Project

Episode [3.16] – “Revenging Angel”

Today, on Farscape

“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to pay our final respects and to say farewell to our dear friend, Commander John Crichton. A schmuck. Mule-headed, reckless, and probably brain-dead before I met him.”

When D’Argo attacks Crichton in a fit of Hyper-Rage, he finds himself dealing with a coma in a world of his own creation. Meanwhile, on the outside, D’Argo’s new ship threatens to blow up, scattering Moya’s atoms across the galaxy.


Kevin

There’s… quite a lot I could say about this episode. While we are treated to the cartoony antics of Ben Browder and Wayne Pygram, there’s a lot more to the episode than that.

For one, much of it is animated.

Crichton’s mind is not the most stable of places. It’s been under constant attack and continual stress, and it’s practically a wonder that it’s survived intact – for a given value of intact – thus far. Here it is again under duress, as Harvey and Crichton together fight a losing battle to break out of a coma. The cartoon world is Crichton’s fallback, his way of escaping reality so that it can’t hurt him any longer. As we’ve seen before, he has a tendency to create elaborate mental constructs to shield himself.

The parallels and imagery here, once you look past the Tex Avery facade, are quite stunning.

  • Harvey becomes distinctly ape-like in appearance, being almost literally the monkey on Crichton’s back, weighing him down and distracting him from his true purpose in life, which is his love of Aeryn. He cajoles, he begs, he ridicules Crichton for not falling back onto vengeance against D’Argo, which was always Scorpius’s raison d’ĂȘtre.
  • D’Argo doggedly pursues Crichton in an ever-increasingly ridiculous quest to kill him. While this is somewhat biased towards the most recent action in the real world – D’Argo actually trying to kill him – it further represents his constant ire and animosity towards the human. D’Argo’s first inclination is to shout and threaten when he disagrees with something, and it’s not surprising that Crichton always feels like he is being attacked.
  • Crichton himself is represented here by an amalgamation of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and the Roadrunner, signifying his acceptance to the craziness of the world around him. He’s the hunted, but he’s also the slightly off-kilter fish-out-of-water, always trying to find some common ground with the unfamiliar surroundings.

It’s definitely worth mentioning that he has at least some awareness of the world outside, as Harvey interacts with a replica of the brainwave scanner, and his interactions with Jool, Chiana, and the gurney in the corridors. He even has other mental constructs of his friends, his adopted family, all giving him Oz-like advice on how to solve his problem with D’Argo, both in the coma and out in the real world. Once again, his interactions are representative of his knowledge of his friends, though slightly… skewed, in his current state.

  • Pilot, naturally, suggests running away. As he and Moya have no weapons nor any inclination to ever use them, their first tactic is to use their feet tentaclespinethings.
  • Jool suggests reasoning with D’Argo. Not really an option during Hyper-Rage, of course, but it’s a nice thought. Incidentally, when she tries it in the real world, it does work, even though D’Argo’s still somewhat raging.
  • Chiana champions screwing D’Argo at his own game. Outsmarting him, and turning the tables back around. This brings us to a lovely Chuck Jones sequence. Crichton even namechecks the master!
  • Aeryn wants nothing to do with this nonsense.
  • Finally, Harvey gets his wish and Crichton attempts revenge. Although it should be noted that even when Harvey demands “no cartoons this time, John”, the next sequence could be pulled right out of Warner Brothers, live-action though it may be.

Though revenge is a way of life for Scorpius, it holds no real luster for Crichton. It is a nice thought, and definitely fulfilling momentarily, but D’Argo is his friend, and any satisfaction derived from it is tempered by that fact. Scorpius has no friends, and thus does not understand the concept of not wanting to take vengeance upon them, so Crichton’s reluctance and eventual discarding of the concept confounds him. In the end, Crichton’s reason to continue is his love for Aeryn. Even though he doesn’t want to think of her with his clone copy replacement twinned version, and even though he knows it as a certainty, he still loves her. He wants to see her again. That is enough for him to drag himself out of hell itself.

This episode may be a breather from the heaviness of the last one, but even the breather episodes are painful. There is no respite, you’ll laugh but it will be brought back down with the gravity of the situation.

Such is the case with this one. Upon coming out of the coma, Crichton goes for a bit of a spacewalk. D’Argo assumes it is to get away from him, which tellingly is never confirmed nor denied. He offers vengeance against himself as a way to appease his guilt. Crichton, two atmospheres apart, admonishes his friend, reminding him that he would never do such a thing. It’s sweet, and it’s touching, until you realize that Crichton knows that D’Argo wouldn’t hesitate to do such a thing in his place. He has, which brought about the entire coma in the first place, regardless of whether or not it was true. The scene could be read as a moment of bonding between brothers from interstellar mothers, but the impact on D’Argo’s face reveals that the backhanded sting was certainly received.

Crichton wouldn’t ever take revenge. D’Argo didn’t even hesitate.

Whether or not Crichton meant it as such a rebuke is left to conjecture.


Noel

There have been a number of times on this site where John has been described as a living cartoon. The dude is already half nuts to start with, but whenever situations slide him up the marker into the range of Bonkers, there’s a rubbery snap to his body language and delivery as he pounces and prances and poses and barks out a stream of cultural references that even us fellow humans are left labelling as gibberish. With this episode, we enter a comatose John’s brain and find out that a good chunk of it is, indeed, a cartoon.

And what a cartoon it is. While a little clunky around the edges, the animators do a wonderful job of capturing the details of the classic Chuck Jones Road Runner shorts, with all the dumbfounded expressions, illogical logic, and overhead distance ground bamfs we know so well as J’D’Argo chases John through a desert. My favorite was probably the giant gun that kept bouncing back until it went over a cliff, only falling, in classic tradition, when J’D’Argo perceives the lack of ground beneath him. And then there’s J’Aeryn, falling into the pop culture fetish fantasies John’s mind paints her in (Hilary Clinton!). And Harvey. Kevin is spot on about him resembling the monkey now constantly on John’s back, but did you notice the corks he had in place of his head rod unscrewy thingies? Symbolic, I’d say, of his lack of interest in hearing what John is thinking or feeling. Most of what’s going on in John’s head is a battle of wills as he debates whether or not to give in to Harvey’s influence, so bits like that are a brilliantly subtle touch.

I wonder if more of the episode was meant to be animated, leaving them to fill in the rest with live-action due to either time or budget limitations. Don’t get me wrong, it works brilliantly with bits like Harvey as a mad doctor trying to give his patient life through the driving desire for vengeance, or John whipping out an oversized cigar or pencil, or J’D’Argo very obviously hiding behind people and marching along a path that brings his feet in contact with a rake, a bucket, a banana peel, and a bear trap. In fact, I’d say the constant back and forth between animation and cartoonish live-action built up a nice contrast for the scattered conflict swirling around in John’s noggin. John wants to blow everything off as silly fun and games, Harvey wants to drive home a cold reality, and the story sways back and forth from some point in the middle.

Outside John’s mind, things were equally compelling as D’Argo’s pet mysterious ship goes haywire and threatens to kill everyone. I love that we finally get a return of his hyper-rage, especially when both he and the audience are forced to confront the fact that his accusations were wrong and he had no right to lash out the way he did. For most of the episode, the stewing guilt over John’s injury seems to fuel the rage and keep it burning, but I love how Jool’s open admission that it was her fault is what cools him into realizing he’s gone too far and the situation won’t be helped by pushing it further.

Speaking of Jool, this is not only the first episode where she really gelled in as a working (relatively speaking) part of the unit, but the first where I actually kinda like her. Her panicky care for John, her resistance to the idea of leaving Pilot and Moya to die so they can escape, her honest admission to D’Argo that she wanted to know more about the ship just so she’d having something to talk with him about, it’s all great stuff that not only shows a bit of growth, but the heart of a (semi-)decent person underneath. Yeah, she still bickers with Chiana nonstop and rips out one of her metal melting screams after she realizes the others have sent her to wade through a pool of space parasite bat guano, but she keeps digging through the muck, and when she finds D’Argo’s hastily discarded Qualta Blade, she thrusts it aloft as though to declare she does, indeed, have the power.


Weston

What motivates John Crichton? That is the question at the heart of half of the episode. Fear, hatred, logic, cleverness, lust, each of these represented by Crichton’s mental representations of his shipmates. Each is rejected in turn. If we accept Crichton’s comatose hallucination of D’Argo as everything in the Uncharted Territories that’s been trying to kill him, we can see how most of these approaches has been applied. Flight from Crais, destruction of enemies, decrypting puzzles, outwitting a vampiric demigod. Each has been applied in turn, but none is his core motivator. Before the midpoint of Season Two his primary focus was getting home, escaping from the Madhouse at the End of the Universe. Now, it’s Aeryn. Above all else, he survives to see her again. The pursuit of wormholes is a distraction, a side quest that he’s using to keep his mind off of JohnT and what Aeryn’s doing with (and to) him.

Harvey has difficulty comprehending this. Selfless devotion just doesn’t compute in his world.

Where does D’Argo stand? He’s stuck on Moya with everyone else, but since he and Chiana split he’s been standing apart. He’s got his neat musicy-thing, but playing that means sticking around in his quarters where he and Chiana… were. This new ship they picked up has none of that context, and it both seems oddly familiar to D’Argo and responds to his touch. It’s a place that he can go to clear his head, to think and feel without association. Now the thing’s popped off an EM pulse that disabled Moya, and is spinning up a self-destruct that will obliterate everyone and everything else he remotely cares about. His “no girls allowed” treehouse has fallen out of the tree and, in slow motion, is about to crush the garage.

Can you feel his panic? His frustration? Surely, if he’d been holding anything else, he would have hurled that instead of his great-grandfather’s ancient weapon. Chiana gets another precognitive flash while they’re searching for it. The cuts during that sequence are absolutely fantastic – D’Argo’s goatee-splosion cuts to Jool’s surprise visitors, from Jool’s scream to the loud cannon music, from D’Argo falling through Crichton’s trap door to Jool stumbling across the Qualta Blade, from the lines “This is kinda like the sound you hear before you die.” “Or after.” to Crichton flatlining.

On that note, I absolutely love the traps live-action Crichton sets for D’Argo. The music during that scene starts light and sneaky, growing louder and slower and brassier and more percussive as Big D hits each trap. It’s fantastic.

The moment D’Argo slides the Qualta Blade into the scabbard, when the ship queries and acknowledges him? I love that. The music helps, again. The ship lists it’s systems as they come online: Power, Telemetry, Perception Shroud, Sonic Accelerator, Particulization Field, Weapons Cascade, all at D’Argo’s command. The treehouse is now fully armed and operational.

Jool has a great moment in the new ship where she acknowledges what the others feel towards her. The very same thing that we’ve been saying about her all season. She knows she’s annoying and troublesome, and she’s trying to grow past that. Maybe she will.

Chiana continues to grow up. In Zhaan’s absence, without Aeryn’s aggressive management, she’s becoming the new team mom.

  • Harvey’s mortician tux is fantastic.
  • Animated D’Argo wears spotted boxers under his kilt.
  • Wayne Pygram has fantastic vocal flexibility. He does a great cartoon voice.
  • Ditto Anthony Simcoe. Incidentally, watch the blooper reel. I’ve been waiting for this episode specifically to plug that. Especially seven minutes in.
  • Crichton’s animated avatar wears the green shirt and carries his pulse pistol. Interesting that both are part of his self-image these days. His live-action version wears a flannel shirt and denim jeans, the first Earth clothes he’s had since “A Human Reaction“.
  • Translator microbes can’t translate ancient Luxan. Likely not as complicated a language as Pilot, but it’s an interesting limitation.

Tessa

This episode takes just about all of the unsaid things that were hanging in the air last episode and lays them all out. We may have lost Crichton back on Talyn, but the one on Moya is still here, with a totally different set of experiences still happening. It’s interesting that after an episode where his twin gets killed off that we have an episode where he comes incredibly close to death himself. It’s actually really easy to not really have it hit you with the cartoony atmosphere, but John really does very nearly die in this one, and there wouldn’t have been a third one hanging around out there to fall back on if he had. While I mentioned last episode that JohnT was a totally separate character, his existence admittedly gave the collective John Crichton a 1-Up, in that one of the two could die, and we would still have John Crichton in the cast in one form or another. That’s gone now. If the one on Moya dies, there is no more John Crichton.

We also get a nod to the fact that John fully recognizes that his twin and Aeryn wound up together, and that as far as he knows, there’s probably no chance there for him with her. It doesn’t make his feelings for her any less powerful, though, and in the end, its his desire to see her again that keeps him going. I mentioned a few episodes back that he may have put her on the backburner of his mind, and I think this kind of acknowledges that. He knows exactly what’s going on there, and doesn’t pretend it isn’t happening. It doesn’t make him love her any less, of course, but it made her something he didn’t want to focus on due to the situation (which probably explains why he dove headfirst back into his wormhole obsession, he needed something to lock his mind onto to keep from thinking of her).

And then there’s Harvey. He continues to fascinate me as a character, especially considering that in this season, he almost doesn’t really even exist. He’s the shadow of an imprint left behind from the neural clone that Scorpius placed in John’s brain. The device that held him isn’t there anymore, and he really only exists in John’s mind now, and yet he still maintains himself as a character in his own right and continues to develop as such. It’s extremely interesting that at the beginning of the season, he was doing all he could to convince John to let himself die so that he could pass on as well, but has now done a total 180, fighting and urging John to live on because he doesn’t want to die with him. As more and more of John’s own personality has bled into Harvey’s (he seems to gain more and more of John’s wacky whimsical side the longer he’s been there), he seems to have gained a strong desire to continue existing that was totally absent at the start. Harvey seems to be slowly becoming John, while at the same time retaining just enough of Scorpius’ personality to remain separate. He’s gone from a totally alien presence to John’s shoulder devil, and it’s interesting that John seems to be going to him for advice more and more often. It may just be the situation, but JohnM and Harvey nearly seem friendly to each other (antagonistically so, but even still) in this episode, compared to the nearly hostile exchange that JohnT had with him in the last two. Harvey is almost representative of the darker, more ruthless side that John has been slowly accepting to survive in his surroundings. JohnT was quick to be rid of him, but it’s worth noting that we never saw him go to him for help on his own since being twinned, while JohnM has willingly sought him out for help.

Harvey winds up being totally wrong in his assessment of how to deal with the situation, but he’s not trying to trick Crichton, and he seems to recognize that. Harvey is genuine in his desire to get John back on his feet, and the methods he’s urging John to use to do so are genuinely intended to help him. Sure, it’s out of his own desire to keep living himself, but he’s offering what he actually believes is the only solution. While John argues against and resists his suggestions, there doesn’t seem to be any real hostility there. Harvey notably isn’t the adversary in John’s brain. He’s more of an annoyance, but he’s an annoyance who’s offering help, and John eventually does cave and give his suggestion a shot. It doesn’t work, of course, but John does take Harvey’s advice as a valid option. Would this John be so quick to give Harvey the boot out of his mind? Possibly, but I’m actually not sure he wouldn’t hesitate a bit before making that decision. The different ways both Johns react to Harvey’s advice speaks again to them having become different people.

As an aside, I’m going to side with Noel here that this was possibly the first episode where I didn’t actively dislike Jool. She still doesn’t quite fit into the group, but at the same time she’s starting to mesh a bit better, and we’re starting to see some connection there between her and the others where prior to this there really didn’t seem to be any. She still has her annoying bits, and I really hope that the semi-hint of feelings she apparently has for D’Argo don’t continue into a full-blown relationship, but she’s actually starting to win me over as a member of the crew. She still ranks dead last out of the characters, but I’m becoming alright with her actually being around. Hopefully that continues.


Episode [3.15] – Infinite Possibilities Part II: Icarus Abides || Episode [3.17] – The Choice

2 ResponsesLeave one →

  1. Kernezelda

     /  September 11, 2011

    Noel, eep, that’s Nancy Reagan, not Hilary Clinton with the “Just say no,” campaign.

    Reply

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