Deconstructing Moya

A Farscape Re-watch Project

Episode [4.09] – “A Prefect Murder”

Today, on Farscape

“I’m not sure I have the strength to miss next time.”
“I think… I’m just a bad shot.”

After Moya stops to rest over a feudalistic society, everyone gets caught up in clan warfare. But when a recent murder is linked to Our Heroes, things start taking a nasty turn…


Tessa

This is our first episode that takes place in Tormented Space, and… we don’t see Tormented Space. We hear about it, sure, Moya is apparently out cold due to traveling in it, but this is all second hand knowledge. This was what I was worried about going into this. We get mentions that things are more difficult for them now, but it certainly doesn’t feel that different. This episode could easily have been just as at home in any other part of the series before the Tormented Space idea. All we’ve done is swap out “commerce planet” for “drinking water” as the thing that dictates where the crew needs to stop. Sure, I guess it sounds more dire, but only in the same way that “Tormented Space” sounds slightly more dangerous than “Uncharted Territories”. Functionally, nothing seems to have changed. It’s not enough to just get told in offhand comments that things are harder now. We need to actually see it. Now, granted, this is only the first episode taking place in this area, and we haven’t actually seen Tormented Space from… space yet. So maybe when we do, that’ll make a difference.

All of that said, it doesn’t mean the episode itself is bad. I really enjoy plot lines that involve political intrigue, and this one certainly has that, even if it’s a little simplistic and predictable. I like the setup of the government on the planet, and that it does have problems, and isn’t entirely stable. It’s very believable that the plotting that happens in the episode can take place, because the system as shown does seem very vulnerable to it. Once everything’s resolved, the new leader that steps up takes steps to change the way things are run in the hopes of preventing something like it from happening again. It’s maybe a little too cleanly wrapped up, but then we don’t actually see how things play out after our heroes leave, we just get the implication that things will probably be fine. It’s a story I’d actually be interested in following up on, to see what the consequences of Zerbat’s choices will be and how his attempts at leading will fare, given that it’s established that he’s practically seen as an outsider. Given his relationship with Sikozu throughout the episode, maybe it’s something that will pop up again later, but it’s probably more likely that this is a one-off thing.

The fractured way of telling the story does draw out the suspense a bit, although I almost think it’s a little too confusing. By the end of it we’ve seen the same scenes three different times, each time giving us a slightly different perspective and a little more information than we got last time. It’s not the first time we’ve seen a story unfold like this, and I really like the idea, but for some reason I wasn’t thrilled with it on a first watch through. Combined with Aeryn’s hallucinatory urges, the beginning especially is maybe a little too jumbled, and it pulled me out of my enjoyment a bit. Interestingly, on a second watch through, I enjoyed the style far more, but then, I also already knew what was going on from the beginning that time.

I do like that there’s some friction between D’Argo as captain and other members of the crew. Not surprisingly, it’s coming in the form of Chiana, who’s personality and tendencies are of course causing problems. She’s already someone who doesn’t deal well with being controlled, and D’Argo being the one to tell her what to do, given their past, is particularly hard for her to take. He’s desperately trying to pull things together and maintain a good (or at least, non-hostile) relationship with the people of the planet, and Chiana is probably the biggest threat to those attempts, and so he tries with very little success to rein her in.

I really like Paroos, the priest, although I wish we knew a little more about him. He doesn’t appear to be the same species as the other inhabitants of the planet, but does that mean he’s just another species that the planet is home to, or is he an offworlder? If it’s the latter, how did he come to hold a position of such influence on a planet that seems to hold a deep mistrust of offworlders in general? He’s a great force for peace on the planet under the new system in place, and appears to be almost universally respected by the others on the planet. I really want to know more about whether he held a role in bringing those changes about, and how exactly his position works and how he reached that point. Also, why exactly does his floaty chair have a buzz-saw in it? Unless he’s used to having to resort to that kind of violence on a regular basis (although he does mention that people get killed on their planet all the time and the political situation is extremely unstable, so it’s very possible), I’m not sure what purpose something like that is intended to serve. I suppose it could simply be a last-resort self defense thing (given his fragile appearance, I suppose it makes sense), but it kind of seemed out of nowhere that he would have something like that. Also, is that Johnathan Hardy voicing him? I can’t seem to find anything crediting who did his voice, but I can very much hear bits of Rygel there. If it isn’t, the two sound very similar, and it might be why Rygel has next to no presence in this episode.

And of course, everything leads up to Aeryn and John pointing guns at each other in the end. All of the build up of their troubled relationship over the past few episodes comes to a head here, as the frustration they’ve been keeping locked away (or drugged away, in John’s case) plays out as they suddenly have to fight the overwhelming urge to kill one another. John, who’s been practically addicted to the substance to keep his mind off of Aeryn, takes it particularly badly, and if he’s to be believed in what he’s saying, he’s either not faring as well in his attempts to resist, or there was more there for E’Alat to grab a mental hold on to spur him on to try to kill Aeryn than the other way around. Considering that she’s had to actually deal with her feelings regarding him and he’s literally been dealing with it by not dealing with it, either one makes sense.

All in all, I like this episode, although there’s quite a bit of it that I wish they had elaborated on more. As a starter to the Tormented Space adventures, it’s maybe a little underwhelming, but just as a run of the mill episode, it’s fine.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go wash the images of bughive man out of my brain, because ASDSFSAIOHA OH GOD.


Kevin

Season four has been a consistently solid season… until now.

I’m sorry. I didn’t care about the planet Ronon Dex must have come from. I didn’t care about the whole “We Must Bring The Clans Together” subplot, or the tired “We Care Nothing For Offworlders” routine. The whole deal with the Prince of Clan Whatsis surpassing his dead father – the Leader of Clan Whatsis – and supplanting Lucius Malfoy’s Bad Hair Day and burning the temple to the ground as a significant example of rabble rabble rabble.

Why? What do we care about any of that?

It felt like we were supposed to care, that this whole conflict should have mattered. But considering that the first thing we see of these Dreadlock Dudes is them bitching over the crew being there, and then getting shot? There was no impact. No feeling of “Hey, this could actually be a problem for Our Heroes”, other than the fact that it was Aeryn who shot them. Sure, by the middle of the episode we knew why it was a big deal, but until then I was bored. I wanted them to leave; there’s water all over most M-class planets, why not just scoop some off the other side and be done with it?

It might be because there was a lot that I could have enjoyed about this. We could have had more on why they needed the support of Clan Whatsis, maybe because the other clans are so xenophobic they’d be slaughtered if they were in charge. They could have brought more into the whole “We get a lot of criminals and fugitives here” aspect, and have a rival group of transients trying to sway the Dreadlocks another direction. They could have explained why Moya was hurt instead of just that off-hand remark. They could have made me care about any of it.

Instead, we get a tired villain (who I will now refer to only as Bee-head), a bunch of snooty-faced Dreadlocks harumphing at everything, an admittedly awesome replacement for Rygel who still didn’t really do much but be powerful and menacing, and an extremely disorienting opening sequence. Don’t get me wrong, I usually love the unsettling camera effects when they’re representative of something that’s going on, but these felt like they had no purpose.

Honestly, I can count what I liked about this episode on one hand:

  • Bringing the Crichton/Aeryn conflict to a head.
  • Naked Sikozu.
  • The concept of brainwashing outsiders for assassinations, thus keeping the populace in line and distrustful of spacers all in one go.
  • The acting of Our Heroes, which certainly rose above what they were acting in. Special mention – as always – to Claudia Black, Ben Browder, and Anthony Simcoe, for their amazing portrayals of frustration, confusion, dismay, and deep anguish.

That’s it. That’s all I found to really enjoy in this episode. I wish I had more to say about it, some deeper meaning that I can glean from the situation or writing or circumstances, but I honestly can’t.

Things to note:

  • It’s interesting to see Sikozu with a more subtle air of manipulation about her. Aside from the repeated awkward groping scene, all of her interactions with Prince Whatsis remind me more of Scorpius. With her spending a lot of time around him, perhaps he’s mentoring her a bit?
  • With the appropriate apologies to Tessa, I actually think Bee-head’s methods have merit. Sure, the execution is awkward, but think about it a bit more objectively: He implants a hypnotic suggestion into the venom, which gets amplified by his psychic abilities. The venom makes the impulse in the target, while he erodes their mental defenses. Potentially devastating.
  • Crichton seems to respect D’Argo’s word as Captain, pop-culture mocking aside. Chiana… doesn’t, although she’s seemingly reverting more and more to her teenager attitude.
  • We see a more lasting consequence of her sight powers: the time she’s blind is getting longer and longer, to the point where she thinks it might not go away at all at some point. A neat touch for continuity’s sake.
  • Aeryn’s making attempts at English phrases again. I believe this is another sign of her extending the olive branch, trying to get back in Crichton’s good graces. Considering his abuse of the brain-wipe vapors, he’s not buying it.

Noel

To back up Kevin, I don’t care. I don’t care a single bit about this feud between rival clans or the priest trying to solve it all or the son trying to live up to the legacy of his father or the president who just wants a war. That’s not to say it’s bad, it’s just not interesting on a show that constantly pushes itself out of the box. Strip it down to it’s… no, don’t even bother doing that. It’s already basic components. The priest puppet is great and the dreadlock Princess Leia buns are an interesting look, but looks alone aren’t enough to add spice to a tired story. I like the way our leads are involved, with Sikozu getting some nookie, Chiana being banished, and D’Argo struggling to be diplomatic, but our leads are stuck playing off of the equivalent of narrative cardboard. It’s dull. It’s flat. It lacks any weight and fails to leave any impression.

And to then jump to Tessa’s complaint, she’s absolutely right that our first look at Tormented Space is absolutely failing to live up to the expectations we were already predicting such a ridiculously over-the-top title would fail to deliver. Seriously, this is the absolute nastiest, most dreaded region of the cosmos, and the best you can come up with for its debut is a blah political squabble over clan leadership? We hear a throwaway mention that Tormented Space is beating Moya all to hell, but instead of, y’know, SHOWING US THAT SO WE CAN SEE AND FULLY APPRECIATE THE TORMENTING QUALITIES OF TORMENTED SPACE, it’s instead brushed off screen while we watch bickering about what clan has the upper hand on who. Someone really dropped the narrative ball on this one, which is disappointing at such a late point in the series when they’re trying to set up a harsh new region to become the new status quo backdrop for our heroes to scream in. I’m sorry, but you don’t promise Tormented Space, then show anything less than space that absolutely torments.

However, there is still a very strong element to the show. I’m not just talking about the interplay between our cast, the main part of being John and Aeryn venting some of their violent frustration with one another. That’s all amazing, but I’m speaking of the political assassination angle, the idea of a being who manufactures insects that fill a selected target’s head with subliminal prodding to a point where it becomes increasingly difficult to avoid following the direction of those prods. This is a fantastic idea and the way it’s used on Aeryn and John, first individually then against one another, is perfect and an absolutely inspired bridge to take their relationship down the next road. If only they hadn’t wasted it on the plot they did. Why does this story need to be on a brand new world? Why does it need to take place in Tormented Space? If you’re going to turn our characters into unwilling political assassins, involve it in Peacekeeper dealings so the consequences will be more far reaching. Or have Rygel finally return to his homeworld and attempt to reclaim the throne only for his friends to be brainwashed into frelling it up. There’s genuine hooks that could have latched this story onto events that already have history and weight and consequence… but instead they stick it on a disposable little one off that wastes the material about as much as the episode wastes the great Aussie character actor Bruce Spence.

It’s a waste. I very much look forward to seeing where this change in the Aeryn/Crichton dynamic goes, but it’s shoved beneath the drinking water and nearly drowned by the weight of the misguided mediocrity surrounding it.

And what was with the nonlinear jumps back and forth in time? What did that ultimately add to things that a linear progression wouldn’t? Why use it for part of the episode, then abandon it midway through?

And why the frell does the horny little bastard have a buzzsaw on his hoverchair!


Weston

You guys know why this episode sucked, right? No D’Argo tongue. First episode this season with no tongue, and this is the result.

Crichton tells Prefect Falaak that he should have met Aeryn’s mother. Odd thing, though, Crichton never met Xhalax either. That was T’John. She shot at M’John once, but went haring after Talyn.

Call me crazy, but I think Sikozu and Zerbat only made it to second base before Chiana and D’Argo interrupted. The awkward half-naked “wow, you’re really orange” stage of interplanetary relations.

Related note: Awwww, yeah.

All religious symbols should be circular and chain-driven. Discreet, concealable, and effective. I admit, if I was building weapons into a hoverchair they’d be pulse blasters or one of those bazookas from last episode, but this planet doesn’t seem very sophisticated in the technology department.

Aeryn is an assassin again. It’s is a running theme this season.

My major gripe this episode: They spend twenty minutes retreading the same five minutes from multiple perspectives. It establishes exactly where everyone was at the time of the murder, but we really didn’t need to see the same scenes ninety seconds apart. Well, most of them.

Crichton started teaching Aeryn phonetic English back on Talyn. She remembers it, maybe even kept T’John’s journal or a copy of it, and is now dropping phrases of it into conversation. It’s far from the first time she’s done that, but now it’s driving Crichton to his bug juice.

Dead Elder Gaashah tried to draw his knife while the assassination was going down. It looked like his harness was really loose, and when he tried to pull the knife the whole thing came with it. Unfortunate, but lucky for Aeryn. Could be a wardrobe malfunction that they threw in, could be intentional to illustrate the loss of combat skills with age. Either way, it looks odd in slow motion.

Moya’s hit twenty planets since reaching Tormented Space. That’s quite a bit of time between episodes. Also, quite a bit of distance looking for a chemical that’s made of two of the most common elements in the universe. Dihydrogen monoxide isn’t exactly chakan oil.

There’s a blink-and-you-miss-it scene towards the end during the denouement. Not even a full scene, just two cuts. Aeryn and Crichton, lying on a furry rug, holding hands after nearly killing each other. A small gesture, certainly, but after their recent separation and the line about the coin toss, it’s a nice touch.

The denouement itself is great. Zerbat gets a moment of awesome when he confronts Prefect Falaak over what he’s done.

It’s good to know that D’Argo can shrug off a pulse pistol shot to his center torso. Knocks him off his feet, but he’s back up in ten minutes and wrestling with Crichton in another couple arns. Hitting like a sissy, sure, but I’m fairly certain that Luxans haven’t shown any particular resistance to pulse fire before. Maybe he has subdermal plating that we never heard about.


Episode [4.08] – I Shrink Therefore I Am || Episode [4.10] – Coup By Clam

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