Deconstructing Moya

A Farscape Re-watch Project

Episode [4.13] – “Terra Firma”

Happy Birthday, Noel!

Today, on Farscape

“Hark! The hee rawld angles seen guh! Glowry to the nude bored keen guh!”
“Nude…”
“Peach on Erp and murkey mill ed, gode and signers reek n sill ed!”
“Murkey… Sill ed…”

Moya arrives at Earth, and John is faced with the decision of what to do from there. Meanwhile, Grayza’s assassin attempts to hunt him down and take him alive.


Tessa

This is one of those episodes that is just stuffed full of plot developments. I think more substantial developments happened in this one episode than in the four prior ones combined (which, maybe not coincidentally, is the entirety of the Tormented Space bit).

Way back in the first season, we got a look at a scenario where the Moya crew arrived at Earth, contact was made, and the resulting consequences. Of course, that all turned out to be merely hypothetical, as the entire thing was a construct created by the Ancients to see whether or not Earth would be a suitable place for them to try to make a new home. Still, it gave us a chance to see how humanity might react to being made aware of the existence of alien species.

The word “might” is an important disclaimer to add to that, because in this episode, we see the same scenario play out, only this time it’s for real. And, thankfully, the resulting response is far more balanced than the example we were shown in A Human Reaction, which was skewed heavily towards the negative. Sure, the element of the government trying to keep the situation under control and the crew being effectively “caged” during their stay is still there, but instead of imprisoned on a military base and having experiments performed on them, the crew is given a place to live, and studies are happening on a much more mutual basis. You have the government angle being preoccupied with how to make use of the technology to benefit America and America alone, but it comes hand in hand with the people who are just fascinated with the situation in general and want to try to learn and understand it. The Moya crew isn’t quite welcome with open arms (strings are definitely attached), but neither are they being imprisoned and dissected. It’s a far less cynical look at humanity, and I think the episode is far better for it.

It’s really interesting that a less cynical look at humanity comes paired with the far more cynical and polarized political state of the world that Earth is in. I like how September 11 is brought up (without being overplayed, which it easily could have been), the nod to how the world has changed in Crichton’s absence, and what that means as to the concept of bringing humanity together in the larger scope of things. It’s incredibly frustrating for John, but neither he nor Jack are technically wrong in their readings of the situation. To John, of course, who has the perspective of the entire universe under his belt, Earth’s inability to come together is trivial and silly in the face of what they could potentially be facing should the Scarrans or the Peacekeepers find their way to Earth. But for Jack, especially being in the position he’s in, that’s a far bigger hurdle to overcome than John is willing to accept. The idea of not only trying to get the world to come together, but getting America to agree to try to get the world to come together, in a time where the entire country was terrified and looking to secure itself against outside forces, is a pretty big pill to have to swallow.

The crew still has bits of fish-out-of-water antics going on in this episode, but not anywhere near the extent of the last one (probably because the US Military does a far more effective job in keeping them all contained than D’Argo was able to). I love that Rygel and Noranti are both pretty much having a blast because of all of the new foods they get to experiment with, and later Noranti’s attempts at singing Christmas carols, but it’s also fitting that it’s not terribly overplayed. It’s funny without being distracting.

We keep touching on all of the actors in Farscape having great acting chops, so it feels a little redundant to do it again, but David Franklin does a great job as Braca having a green telepathy communicator dealie attached to his head and having Skreeth talk through him. I can’t tell if the voice of Skreeth is actually him or if it’s dubbed in later. If it’s him, he does a fantastic job at the voice, and if it’s not, it’s incredibly well done lip syncing. Either way, it’s impressive.

I feel like I need to say something about the Aeryn/John plot thread, but I can’t quite get a grasp on anything substantial to write about regarding it. It’s all very good, of course (and we get a very tense moment between the two where she asks for a straight answer from him only to have the mood killed by a sudden mantis lady attack), probably the best this season has had in regards to looking at their relationship. I like that Caroline is thrown into the mix, as the variable that John had seemingly forgotten all about, although aside from giving Aeryn something to have anxiety over, not a whole lot seems to come of it. Her relationship with John just seems to end off camera, without her seeming to have any strong feelings about it at all. I’m not sure that a real conflict regarding her would have fit neatly into this episode (which already had an awful lot going on in it), but as it stands she almost feels incidental, as if she’s just there to put yet another easily passed barrier between John and Aeryn, and she just cleanly disappears from the story after her conversation with Aeryn where she easily accepts that John doesn’t have feelings for her anymore.

There’s a similar bit with Laura and DK, in that although they still serve a purpose in the narrative after their deaths, disturbingly little is made of their disappearance. The implication seems to be that a bit of time has passed between their deaths and D’Argo discovering them (enough time for them to start decomposing and smelling, at least), and yet nobody seems to notice that they aren’t around anymore prior to that. John never has any reaction to his best friend’s death (there’s never even any indication that he finds out it happened), which just feels odd. The three characters dropping away with little flair might be the victim of an episode that just had too much else going on and couldn’t spare the time to fully complete their parts in the story, which is understandable, but at the same time it just feels like there’s an extra two scenes where their bits are wrapped up that should have been in this episode that weren’t.

I don’t want to dwell on this for yet another episode, but at this point I feel almost obliged to at least touch on it after making a big deal out of it in the last two. This episode is still treating the wormhole as if it’s a straight shot in between two places (which is, again, in direct contradiction to what the nature of wormholes were claimed to be two episodes back), both with Sikozu zipping back along it (totally alone, mind you) to meet up with Scorpius, as well as Scorpius’ claim that Grayza could use the wormhole to reach Crichton and thus the plan to set up the transport pods as bombs just in case. While I do appreciate that Crichton and friends overshot their return to Moya by 42 days (both for the reference, as well as in the interest of continuity of what they seem to want wormholes to be), it only muddles the situation further by them trying to have it both ways. And, as predicted, the plothole of potential time anomalies for anyone not named Crichton went ignored (it wouldn’t have fit in the episode anyways, but that’s not my point).

In the end, though, I loved this episode. It was great exploring an actual return to Earth (for once not a fake one or the Earth of the past, but an actual return), and seeing the consequences of just what it means for John to get his wish to get home. I touched on this back in the first season, but Crichton returning to Earth prior to the series’ end could really only go one of three ways. Either the series would continue, shifting its main focus to Earth, the series would leave him behind on Earth and follow the rest of the crew back into space, effectively losing him as a main character, or, as happened here, he would leave again, either by choice or design. While out of the three, the latter is the “safest” option as far as the series easily continuing goes, I like that he does make the choice to leave again rather than somehow being forced to. It let us see just how complicated his return actually was, the difficulties he had in trying to reintegrate himself back into his old life, and in the end, his accepting that despite never wanting to be a part of the larger conflicts of the universe, it’s something that he can’t ignore at this point. He’s got unfinished business out in the universe, and it’s not as easy as just stumbling back upon Earth and calling it quits anymore.


Kevin

It’s the triumphant return of D.K.! I’ve been looking forward to this for three and a half years! Hello, D.K.! …goodbye, D.K.

As I said a couple weeks ago – and as Tessa predicted back in the first season (that girl is really insightful, I don’t know whether it’s ’cause she’s just that good or the series is just formulaic enough for her to keep doing this every single time) – John Crichton has been using “Go back home” as his benchmark. Everything he did was to achieve this goal, and everything that happened to him was in response to it. Crichton popped up unannounced and killed a Peacekeeper pilot, his brother swore revenge for a full season and drove him into hiding. Trying to keep one step ahead of the Peacekeepers, Crichton infiltrates a research base, only to be captured by Scorpius and divulge that he’s exactly what they’ve been researching all this time. Through escaping Scorpius, the Scarrans (and Peacekeeper High Command) get interested in what precisely is so fascinating about this one person, and through constantly escaping those situations, Crichton has now made himself Public Enemy One. Not always through his own design, but the point remains that he is now a permanent fixation of Commandant Cleavage and the Scarran Empire.

It would have been so easy to leave this as the reason Crichton can’t stay. With the wormhole active, after all, Grayza can (and, as we can see in the middle of what I’m arbitrarily choosing as the C-plot, is preparing to) follow Crichton and wipe out his entire planet out of revenge. Especially since her Mantis Lady is sending back her impression of the technology level of humanity. Which doesn’t measure up to a full Command Carrier with Frag Cannons, multiple squadrons of Prowlers, dozens (if not hundreds) of Marauders with elite commandos who have been trained nearly since birth to be efficient, ruthless killers. It would be so easy for this to be Crichton’s reason to leave, since he needs to shut down the wormhole to prevent them coming through.

It would be so easy, if he had intended to stay all along.

You can see it in one of the other two plot threads – which, since the John/Aeryn thread is important but still background to this one, I’ll call this the A-plot – where Crichton and company are being unusually forthcoming with their culture and technology to Earth. In a post-Star Trek world, this is practically unheard of, a clear violation of the Prime Directive, but it’s also kind of necessary. Scorpius had found Earth already, and even though he destroyed that information, who’s to say that Grayza’s scientists couldn’t recreate it? We already know that she wouldn’t show the same restraint that Scorpius did, when he told Crichton that it wasn’t worth the sixty-year journey just to glass Paraguay.

To that effect, Crichton both denies D.K. and Laura the knowledge that we all know he has, about FTL and wormhole tech and how to put together a working Pulse Rifle, and also asks them leading questions and gives them just enough of a seed to work from. He doesn’t want to just give them the tech, since there wouldn’t be enough of a drive to find out how to build from it. If you give a man the answers, he won’t learn how to find them himself, and the combined scientists of Earth (now that they know that it IS possible) will be scrambling to discover how to make it themselves. And then make it better, in that creative human way. That was the point of the cryptic request for a metallurgic study of the Prowler and Lo’La, which even D.K. recognized as little more than a dangling carrot.

Had Crichton been planning on staying, he’d be doing everything he could to help Earth be ready for that assault that’s sixty years off. He’d be sharing blueprints and chemical compounds and mathematics, and working directly with the scientists instead of dropping stuff off and going off to argue with Senators Killjoy and Obfuscating Beaurocracy. Instead, he’s squeezing as much family time in as he can. He’s testing the limits of his comfort zone, which even Caroline Wallace recognizes. He’s trying to prod Earth into coming together as one, despite what America wants to do.

His shipmates already know. They don’t react with surprise when he tells them that they’ll be gone before the Senate committee figures out who gets to ride on Moya. (Well, they do, but only about his promising said journey when he had no intention of it happening.) In fact, he even makes that mention halfway through the episode, way before Mantis Lady attacks him.

Let me repeat that. He could have said that the attack was what changed his mind about staying (and probably did say that to his family), but he had made his decision well before then.

Crichton had been so concerned about going home. Now he knows he no longer belongs there. He may be a child of Earth, but he’s a man of the galaxy. He knows what’s out there, what Earth isn’t prepared for, and while he’d like to stay and help them reach that level, he needs to be out in the thick of it, making sure that nobody traces him back through that wormhole or back to that sector of space.

This episode isn’t even a turning point. It’s the point where he comes to terms with the fact that point happened a long time ago.

I loved this episode. Unabashedly, unforgivingly, unreservedly loved it. The plot threads were layered without being too much, and it didn’t drag out at any point. What questions it didn’t answer, it touched upon, and acknowledged that those questions were still in play. It gave us a bit of closure to the four-season-long story arc, and let us move on to what else is in store.


Noel

As Kevin said, there is no real arc in this episode for John, at least when it comes to his feelings for Earth. From the first time we see him on the docks, he knows he’s leaving and everything else after that is just a prolonged farewell. He sits down with his family, knowing it may never happen again. He takes a few kisses from his old flame, knowing they’ll be the last they share. I love they way he gives his people a taste of the alien tech, just enough to inspire and trigger new questions and growth, but he’ll be damned if he trusts these monkey with all the answers because, let’s be honest, they’ll be flinging it at themselves within a decade. And even if he stayed to force that growth forward as fast as it can go, would anything ultimately be done in the time it would take Grayza or the Peacekeeper or the Scarran or the Nebari to reach Earth, when everything has to clear countless tangles of bureaucracy and non-terrestrial ignorance? Making these people into fighters that can hold their own is impossible in that timeframe. As he says, the root that fuels the pulse pistols doesn’t grow here, so they’re dren out of luck on that front. No, he needs to leave and take the fight away from a world he can no longer settle into. He’s been away from the chair too long and the upholstery has degraded without him while he’s been reshaped by new experiences. He no longer fits.

To disagree with Tessa, I don’t find any loose threads in this. Sure, the girlfriend angle or D.K. could have been expanded a bit more, but, ultimately, that would have dragged things out. They aren’t the story. John being unable and unwilling to recapture his past is the story, and those elements are explored exactly as much as they need to be in order to play their parts in that story. The man she loved has returned, but he’s moved on. The friend he lost has returned, but what tagged along slaughters him and his wife. What would John’s reaction have been upon learning of D.K.’s death? He’s John. His jaw would clench, his eyes would moisten as he bores his grief into you, then he’d throw on some shades and move on, exactly like he does at the end of the episode. Speaking of which:

It looks like D.K. had a Close Encounter…

…of the deadly kind.

YEAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!

So yeah, after a few problematic weeks, I finally have an episode that I love from start to finish. The press and politics are well handled, keeping the extras limited to those within our leads’ field of view. D’Argo gets to scare the hell out of everybody and blow something up at the end while Chiana dives head first into Terran fashion and tries to bang aging senators. Sikozu gets to play the superiority card, flustered by an incompetent, “inferior” species wanting to poke and prod her like a lab rat while Noranti and Rygel scarf down everything they can eat, whether it’s food or not. John’s family gets to show why the Crichtons are awesome folk, taking in alien beings and being as open and gently guiding as they can. The Grayza subplot pays off wonderfully with the gummy (gyah!) assassin monster thing icky ninja erupting into a surprisingly violent, destructive, entertaining climax. Sikozu and Scorpius get to sneak off for cuddles and talk of shared suicide (!). 1812 gets to be a tour guide. Braca gets to do all kinds of twitching things under a neural link. And Jack Crichton gets to show where his son got it from as he sums the episode up in a salt of the earth speech:

“I once told my son, he’d get the chance to become his own kind of hero. Well, he got it. And he made the most of it. I also taught him to stick to his guns when he thought he was right, so I can’t fault him when he does. I’ve heard it said that he should accept our judgment over his. Because he… owes us. I’ve even said it myself. We’re wrong. Look at the friends he discovered, the miracles he brought, and then ask yourself what he owes us as compared to what we owe him. Now, John insists that we share these wonders with the rest of the world, but some people are afraid of what’ll happen if we do. John’s afraid of what’ll happen if we don’t. And I’ll go with that.”

There only two problems I have with the episode, and they’re small. One, John’s cousin Bobby. His screen time is short, but damn that kid can’t act and is all kinds of annoying as he shoves his camera at the alien bikinis. Second, I know the show is shot in Australia, but was it really so hard to find some local US expat actors or maybe ship some in? The obviously forced accents work when you’re on alien worlds, but when you’re trying to sell this as America, it doesn’t work when nobody actually sounds American. Nor do they sound Australian. They’re in that weird midway point as a photo morphs into another photo where it’s become a malleable, fuzzy blob that you can just make out, but what it’s trying to be is still thoroughly held back by what it was.

And I know I’ve been harping on this for the last two weeks, but I need to say it one more time since this was the ultimate payoff of this arc. This is the last time I’ll bring it up. I swear. Unless the show brings it up again, in which case, all bets are off. Anyway, I still don’t have a single clue what the point was behind the last two episodes. They brought absolutely nothing relevant or meaningful to the table. At all. Seriously, how was anything from this episode altered by having John and Co first visit Earth in the past? Anything. Take out that episode completely (minus the Grayza planting the spy bits which, let’s be honest, could have been tagged on in any story) and tell me how it ultimately affects this episode one bit. John thinks about his mother when he sees the ring. His reaction would be entirely the same even if he hadn’t just seen her alive. The aliens are already adjusted to Earth. No, not really. Their struggles with language, custom, and what is or isn’t edible aren’t really all that strikingly different than if this had been their first time. In fact, this would be a more realistic depiction as they just roll with wherever they land like they always do instead of being completely hung up by it like in the last episode. There is nothing here that is changed by the last episode. There is nothing here that is driven by the last episode. The last episode had absolutely no reason to exist beyond someone wanting to do it for the hell of doing it. And without that episode, the one before it, the one with Einstein and Unrealized Realities is also completely pointless as it was purely setup for a side quest that ultimately had no impact on the main plot. None. Not. One. Bit.


Weston

Man, I love you guys. I’ve been looking forward to this episode for a long while, and you’ve hit all the high points.

I get the feeling that Noel is going to hate “Prayer” four episodes from now. I hope I’m wrong, but [redacted spoilers]. Flip side, I suspect that he’ll love at least part of “A Constellation of Doubt”. Predictions have been laid out, now taking bets.

I wonder what First Contact was like when the Shuttle sailed into Moya’s hangar. Two astronauts in full EVA gear hop out the airlock, wander into the maintenance bay, and there’s Sikozu speaking in fluent English with some Spanish and Klingon thrown in. That could be a fun scene. The reference to the Shuttle is a little heartbreaking, though, in light of the recent end of the program.

From the opening titles: “I’ve made enemies; powerful, dangerous. Now all I want is to find a way home. To warn Earth. Look upward and share the wonders I’ve seen.” He’s made it home, and he shows off the wonders he found in the Uncharted Territories. But the enemies come with him, and Earth learns that the universe isn’t all sweetness and light. DK finds out the hard way, as does his wife. They only get four scenes, counting the one where they’re dead. Olivia Crichton (who is awesome) thinks she’s in E.T. and finds out she’s in Alien.

This episode has the most tasteful 9/11 reference I’ve seen in any medium. One name drop, and they go straight on to dealing with the consequences. There’s a spectrum of such references: At one end we have this, and at the other is Uwe Boll.

Grayza doesn’t just rape prisoners, she has no trouble making her subordinates think she’s had her way with them. Poor Braca. He’s had enough fortitude or presence of mind to resist the rohypnosweat previously, and there’s no indication that they’ve recreated. Mind frelling is as much a tool in Grayza’s box as the regular sort.

The journal that Crichton writes in while out fishing isn’t entirely in English. It reemphasizes his otherworldliness. Earth just isn’t home anymore.

I totally think of Batwoman’s cape when I see Aeryn’s badass longcoat. Nice colors, flowing material.

Scorpius spent forty two days on a transport pod. By himself. Sitting on top of a wormhole. Plus however much time Crichton spent on present-day Earth. One wonders how he passed the time. Then Sikozu showed up, and… well.

1812 has had a stuck arm since it first showed up. A little human ingenuity, a spritz of WD40, and bam! A return to full functionality. I love that DRD.

Earth has translator microbes now. Not for everyone, but they should become widespread enough to remove some of the more severe communications issues.

Aeryn and John’s relationship is obvious to everyone. Caroline, Jack, Olivia, they all comment on the tension. Caroline recognizes it for what it is. And now Aeryn knows about Noranti’s laka poppers.

D’Argo obliterates the Skreeth. Little bit of overkill, but against something that resistant to bullets and pulse rounds Maxim 37 is in full effect.

The ongoing Farscape mission is no longer to test an atmospheric slingshot, but to explore new worlds and new civilizations. Crichton has become the Zephram Cochrane of his world. There will be a statue. It will not be a frozen Crichton.

I wonder, while Crichton’s flipping through the photo album, if all of his memories survived the brain surgery intact.

Olivia loaned books to Aeryn. I wonder what books?

I also wonder, while I am wondering about things, whether John told Jack about the things he’s faced in the Uncharted Territories. Whether Jack knew what he was going back into, about the Peacekeepers and the Scarrans and the Tabloids (Tavleks) and Charrids and all the other nasty things that go bump in the night. I tend to think no. Jack gets first hand look at what’s out there, and intuits that there’s a hell of a lot more, but John doesn’t say anything. Earth has enough to worry about getting its own act together without adding hostile star empires to the pot.

I think that’s most of… nope, one more thing. The metallurgical analysis Crichton asked for on the Prowler and Lo’la. He’s begun to suspect that Prowler Pilot Liquefaction Syndrome isn’t a characteristic of wormholes, but a result of the interaction of wormholes and Prowlers. It’s not that there’s something special about his white deathpod that lets him traverse them; there’s something special about Prowlers that prevents them from wormhole surfing.


Episode [4.12] – Kansas || Episode [4.14] – Twice Shy

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