Farscape: “I, E.T.”

11/15/2011 § Leave a comment

Season 1, Episode 2. Writer: Sally Lapiduss. Director: Pino Amenta. Rating: C-.

A Peacekeeper device hidden on our escapee’s living, Leviathan-class ship, Moya, has been detected by the DRDs (now that we’re out of the pilot-phase, those little robot rats have been given a name), and it’s sending out a homing signal that — for comic effect — is rattling around in Crichton’s brain. (Nothing says danger as well as a twitch on Browder’s face.) Smash-happy D’Argo can’t reach the device, and the poor DRD that tries to approach gets shot, leaving it with a quizzical approximation of a hapless Wile E. Coyote (post-explosion). More antics ensue as Crichton suggests that Moya land on a nearby planet, using the swamp to muffle the signal; apparently, Leviathans don’t handle gravity well, so as the ship goes down, Rygel panics and attempts to stuff his face full of food. As it turns out, he’s not wrong to be worried: they land successfully . . . and then begin to sink.

Cue the title sequence, which has now added a voice-over that catches new audiences up on the show. At this point Farscape isn’t the most serialized or confusing of shows out there, so the narration sticks out a bit, especially since it interferes with the lovely score, but hey, it’s just the intro. Save for a few good mood-setting ones (TremeShameless, American Horror Story, and The Walking Dead come to mind), I tend to just skip ’em.

Back on Moya, a mud-phobic Rygel is resisting Zhaan’s attempts to calm him down, noting that while he happens to be Hynerian, a water-friendly race, the current predicament is quite different:  “Aquatic, that’s water. Not mud. Mud is mud. You can’t breathe in it, you can’t move in it. It holds you, it grabs you, it sucks you down. You want to know about mud? I know about mud.” Jonathan Hardy’s delivery, filled with all the pomp and circumstance befitting an arrogant and deposed emperor who has never needed to be the eloquent one, is magnificent, matched only by Crichton’s matter-of-fact agreement: “Guy knows mud.”

With death-by-mudbath imminent, D’Argo, Aeryn, and Crichton go scouting for an element known as Chlorium, hoping to use it to drug Moya long enough for them to cut the beacon out of her hypersensitive neural network. (As we’ll soon learn, this plan is only reluctantly accepted by Pilot out of desperation: bonded to the Leviathan, he remembers that the Peacekeepers once enslaved Moya the same way.) Nearly captured by the natives of the world, D’Argo and Aeryn run interference while Crichton wanders into the home of a local family. Meanwhile, back on the ship, time is running out, so Rygel, the only one small enough to reach, sets out to disable the device, while Zhaan uses her empathic powers to take Moya’s pain.

However, the only thing expected on Farscape, like the Spanish Inquisition, is the unexpected, so here’s are the twists. First off, the citizens of this backwaters planet have yet to make first contact, and the farm he’s stumbled onto is owned by the only true believer: “I’m talking to an alien? You’re an alien? And I’m talking to you? In my kitchen?” she says, giddily. Crichton can relate — especially since this particular alien looks so similar to him, has similar customs, and lives on a recognizable world (Louisiana or Dagobah: they’re fairly similar) — and so he plays to her vanity: “If we wanted to contact some government agency, we would have,” he says. “We chose you.” It’s a familiar reversal — we’re all the same — but it’s elevated by the commonalities Crichton actually shares with this woman: he’s only just made first contact himself, after all.

While the stargazing mother, Lyneea (Mary Mara), and her son, Fostro, conceal Crichton from Ryymax of the local military, Farscape looks at some odder pairings, each of which still share their own commonalities. For D’Argo and Aeryn, who are literally up a tree, they share a brusque, warrior mentality, and bond slightly while discussing a particularly Pyrrhic campaign, in which two rival clans continue a cycle of killing one another’s women and children, unable to explore anything other than revenge. Meanwhile, when Zhaan and Moya almost die, we find that Rygel is more than a selfish slug: he cares deeply for the ship, and not just out of self-preservation. He fears to operate on her because he’s never had to be responsible for anyone before, and to have the life of Moya in his hands is a new experience, as is Zhaan’s selfless offer to work together with him.

Solid as the character work is, however, it must be noted that this episode is more than a little formulaic, particularly in the resolution. D’Argo circles back for Crichton, only to be captured himself, which in turn forces Lyneea to misdirect the military to the ship’s location so that Crichton can break D’Argo out. (He does so with what appears to be a lead pipe and the element of surprise; not bad for a scientist, right?) Rygel overcomes his fears and continues to cut the beacon out of Moya, which leads to some really generic “ship being damaged” shots (unique only in the liquid “blood” leaking from the living walls), and some really overblown shots of Zhaan wincing in pain as she straddles a pipe along the wall, “channeling” the ship’s pain. It doesn’t help that this sequence is repeated twice, with Aeryn joining in the second time to . . . well, I’m not sure what she’s doing. Bracing Zhaan? I imagine it’s about as helpful as offering one’s hand to squeeze during a pregnancy, but for the sake of this episode, it seems to work. And finally, while Mara sells the idea of a flirtation going on between the lonely widow and the attractive alien whom only she can save, it’s not enough to justify the final shot of Crichton staring at the fading planet, pining for the girl who got away. Perhaps the best way of putting it is that I admire the theme of the episode, but wish it didn’t seem so forced.

Random observations:

  • “I no longer have a home,” sighs Aeryn. “Join the club,” replies Crichton. Can’t you feel the love between all these exiles building?
  • It’s Funny When Things Happen to John: This episode’s contribution? A shot of Crichton getting tased by Fostro, and then flopping around on the ground like a boneless fish. “I’m going to recover from this, right?”
  • Crichton, on programming the Peacekeeper’s Chlorium scanner: “It’s just like a VCR. Except easier.” Kids, it’s funny because before there were DVRs, there were VCRs, and they were apparently complicated.
  • Don’t piss off Rygel! That’s one nasty bite he gives to Aeryn.
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