Farscape: “Throne for a Loss”

11/17/2011 § Leave a comment

Season 1, Episode 4. Writer: Richard Manning. Director: Pino Amenta. Rating: A-.

We’re off to a quick start in this episode, something that’s downright Firefly-like, with the crew having decided to take on some illegal cargo running as a means of barter. The Tavlek clients, however, have a better idea: kidnapping Rygel for ransom, unaware (due to Rygel’s posturing) that he’s a deposed emperor. All that’s done in the first three minutes, to say nothing of D’Argo’s unwise decision to strap on the wristband amplifier of one of the felled aliens — a child, apparently — never mind the needles injecting a rage-increasing “stimulant” into his arm. (Bane, anyone?)

In the thrilling first act, the protagonists must find a way to disarm the now-tyrannical D’Argo before he pilots the ship away from the pirates. It’s harder than it seems, for the wristband offers a perfect defense: stun blasts are met with auto-shielding, and although it seems as if Zhaan’s “sleep mist” is going to save the day, an extra dose of the drug keeps him going. It’s not until Crichton lures him, matador-like, into a pressure-trap set up by venting the propulsion system, that they’re able to knock him out. (Quick thinking is a theme of this, and most science-fiction programming, but Farscape gets really good at juggling problems and finding creative ways to solve them.)

The day is far from saved, though. Moya’s orbit is deteriorating, on account of Rygel’s vanity. To impress the clients with his opulence, he “borrowed” a control circuit from the living ship: a reddish, crystalline matrix. A moment ago, they wanted to altruistically save their shipmate; now that they have to save him, they want to kill him. (“I’ll torture him, and then I’ll kill him,” adds Aeryn.)

As for Rygel himself, he’s been buried in mud on the pirate’s base, and worse yet, his cellmate Jotheb, prince of the Consortium of Trao, controls a larger empire. Ten thousand to Rygel’s six hundred billion subjects, yes, but Jotheb is referring to planets. “I don’t believe you,” steams Rygel. “The imperfection is yours,” replies Jotheb. And lest we forget about Zhaan, she gets some comic moments on the other end of a jail cell. Time and again, the captured Tavlek attempts to one-up her; each time, he is rebuffed by the far more mature priestess. (“Soft, yes. Weak, no.”) When he realizes that his clothes have been taken — by Aeryn, who hopes to infiltrate the compound — he accuses Zhaan of wanting to see his package. Not rising to the bait, she compliments him — “Quite respectable for your age” — and strips down herself, unafraid as always.

If there’s any flaw to the episode, it’s that the “main” plot in which D’Argo, Crichton, and Aeryn attempt to save Rygel and Moya is a little paint-by-numbers. We know that all three are going to have their turn under the influence of the gauntlet; the only interesting bits come from their interactions, particularly between D’Argo and Aeryn, who, as in I, E.T., find common ground in making fun of Crichton’s incompetence. (To be fair, he did accidentally blow up their pulse rifle.)

Far better are the B-stories. Zhaan, a Delvian Pa’u priest of the Ninth Level, heals the prisoner with a kiss soaked in her blood/sap, and we see him now as a scared child, not at all what we thought when he was an anonymously masked bandit. His tale is sympathetic, similar to that of the child soldier, raised on suffering and cocaine: “Our gauntlet is our food, our blood, our life.” Can one whose life is defined by pain handle comfort?

Meanwhile, Rygel hits a low point: in fact, after a failed escape attempt, he’s dead. He’s resurrected by Jotheb, but when we find out that it’s not out of compassion, but as a ploy to convert the Dominar’s subjects, he snaps and delivers this manic confession, equal parts laughter and despair:

“You multi-throated moron! I don’t have any subjects…. My treacherous bastard of a cousin stole my throne and imprisoned me. I escaped with a few other fugitives and they’re the only ones who even know I’m here! They couldn’t [ransom me] if they wanted to, and they don’t want to, because they hate me!”

This is what Jim Henson dreamed of with his Muppets, what led him to sink money into The Dark Crystal. He knew his creations were capable of drama, that they could be taken seriously, and while credit is of course due to Jonathan Hardy’s voice, the scene rests upon the sad eyes of this puppet, the drooping eyebrows, and the collapsed mouth.

Random Observations:

  • At some point, Crichton’s going to remember that he’s traveled through a wormhole to a different galaxy, and that nobody will get his references to, say, John Wayne. “Who’s that?” asks Aeryn. “A relative?”
  • Aeryn’s method of  negotiating with Crichton over how to best storm the base and retrieve the control crystal? A roundhouse punch. “You hit me,” he accuses, upon awakening. “Hit? No, a Panthak jab. You were more susceptible than most.”
  • D’Argo’s sword is also a really powerful gun, just in case he wasn’t bad-ass enough; in fact, you have to injure his injuries until they bleed clear, lest they clot and kill him.
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