Farscape: “Thank God It’s Friday … Again”

11/30/2011 § Leave a comment

Season 1, Episode 6. Writer: David Wilks. Director: Rowan Woods. Rating: B+.

One of the greatest advantages Farscape has over other shows is a strong roster of alien characters; it learned a valuable lesson, apparently, from the many back-stories which connected Babylon 5‘s diplomats, healers, and warriors. Regardless of each week’s plot, the show guarantees a baseline of success simply by finding different ways to have the cast interact with one another. In that sense, it’s much like a futuristic D&D campaign, led by the chaotic-good archetypes, not the plot. (You’ve got the knight, Crichton; the priest, Zhaan; the dwarf, Rygel [also doubling, right now, as the rogue]; the barbarian, D’Argo; the elf warrior, Aeryn; and the wizard, Pilot.) Instead of giving us episodes in which characters are defined by plot, then, the DM (writer) crafts each adventure around the characters themselves.

This week takes us to the planet Sykar, where D’Argo — suffering from hyper-rage — has gone to blow off some steam. After three days, Moya’s crew heads down to retrieve him, only to find a much calmer, happier Luxan warrior, who has decided to join the planet’s docile laborers, who contentedly work each day toward the promise of evening celebrations and a rest day tomorrow. Except that tomorrow never comes: they’ve been brainwashed by the crop they’re harvesting,  tannot roots, and are working in the sort of ignorant bliss that comes with short-term memory loss, and which cues the title. Every day is a Friday, and they’re the happiest of slaves in that they have no idea that they are slaves. (This episode has a lot of echoes of The Matrix, which came out about a month or so before this episode.)

The underground rebellion, led by a few immune natives who forcibly recruit Crichton to their cause, is the plot mover in this episode, but it’s not what writer David Wilks is interested in. Instead, he looks at what happiness, artificial or not, might look like to D’Argo and, to a lesser extent, Zhaan. As we saw with D’Argo’s attraction to the Scorvian spy last week,  this young warrior is in need of love, but is normally too tightly wound to receive it. Under the influence of this “happy plant,” he’s screwing limber women left and right, and we learn that he’s got a shot with Zhaan. (To be fair, Crichton might, too; the two end up bunking together, and Zhaan–who likes to sleep in the nude–has some wandering hands.) In contrast to that is the terrible cost of awareness, which is crushing Tanga (Tina Thomsen) and her father, Hybin (Ken Blackburn), who can remember the days of art and culture.

The truly interesting development in this episode, however, belongs to Aeryn, who gets stuck transporting Rygel back to Moya, on account of the fact that the chemicals in his digestive tract have processed the tannot root into the sort of highly-flammable oil that powers Peacekeeper weaponry. Aeryn’s out of her element, forced to work with Pilot to first flash-freeze Rygel, then scan and diagnose him, and finally flush the explosive sweat from Rygel’s body. She may bristle at the thought of being seen as a scientist — she’s only ever identified as a commando — but it’s clear that she relishes the idea that she no longer has to be limited to a single role. As for Pilot, we’re reminded once more of his own enslavement, forcibly bonded to the infant Moya, when he shamefully explains to Aeryn that he knows little of scientific data. He’s studying the ship’s built-in library, but he’s aware of how little he comprehends — which is why he feels able to confide in Aeryn: like her, the Peacekeepers only ever intended for him to serve in a limited capacity (as the ship’s navigator).

Ironically, Crichton — who is more at sea than any of his shipmates — is the one best able to adapt, largely because he doesn’t have a role in this new galaxy, and thereby has no reason to feel limited. He’s unable to find happiness, sure, but when he goes undercover, pretending to be Woodstock-stoned like the rest of the natives, he’s not unhappy, either. He’s just caught in the middle, doing his best to maintain the small slice of status quo he can call his own.

Unfortunately, focusing on the characters often leads to a muddled resolution — the plot itself is hardly as slick as the interactions forced within it. With Junior Chemist Aeryn’s help, Crichton reveals the truth about the tannot roots to the locals . . . by having Rygel piss explosively (literally) all over the place. For some reason, this snaps people out of their trances, including the paper doll of a villain, slow-talking Volmae (Angie Milliken), who, despite enslaving her own people on behalf of her Peacekeeper masters, suddenly has a change of heart. Her shallow plans make little sense, and they’re the largest blemish on an otherwise interesting episode. Then again, flaming piss. Who among us can argue with that?

Random observations: 

  • It’s one thing for Crichton to make references to Thunderdome when attempting to describe the primitive-looking planet they’ve landed on; it’s another for Aeryn to attempt to pick up Earth idioms, which is what leads her to exclaim that Volmae gives her a “woody.” (“Willies,” Crichton says, quickly correcting her. “She gives you the willies.”)
  • Oh, that Rygel, king at least of the smack-talk: “If I were warmer, I would have an appropriately venomous reply. Be warned. I owe you one.”
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