Farscape: “PK Tech Girl”

12/13/2011 § Leave a comment

Season 1, Episode 7. Writer: Nan Hagan. Director: Tony Tilse. Rating: A.

Yes, there are puppet characters on Farscape, lovingly crafted by Jim Henson studios. But these aren’t your ordinary hand-and-rod figures; they’re more the meticulously detailed creations you find in a high-level creature shop, the one that cranks out monsters and aliens for big-budget films. Those seeking proof need look no further than the opening shot of this week’s episode, a slow pull back from one of Rygel’s glassy, reptilian-slitted eyes, past the moist and flattened snout between those eyes, with as much attention given to the fine white hairs sprouting from the bags beneath his eyes as on the perfectly groomed tufts that make up his wizened whiskers and the eyebrows that run from ear to ear. Few shows would dare to zoom in on what we know are illusions (just as only the best magicians perform close-up tricks, which must be all the more impeccable), but on Farscape, characters come first.

Plot’s not far behind, though. The thing reflected in Rygel’s eye (and it’s telling that the special effects aren’t nearly as detailed as the Henson effects . . . or perhaps a reminder that it’s 1999) is the wreck of a large Peacekeeper ship. Crichton’s smart enough to want to steer clear of the battlefield (consider, after all, how big the thing that destroyed the ship must have been!), but he’s overruled by Aeryn, who is always up for finding more weapons (and, because of her Peacekeeper history, needs to know what happened), and D’Argo, who hopes to find maps in the “dataspools” that will help them escape the “uncharted territory” into which their flight has taken them. (This hasn’t been a problem in the last several episodes, particularly “Back and Back and Back to the Future,” but there are worse contrivances.)

As for the ship itself, and why we first see it reflected through Rygel: it’s the Zelbinion, the most fearsome ship in the Peacekeeper armada (even D’Argo thought it was invincible, and he’ll attack anything), and before it disappeared 100 cycles ago, it’s where a freshly deposed Dominar Rygel (130 cycles ago, if you’re counting) was first tortured. The scars are enough to scare him off his usual gleeful looting, and good old empathetic Zhaan is there to lend an ear . . . and to encourage him to face his demons — the malicious Durka. (You’ll feel sorry for the torture of a puppet, which is why the creature effects are so essential.)

Creepy as the dead ship is, what with all the long-dead corpses and the more recently murdered survey team (burned alive by the Sheyang, saurian scavengers who spit fire), the episode quickly turns over to the titular survivor, Gilina Renaez (Alyssa Jane Cook), a Peacekeeper “tech,” who provides updates on Commander Crais’s vengeful hunt for Crichton and on the repercussions of Aeryn’s traitorous actions, which have led to the demotion of her entire team to “grot” work like guarding PK tech girls. She’s also the first genuine damsel in distress white knight Crichton’s come across: she’s attractive, a scientist like him, and someone he might actually be able to bond with, assuming Aeryn and D’Argo don’t kill her first. Here’s his first attempt at pitching woo: “I try to save a life a day. Usually it’s my own.” His second attempt is much better,

So: you’ve got Rygel facing visions of the man who tortured him, Zhaan and D’Argo attempting to fool the returning Sheyang ship into standing down, and an awkward triangle sprouts up between Crichton and the PK Tech Girl and a suddenly jealous Aeryn (“In the beginning . . . I found you interesting”), as they attempt to use the Zelbinion‘s defense shield to protect Moya. There are also some interesting power struggles aboard the Sheyang ship: turns out they attack anyone who shows weakness, their own clanmates included.

There’s a lot happening at once, but it’s all contributing to the larger plot, and it’s developing each character, particularly Aeryn. We learn that her particular type of commando unit practically grows up together, and they spend their whole lives aboard their vessels; now that Gilina’s confirmed that there’s no returning home for her — and that even her old team, her “family,” wants her dead so that they might be reinstated — she’s forced to face reality. And when that reality contains a shot of Crichton kissing another woman, she has to run away without appearing to do so; she cannot handle the idea of someone who might reject her even thinking that she’s still interested. Black’s taut line readings and fixed stare are terrific. “It’s always a good idea to clear the air,” bumbles Crichton. “Very clear air,” she growls in response, but she knows she won’t always have something heavy to hoist up and hide behind.

It’s a bittersweet ending; forced into making a distress signal to the Peacekeepers in order to drive off the Sheyang, the choice is between killing Gilina or leaving her behind — any other choice runs the risk of Crais picking up their trail. And although Crichton wants to take her with them, he admits that “This is no way to live.” You hear it most in the the “irreversibly contaminated” Aeryn’s words to Gilina: “I hope you will only ever imagine how horrible it is to never return to the life that you love.” What a curse, never to return to your home. And yet, what a curse, never to return to the man you love, and although Crichton and Gilana can crack jokes about getting together on their next vacation, this is the harshest view of Moya’s circumstances yet, and things can only get grimmer.

Stray observations: 

  • Here’s the difference between humans and Sebaceans, according to Crichton: “We haven’t conquered other planets yet, so we just kick the crap out of each other.” As we’ll see later in the episode, they share similar action-hero tropes in their fiction, too, in which two strangers have time both to save the ship and make sweet, sweet love.
  • For the record, I admire Farscape for not leaning too heavily on the Commander Crais situation. The circumstance is that Peacekeepers are after Moya and our heroes, but it is not the main plot, which allows the writers to remain inventive in a way that the Stargate franchise (which eventually led to the cancellation of Farscape, so I’m a bit bitter) rarely was. (So far, they’ve shown up in the pilot and at the tail end of “Exodus from Genesis.”)
  • “Scan vector gappa”: a not-so great moment in science-fiction gibberish. On the other hand, Crichton calls one of the fire-breathing Sheyangs a “gasshole,” so we’ll call it even.
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