Monday, December 10, 2012

Farscape: Throne for a Loss

Farscape episode 4 Throne for a Loss
My Farscape rewatch continues with "Throne for a Loss." The fourth episode produced, there are several significant milestones reached here: 1) it's the first episode with a pun for a title, which will become a staple of the series; and B) the classic Farscape plot formula solidifies.

Moya's crew, broke and desperate for money to buy food and other things to sustain their flight from the Peacekeepers, decide to hire out Moya as a cargo transport.To increase their bargaining position, they make Rygel their frontman, as the greedy Hynerian Dominar knows how to negotiate and his regal heritage would give their business an air of legitimacy. Unfortunately, the Tavleks--whom they are negotiating with--are in actuality ruthless mercenaries who abduct Rygel to hold for ransom. During the skirmish, one of the younger Tavleks is knocked unconscious and taken prisoner by Moya's crew. They discover the Tavleks use a sophisticated gauntlet weapon that injects the wearer with an addictive drug that increases aggression as well as strength and stamina. Zhaan attempts to comfort the hostile young Tavlek as it goes through withdrawals while Crichton, Aeryn and D'Argo plot a rescue of Rygel from the planet below. Although most of the crew would happily abandon the pompous Rygel, the Hynerian covertly "borrowed" a crucial circuit crystal to decorate his royal scepter, rendering Moya's propulsion system inoperative. Simply put, they need to get it back.

In turn, D'Argo then Aeryn put on the gauntlet as they try to gather information and logistics necessary to free Rygel. In turn, each is left exhausted and nearly helpless once the gauntlet is removed and the drug leaves their system. Rygel, for his part, is nearly killed during an escape attempt by the occupant of the cell next to his--the octopoid Jotheb, next in line of succession in the Consortium of Trao--revives Rygel and announces his empire will pay Rygel's ransom in order to absorb the Hynerian Empire into his. Rygel mocks him, admitting he'd been deposed and no longer has any official standing on his homeworld. Finally, Crichton puts on the gauntlet and attacks the Tavleks, but in the middle of the firefight the gauntlet runs out of drug, leaving Crichton helpless. After a series of fanciful lies fail to sway the Tavleks, Crichton admits the crew of Moya has nothing of value and negotiates a straight-up swap of Rygel for the captured young Tavlek.

Commentary: "Throne for a Loss" is interesting for several reasons. First and foremost, it feels like a Farscape episode, whereas the previous episodes merely had flashes of that vibe. Part of this, I think, results from the fact this was the last episode filmed in the Australian style--that is, two episodes simultaneously. This approach (judging from commentary tracks) proved difficult with such a complex series, and the actors and directors had trouble keeping the plots straight during filming. They switched to the standard American one-episode-at-a-time schedule for all subsequent episodes. For the first time, D'Argo shows his Qualta blade can transform into a Qualta rifle. Also, when D'Argo is wounded, we learn that Luxan physiology is susceptible to deadly infection unless the wound is cleansed by the blood "running clear." As significant as those revelations are for the future of the series, Virginia Hey provides the episode's WOW! moment with full backal nudity, complete with elaborate blue body paint depicting her alien Delvian physiology. Just remember, Rebecca Romijm may have impressed audiences in 2000's X-Men movie by performing clad only in blue body paint, but Virginia Hey did the same thing a year earlier.

I also quite liked Jotheb, and felt the non-humanoid alien the best effort by Jim Henson's Creature Shop (excepting Pilot, of course) to this point. As the series progressed, I halfway hoped to see this race again, and maybe follow up on his grudge against Rygel. Alas, it was not to be.

Finally, the infamous "I have a plan" rears its head in all its glory. Previous episodes--including the premiere--had some low-key variation on this, but "Throne for a Loss" is special in that for the first time the grand plans fail spectacularly and disaster is averted only through urgent improvisation. Think of it like Scooby-Doo in space: Each week, an elaborate scheme is concocted to capture the ghost/monster (or in this case defeat the alien menace) which invariably fails at some crucial point. Mayhem ensues. Then the heroes somehow salvage victory from certain defeat. That is, in a nutshell, the Farscape formula. A lot more gets added to the mix as the series matures, but at the heart lies Crichton's failed plans. It's wildly entertaining stuff, and I can't wait to see more of it.

Crichton Quote of the Episode:: "That's your plan? Wile E. Coyote would come up with a better plan than that!"

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