Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Farscape: PK Tech Girl

I'm going to attempt to squeeze in another Farscape rewatch right quick before heading off to Worldcon, so pay attention, because "PK Tech Girl" is an important one, for reasons which will soon become clear.

The crew of Moya finds a battle-damaged derelict Peacekeeper warship in orbit around a planet in the Uncharted Territories. This turns out to be the Zelbinion, the bad-ass Peacekeeper flagship or something, and pretty much the toughest ship in the Peacekeeper fleet. Coincidentally, Rygel had been held captive on the ship for an extended period before being transferred to Moya, during which time he was tortured by the sadistic Captain Durka. Chronically low on supplies as always, Moya docks and the crew search the Zelbinion for anything worth salvaging (and also to try and figure out what happened to the warship). The ship has already been effectively stripped by scavengers, but they discover a Peacekeeper technician, Gilina, hiding on the ship. She's from Crais' ship, and was left behind with a tech crew to investigate the derelict. Unfortunately, once Crais moved on in his hunt for Moya, a dumpy, lizard-like alien race called the Sheyang moved in and killed the tech crew. Did I mention the Sheyang can breathe fire? Well, they can, which is why they killed the techs so easily. But Gilinia--not the warrior type--hid, and subsequently survived. But the Sheyang return, and their weapons can destroy Moya before the Leviathan could undock and starbust away. So, in an attempt to buy time, Zhaan broadcasts a raging D’Argo tantrum, which makes the Sheyang back off. Nobody wants to fight Luxans. But D'Argo is uncomfortable carrying on the deception because it is not honorable. Meanwhile, Crichton and Gilina attempt to repair and install a damaged shield generator from the Zelbinion onto Moya. Crichton and Gilina get mighty cozy whilst doing so, and Aeryn gets jealous. They manage to activate the shield just as the Sheyang see through D'Argo's bluff. The Sheyang then launch fighters to attempt to penetrate the incomplete shield. One makes it through, and Aeryn battles the boarding party as Crichton and Gilina attempt to complete installation of the shield generator on Moya. Once the boarding party is killed, the Moya crew transmit a distress signal to Crais, at which point the remaining Sheyang flee. Moya then departs, leaving Gilina behind for retrieval by Crais. Oh, and Rygel confronted the dead corpse of Captain Durka, getting some closure there and overcoming his bad case of PTSD.

Commentary: This is it. This is what started my Farscape obsession. I first saw this episode in late 1999 or early 2000 on a visit to my parents. Flipping through the channels that Saturday afternoon, I came across this weird science fiction show on the SciFi Channel. It looked like nothing I'd ever seen before. It was weird with these bizarre, fire-breathing aliens and what looked like Muppets--sophisticated animatronic Muppets to be sure, but Muppets nonetheless. I was all like, "What the hell is this?" I couldn't make heads nor tails of it. I could tell there was complex interpersonal relationships going on, but I couldn't sort everything out beyond this apparent love triangle between the astronaut guy (Crichton) and the pixie blonde and amazon brunette. This show became something of an obsession. I absolutely did not understand it, and I had no idea whether I liked it or not. Do you have any idea how annoying that is? It's like an itch you can't scratch. I ended up catching the final three episodes of the season, and things clicked. Far from confused, I grokked the show and understood exactly where it was coming from, and what it was trying to do. I approved. I was hooked at that point.

So, what about the episode itself? Well, it carried on the fine Farscape tradition of using throwaway, placeholder titles for the aired episode. And it also introduced probably the single most disruptive element of the entire series in Gilina. Coming to this episode without any understanding of the Farscape universe, I picked up an instant chemistry between Ben Browder (Crichton) and Alyssa-Jane Cook (Gilina). This is problematic because up until this point in the series (which I have gone back and watched, after all) it's clear the showrunners intend for Crichton and Aeryn to become an item, but their relationship has been prickly and standoffish, without any substantive hints of romance. There've been glimpses of friendship, maybe, and grudging respect, but romance? Nope. Couple that with the fact that Crichton and Gilina's interactions are overtly sexually charged--apart from kissing each other, Gilina makes a sly reference to Crichton having an erection, the implication being that she's got a place she'd be happy for him to put it. This is good for the series, in that Gilina serves as a catalyst to jump-start the Crichton/Aeryn romance, but I'm convinced it worked too well. Instead of Gilina being a one-off plot device, she lives beyond the end of the episode. Her continued existence means Aeryn has a serious rival for Crichton's love--more than serious, as Gilina, being essentially an engineer/scientist has much more in common with the engineer/scientist/theoretical physicist Crichton than does the decidedly tech-unsavvy warrior woman Aeryn. How the writers handle this issue in the future is... awkward, to say the least.

Other than that, the episode is a lot of fun. The whole Sheyang thing is like some drug-induced SFnal trip, something that might've shown up in John Carpenter's Dark Star had Carpenter actually had a budget to work with. Rygel's PTSD is a small part of the episode, but pays off well in future episodes. And adding the shield generators to Moya also has payoff later in the series. In fact, this is the episode where Farscape stops thinking of itself in terms of standalone episodes and starts laying the groundwork for more complex story arcs. Oh, sure they had bits about Crais hunting them and bits about Peacekeepers having a presence in the Uncharted territories, but with this episode the writers channeled their inner Chekov and started hanging guns over the mantlepiece willy-nilly. There's a clear vision shift in this episode--albeit viewed in hindsight--and the series is set to soar because of it.

Crichton Quote of the Episode:: "They spit fire? How come nobody tells me this stuff? How come nobody tells me they spit fire?"

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1 comment:

  1. Last year I watched the whole series on Netflix, having seen only a few episodes when the show was on the air. Overall, I liked it, but I think that like many sci-fi shows, fell short of its potential. The introduction of Gilina in this episode brought some mixed feelings for me. Yes, I know Aeryn is the intended companion for Crichton, but Gilina is a lot more likeable and I think prettier.