Monday, December 23, 2013

Farscape: That Old Black Magic

My Farscape rewatch continues with "That Old Black Magic." I could've sworn I already wrote this up and posted it, but I can't find it anywhere. Bizarre.

While visiting a commerce planet, Crichton is lured into a trap by a jester-looking fellow who knows Crichton is from Earth and promises to help him return home. D'Argo and Aeryn find Crichton's body crumpled and unconscious in an alley--In reality, the being is Maldis, a kind of psychic vampire who feeds off hatred, anger and conflict. Crichton's spirit has been transported to an extradimensional labyrinth ruled by Maldis. Meanwhile, across the Uncharted Territories, Commander Crais, the maddened Peacekeeper who is pursuing Crichton for the death of his brother, receives a communication from Peacekeeper High Command, ordering him to break off pursuit of the fugitives and return to Peacekeeper space. Crais discusses the orders with his second-in-command, then retires to contemplate them. At this point, Maldis transports Crais to the same labyrinth as Crichton, forcing the two into conflict. To stoke the anger, Maldis pulls painful memories from Crais' mind--the death of his brother, their conscription by Peacekeeper command--all to undermine Crichton's desperate attempts to reason with Crais.

Back in the physical world, Zhaan learns from a local priest figure, Liko, that Maldis arrived some time before, killed half the planet's population and enslaved the rest. Liko's spiritual powers are too weak to defeat Maldis, but Zhaan, being a Delvian priestess, might be able to with Liko's guidance. The trouble is, when they attack Zhaan has to do so with intent to harm, which seemingly goes against her nature. Zhaan reveals that she has a violent history, which she's spent years trying to subdue and suppress within her spirit--but to save Crichton she is willing to unleash it. Crichton figures out Maldis feeds on conflict, so avoids Crais entirely. Maldis, frustrated and running low on energy, makes Crichton an offer: If he kills Crais so Maldis can feed, he'll then return Crichton to his friends. Crichton, worn down by running, agrees. He fights Crais, but just as he's about to kill his nemesis, Maldis transports Crais back to his Peacekeeper warship. The goal, Maldis explains, was to re-ignite Crais' burning hatred of Crichton so much that he'd bring the Command Carrier to the commerce planet, whereupon Maldis could take it over and then roam throughout the galaxy, wreaking havoc and feeding off the results. Maldis then moves in to kill and consume Crichton, but is surprised by Zhaan, who abruptly enters Maldis' spiritual labyrinth. Zhaan tells Crichton she's used her abilities to make Maldis temporarily tangible. Crichton doesn't need to be told twice, punching Maldis and reducing him to dust. Afterwards, Aeryn attempts to thank Zhaan by telling her she is much more of a warrior than Aeryn ever thought. D'Argo quietly informs Aeryn that her comment is quite possibly the greatest insult she could've inflicted on a Delvian priestess devoted to peace. Zhaan confesses to Crichton that she doesn't think she can suppress her savage side again.

Back on the Command Carrier, Crais asks his second-in-command if there's been any further communications from Peacekeeper High Command. When she says no, he kills her. She was the only other person to know of his earlier orders, and with her dead, he is free to redouble his pursuit of Crichton without anyone in his crew questioning him.

Commentary: Crais is back. Having seen the entire series, and the big role Crais played throughout, it's more than a little surprising to realize this is the first time Crais has appeared since the pilot episode. This was a deliberate strategy by the show runners, who wanted to prevent Farscape from becoming The Fugitive in space. That's kind of funny, really, when you consider that the series title was originally Space Chase. Crais shows himself to be the heartless bastard we all know him to be. When Crichton explains beyond a reasonable doubt that the death of Crais' brother was an unintended accident, Crais simply responds, "I don't care." Obviously, the re-introduction of Crais prods the series back toward the over-arching season narrative.

The episode also does some heavy-lifting to differentiate the characters from their Star Trek analogs. D'Argo, the Luxan warrior, is naturally equated to a Klingon (and more specifically, Worf from TNG) and Zhaan, the Zen-like Delvian priestess, is easily equated with the logical Vulcan, Mr. Spock. The revelation of her savage background reenforces that comparison, as Spock constantly works to keep his emotions in check (and "Amok Time" shows his savage background), but from here on out, Zhaan proves to be more unpredictable, dangerous and selfish than Spock ever was. That's an interesting development that goes against the expected character trajectory.

Crichton Quote of the Episode:: "It's not Kansas, and you're way too homely to be Auntie Em. Come here, Toto."

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