Farscape: Self-Inflicted Wounds

Jool: "Do you know how much these shoes cost, young whore?"
Chiana: "For me, three sex acts. Probably double that for you."

Official Synopsis:

Part I (Could'a, Would'a, Should'a): While searching for a planet to heal the dying Zhaan, Moya collides and fuses with a small spacecraft, seriously injuring Moya and trapping both ships in a series of looping wormholes. Crichton and the captain of the other ship, Neeyala, soon realize that one of the ships must be sacrificed if any of them are to survive.


Part II (Wait For The Wheel): Hoping to preserve their own ship at Moya's expense, Neeyala's crew has been sabotaging Moya and hastening her disintegration. Crichton and the crew must battle not only the saboteurs but also a mysterious and deadly alien serpent. As the situation worsens, the only possibility of saving Moya requires that one of her crew make the ultimate sacrifice.



If memory serves me right, when the creators of Farscape were questioned about the resurrection of Aeryn they referenced Star Trek, more specifically The Search For Spock. Effectively, what they were saying was that if you are going to take such a drastic step as returning a character from the dead, there must be palpable consequences to that action, defining it both as a miracle occuring under very specific circumstances which can never happen again and as something that comes with a price tag, unless you're going to cheapen the impact of death in a series.

These are the consequences.

This is by far the messiest two-parter of Farscape, which is sort of an accomplishment in itself. The pacing can only be described as schizophrenic, with different parts of the episode simultaneously speeding away and dragging along, and some of the dialog had me looking like a living question mark. Yes, I admit. I cheated. I went through the 'net and looked at every other critic I could find to see how they'd handled the material. To my dismay, I found out that nobody had managed to write a sensible breakdown of this double-feature. I can't promise I'll succeed, but I will try.

The plot points are as follows:
  • An alien ship crashes into Moya next to a wormhole leaving them both stuck between subspace and normal space with the currents starting to tear them apart.
  • Realizing that only one ship can make it out alive, the alien crew starts to sabotage Moya to make sure she will be chosen as the sacrificial lamb, prompting a fight between the two forces.
  • Since the alien ship is a research vessel specializing in studying wormholes, John's sense of judgment is compromised due to his ever-growing obsession with the same.
  • For unknown reason a Giant Space Serpent™ is roaming the halls of Moya and must be dealt with.
  • An immensely obnoxious redhead, Jool, is woken from her sleep in one of the cryotubes and spends the rest of the installment being alternately snotty, condescending, screaming or feeling homicidal against Crichton for using her cousin for spare parts.
  • D'Argo and Chiana deal with the fallout of their broken relationship, Aeryn worries about John's sanity, and Stark is growing increasingly mad realizing they may not be able to save his loved one.
  • ... oh, and Zhaan is dying.
Somehow, they managed to jam all of these developments into one two-parter...


In order to analyze this mess, I believe it's important to understand that the so-called "main story" isn't important. The crash between the starships, the encounter with the alien crew, the conflict between them and the weird subspace monster are only there to up the action quota and introduce a life-threatening situation presenting a dilemma forcing Zhaan to sacrifice herself for her ship and her shipmates. In a narrative sense there's no further benefit to this storyline.


As a vehicle for causing the death of a shipmate, the plot is a disappointment, with Zhaan losing her life merely due to a "wrong-place-at-the-wrong-time" alien-of-the-week encounter. At the very least, I think it would have been more poignant to link her sacrifice more directly to Aeryn's salvation, but the conclusion of the two-parter is nevertheless well done and emotionally resonant.

The problem for me with how we get to that point is that this is what the installment should have focused on. Going into this, we knew the show was playing for Zhaan's life. Throwing in empty threats - threats we know the show won't follow through on - to the lives of John, Pilot and Moya, such as the literal cliffhanger of part one, serves no purpose apart from diluting the experience, lending a haphazard tone to what could have been a powerful character piece and closure.


Still, the various romantic subplots all reinforce the notion that actions have consequences. Chiana's relationship with D'Argo is all but destroyed after her vaguely incestuous tryst with his son and losing Zhaan leaves Stark emotionally damaged, developing a strange fascination with Aeryn. These developments aren't something the show will just forget. Most importantly, Farscape doesn't cheat its viewers, and that is to be commended.

- I resent you calling me here on a whim.
- That's the way it works, Harvey, you don't like it I could toss you back in the dumpster.

If we're to talk about John, the most interesting part of his journey sees him sliding even deeper into the ethical gray zone. This is a person who's been through so much over the last seasons that he's almost starting to gravitate towards Scorpius' way of thinking. Obsessed with finding a way home, he seems more preoccupied with the research data from the enemy ship and his wormhole excursions than with the lives of his shipmates.

The most significant development is how he spent the last part of the previous season trying to get rid of Harvey, but here we actually have him call on him for a discussion on how to handle the situation. That's all the proof we need to know he's starting to lose his moral compass.

As a side note, it's rather clear why the creators of the show chose to have the exorcism of Harvey fail. The interactions between John and Scorpius are a highlight of almost every episode they're in, and it'd be a shame to throw that away.


Now, the "operative function" of this installment is "trading Zhaan for Jool", with Jool being defrosted in the opening minutes, and based on these first two episodes one may be forgiven for feeling a bit letdown. Right now she's mostly a nuisance whose only redeeming quality - to some - might be her stunning looks. However, without delving into spoilers she'll end up a rather neat character helping a lot with the "moral alignment chart balance" of Farscape, so I don't really mind.

In summary, this installment makes all the right choices when it comes to furthering the main plot, but it does so in an extremely shoddy way, thus robbing it of some of its impact.

5 comments:

Mallena said...

The big blue lady was never my cup of tea. She was nice and had some good moments, but I'm always happy when I get through these episodes, because it means that the show is really about to get good. Jool is obnoxious at first, but becomes more interesting. I love Harvey, he brings in a lot of comedy with the drama, but also in a whacky way, he gives John someone he can talk to, someone who understands him.

Thomas Ijon Tichy said...

>The big blue lady was never my cup of tea.

That was a thing that gave me pause as well. I figured maybe I wasn't the right person to review this installment because I never much cared for Zhaan.

Billie Doux said...

I always liked Zhaan. Although maybe I just liked her because she was big and blue and bald. It wasn't something TV had done before with a female alien character.

Mallena said...

Zhaan was only interesting to me when she got annoyed at Rygel, or showed some emotion other than that zen stuff. She was a little like a mother figure for a show that didn't really need one. The action on this show really amped up when she left. That is not a criticism of the actress, she gave it her all and was a key player in many an episode. Things just got darker and more desperate in later episodes, and that's how I like it.

Thomas Ijon Tichy said...

To me - and this is something that has no place in my review because this is personal thus I post it as a comment - my main problem with Zhaan is how the character is a philosphical diametrical opposite to myself. To me she was a generic "One with Nature" stereotype, and I hate those. I'm a Futurist, more specifically a Marxist Constructivist. I don't believe in "ancient wisdom" or "Mother Gaia" or any of that stuff, and while she was certainly never a "bad guy" and her actress was adequate, her entire character just... grated me. However this is a very specific complaint and it's also quite political in nature. Maybe it's too off-topic even for a comment ;-)