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Farscape: That Old Black Magic

When Crichton foolishly falls victim to a malevolent sorcerer, he is forced into mortal combat with Crais, whose thirst for vengeance has become even more intense. Meanwhile, Zhaan must tap into the dark side of her spiritual powers to save him.

‘That Old Black Magic’ is a fantastic episode for Zhaan, featuring the most in-depth exploration of her dark side yet. Just last episode, Zhaan was advising Rygel to confront his demons, lest they haunt him forever, and now, here she is, forced to confront and unleash hers. Unlike Rygel, who coped with his imprisonment by clinging tightly to his self-image, Zhaan underwent a transformation and turned away from the identity that got her incarcerated. She believed that when she became spiritually enlightened, she eliminated all her darker impulses; however, as we saw in ‘Throne for a Loss,’ the savage within is still there, Zhaan just keeps it under tight rein most of the time. As she’s forced to admit that she never really freed herself from her dark side, but merely buried it deep, we finally get a terrifying look at just how powerful and dangerous she can be. We’re talking Dark Willow territory here. We knew Zhaan could share someone else’s pain, but apparently she can also inflict extreme pain with her mind. Even more horrifying, she can completely drain the life energy of another person! Now that the savage genie is out of the bottle, Zhaan doesn’t know if she can put it back in. Poor Zhaan. She really had little choice about using her power as a weapon, but after seeing her attack Crichton when he was only trying to help her, we’re left to wonder if this really is the lesser of two evils.

On the flip side, Crichton’s adventures in Maldis’s inner sanctum were fairly tedious. The glimpse into Crais’s past and his motivations was informative, and it was good to explore the “if Crichton could only reason with Crais” scenario, but otherwise it was a bunch of overly staged fighting and over-the-top speechifying. The bizarre set design for Maldis’s lair (inspired by Alice in Wonderland and the Arcane Sanctuary from Diablo?) and his Goth Shakespeare styling didn’t help matters. The whole look was quite different from anything we’ve seen before on this show. Perhaps that was the point, but it all felt strangely out of place to me.

Although I clearly wasn’t thrilled by the trappings, I was glad that the story refocused on Crais’s pursuit of Crichton. While his presence has been continually felt, we haven’t actually seen Crais since the Premiere and he’s looking a lot worse for wear. It was a great idea to give Crichton the opportunity to try to explain himself to Crais, if only to disabuse both Crichton and the audience of the notion that he and Crais could just talk out their issues. What happened to Crais’s brother was so obviously an accident; I’m sure we’ve all been thinking that he’d relent if only someone could make him understand that fact. Of course, this being a television show, we should have known better than to think the primary conflict could be resolved so easily, but it wasn’t unreasonable for Crichton to think it was possible. Unfortunately, circumstances (and an evil incorporeal sorcerer) conspired to push Crais past the point where he could listen to reason. Even worse, he’s now murdering subordinates and gone off the grid with a renewed thirst for vengeance. Maldis really did an excellent job of royally screwing Crichton and his shipmates.

Other Thoughts

Virginia Hey did a wonderful job conveying the terrible weight of Zhaan’s choice and just how devastating the cost is for her.

I would accuse Lani Tupu of overplaying his scenes, but given the combined effect of Crais’s sleep deprivation, his grief, the pressure from his superiors, the weight of his father’s expectations, and Maldis’s prodding, I found the scenery-chewing, homicidal rage rather believable.

Maldis’s scenery-chewing, on the other hand, was grating. The scene in which he was cackling with glee? Please.

Crichton can be such an idiot. I understand he wants to get home, but a creepy jester who knows all your intimate details is not someone from whom you should accept invitations!

I was surprised to learn that Crais and his brother were recruited into the Peacekeepers. I thought all Peacekeepers were bred for duty, like Aeryn.

Was Liko (Zhaan’s purple tutor) a genetic cousin to Zhaan? Lots of cousin species in this part of the Universe.

I did not think it possible, but Rygel is even more insufferable when sick. Part of me enjoyed Zhaan inflicting pain on him.

Remember the Zhaan action figure I mentioned a few episodes ago? Well, it also came with one of those cute little multi-headed creatures with the tasty brains. In case you want to explore Zhaan’s dark side, I suppose.

Rygel deciding that Crichton was dead and conducting the Hynerian ceremony of passage --- all so he could claim John’s possessions --- was hilarious! “John Crichton, valued friend --- now wait a minute. ‘Valued friend’ is a bit of a stretch. John Crichton, unwelcome shipmate, may you have safe transport to the Hallowed Realm.”

One angry punch is all it took to disperse Maldis? One? Guess if you haven’t been corporeal for awhile you go down easy.


Zhaan: “You’re right I was once capable of cruelty, but now I have evolved past that.”
Liko: “Evolved? Try repressed. You’ve choked off all your real emotions.”
Zhaan: “That’s not true.”
Liko: “You think you’ve smothered your inner fire and found enlightenment, but all you’ve done is make yourself cold.”

Liko: “Are you afraid of Maldis? You can destroy him!”
Zhaan (in tears): “That’s what terrifies me.”

Crichton: “You think I attacked your brother? Oh yeah, I popped into the middle of a giant space battle and decided to go one-on-one with a total stranger in a far superior ship. Does that make any sense?!”

Aeryn: “What are you waiting for?”
Zhaan: “A third choice. Although I know there are only two. Let that evil flourish, or unleash another evil against it. How would you choose?”
D’Argo (earnestly): “I suppose I would choose the lesser evil.”

Crichton: “I tried to get clear. I didn’t mean for him to crash, and I’m sorry he’s dead. You understand that?”
Crais: “It doesn’t matter.”
Crichton: “Doesn’t matter?”
Crais: “It changes nothing. Tauvo is dead. Struck down by a weak, pathetic, inferior being. It must be avenged! I swear in Tauvo’s name, Crichton, you will die in my hands!”

Maldis: “Some eat plants, some meat. I consume the life essence itself. Preferably medium rare.”

Crichton: “We both stay calm and unemotional, he can’t recharge. We can starve him out. Come on, Crais. This may be our best chance.”
Crais: “I agree. Truce. My oath as a Peacekeeper.”
Well, now we all know what that’s worth, eh?

Zhaan: “You’re dying. Let me help you.”
Liko (gasping): “You already have. Maldis is gone. The price was worth paying.”

Aeryn: “Zhaan, I feel I must apologize to you for mocking your courage. I see now that you are more of a warrior than I ever thought.”
[Zhaan becomes visibly distraught and walks away.]
Aeryn: “What is the matter with her?”
D’Argo: “You called her a warrior. You could not have cut her more deeply.”

Final Analysis: While I liked the idea of the Crais, Crichton, and Maldis story, I didn’t much care for the execution. Fortunately, this episode is saved by the focus on Zhaan’s struggle with her darker self, which looks to have lasting consequences.

Jess Lynde is a highly engaged television viewer. Probably a bit too engaged.


  1. I completely agree with your review, Jess. Strong episode for Zhaan, but the rest of it didn't work for me at all. My cat was completely freaked by the shrieking two-headed bird, too. I did like Liko, who looked like a red version of Zhaan but with hair; in fact, I kept wondering -- if they had a baby together, would it be purple?

    Maldis' hidden temple whatever with the decorative square blocks looked very familiar to me. I'm sure the style was copied from Frank Lloyd Wright's Ennis House in Los Angeles, which has been used often for filming. The exterior was the mansion on Crawford Street on Buffy, and the interior was Harrison Ford's apartment in Blade Runner. It's a fascinating house; it looks like a crumbling Mayan Temple. We did a tour of it once.

  2. I have a simple questions: why are the Farscape reviews coming so slow? ;)

  3. Rafal, the retro reviews tend to go slowly because we're doing reviews of currently running shows, too.

  4. Yes, apologies for the slow pace, but it takes me a bit of time to do each review, and I've got the new TV season and non-TV responsibilities that keep me hopping. A lot of times, by the time I get a chance to focus on writing, I'm too tired to do it!

    I've been trying to post a new review each Tuesday, but I was out of town last weekend and that threw off my whole TV and reviewing schedule. I'm hoping to get back on pace this week. Again, I'm sorry they are coming out so slowly! If it is any consolation, my husband also hates that we are re-watching the series so slowly! :)

  5. I read a theory somewhere that Maldis is actually a rogue ancient. IMHO that makes more sense than him being more like a Stephen King villain. Tv tropes im sure i read it on.

  6. I did not really enjoy this episode as much as I thought I would. I cannot pinpoint on exactly why but it just didn’t do much for me.

    That said it was good to see Crais and Crighton go toe-to-toe in Maldis’ chambers, albeit not their physical selves but spiritual. And Maldis himself reminded me of another pantomime villain in Durka from the previous episode (PK Tech Girl) – all dressed in black leathers (presumably), manic smiles and cranky stares. However, Maldis was far too OTT to be taking seriously: I think the actor Chris Haywood playing him tried too hard in the hamming stakes and too things little too far for my liking.

    It was good to see the darker side of Zhaan and her mind-melding abilities, but typically she mastered her fears just in the nick of time to save John from a grizzly death by Maldis.

    Rygel provided the humour, and it was fun seeing him watching over John’s dying physical body while already working out in his devious calculating mind how to steal all of Crighton’s valuable assets – which quite honestly doesn’t come to much.

    And one final word on Crais – he really is an SOB of the most evil kind; the way he killed his second in command Lieutenant Teeg, left me quite cold and I resented him for it. But then again I guess the writers really wanted to remind us of how merciless this guy is and subsequently not to be messed with while he is so focused on getting his revenge for his brother’s death by John.

    So now I have come to my final paragraph, which is usually one for summing up, and yet I still cannot fathom why I didn’t enjoy this episode! It probably had something to do with the whole Maldis-Crighton-Crais mind games that I really couldn’t take seriously; it just fell a little flat to me, and the satisfying ending was never in question, which again disappointed me.


  7. This episode fell flat for me too. We got insight into Zahn and Crais, but Maldis was OTT and all caricature. Aeryn and D'Argo barely featured and i guess the shipper in me was anxiously awaiting some John and Aeryn interaction.


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