|Doesn't Rygel look regal on his trash can throne?|
Short review: Aliens hopped up on steroids kidnap Rygel. Worse, they have a piece of Moya. Worse still, Aeryn, D'Argo, and Crichton have to work together to get him back.
Rygel is humble
But only to save his ass
Look! It's Zhaan's ass too
Full review: The fourth episode of season one aired during Farscape's initial run, Throne for a Loss was actually intended to be shown as the fourth episode (unlike most of the other early episodes, which were originally aired in what appears to be almost random order). In the actual intended order, Throne for a Loss was supposed to follow Exodus from Genesis (read review) and precede Back and Back and Back to the Future. When it aired, however, Throne for a Loss was shown immediately after Back and Back and Back to the Future and immediately before PK Tech Girl. This is just another example of network executives cluelessly mangling a science fiction show because they don't seem to understand that disordering shows in a program that has well thought-out interrelationships between characters completely destroys any attempts at having characters believably change and grow and form evolving relationships with one another. I am convinced that, to a certain extent, the undeserved perception that televised science fiction has weak character development is at least partially the fault of idiot network executives who do things like cavalierly rearrange the order in which the episodes of science fiction shows air for no apparent reason.
One element that is clear at the outset of this episode is that the crew of Moya are poor, to the point that they struggle to feed themselves, and they are willing to try almost anything to earn some cash to keep their heads above water. Obviously, they are able to live on Moya, but it is in this episode that one starts to notice how sparse and bare it is inside, and how little other than their clothing Moya's inhabitants actually have. And this poverty drives the plot here - desperate to garner some income they agree to meet with a group of Tavleks who claim they want Moya to carry some cargo for them, but without knowing what that cargo might be, or apparently much of anything about the Tavleks. In anticipation of these negotiations, Rygel (Jonathan Hardy), D'Argo (Anthony Simcoe), Aeryn (Claudia Black), Zhaan (Virginia Hey), and Crichton (Ben Browder) all gather in the docking bay. As a side note, this is also the first episode of the series in which the Peacekeepers, other than Aeryn, do not figure at all.
|Rygel, neck deep in, that's mud isn't it? For his sake I hope its mud.|
The main plot of the episode is fairly simple: the Tavleks have Rygel, and consequently unknowingly have a critical piece of Moya's infrastructure, and the rest of the crew have to figure out how to get him back. But the real meat of the story is, once again, in the character development and the blossoming interrelationships between the members of Moya's crew. And much of the character development in this episode revolves around Rygel, who is forced to confront the fact that he isn't Rygel XVI, Dominar of Hyneria, but was deposed by his cousin and is living in exile. Much of the episode seems to be more or less "take Rygel down a peg or two" (and by switching up the order so that PK Tech Girl aired immediately after it, the network put two episodes sharing this theme back to back). In Rygel's interaction with his prison mate, Jotheb of the Consortium of Trao, Rygel goes from arrogant and self-promoting as he trades boasts about the size of his domains, to self-pitying as he confronts his captors' indifference to his presumed status (including their serving him his meal in a dish made from a skull), to finally acceptance that he is not important, but is just a political exile. But the interesting thing about Rygel is that he doesn't decide to expose his worthlessness to save himself from captivity, but rather only when Jotheb attempts to claim sovereignty over him. In effect, Rygel's admission of his own worthlessness is an act of self-aggrandizement in response to being told he would be subject to another. In his admission, however, he does admit that the other inhabitants of Moya probably hate him. No matter the motivation, this is a level of self-reflection that we rarely see from Rygel, and the decision to assign a fair amount of emotional heavy lifting to a character played by a puppet (who mostly interacts with another character played by a puppet in the episode) is a bold move on the part of the creators of the show. Fortunately, the special effects work is up to the job, and the episode pulls off this difficult feat quite well.
But Rygel dealing with the fallout from his shameless self-promotion is accompanied by the rest of the crew having to deal with it as well, because it turns out that in order to make an impression upon the Tavleks, Rygel fashioned himself a scepter using a critical piece of Moya's control mechanisms. And as a result, Moya cannot leave orbit, and is actually in danger of crashing to the planet. (If one was given to thinking about such things, one might wonder at the foolishness of flying about in a spacecraft which can be debilitated by the absence or failure of a fist sized piece of crystal that the ship apparently carries no spares for). Compounding this problem, during the firefight in which Rygel was taken by the Tavleks, the crew took one of the Tavleks captive and obtained his "gauntlet" weapon - which drives the two other plot lines that flow through the episode. This is because the "gauntlet" injects what appear to be various stimulants into the user in order to make him a more effective fighter, but which seem be highly addictive and bring out some pretty negative personality traits in those who use them.
|Are you ready for some football?|
But the episode is really about the characters and how they interact, and the Tavleks and their drug injecting gauntlet are more or less just a vehicle for this. Crichton opens up the episode making pop culture references about John Wayne movies while jousting with Aeryn a little bit over her desire to bring a weapon to the negotiations with the Tavleks (a level of paranoia that, as events demonstrate, proves to be justified). Though Crichton has been making pop references since the beginning of the show, this is the episode where this character quirk starts to really come to the fore - even if Crichton messes up by referring to Wayne's Mongol epic as Genghis Khan rather than its actual title The Conqueror. After Crichton saves D'Argo (Anthony Simcoe) from almost certain death at the hands of a Tavlek permitting the capture of the Tavlek in the process (an interesting and completely unremarked upon development in the series), D'Argo seizes the gauntlet and attempts to use it to prevent the flight of the remaining Tavleks. This sets in motion a round robin as first D'Argo, then Aeryn, and finally Crichton strap on the gauntlet to try and use its powers to solve their problems. The only trouble is that the gauntlet appears to inject a cocktail of stimulants into the user that, well, seems to enhance the user's personality in mostly unpleasant ways: D'Argo immediately becomes authoritarian and violent, Aeryn becomes aggressive and violent, and Crichton becomes, um, more task oriented? And well, violent.
(Also, given that they all use the same gauntlet, and it injects them with some sort of drug, doesn't that mean they've been sharing needles? The only thing I can think when a new person straps the thing on is "Eew".)
|Just part of Crichton's cunning plan|
Eventually Aeryn, Crichton and D'Argo all end up on the planet hunting for Rygel (Crichton unwillingly, as Aeryn knocks him out and drags him onto her Prowler) which leads to Crichton accidentally destroying Aeryn's pulse rifle and the revelation that D'Argo's Quolta Blade is not just a sword, but also a pulse gun as well. The only oddity about this sequence is that D'Argo hands over his blade (which happens to be the group's only weapon other than the gauntlet) to Aeryn, who is presumably untrained in its use (since she had no idea that it could be used as a pulse gun) rather than using it himself. The weapon proves to be quite powerful when she uses it to cover Crichton and D'Argo's flight from the Tavlek camp, blasting stone formations quite handily. This sets up D'Argo getting injured, which results in another physiological quirk for Luxans (to go along with their deadly tongue lash and high tolerance for heat), that is, that if they are injured one has to whack the wound until their blood stops flowing a dark red color and instead runs clear (which, when she pulls her hand off of D'Argo's wound near the end of the episode, ends up looking like someone poured Karo syrup on Aeryn's hand). It seems strange, however, that Aeryn would know this medical quirk about Luxans and yet not know the hidden use of D'Argo's Quolta Blade. Peacekeeper military training, it would seem, includes lessons on the anatomy of alien races, but not their weaponry. Or maybe Aeryn just missed class the day they went over weapon identification. But D'Argo's quirky blood flow requirements just highlights that the aliens in Farscape are all pretty damn alien, even when they look more of less humanoid, and even more so when they look like Jotheb (resulting in Crichton, in a fit of typical cluelessness, referring to Jotheb as a "critter" when he sees the four-throated, many-tentacled prisoner).
|So, using the addictive gauntlet is bad and . . . Oh!|
Is that Virginia Hey's very sexy blue ass? Why yes, yes it is.
But the bulk of Zhaan's story line in this episode is taken up helping her Tavlek charge through his forced withdrawal following the crew's appropriation of his gauntlet. She is caring, concerned, and nurturing. Her prisoner mistakes this for weakness, and he and the viewers soon learn that Zhaan is more dangerous than the previous episodes may have led one to believe. As she says "Soft, yes. Weak, no." And since this takes place out of sight of the other crew members, we know Zhaan is tougher than she looks, but presumably they do not. As the episode progresses, Zhaan's charge is weaned off of the drugs he had apparently been on his whole life (although I'll note that the time this takes is strangely telescoped as a result of having to run parallel in time with the rescue efforts on the surface).
Finally, all the plot lines converge as Crichton catches up with the Tavlek leader just as the stolen gauntlet runs out of juice. Crichton is then forced to try to negotiate Rygel's release. After trying out some fairly weak lies, Crichton hits upon the idea of simply telling the truth: Rygel is worthless, and the crew of Moya don't have anything to trade for him anyway - a point backed up by the Tavlek prisoner's testimony. Prisoners are exchanged, Rygel manages to crap out the missing ship part (having swallowed it for safekeeping when he was captured), and the Tavlek gets his gauntlet back, disappointing Zhaan, but pointing out that using it is "his choice" this time. And Zhaan, saddened, simply says "no sermons", and closes the episode.
In a real sense, despite a pretty bland story line, Throne for a Loss marks the true beginning of the show. Though the characters have been more or less distinct up until this point, in this episode their very distinct personalities begin to come to the forefront. Crichton's pop culture wisecracks, which had been present since the outset, shift into overdrive, giving the viewer a familiar anchor to cling to in a sea of strangeness. One can also see Crichton's growing familiarity with his new environment as, despite some missteps, he shows more confidence and initiative than he had in previous installments of the show, a development that, in my opinion, is what necessitated the addition of Chiana some episodes down the line, as it was no longer plausible to have Crichton need to be protected from harm. One also sees Aeryn and D'Argo begin to accept Crichton as part of the "fighting crew", although they do so quite grudgingly. Most important in the episode, we see both Rygel and Zhaan get some serious and quite interesting character development, fleshing them both out as more than merely "the pain in the ass" and "the doctor", but giving each of their personalities a more multifaceted aspect, and giving hints as to the complexities of their respective backgrounds.
Previous episode reviewed: Exodus from Genesis
Subsequent episode reviewed: Back and Back and Back to the Future
Previous episode reviewed (airdate order): Back and Back and Back to the FutureSubsequent episode reviewed (airdate order): PK Tech Girl
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