Saturday, May 21, 2011

Review - Farscape: Thank God It's Friday . . . Again (Season 1, Episode 6)

Digging for space turnips
"Today is the last day of the work cycle. Tomorrow is a rest day" - Ka D'Argo

Short review: D'Argo takes up the life of a farmer, Rygel begins exploding, Aeryn has to do some sciency stuff, and Crichton has to figure out why everyone seems to be going insane.

After hyper-rage
Kha D'Argo works and parties
It's Friday again

Long review: This sixth episode of Farscape opens with yet another alien quirk: D'Argo (Anthony Simcoe) is in the midst of hyper-rage, a condition that leads him to want to kill Crichton (Ben Browder). One of the great elements of Farscape is the fact that the aliens are alien in their physiology. So far we have learned that Sebaceans cannot regulate their body heat, Hynerians fart helium when they are nervous or angry, Delvians can accelerate their actions to incredible speeds, and Luxans must bleed clear to prevent infection and now, they fly into a hyper-rage every now and then. The list of alien biological quirks is stacking up fairly quickly. They may look kind of like humans, but they are definitely not like us.

Unable to find Crichton, D'Argo apparently sets off to a nearby planet, but since Crichton doesn't know this he keeps hiding. While showing John video of enraged D'Argo Aeryn (Claudia Black) points out that they couldn't find him for three days after the Luxan left the ship, and comments upon how he must have had a lot of practice hiding. This is the first of Aeryn's quick-witted lines, and while we've seen glimpses of the sardonic and sarcastic side of her personality this is the episode where she really starts to come into her own. When Crichton wonders why he was the target of D'Argo's hyper-rage, Zhaan (Virginia Hey) says it was because he was the only other male, prompting John to ask the obvious question: "Well, Spanky here's male. I think, sort of. I mean, how come he's not after you?", in reference to Rygel (Jonathan Hardy). Other than Rygel growling "D'Argo knows better", there isn't much of an answer to this, one of the few times the series sort of ignored the fact that Rygel is supposed to be a full-fledged character. But I love every instance in which Crichton calls Rygel by the nickname Sparky, so that can be overlooked.

In search of D'Argo, and hoping that his hyper-rage has dissipated, the four mobile members of Moya's crew head off to the planet that he absconded to. We get a short view of the area they are landing in, which looks like a giant office building surrounded by not much of anything. Once on the surface, they find the planet hot, even though it is night, to such an extent that concern for Aeryn's well-being is immediately voiced. Upon seeing the red-clad, heavily tanned and blond natives, Crichton has to make an Earth-reference, bringing up Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, or at least Mel Gibson and Tina Turner, which is very apropos as Farscape was filmed in Australia as well. Deciding that the best place to find D'Argo is at a party, they stroll into an intergalactic rave, complete with generic television dance music.

Once inside, John comments on how the natives appear to be Sebacean, a suggestion to which Aeryn reacts quite negatively. John retreats to calling them kissing cousins to the Sebaceans, "just like humans", which drives Aeryn to hyperbole, stating that if it is ever shown that human are related to Sebaceans she'll let Palmolian meat hounds tear all the flesh from her bones. Well, maybe not Aeryn. Another funny little element in this scene is that Aeryn carries a pulse rifle with her the entire time. Not only does no one stop her, including the rather effeminately dressed guards in black mosquito nets standing by the entrance, no one even seems to notice she's packing a military rifle to a party.

Crichton notices D'Argo dancing along with the rave just as D'Argo notices him, and begins to run away as D'Aargo chases him. Once he catches Crichton, D'Argo begins to give him bear hugs, leading to Crichton to wonder "This is the end of hyper-rage? I get hugged to death?" And then the opening credits roll. One thing that should be clear now that the show is hitting its stride is that Farscape packs a lot into each episode.

As the group assembles around the now-found D'Argo, the wayward Luxan informs them that he is happy and wants to stay with the Skyarans (as the locals are called) and has taken up a life as a laborer. In the three days he's been away from Moya it seems that D'Argo has sunk some pretty deep roots. Aeryn reacts badly to D'Argo's new found love of farming, asserting that he's a warrior and not a laborer - a glimpse into Aeryn's view of the world, and coincidentally of her place in it, both of which will begin to be seriously challenged in this episode. D'Argo reminds her that he has been a prisoner and a fugitive for longer than he was ever actually a warrior, which is an interesting angle as well, since much of D'Argo's time as a fugitive seems to have been spent fighting threats to Moya and her crew, which one might think would count in the "warrior" column of the ledger. D'Argo heads off with one of the very blond, very attractive Skyaran women. As he walks off, Aeryn voices her belief that D'Argo has lost his brain, which seems to be her thinking any time a man of her acquaintance is in pursuit of sex. On the other hand, as this episode comes right on the tail of Back and Back and Back to the Future in which D'Argo admitted that he pretty much did lose his ability to exercise any kind of judgment over a woman, she does have a point.

I'm really pale. I'm totally stoned.
I'm also in charge. I think. Maybe.
Since a motley assortment of a half-dozen aliens wouldn't be unnoticed on a planet with a seemingly homogenous population, the remaining crew get a visit from Volmae (Angie Milliken), the pale and seemingly stoned out of her mind leader of the Skyarans. Later we learn that the Skyaran leader was supposedly picked at random, but seeing Volmae, who, with her white skin, white hair and red eyes, appears to be an albino amidst a society of tanned people living on a hot and sunny planet, I wonder if that is true. If she actually is an albino, Volmae certainly would have a difficult time participating in the everyday work that most of the populace seems to engage in harvesting tannot root under the harsh and unrelenting sun. her appearance does certainly mark her as different than all the other inhabitants of the planet, as do her all white clothes which stand out in the sea of red outfits that surround her. Zhaan takes the lead here, engaging in a little personal diplomacy, and introducing all of the other crew members each of whom responds in their own idiosyncratic way: Crichton flashing a peace sign, and Rygel pausing from stuffing his face only long enough to belch. Volmae's words are welcoming, suggesting that the travelers are welcome to stay as long as they wish, but her mannerisms are so creepy and off-putting that Aeryn tries to use a human colloquialism to express her thoughts, with humorous results:

A woody? Did you really just say that?
Aeryn Sun, "She gives me a woody. Woody. It's a human saying. I've heard you say it often. When you don't trust someone or they make you nervous, they give you-"
John Crichton, "Willies. She gives you the willies."

With that, the party breaks up and the crew heads outside. While everyone else is paying attention to other concerns, Crichton is accosted by one of the local women and told that he must stay on the planet. Aeryn voices the opinion that since D'Argo wants to stay, they should leave him, return to Moya, and head elsewhere. Crichton rejects this idea, saying they have to get D'Argo back. But other than the meta reason that Anthony Simcoe is a regular cast member on the show, one has to wonder why. Unlike in Throne for a Loss where recovering Rygel was necessary to recover the part of Moya he had absconded with, there is no real compelling reason why getting D'Argo back on Moya is required. The only connection between them is a few months on Moya, Crichton and Aeryn don't even have the shared experience of Peacekeeper incarceration with him. This is one of the instances in which the characters on Farscape seem to behave like a typical group of role-playing game characters: D'Argo is part of the group designated as special, so they must get him back. No other reason need be given. This sort of clannish behavior on television shows often takes place, but usually they have some reason to be together, which at this point in the show is more or less absent.

Meanwhile having gorged himself to bursting, Rygel heads off to relieve himself and promptly finds himself in the middle of an explosion. He claims that someone tried to assassinate him, but Aeryn, continuing her barrage of sarcastic biting commentary, snaps "No one knows you here. Only the people who know you want to kill you." The crew then agree to split up, with Zhaan and Crichton staying planetside in order to try to get D'Argo back, and Aeryn and Rygel leaving to go back to Moya and the B-plot.

Zhaan and Crichton quickly locate D'Argo's new home, pointing out the rather obvious fact that as the only Luxan around he stands out among his neighbors. Zhaan and Crichton try to convince D'Argo to come back to Moya, but he asserts that he is content. What makes this conversation unsettling is that in the three days that he has been on Skyara D'Argo appears to have picked up the same speech mannerism displayed by Volmae. D'Argo cuts the conversation short, telling his crew mates that the next day is a rest day and he will be able to show them the wonders of Skyara in the morning. He apologizes for only being able to offer them the floor to sleep on, which is odd, since he pulls down a Murphy bed as he says this, which means they aren't actually going to sleep on the floor. He then opens his bedroom door and we get an idea of what D'Aargo's priorities for the night are as the lovely blond he left the party with is busy stretching in the bedroom. It seems that the "long time" that D'Argo brought up in Back and Back and Back to the Future has ended. One thing that rearranging the order of the shows did was move Back and Back and Back to the Future from episode five in the season, which placed it directly before this one, to third in the season, which meant that Throne for a Loss and PK Tech Girl came between the two in the inexplicably reordered original airing of the show. As a result the longing expressed by D'Argo in Back and Back and Back to the Future was distanced from the events of those taking place in Thank God It's Friday. . . Again, diminishing the connection between D'Argo's desire and the fulfillment of those expressed desires.

Left alone, Zhaan and Crichton bed down for what seems to be an incredibly uncomfortable night for Crichton. Zhaan, being an overtly sexual being, is clearly unashamed of nudity, or intimate closeness with a friend. Crichton, on the other hand, carries the baggage of human culture around with him, and is clearly uncomfortable sharing a bed with Zhaan. And even more so when her hands wander as she sleeps. So Crichton is visibly relieved when Aeryn calls in with an update on the B-plot. While Zhaan and Crichton have been trying to convince D'Argo to leave Skyara and spooning, Rygel continued to periodically explode despite being returned to the presumably safe environs of Moya. Aeryn quickly figures out that Rygel's bodily fluids have turned explosive, leading to her call to John for help. He tells her to deal with it, and offers the advice that she shouldn't let Rygel eat or drink anything, which makes the gluttonous Hynerian whimper. Aeryn, for her part, is trepidatious about doing what she calls "tech stuff", a clear connection to her disdain for D'Argo's new found fondness for "labor" expressed at the beginning of the episode. With no one available to help her save for Pilot (Lani Tupu), Aeryn is forced into a role she does not want.

I am the Resistance!
I am armed with worms
and I'm not afraid to use them!
In the morning, D'Argo tells his confused crew mates that he has to go work. Apparently the new day is the last day in the work cycle and the next day will be a rest day. Given that the previous night D'Argo had told them that this day would be a rest day, both John and Zhaan both find this odd. Given that this episode is supposed to follow on the heels of the time looping events of Back and Back and Back to the Future, the seemingly artificially induced Groundhog Day effect is an interesting thematic contrast when juxtaposed with the real time travel of the previous installment of the series (which is of course lost in the stupidly reordered arrangement of the opening episodes). Following D'Argo to work, they find themselves in a crowd of Skyarans walking to the fields grabbing packages of fairly unappetizing looking food along the way. Once in the fields, under the bright sun, one begins to wonder: If the Skyarans are supposed to be related to the Sebaceans, why aren't they affected by the heat? For that matter, how did the Sebaceans, with their ridiculously exploitable vulnerability become a military power? For example, even if Peacekeepers wanted to rule over Skyara, they could not conduct a military campaign in the daytime. In any event, Crichton sees the woman that accosted him the previous night and follows her, and is then grabbed, dragged into a railroad car, and has a worm the size of a corn dog stuck through his navel. (I have to question the insertion of objects into people via their navel. Television shows seem to use this as a catch all "get into the character's gut" avenue, but the last time I checked, it really wasn't an orifice). He is then told that he must eat, if he tells anyone that he has a worm inside him that Volmae will have him killed, and is then abandoned. We then get a somewhat psychedelic scene as Crichton rolls around looking distraught and trying to eat. Though we only saw Browder's "Crichton going insane" face for the first time in the previous episode, it shows up again here. For anyone who has not seen the series, I'll just say that you should get used to this look. While Crichton suffers from the effects of having a giant worm crawling around his stomach (and wait, how did it get into his stomach through his navel, maybe we shouldn't ask some kinds of questions . . .), Zhaan spends the day with D'Argo digging up what look like the largest turnips in the universe. Zhaan describes her own decision to become a Pa'u, comparing her rapid decsion to enter the priesthood with D'Argo's apparent snap decision to devote himself to farming root vegetables. But as the conversation progresses Zhaan becomes more and more enamored of the work D'Argo is doing, and by the end of the day she too is a convert to the wonders of digging in the mud on Skyara.

Peace out bro'
This presents a problem for Crichton as he now has no one on the planet he can confide his new wormy state to, for fear of being turned in and killed. Instead, they all head out to the nightly rave party, where Crichton is introduced to his Skyaran worm-providing friends. Actually, they introduce themselves by putting a gun to his back and marching him over to their leader, a turban wearing man named Hybin (Ken Blackburn) whose daughter Tanga (Tina Thomsen) had been Crichton's first contact. Exposition flows heavily in this scene as Crichton is informed that the tannot root that they spend all day digging up is the cause of all the weirdness around him: It makes most of those who eat it more pliable. And all of the food on the planet is made with tannot root, so except for those who have "the worm" and those rare few who are naturally immune the broadcast instructions direct their daily activities, including apparently the repeated instruction that tomorrow will be a rest day. Hybin instructs Crichton that he has to act like he's affected by the root or he will be killed, repeating his earlier admonishments, which leads to a hilarious scene with Crichton and Volmae where he clumsily tries to conceal his non-drugged state (which she leads off by clumsily flashing a peace sign at him, in imitation of his similar greeting at the opening of the show), and she clumsily tries to interrogate him. Crichton proves to be laughably awful at acting the part, but it is okay, because Volmae is pretty bad at questioning him, whether this is because she's just dimwitted, or because she is drugged in some way, or because she is just used to everyone following her orders is not clear. In the end, Crichton manages to not get himself killed and lives to go to bed when the party ends.

Rygelsicle. At least he won't blow up.
Back in the B-plot on Moya, Aeryn has flash frozen Rygel to keep him from sweating - and frozen Rygel is pretty ugly and cute at the same time. After Aeryn accidentally breaks off one of Rygels frozen whiskers, Pilot suggests that Aeryn shouldn't touch any of Rygel's other protuberances. Umm, thanks Pilot. I suppose he is going for the title "Captain Obvious". Aeryn is frustrated, as she claims she has no affinity for science, turning to Pilot and insisting that he is more skilled at doing this sort of work than her, which brings a somewhat unexpected revelation: Pilot says that although he is the navigator of the ship, and responsible for maintaining all of its functions, he is not particularly good at scientific research. Pilot, via Moya, has access to large databases of scientific information, but admits that he is unable to understand more than a small fraction of it, illustrating the difference between cataloging and comprehending. This is an interesting revelation about Pilot's knowledge and also an important point in the developing relationship between Pilot and Aeryn, as he notes that he trusts her. And as Farscape is built on the personalities of the characters and more importantly on the relationships between the characters, this is one of the critical sequences in the episode. Punctuated by a few calls to Crichton for moral support of dubious quality, Aeryn tackles the problem, eventually figuring out what is causing Rygel's sweat and other bodily fluids to explode, but more importantly overcoming her hesitation about doing "tech" work. To a certain extent, this character development for Aeryn parallels the character development experienced by Rygel all the way back in I, E.T. where he had to overcome his fear of failure to help Moya except that this time it is Rygel in need of aid, and another individual must step out of their comfort zone to render it. Rygel later complains about Peacekeeper's being killers, which results in Aeryn snapping back that "a Peacekeeper saved your life". Maybe so, but on the run, and under the influence of her crew mates, Aeryn is becoming more than a Peacekeeper. One can only speculate what the Sebaceans could achieve if they were freed of their apparently harsh police state existence.

Look at my giant space turnip. Isn't it lovely?
Back on Skyara, Crichton wakes to the now familiar refrain that "this is the last day of the work cycle and tomorrow is a rest day". Seeking answers, he Shanghai's Tanga for a heart to heart conversation and discovers more about the tannot root: it was brought to Skyara from another world, its cultivation was forced upon the Skyarans, and they ship most of each crop off world twice a year. The root is apparently also destructive - whereas the Skyarans once planted a variety of crops and their world was a lush, green place, they now plant nothing by tannot and the world is slowly turning into a wasteland. When Crichton questions how Volmae could have allowed this to happen, Tanga points out that she is under directions from the outsiders, and she would be killed if she refused to obey. Despite being creepy and weird, it seems that Volmae is as much an enslaved victim as the rest of the populace. With the plot needing to move along, we get a scene between Volmae and Crichton where she escorts him through the warehouse district of Skyara. After asking him some questions about space, revealing her provincialism and the yearning to escape her dying world, Volmae reveals the vast storage area filled with tannot root and asks if Moya could carry it all. What she also inadvertently reveals is a huge collection of Peacekeeper banners, finally solving the mystery of exactly who the outsiders are who have imposed their will upon Skyara. Volmae demands that Rygel and Aeryn return to the planet and they commence loading Moya full of tannot, deducing that if the root has value to the outsiders, it must have value elsewhere. Despite her apparent dippiness, Volmae is at least a little bit clever.

Smile, we're arguing.
Crichton calls in the troops, bringing Aeryn and Rygel to the surface as Volmae asked. Once down, Crichton and Aeryn have an argument over how to handle the situation, but since they are both supposed to be under the influence of the tannot root, and therefore happy and cheerful they are forced to wear fake smiles through the altercation. In the end, Crichton's plan wins out, a plan which consists of taunting Volmae into the street and having Rygel pee explosive urine all over the place. And with that the A-plot and the B-plot come together: it turns out that tannot root is useful for making chakin oil, a necessary component of the ammunition for Peacekeeper pulse weapons, and coincidentally what Rygel's body naturally processed the tannot root he consumed into. So added to the list of strange elements of alien physiology we have the Hynerian quirk that when they consume tannot root their body makes rifle ammunition. Once Crichton presents this information to D'Argo and Zhaan, they immediately change their minds about staying, which is understandable. Volmae takes a little more convincing to persuade her that her plan of loading up Moya with as much tannot root as it can carry and zipping away is a poorly thought out one. Instead, Crichton offers her the much more insane plan of making weapons using tannot root and fighting the Peacekeepers, which Hybin endorses and Volmae signs up for.

Negotiation by means of explosive urination.
Having set the denizens of Skyara on a suicidal course for confrontation with the Peacekeepers, the crew of Moya return to their ship. Aeryn, exercising her freshly acquired medical skills removes the worm from Crichton. One question that pops to mind at this point is why Zhaan doesn't perform this procedure? Aeryn has demonstrated some skills in basic science, but she's still an amateur who was pressed into service by exigent circumstances. Zhaan, on the other hand, is an expert in this area. Having Aeryn do the work is more or less like having an EMT perform surgery when you have a surgeon on hand. EMTs are good at what they do, but when you have the expert you go with that option unless there's some compelling reason not to. In the course of her work, Aeryn expresses the opinion that she is not a scientist, but that she is, inf fact, superior to the other members of the crew.

And what is Zhaan doing while Aeryn is performing shuttle bay surgery? She's talking to D'Argo about his dreams. It seems that D'Argo harbored two dreams before his incarceration. In the first he was a warrior performing deeds worthy of memorializing in song. In the other he was a family man with a wife and children living a simple life. D'Argo confesses that Skyara was so attractive to him because he thought he might find a way to fulfill the second dream there. D'Argo also expresses that while on Skyara he felt an attraction for Zhaan, which she states that she would have reciprocated. She also consoles him saying that his dreams are not out of his reach. The interesting subtext here is that unknown to Zhaan or any of the other members of Moya's crew D'Argo already had fulfilled one of these dreams before he was imprisoned, and he will essentially fulfill the other before the end of the series. As usual, this episode of Farscape ends on a reflective note, building the relationship between Zhaan and D'Argo.

Viewed in the correct order, Thank God It's Friday . . . Again is a strong link in the chain of episodes developing the individual characters of Moya's crew and their web of interrelationships. Coming on the heels of the actual time looping in Back and Back and Back to the Future the false time looping makes for an interesting thematic contrast. When viewed in the correct order the reappearance of the Peacekeepers after two episodes in which they were absent makes the revelation of their banners in Volmae's stockpiled tannot root an unexpected development. But the bizarre reorganized order in which they shows were aired throws all of these elements away. Because I, E.T. was shown after this episode, all of the character development in this episode and all the previous ones evaporates and the characters go from working together more and more closely to acting like they don't know each other at all. And all of the character development in this episode between D'Argo and Zhaan which is reflected in their close working relationship in PK Tech Girl is wasted, because PK Tech Girl was aired before this episode. In short, by airing the episodes out of order, the SyFy network executives decided to make the early parts of the show make no sense. Aired in proper order this is an interesting and entertaining episode. Aired out of order, it is far less so.

Previous episode reviewed: Back and Back and Back to the Future
Subsequent episode reviewed: PK Tech Girl

Previous episode reviewed (airdate order): PK Tech Girl
Subsequent episode reviewed (airdate order): I, E.T.

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  1. I've never watched. Is the super pale woman the former Borg queen from Star Trek?

  2. @Julie: No, though the acrtresses do look similar, Volmae was played by Angie Milliken and the Borg Queen was played by Alice Krige.