Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Farscape S1 Ep10: They've Got A Secret

It has become readily apparent to me, despite my late arrival to the series, that Farscape [1999-2003] has quickly attained the rank of one of my all-time favorite science fiction adventures based solely on Season One. Whether or not the series retains that affection beyond Season One is to be determined.

Farscape is at once an exhilarating thrill-ride and contemplative journey on ideas old and new. There is often a fresh new resonance to old concepts as well as unanticipated approaches to science fiction principles. there is no question the creators and writers spin ideas on their heads and often leave the viewer with unexpected revelations that defy expectations. The new Battlestar Galactica [2004-2009] took that same approach and worked wonders within Ronald D. Moore's mournful universe and reimagining of the more hopeful original by Glen A. Larson. Farscape defies similar probabilities by plopping our Earth hero in a topsy-turvy, far-out universe where even ships can give birth. Of course, with Farscape, there is a strange, but delicious balance, between the seriousness of situational drama and humor. Stargate Atlantis [2004-2009] and Stargate SG-1 [1997-2007] certainly used humor to great effect as well, but Farscape is just plain odd at times in the most imaginative of ways. That defiance of science fiction convention is what makes the series so special. You relish every unexpectedly colorful turn. Like the classic Star Trek: The Original Series [1966-1969], even some of the weaker moments in the series offer the science fiction fan something the eyes, ears and mind can celebrate. This is why Farscape ranks among the very best even next to the classics.

If there was ever pause to illustrate just how different Farscape is from any other science fiction series, it would have to be the latest installment, whereby the spotlight is on the living vessel itself, a Leviathan called Moya.

Starlog Magazine #261 really delivers on the premise that is genuinely highlighted in this episode. "Farscape is not a typical 'ship' show, like Star Trek. And the Moya is not a typical starship. 'This is not a ship a ship with any form of military hierarchy on board,' says O'Bannon. 'This isn't the Enterprise. This isn't Babylon 5." Indeed, there's rarely anything typical about this sparkling series. Farscape is the real deal and like the unique mothership that is Moya, this is a one of a kind series all its own.

Welcome aboard. It's Farscape, Season One, Episode 10, They've Got A Secret. For a series so utterly filled with aliens and technicolor it never ceases to amaze me how Farscape is perhaps one of the most human science fiction adventures ever created. It takes human ideas, concepts and realities and dresses them up like no other, but it maintains all of the emotion that we as humans connect to. The creators never veer away from the emotional core of its cast of characters making it all the more real.

The entry begins as the crew attempts to locate installed or semi-installed Peacekeeper devices that have been sewn into the ship that is Moya. Peacekeeper technology was integrated within her.
Despite John Crichton's observation that the team remains in the Uncharted Territories, Aeryn Sun wisely cautions that Moya could get close enough to Bialar Crais to cause re-activation of some of the Peacekeeper mechanisms aboard her.

Ka D'Argo informs Pilot he has discovered some on-board Peacekeeper equipment. Despite Pilot's inaudible instructions he attempts to remove it physically. He is shocked, rocked back and thrown deep inside Moya sliding through a long shaft to an eventual halt. D'Argo proceeds to kick out a Peacekeeper plate causing an explosion, which jettisons him outside of the ship purging him like excrement to a potentially grim fate. The episode offers Moya a physical sense of dimension and the sloping effect of corridors gives viewers a genuine feel of space and internal structure to the living ship.
D'Argo is picked up in his floating frozen state and returned to Moya after 30 minutes in a miraculous life-saving attempt. Efforts at reviving D'Argo return him with smiles as he looks into the Delvian P'au Zotoh Zhaan's eyes and recalls his former lover Lo'Laan.

Meanwhile, our dear Leviathan shakes and rumbles. Crichton is concerned about Moya. Pilot is uncertain and Crichton wonders if Pilot is well. Pilot indicates D'Argo's last known location was Tier 21 speaking to a tier system within Moya.

Pilot is attempting to send DRDs [Diagnostic Repair Drones] to assist Crichton and Sun who are investigating. Unfortunately all is not entirely well with Pilot. As a creature sharing a symbiotic relationship with Moya, he is feeling uneasy clearly affected by whatever it is troubling Moya.

Crichton is bemused by the very fact he walks within a living ship and can only make a comparison from his world to Jonah and The Whale. The reference is to an Israeli prophet in the 8th Century B.C. from The Book Of Jonah who was swallowed by a big fish or whale. The same reference could imply the scenario created for Walt Disney's Pinocchio [1940]. There's further suggestions that reminisce of Richard Fleischer's Fantastic Voyage [1966] and the idea of exploring the internal complexity of the living body. Here, each week, we have a team, a family literally living inside a creature. They've Got A Secret amplifies that suggestion as powerfully as any episode to date. Though, Episode 3, Exodus From Genesis is perhaps the greatest complement to this sense of physical exploration, which makes sense given both episodes share the same scriptwriter.

When Crichton and Sun do find the DRDs they are busy repairing a hole in Moya. They in turn strike Sun with a purple glue-like substance. Crichton intervenes before further damage is done. The DRDs, Moya's answer to the human autoimmune system, protect her, but why are they attacking her previously acceptable passengers?

Crichton finds Zhaan who is attempting to work on the unconscious D'Argo. Crichton presents the purple "superglue"-like substance to Zhaan in the hopes she may have some ideas so that he might release Sun who is stuck elsewhere.

Zhaan is unable to raise Pilot. It appears D'Argo ingested some bioparticles that were clearly part of Moya's defense system or body during the explosion.

Finally, Sun is able to break free from the purple jello mold thanks to a Zhaan-concocted solvent applied by Crichton. Sun and Crichton wonder if it's not a viral weapon implanted by the Peacekeepers. Is it bio-mechanoid or something more capable of affecting Moya as well as Pilot and D'Argo. All kinds of hypotheses are bandied about as the crew of Moya is left to scratch their heads.

Escorted to his quarters D'Argo dreams of Lo'Laan and looks lovingly at Zhaan who goes along with his delusions, like a daughter or son might with their aging parent. Zhaan finally asks "Who is Lo'Laan?"

Elsewhere, Crichton learns how Sebaceans are inoculated against "Space-transmitted diseases" as he calls them. Crichton is moved by the advancements in this farscape. "Disease and death are rampant on my world." This is a terrific little scene delivered by Ben Browder with his usual twist of wry humor at the end.

Things continue to go from bad to worse concerning Moya's functionality within established norms. Refrigeration is down and something smells in Denmark. Pilot reports to Crichton and Sun that he is seeing intentional signs of sabotage to Moya. Crichton even notes the DRDs are repairing one another. The DRDs see their humanoid passengers as something of a foreign, potentially harmful invader to Moya.

Pilot is sick. His vitals are weak. Sun is able to take Pilot's controls and get things stabilized on the rocking ship. In a nice bit of arc-building and story connectivity, Crichton tells Zhaan he suspects Sun has some natural inclinations to work Moya's controls. Thanks to the Pilot DNA insertions made on her while in the care of Namtar in Episode 9, DNA Mad Scientist. There's an interesting interrelationship between Sun and Pilot that will be revealed in Season Two. Zhaan insists Pilot's biological influence was flushed from Sun's body. Crichton isn't so sure.

Moya is quickly usurping all control of her vessel's functions. Atmospherics is all that remains.

Rygel arrives in D'Argo's quarters snooping around the goods because Rygel, to this point, is undeniably the most self-absorbed of the crew. D'Argo awakens and calls him Jothee and demands he come close to him. D'Argo hugs Rygel. D'Argo continues his fantasy speaking with his perceived son Jothee and offers the viewer information concerning of his life prior to his arrival on Moya.

The lights and air are begin to cease function. These facilities merely benefited the crew, as part of the symbiotic connection, and Pilot controlled these functions. Pilot is currently unavailable and Moya is in charge.

Sun reports that Pilot's blood is nutrient-starved. Crichton suspects a virus and humorously pipes to Sun then "get him some nutrients."

Zhaan has determined this is not the work of a virus, and that particles are distinctly Moya-derived. Sun investigates further.

Rygel is tucked in by D'Argo under the illusion that he is Jothee. D'Argo continues pining for Lo'Laan.

Crichton finds D'Argo and tells him things are pretty dire, but Crichton is perceived by D'Argo to be Mackton, the disapproving brother of Lo'Laan, the woman D'Argo married. Slipping from his delusion, D'Argo informs Crichton he saw a Peacekeeper shield "holding something back" down in the shaft tier. His clarity is ephemeral. D'Argo isn't much help as Crichton calls him "short-circuited."

Crichton is blocked by DRDs and must find another route. Sun is doing her best at the controls. Finding another route, Crichton runs into hundreds of DRDs clearly in a defensive posture. It's like Harrison Ford running from the Stormtroopers in Star Wars as they fire upon him and he makes a run back sliding toward the entrance hole where he is greeted by more DRDs on the other side. Sun manages to shut down the DRDs. Sun explains the DRDs are vital to services. There is still a lack of clarity by the crew over the DRDs new found role. Everyone is still in the dark concerning Moya.

Zhaan, Crichton and Sun attempt to make sense of Moya's intentions regarding the DRDs. Is Moya trying to kill the crew?

Crichton wonders if shutting down Moya might not be the only way to save her "and us."

Elsewhere, Rygel is getting a piggyback ride as that subplot continues. D'Argo arrives with Rygel in command and turns to Zhaan whom he believes to be Lo'Laan and he kisses her. It is a sweet, loving moment as Zhaan not only allows D'Argo his brief moment of happy escape, but seemingly allows herself one moment of flight too. It is gentle. It is kind. It is loving. It is Zhaan who gives him that. This is the kind of emotional current the writers find time to inject into the often strange proceedings. Through all of the tension and ignorance over the criticality of their situation the writers find that opportunity to break down the character walls.

The folks behind The Muppets rarely hesitate to infuse, inject or insert ;) sexuality or sensuality into this Farscape. Amidst all of the crew's problems, D'Argo reveals much about his past in the episode including the death of his wife at the hands of her brother Mackton. Heartbreakingly, D'Argo sent his son Jothee away against his wishes because he was charged with Lo'Laan's death despite his innocence. D'Argo reveals much to his crewmates as they mirror aspects of his past life. Mackton arrested D'Argo. Mackton was a Peacekeeper. Mackton was Sebacean. Lo'Laan was Sebacean. Tears fall from Zhaan's eyes with this discovery. Powerful family secrets are revealed as the running theme in They've Got A Secret.

Sun informs the crew she has found the physical connections to Moya's higher functions. In order to sever the link she must physically cut them. This is significantly traumatic. Once again, the surrogate family is faced with another violent physical act reminiscent of the act forced upon Pilot in DNA Mad Scientist. Sun refuses to do it alone unless everyone agrees. "This isn't my decision alone. If I do this, we all have to be apart of it." They do. This is just one more building block between this group of survivors who continue their journey learning about what each holds dear in their hearts. How far are they willing to go in making dramatic, severe decisions?

Crichton heads into the shaft. Sun has cut through the protective casing of Moya's system cables. Once again, it's worth noting the sets and the colors. Crichton's space suit is exquisitely conceived and is notable in a long line of amazing spacesuits to grace science fiction television from Star Trek: The Original Series to UFO and Space:1999 or Battlestar Galactica to Stargate Atlantis. Each have produced some incredible costume designs. Farscape is populated with beautiful production work.

Traipsing down the inner walls of Moya's (uterus or intestine?) internals, Crichton discovers something very special indeed. As Sun begins cutting Moya's higher functions, Crichton announces something profound. Moya has a baby! Moya is pregnant! All of the the hypotheses that seemed so logical throughout the episode go out the window. Moya has been simply trying to protect its unborn child and its efforts to nurture the baby Leviathan. As Sun nearly finishes the cutting of the life-giving cables, everyone shouts for her to stop! A baby's life depends on it! Sun ceases just shy of inadvertently taking Moya's child.

This is a powerful moment of realization.

Like Star Trek: The Original Series Farscape is an unabashedly great looking production filled with color. The suggestion of abortion and that accompanying debate is not lost. There is a visual and atmospheric intensity here that speaks to that issue and how life and death here resonates in the future landscape of Farscape and the survival of Moya's offspring will be revealed in time. Such ideas are always powerful and profound. Consider the late Steve Jobs born in 1955. No one can deny the global impact of the man on technology and the way we communicate and yet his parents immediately placed him up for adoption rather than resort to abortion prior to his birth. This is certainly a considerable reality for reflection. In the fictional universe of Farscape, what will decisions of the crew mean going forward?

Crichton reaches Moya and somehow Moya is taught to understand their symbiotic relationship may persist and endure without harming her unborn child.

Pilot explains his role to Crichton that he is there to serve Moya and "she may do whatever she feels is necessary to ensure her survival." This extends to the fetus, which is alive and well.

Crichton believes The Peacekeepers didn't want it to happen. Efforts were made to prevent reproduction.

Sun inquires if D'Argo is okay and he thanks her for saving him in the Prowler.

This is a powerful exchange that speaks volumes about the barriers that are falling between these comrades on the run. Sun is changing and this openness is leading to a softening in others like that of the warrior heart of D'Argo. These are the moments that build friendships and families.

While the entry tackles the concept of health and disease, it is a red herring for something far more logical and beautiful - the gift of life. This natural reaction of a mother to protect her young is mis-perceived throughout the entire episode. As lives are nearly snuffed away, the secret is discovered that these were but actions of an overprotective mother. What greater presentation of the things we as humans value and connect to so vividly than the maternal nature of a living ship. Once again, as far out as Farscape takes us, it somehow manages to keep us close thanks to its extraordinary ability to present human pain, joy and celebration in such an inventive and magnificently affecting and real manner. Our courageous ship and crew harbor many secrets and, yes, they've all got them from Moya to D'Argo and everyone in between. Don't we all? Does it get more human than that?

Director Ian Watson was brought on board for the entry as a character-centric, performance director. The creative team behind Farscape looked to place some of the action-oriented artists, Tony Tilse, Andrew Prowse and Rowan Woods on hold, to breath life into the entry, and breathe life they did. This would be Watson's first of many directorial entries in the series. Ironically, this solid entry would be writer Sally Lapiduss' second and final outing for the show following her other worthy tale, Exodus From Genesis, but she certainly lends the story a sensitive, maternal touch amidst the general Farscape pandemonium.

Looking at the big picture, They've Got A Secret places the child at the center of the story, D'Argo's son Jothee, and more importantly Moya's baby. Could the symbolism of such a moment be any less significant for the crew that is Moya? Children are at the heart of any family. The crew of Moya are now actively looking to protect one of their own together. With the Peacekeepers on the prowl, they've got a very big secret indeed.

They've Got A Secret: B. Writer: Sally Lapiduss. Director: Ian Watson.

Pop culture reference: John Crichton: "Is there some kind of What To Expect When You're Expecting A Baby Leviathan book - Dr. Spock, Mr. Spock?"

Director Footnote: Ian Watson. Director of 15 episodes of Farscape. Four episodes in Season One, four episodes in Season Two, five episodes in Season Three and two episodes in Season Four.


Todd W in NC said...

I've been watching/re-watching Farscape lately too. I'm up to early season 3. I don't think I'm warming up to Farscape as deeply or as quickly as many people do.

I do appreciate the premise, the alien-ness of the characters, and the production value, even if I don't always like the plotlines of individual episodes. Plus, I feel they did hit their stride in late season 2.

As for this episode, I don't remember being crazy about it, mostly because of the awkward hallucinations of D'Argo. But, it wasn't bad either. If I had graded episodes as I went along, I probably would have given this episode a "B" too, maybe a "B-".

The ScapeCast podcast recently reviewed this episode as well. They ranked it high because of it having so much foreshadowing and setup for future storylines. I caught some of their references; others may not have been realized yet. One of the four hosts even gave the episode 10 out of 10 DRDs. Among the four, the average score was 8.75 DRDs.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Hey Todd

I think you and I are looking at this one fairly. Fans of any series sometimes tend to what I would refer to as overgrade.

Those rose-colored glasses tend to cloud judgment for the reality of a show's qualities. OF course, these things are subjective and no two opinions are necessarily the same to be sure, but I don't see how this one would get 10 DRDs. : ) I loved your comment though.

To be fair, there are some interesting things going on and the episode heavy female-injected tone does foreshadow events to come. But all of the foreshadowing aside, we probably need to look at an episode on its own merits too and I think this is a GOOD episode with a number of fine elements.

TOuching on a few of your earlier points my friend I will say this, I've been watching Season Two and apart from the season opener and THE WAY WE WEREN'T I am not fully on baord with the rhythms of that season despite its unconventional approach to many things. I'm only at the midway point, but Season Two has not been as strong for me as Season One was. So your point is an interesting and valid one. I look forward to seeing where this goes.

But again, this is why I specifically underscore my affection for the series solely on Season One in the first paragraph. Beyond that, it's all to be determined.

Cheers for stopping.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Also, again, I will note that I really appreciated the efforts by Sally Lapiduss behind the pen on this one. It feels different because of her approach, but I like her perspective and do feel it will be unfortuate not to have her voice going forward in the series.