Thursday, June 23, 2011

Farscape S1 Ep8: That Old Black Magic

It's time for Farscape and there's nothing old about the fresh zest of the dark magic found in the latest tale, Farscape, Season One, Episode 8, That Old Black Magic.

The crew exits Moya for an off-vessel excursion in search of medicine for Rygel. The creators intentionally alternate or mix stories between Moya-centric space settings [PK Tech Girl and Back And Back And Back To The Future] and planetside adventures [Throne For A Loss and Thank God, It's Friday Again]. The effects, as usual, are mighty impressive and stil hold up.

The blue humanoid Pa'u Zotoh Zhaan encounters a red-skinned humanoid, Liko, offering her some of what she needs. The two exit to barter. Crichton wanders off into a market-styled bastion of alien lifeforms. He encounters a jester-like fellow bedecked in rainbow colors who offers to wash away his problems. Crichton scoffs and begins walking away.

The man hollers to Crichton, calling him by name, that he can fix up his "crummy life." Crichton's interest is piqued by the stranger's knowledge. He knows Crichton is looking to find Earth again, but that he is hounded by Peacekeepers. The omniscient being captures Crichton's attention. Crichton fancies the man as something of a scam artist, that is until he notes Crichton skipped third grade and lost his virginity to a girl named Karen Shaw in the back of a mini-van. Good times, but not the kind of information you expect strange men to know. To add to the normally bizarre world of Farscape the man giggles and tickles Crichton's private part. It wouldn't be Farscape without the allusion to sexual displays from time to time.

Like a moth to a lamp, like a fish to a worm, Crichton takes the bait and finds himself transported inside the nearby castle. He is greeted by a magician, sorcerer-type fellow named Haloth [secretly a powerful villain named Maldis]. And so it begins.

Elsewhere, in Liko's quarters, Liko inquires as to whether Zhaan is a twelfth level Delvian Pa'u. She confesses she is a mere ninth level Pa'u. There's an almost erotic connection between the two. Zhaan is indeed a sensual being. The two discuss a particular stimulant sure to enhance the conjugal experience. Liko recommends she try it alone first suggesting auto-erotic masturbation, but the advice takes on greater implications in Farscape Season One, Episode 11, 'Till The Blood Runs Clear. The show certainly has a way, not only with sexual situations, but sexuality and sensuality.

Inside the castle, Haloth alludes to his knowledge of Bialar Crais and his quest for revenge. The series cuts to Crais inside his ship. He is clearly pushing the boundaries and the tolerance threshold of his crew. Marauders are under-fueled and pilots exhausted in Crais' insatiable, deranged quest to find Crichton. His second-in-command reports she has received a priority message from high command. Crais informs her she is to meet with him inside of his chamber.

Meanwhile, Haloth urges Crichton to communicate with Crais in order to calm his irrational thirst for revenge. As Crichton grows keen to the idea his little mystery friend disappears.

In Crais' quarters, he views the request by High Command to cease pursuit of Moya and retreat from the Uncharted Territories suggesting he is in hot water indeed. Crais is simply obstinate and unwilling to reverse course from his personal mission of vendetta. He releases his second-in-command who is poised to assume command should he refuse High Command's request to return. With no other record of the transmission, Crais destroys the small data chip provided by her. With the blink of an eye, Crais is transported to Haloth's castle for a Mano a Mano duel between he and Crichton.

Haloth, the elder magician, grows weaker as he grows older. Fortunately, the hunched magician transforms into a younger representation of himself feeding off Crais' hatred for Crichton as the two are introduced. Haloth is magical being called Maldis.

Outside, Ka D'Argo smells Crichton. Aeryn Sun and D'Argo run to the physical body of Crichton which lies unconscious outside of the castle. Clearly, inside, Crichton and Crais are spiritual embodiments of their physical selves. Zhaan is summoned to aid Crichton.

Lani Tupu returns to the series for the role of Commander Crais and is quite impressive once again. He really never ceases to amaze in his dual role as both Pilot and Crais. Crichton believes Crais to be a hologram, but these holograms are clearly physical representations susceptible to death resulting in the death of either unconscious, physical vessel. Crichton is disinterested in battling Crais who is thirsty to fight. The insanely mad Maldis laughs at the reality of his broken contract with Crichton informing Crichton he can talk to Crais "just don't expect him to listen." His hand, sliced in battle, is mirrored by a physical gash to his hand on the unconscious body that lays before Zhaan outside of the castle. Crichton's body will assume the scars of battle live or die.

Liko informs Zhaan informs her friend Crichton is "as good as dead," and that they too will be next. The sorcerer that is Maldis is a vile creature, a "cruel and malevolent being." He feeds on "pain and death, tapping into the life energy of others." The vampiric, virus-like Maldis, invaded Liko's planet killing half the population. Liko was once a high priest. He battled Maldis and too weak, he ultimately lost. Liko remains alive as a play thing for Maldis. Unimpressed, Sun suggests arming themselves and going in to rescue Crichton with guns blazing. Sounds good, but not likely to work against a sorcerer.

The cat and mouse game inside the labyrinth of Maldis is on. Sun and friends return Crichton's corporeal body back to Moya for safety. Sun scoffs at Zhaan's attempts at Delvian mysticism clearly preferring the Peacekeeper methods of physical brute force to be applied to the situation. Rygel, selfishly annoyed and unimpressed, is still complaining of his own illness. D'Argo quickly slaps a snot-like substance on his nose. D'argo doesn't slap the snot out of Rygel, but rather on him.

Elsewhere on the planet, Zhaan suggests combining her powers with Liko. He questions her willingness and ability to cross the necessary line to kill if required. He questions her commitment. Zhaan turns to the high priest with a bit of anger informing Liko she once was capable of killing offering us a glimpse into her past.

The spirited battle between Crais and Crichton continues as Crichton gains the upper hand with a pole to Crais' throat. He desperately attempts to educate Crais that his brother's death was an accident. It simply isn't working. Meanwhile, Liko trains Zhaan on her ability to inflict pain by trying it on a small two-headed alien bird, known as a food source for the delectable taste of its brains when eaten raw. Zhaan is clearly troubled by this. She is pained about having to travel down a road she clearly knows and once lived. It bothers her to return to this dark place, but she persists. She is emotional and insists she has "evolved." Zhaan is terrified most of killing again. She knows she is capable, but clearly concerned about returning down that dark road unable to escape it once again.

Crichton attempts some good, old-fashioned American diplomacy on the tyrant Crais. The dramatic exchange between a frustrated John Crichton and a doubting Crais [a Doubting Crais- I like that] makes for a terrific sequence. Crais clearly believes there may be something to what he's saying despite his Peacekeeper ways and instincts.

Maldis is right there to mess with the mind of Crais. Maldis presents an image of Bialar's father and the images of both he and his brother [whom Crichton killed] as young boys moments before Peacekeeper recruitment. The backstory lends considerable empathy to the Crais character. His father impresses a tremendous responsibility upon Bialar as a young boy. Caring for his brother, Tovo, was placed on his young shoulders at a fragile age. The images display a tale that presents Crais in a much more positive light, which lends a bit of understanding to who he is. Crais never wanted to be a Peacekeeper. He was handed over to them by his father. Whether it was voluntary or not is undetermined. Crais explains to Crichton he and his brother were selected for Peacekeeper training. He makes every effort to convince himself that it was a great honor, but somehow Crais doesn't truly believe that. Further, Maldis presents an image of his brother Tovo as an adult to thrust Crais into a rage against Crichton. Tovo dissolves into a flaming skeleton before his very eyes. Maldis incites Crais into a blinding rage. There is little way to reach him with reason.

Outside the castle, Sun and D'Argo have returned fully weaponized. "Right, let's do it." D'Argo is certain the castle-like structure is protected by an evil spell. Sun scoffs at the notion. This is an interesting moment between Zhaan, Sun and D'Argo. Zhaan is genuinely emotional as a tear streams from her eye. D'Argo senses her distress and is sympathetic in his own way.

No matter what Crichton does he cannot break through Crais' demented sense of vengeance. No pleas for understanding or forgiveness will reach his crazed heart. Ben Browder is very good with Lani Tupu in these quiet moments. Tupu offers a powerhouse performance in the episode and is one of the installment's highlights.

Crichton is a sharp individual, as we already knew, and understands the complex nature of this vampire's ways. Through Maldis Farscape offers another twist to the age-old vampire tale.

Zhaan returns to Liko and his creepy two-headed sqwaking bird. Rygel communicates to Zhaan when Liko informs Zhaan to cause pain to Rygel from a distance. He insists she do it. Together the two touch and send great pain toward Rygel in effect ceasing his endless complaining. Zhaan is displeased with her actions, but is sure of what must be done.

Back on Commander Crais' ship, his second-in-command stands loyally by his restful side informing all subordinates refrain from contacting High Command unless expressly ordered by her. She remains intensely loyal to Crais.

Outside, Sun and D'Argo our held motionless by Maldis' spell. Crichton, unwilling to give in to Maldis' thirst for strength at the expense of Crichton and Crais in a death match, continues to reach that part of Crais that might still remain of good sense. Crichton simply proposes a truce, in essence, to stop Maldis. He pleads with him to remain "calm and unemotional." Despite Crais' promise "as a Peacekeeper" to refrain from harming Crichton, he merely lies. He ultimately turns on him in his quest for vengeance no matter the cost. Crichton's will to live and intellectual capacity to understand a situation aids him in his battle against Maldis. Crichton manages to gain the upper hand on Crais long enough to get him to run.

Back on Moya, Rygel confides in a comatose Crichton officially declaring him dead and claiming the right to all of his possessions. Leave it to those Hynerians.

Meanwhile, Maldis torments Crichton while he slams his shoulder into a wall to repair the dislocation from his engagement with Crais. Maldis tells us how Crichton dislocated it once before in a motorcycle crash. Crichton turns to Maldis, "What's the matter Maldis blood sugar level getting low?" Maldis replies, "Yes, I'm getting tired of appetizers. It's time to dine." Maldis attempts to motivate Crichton by informing him only one of the two men has to die. Crichton is "all done!" He's had enough talk trying to reason with Crais. He believes his only option may be to fight. This is a major turning point for the character of Crichton. He moves to a new offensive level in the series with this episode. Where he maintained a defensive posture out of survival up to this point, diplomacy is no longer the only option. His efforts have been fruitless. This is about survival and negotiation no longer has a place. The gloves have come off as they say. Elsewhere, Zhaan and Liko prepare for their mental insurrection against Maldis. He goes over the rules of engagement with Zhaan. No weakness. No hesitation. No mercy. They are going in.

Crais and Crichton square off face to face. Their showdown, while intensely violent, lasts mere moments. Just as Crichton tastes his own bloodlust for the first time, he is but mere moments away from twisting the neck of Bialar Crais before Crais suddenly disappears in thin air returned to his ship.

Maldis informs Crichton he's in it for ownership of Crais' command carrier, a Peacekeeper "death machine" - "carnage on a truly massive scale." Crichton now realizes Maldis has only stoked the flames of Crais' desire to pursue him. With the arrival of that ship to the planet, death will feed the sorcerer a feast beyond riches.

Inside, the attack begins, Zhaan's eyes roll, turn blue and she and her partner arrive to stop Maldis from killing Crichton. As Maldis begins sucking the lifeblood of Crichton from his body in true technicolor red, the good guy, it's Zhaan to the rescue. She envelops Maldis' head in a swathe of blue flickering technicolor light. Her powers have made the mighty weak and with Maldis' physical body capable of harm Zhaan implores Crichton to strike him down while she has him contained. A single body blow by Crichton dissolves Maldis into a heap of shredding red light. Crichton reawakens aboard Moya. Sun and D'Argo, too, are freed from their relegated bit parts in this week's installment.

Back aboard Moya, Crichton reawakens to hear Rygel's lies of how the Hynerian revived him. Crichton is overjoyed to be alive and hugs and kisses "Toto," as he calls him, because he's "way too homely to be Auntie M." Zhaan awakens to find her friend has died as a result of their partnership to end the reign of Maldis. The high cost of freedom takes its toll. Zhaan weeps for him.

Back on Crais' carrier Crais informs the doctor to strike the incident of his coma from the medical logs. His entire mission is driven by personal vengeance at this point, so much so he is willing to do just about anything to reach Crichton and exact revenge for his brother's death.

How's that for rewarding loyalty? Blood is thicker than water especially for Crais. Back aboard Moya, Sun has a kind of newfound respect for Zhaan's "warrior"-like performance for which Zhaan has no love of embracing. D'Argo informs Sun she could not have "cut her more deeply" with her words. Sun shrugs in her lack of understanding with her own unique expression at Zhaan's refusal to accept her compliment.

Crichton speaks to his father cathartically by speaking into his recording device. He believed he could reason with Crais and he suspected if they could sit down and talk it would have worked. This reality will obviously not bear fruit. Misunderstanding, unyielding obstinacy and the inability to compehend reason are clearly not just Earth traits. Unfortunately there are those that only respect the sword. Is it too late for Crais? This is a sad reality and this sequence speaks to the incapacity by some to enact diplomacy and work with others motivated by religion,politics or religion or land rights. Zhaan reaches out to Crichton in the end almost as a form of confession or cleansing -a catharsis of her own. She is indeed pained by her actions.

This is indeed a powerful ending that speaks volumes about the mysteries of Zhaan. It also speaks to the many things John Crichton still must learn in this new, foreign place amidst people he is attempting to trust and understand. The tale questions the use of power through Zhaan and Crichton' actions. Despite implementing power to suppress a great evil, will it be that much easier to accept in the future? Will our heroes be more susceptible to utilize it as a solution? The episode is a strong one made all the better by a few typically strong Farscape exchanges and solid performances.

That Old Black Magic: B. Writer: Richard Manning. Director: Brendan Maher.

Pop Culture Reference: The Wizard Of Oz references. Maldis: "Only one of you has to die." Crichton: "Yeah! And what's the other one get, a free trip to Bermuda!"

Special Guest: Chris Haywood [1948-present]. Maldis. The English actor has appeared in over seventy productions for film and TV. Some appearances include the classics Breaker Morant [1980], Quigley Down Under [1990] and Shine [1996].


John Kenneth Muir said...


A great Farscape retrospective for this Friday! And "That Old Black Magic" is a strong, early season one entry, as you say.

I've always enjoyed this one for getting Crais and Crichton back in the same room, and for offering a contrasting view of their personalities, style, beliefs in loyalty (as you point out) and more.

You're also right about Zhaan and the blowback and fall-out from her decisions in this episode. Zhaan is such a wonderful character, and this episode puts her down a dark (or at least a questioning...) trajectory.

Thanks for more colorful reading to start off the weekend!

Best wishes,

SFF said...

Thanks John! I enjoy your additonal thoughts on Farscape.

Farscape has to be one of the finest series. I enjoy each entry, warts and all, because so much is going on.

If you had to rank television series based on Season One appearances, Farscape would rank high, because it is one of the best first seasons ever produced.

Cheers my friend.

Will said...

Couldn't buy into this episode as I can't buy into Crais' motivation at all.

As I've said in previous episode entries, the fact that Crais' brother crashed into Chricton ship as a complete flippin' accident (that anyone could see) is BAD motivation for a revenge tale.

To me, Chricton is too absent from the action (as if, really, Crais and Crais' brother) to make this solid revenge stuff. I always found this to be season 1's weakest sub plot.

SFF said...

Hey Will

Nice to hear from you.

Well, I certainly enjoy all of your input here, especially on the episodic coverage, i.e. ST:TNG and Farscape for example.

I certainly recall your thoughts and feelings on the Crais/ Crichton conundrum.

I completely understand your feeling on the motivation by Crais not feeling entirely genuine. Your point is well taken and makes an awful lot of sense to me... as a human.

Now, I'm going to sound an awful lot like a devil's advocate here, but misunderstandings over the simplest things can certainly taken relationships well off track. I'm sure you have encountered such inexplicable reactions to things in your life with people you know more closely than Crais and Crichton, so perhaps it is possible, despite the fact it does seem pretty rediculous.

As always my friend I enjoyed your thoughts on this one, but I did enjoy it. I loved the production in general.

It may indeed be the weakest subplot to this point. It's hard to argue against it.