Farscape: “Liars, Guns And Money”
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Farscape: “Liars, Guns And Money”

When the resurrected Stark proposes robbing a Shadow Depository in order to pay for the liberation of Ka D’Argo’s son Jothee from slavery, Aeryn skeptically responds by observing, “Well, I saw a Shadow Depository once that had more firepower than a Gammak Base.” With that line, Farscape places this story in direct comparison with last season’s climactic two-parter, “Nerve” and “The Hidden Memory,” in which Crichton’s attempt to infiltrate a Gammak Base left him a prisoner of Scorpius. “Liars, Guns And Money” fulfills a similar function in the season-long narrative as that earlier adventure did a year before; both stories represent the rousing, epic, and decidedly big-budget climaxes of their respective seasons, as the Moya shipmates find themselves going up against adversaries—well, the same adversary, really, albeit with different henchmen—decidedly more formidable than what they are used to. If “Vitas Mortis” represented a necessary deflation of the constant jeopardy the crew had experienced from “Nerve” to “Mind The Baby,” and the subsequent episodes of the second season were a gradual, renewed escalation of danger, then Aeryn’s line about the Shadow Depository and the Gammak Base represents the moment where Farscape officially reaches a point where the threat doesn’t just equal their last encounter with Scorpius but actually surpasses it.

What’s more, this trilogy is very much a direct sequel to that earlier story, as Scorpius finally gets his hands on John again. While the first episode, “A Not So Simple Plan,” functions as a sort of moderately disconnected prelude to what comes next—not unlike how “A Bug’s Life” fits into the first season’s endgame, come to think of it—the structure of the trilogy’s last two episodes directly recalls that of “Nerve” and “The Hidden Memory.” In “Nerve” and “With Friends Like These,” one of the shipmates faces an unimaginably grave threat—the severing of Aeryn’s paraphoral nerve in the former, Scorpius’ capture of D’Argo’s son in the latter—and Crichton concocts a daring, admittedly cockamamie scheme to save the day. While his plans initially work just well enough to suggest a slim hope of success, Crichton is derailed by factors beyond his control—his identification as non-Sebacean by Scorpius in “Nerve,” the loss of the fake money in “With Friends Like These”—and becomes Scorpius’s captive. Then, “The Hidden Memory” and “Plan B” both find Aeryn leading a daring, reasonably violent rescue mission, and both times Aeryn finds a Crichton so damaged that he doesn’t even really want to be rescued.

These parallels are striking mostly because they illuminate the crucial differences between the two stories; Crichton simply stumbled into Scorpius’ clutches in “Nerve,” but now his own mind is conspiring against him to return him to Scorpius. While “A Not So Simple Plan” doesn’t feel as intimately connected to the overarching trilogy as the two subsequent episodes, it is still a chapter of a larger story, and the expanded narrative scope of three episodes allows Farscape to pay more attention to its secondary characters. In terms of their use of the core Moya crew, “Nerve” and “The Hidden Memory” were very much the story of John and Aeryn, but “Liars, Guns And Money” also has enough room to develop a full-fledged story for D’Argo as well. His desperation to reunite with his son frequently brings out the worst in the Luxan, even if most of his behavior is entirely understandable under the extreme circumstances. Leaving aside Rygel’s desire to regain his throne, which the show has never taken particularly seriously, D’Argo is the only shipmate who longs for something greater than simply a return home. His initial failure when at the brink of reunion prompts him to lash out at Crichton, whose alleged unreliability and lack of loyalty are the reasons why D’Argo fails to find Jothee. D’Argo may be a father, but he’s still very young by Luxan standards, and his emotional immaturity shines through at several points in this episode.

Like “Look At The Princess,” these episodes have some logical problems, albeit ones marginally better hidden than those of the earlier trilogy. The most obvious issue is the conceit that, in the time it would take for the slavers to transport Jothee to the Shadow Depository, the Moya shipmates can travel to the sites of previous adventures and recruit former adversaries. Farscape has always been, to put it mildly, a bit vague about the geography of the Uncharted Territories, but it seems decidedly dubious that they could so quickly return to places they visited well over a cycle ago, especially when Aeryn’s Prowler and Crichton’s module are generally described as short-range craft. There’s also no obvious reason why the Moya crew would know where to find the Vorcarians or the Sheyang, none of whom appear to be in the same place they were when they were last seen. It’s not exactly impossible, but “Liars, Guns And Money” does try to compress the timeframe rather beyond the bounds of plausibility.

The other unanswered question is why the Moya crew decides to raid the Shadow Depository when the more direct route would surely just be to sneak onto the slave ship and rescue Jothee directly. The assumption here is probably that D’Argo wants to ensure his son’s freedom rather than force him into a life on the run as a fugitive slave, which would rule out a jailbreak scenario, but the first episode tries to short-circuit any questions about alternative strategies by starting the story with the arrival of Stark, who is highly committed to his particular plan. Ultimately, the Shadow Depository is where the Farscape creative team wanted to use as the trilogy of the setting, and if the justification for why Moya ends up there is a tad flimsy, it isn’t all that big of a deal. After all, the liberation of Jothee is just the pretext—a narratively crucial pretext, but pretext all the same—for the real story of this trilogy, which is Crichton’s second great defeat at the hands of Scorpius. This story can’t confine itself to the slave auction because there’s no compelling reason why Scorpius would show up at a slave auction, and, even if he did, it’s unlikely he would reunite with someone like Natira.

The main new guest character of “Liars, Guns And Money,” Natira immediately ranks as one of the show’s most successful aliens. Buried under some of the most extreme prosthetics the Jim Henson Company has yet devised, actress Claudia Karvan recognizes that most of the work of making her character alien has already been done for, and she wisely brings an almost naturalistic feel to this inhuman creature. She matches her energy well against that of Wayne Pygram as Scorpius, and it isn’t until Natira reveals her fondness for plucking out eyeballs that Karvan really plays up the more malevolent side of the character. Mostly, Natira is just a very intelligent, very successful businesswoman who clearly enjoys the life she leads. Her aristocratic bearing suggests her eventual undoing, as for all the betrayal and counter-betrayal woven into her relationship with Scorpius, she still assumes that this is all just a game and that there are rules, which is why she is so shocked to learn Scorpius really does intend to kill her. She shouldn’t be all that surprised, considering her great unforgiveable crime is that she knows who Scorpius really is. As “Liars, Guns And Money” proves at length, nobody else truly understands the nature of the show’s main villain—assuming that is indeed what he is—and that’s something I’ll dig into as I look at “Plan B.” But first, let’s examine in more detail each of the individual episodes.

“Liars, Guns And Money (Part 1): A Not So Simple Plan” (season 2, episode 19; originally aired 1/5/2001)

(Available on Hulu and Amazon Instant Video.)

“Bonnie and Clyde! Oh, no, forget about that one, it’s a bad ending.”

There’s something very strange about the structure of “A Not So Simple Plan,” but that’s only to be expected when the show lets Stark call the shots. This episode is essentially a heist episode, except it never really brings the show’s two main characters, Crichton and Aeryn, into the caper plot. Stark, now even more unhinged after his dispersal in “The Ugly Truth,” shows up with a convoluted, inadequately explained plan to rob the Shadow Depository in order to fund the manumission of Jothee and 10,000 Banik slaves, and his cryptic words about how exactly he obtained the plans from the vault’s designer immediately indicates that he’s not telling the crew everything he knows, and, worse, his ignorance of the vault’s defenses suggests that he’s not telling them everything he doesn’t know. It’s a shaky scheme, even by Farscape standards, and it’s hardly surprising that John, Aeryn, Rygel, and even Chiana register some qualms. But D’Argo is too blinded by desperation to see that, so he angrily rebukes them; he’s particularly enraged with Crichton, who he believes shows unforgivable gall by seemingly suggesting the reasonable thing to do might just be to forget about Jothee.

D’Argo decides to forgo further discussion and just set Stark’s plan in motion—a choice later echoed by Crichton’s decision in “With Friends Like These” to surrender to Scorpius without even telling anyone he was leaving the ship—and this offers a fascinating insight into the ship’s hierarchy. Crichton and Aeryn don’t do anything without consultation, which places them on the outside looking in for the rest of the episode. Chiana cares about and perhaps even loves D’Argo enough to follow his lead, and Zhaan makes it clear at the beginning of the episode just how completely she trusts Stark, no matter how tenuous his apparent grip on reality. That just leaves Rygel, whose loyalty can always be bought, and Pilot, who is quite happy to serve everybody on board. The heist requires D’Argo to trigger a reset of the security system, which in turn provides Stark with a window to set up Rygel’s eventual switch of their vault with Scorpius’, with Zhaan and Chiana acting as distraction. While John and Aeryn certainly could have been useful to that plan, the caper still works without them, and so everyone else is quite happy to get on with it while those two demand to know what’s going on. As such, while “A Not So Simple Plan” has great fun presenting its spin on a heist plot, it keeps the audience at a distance to better match Crichton’s position, which means writer Grant McAloon doesn’t have to bother with a lot of boring exposition.

Besides, John soon finds more important things to do once Scorpius shows up. Remarkably, this is only the second time Scorpius has returned to the show since “Mind The Baby,” at least if one counts “Look At The Princess” as a single big story. Much like Farscape’s handling of Crais in the first season, the show has been judicious in its use of Scorpius this season, something that surely became far easier with the introduction of the neural clone. Back on the Royal Planet, Scorpius was constrained by the demands of galactic diplomacy, but, here in the Shadow Depository, there is nothing to stop him from retrieving Crichton by any means necessary. Indeed, while Scorpius largely maintains his reasonable veneer, the mask does occasionally slip, as he lets out a few choice Scarran growls and betrays real anger at Crichton when he alludes to his destroyed Gammak Base.

For his part, Crichton fully intends to kill Scorpius, and it’s there that Farscape again demonstrates the brilliance of the neural clone. Scorpius is clearly the show’s primary antagonist, and while the show could conceivably work without him—that was most of the first season, after all—it’s difficult to imagine how the show could kill off Scorpius without also abandoning its main overarching narratives. As such, Scorpius is almost as indispensable to the show as Crichton, but their character objectives conflict with the show’s larger goals. Scorpius can’t capture John and John can’t kill Scorpius, which means their every encounter must end in mutual failure, which risks undercutting them both. Instead of taking the standard approach with sci-fi heroes and forcing Crichton to come up with increasingly facile reasons why he can’t just kill Scorpius, Farscape reveals that John absolutely wants to kill his tormentor, but he’s blocked from doing so. Ben Browder is magnificent as the rapidly unraveling Crichton, and the episode’s tensest moment comes when Crichton overcomes the voice screaming in his head and leaves Scorpius to die, madly screaming out “The Star-Spangled Banner” as he does so. It’s a triumph, but only a brief one—Crichton ends the episode broken, cowering by Aeryn’s side, and it’s soon revealed that Scorpius is even harder to kill than advertised.

“Liars, Guns And Money (Part 2): With Friends Like These” (season 2, episode 20; originally aired 1/12/2001)

(Available on Hulu and Amazon Instant Video.)

“You intended to destroy my Marauder. Kill my crew. Killing me.” “Yes. You wouldn’t have respected me otherwise.” “How commendable. Very fortunate I was robbed.”

It’s remarkable just how much good fortune Farscape has had in bringing back its guest stars, and that’s never on better display than in “With Friends Like These,” as a slew of guest actors return from the first season episodes “Throne For A Loss,” “PK Tech Girl,” “Till The Blood Runs Clear,” and “The Flax.” That has to be a testament to how much guest actors enjoyed working on the show—and probably just how big a deal Farscape was in the landscape of Australian television—because it’s hard to imagine John Adam making time in his schedule to reprise Bekhesh, a role that required hours of makeup and left him essentially blind for the duration of filming, unless he really wanted to do it. Likewise, Jeremy Sims and Jo Kerrigan again don heavy prosthetics to play the Vorcarian blood trackers Rorf and Rorg; Kerrigan’s dedication is particularly impressive, considering her role is little more than a glorified cameo. The person inside the Teurac suit has changed from Derek Amer to Thomas Holesgrove, but Phillip Hinton is still on hand to provide the Sheyang’s voice.

The only obvious actor who doesn’t return is John Batchelor as the Zenetan Pirate Kcrackic, but the show manages an even more impressive reveal with his replacement. David Wheeler makes his third appearance as the terrifying Selto Durka, but the show makes it amusingly clear that he is nothing compared to what the shipmates now deal with, and even Rygel proves capable of outwitting him without much difficulty. As scary as Durka’s unexpected appearance initially is, his presence is really just a well-earned gag, one that allows Rygel to have his long overdue moment of triumph and, hilariously, spend the rest of the trilogy carrying Durka’s head around on a stick. Besides, even though Kcrackic doesn’t return, David Bowers does come back as the first mate Kurz, a character minor enough that audiences would be forgiven for not even realizing he isn’t a new character. That’s remarkable dedication to continuity, and it makes the world of Farscape feel that much richer that the show really can go revisit past adventures and discover that those old characters still exist even after their original narrative purpose is completed.

It’s telling that Farscape has to reach back to the first half of its first season to find the requisite mercenaries, as there’s really nobody after the Zenetans in “The Flax” that the shipmates could have plausibly recruited; the only other character I can think of as an even vaguely realistic candidate is M’Lee from “Bone To Be Wild,” but it’s hard to see what use her particular talents would be here, and she isn’t a mercenary. That last bit is really the key here, as the show’s early days were defined by episodic adventures and run-ins with random villains of the week, which meant a lot of bad guys who served no greater causes than themselves. As Farscape began to develop its mythology in “A Human Reaction,” the show shifted to focus on more heavily recurring villains like Scorpius (and, by extension, Harvey), and the standalone episodes featured scenarios shaped more by the main characters’ histories and interrelationships than by random villains.

Basically, the show came up with better things to do than just have its characters fight two-bit thugs, and that’s never clearer than when Crichton finds Bekhesh. Even just the initial visual of Crichton—his old IASA clothes long since replaced with darker Peacekeeper garb—holding a gun to the Tavlek’s head sends a clear message about just how far the show has come since the long distant days of “Throne For A Loss.” Indeed, both characters have changed their paths considerably. The existential anguish Bekhesh exhibited in that earlier episode was apparently genuine, although crucially Farscape doesn’t suggest that it was contact with the Moya crew that prompted him to reform. Instead, it was only after killing a priest of the Writ of Taru and stealing his book that Bekhesh began to see the error of his ways. It’s the Moya crew that tempts him back to violence—and, in the cases of Rorf and Teurac, leads them to death—but these aren’t the sort of people who need much convincing to undertake a foolhardy, deadly mission in the hopes of earning some currency. As Bekhesh so rightly observes, “It’s easier to reform when you’re rich.”

“Liars, Guns And Money (Part 3): Plan B” (season 2, episode 21; originally aired 1/19/2001)

(Available on Hulu and Amazon Instant Video.)

“Farewell, my friends. And thank you for teaching me to kill again.”

At two points in this episode, Scorpius tells a bound Crichton that he doesn’t really understand his captor. Crichton indicates Scorpius is a torturer, a suggestion that actually appears to offend Scorpius, and, even more crucially, Scorpius says John overestimates him when he jokes that Scorpius plans to use wormhole technology to conquer the galaxy. It’s easy to brush these aside as lies, except Scorpius has no reason to deceive a man he already plans to kill, and Scorpius has never seemed like the sort of person who needs to lie to himself in order to deal with his own monstrous actions. Indeed, Scorpius’ treatment of Rorf is telling; he shows genuine, albeit minor concern when he tells the Vorcarian that he was trying to save him from Natira. None of this is meant to excuse Scorpius of all the horrific things he does do, but there’s an important qualification that the show’s heroes don’t seem to have figured out. Scorpius is more than willing to be cruel, but he’s never cruel for no reason. To call Scorpius a torturer is to imply he inflicts pain just because he wants to, and Scorpius isn’t the sort of person to be governed by anything so base and straightforward as sadism.

That’s a key distinction between him and Natira, who indulges her own deeply disturbing urge to collect people’s eyes. Stark blames Scorpius for the extermination of the Banik slaves, a charge that Scorpius never denies but does seem to react to with mild surprise. After all, he simply orders a Marauder to intercept the ship and retrieve Jothee, and he then tells Natira she can do with the slaves as she will. While it’s conceivable that there’s a coded message in there ordering the slaves’ murder, it doesn’t make any real sense for Scorpius to do so, but it seems like just the sort of thing a casually cruel creature like Natira would do. It’s certainly fair to say that Scorpius doesn’t care about the fate of the slaves, and it’s possible that the slaves are repayment of sorts for Natira’s trick with the borininum ingots that were actually Karack metallites; the slaves may be the proverbial white elephant, a possession Natira has no use for and cannot immediately sell off, so it’s just easier for her to kill them all and be done with it. Scorpius might well have anticipated all that, and he made no move either to stop it or to hurry it along, as the fate of a bunch of Banik slaves means nothing to him. He has bigger things on his mind than that, and that’s essentially the point that he later tries to convince Crichton of.

Until now, Scorpius has simply been the bogeyman of Farscape, a villain capable of any obscenity who never bothers to explain himself. Crichton and Stark, the two characters who have suffered the worst at his hands, could see no reason for his actions and so assumed he was just sort of generally, maliciously evil. There was no context for his actions, and thus no chance of understanding. Under those circumstances, it’s only natural for Crichton to see Scorpius as a would-be cosmic conqueror, because there’s been no prior sense that Scorpius imposes any limitations on himself. That changes in “Plan B.” Scorpius may well be capable of absolutely anything, but he suggests it’s all in the service of some specific goal. He wants the wormhole technology hidden in Crichton’s mind so that he can sway the balance of power—presumably between the Peacekeepers and the Scarrans, whom Natira says Scorpius despises like nothing else—and the assumption is that all his actions to this point have somehow furthered that goal. The only exception, perhaps, is his decision to kill Natira, but the very fact that Natira is the one person Scorpius makes exceptions for is proof that she has to die. More than anything else, “Liars, Guns And Money” starts to bring Scorpius into focus as someone more than just an implacable adversary for Crichton. But make no mistake—just because Scorpius isn’t monstrous without reason, that doesn’t mean he isn’t very capable of finding reasons to be monstrous, especially where Crichton is concerned.

Stray observations:

  • I’ll leave it to all of you to discuss the many things I didn’t have a chance to get into, but I really can’t end this tome without at least mentioning that Crais and Talyn show up in “Plan B” to help save the day. Crais has some great scenes with Aeryn in which he very effectively turns the tables on her earlier criticisms of his violent ways, and it’s suitably rousing to see Talyn come to the rescue of his mother.
  • As good as Tayln’s heroics are, there are few moments in Farscape history more wonderful than when a severely burned Moya dives into the atmosphere to rattle the Shadow Depository and set the escape plan into motion. Nothing is more selflessly loyal than Moya.
  • Stark is frequently tough to read in this trilogy. He lies to Crichton about what D’Argo said for no clear reason—Crichton suggests Stark is trying to guilt trip him, but it’s still an odd moment—he goes completely to pieces when everyone is counting on him in the first episode, and it’s entirely believable that he would sell out Jothee to save his own people. His eventual plan to rescue Crichton is absurd beyond belief, relying on everyone keeping a silent count throughout the fighting, which leads D’Argo to eloquently declare the plan “frelled.” Stark seems to have his heart in the right place here, but he’s so strange and his agenda so opaque that he’s arguably the least trustworthy person on Moya now. At least Chiana and Rygel are reliably untrustworthy.

Next week: We close out the second season and our first run of Farscape reviews with “Die Me, Dichotomy.”

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