Farscape: “Thank God It's Friday, Again”/“PK Tech Girl”
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Farscape: “Thank God It's Friday, Again”/“PK Tech Girl”

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Farscape

“PK Tech Girl”

Season 1, Episode 7
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Farscape

“Thank God It's Friday, Again”

Season 1, Episode 6

“Thank God It’s Friday, Again” (season 1, episode 6; originally aired 4/2/1999)

(Available on Hulu and Amazon Instant Video.)

“What I had to do up there was like a field strategy exercise, only the enemy wasn't trying to kill me, the enemy was a puzzle. There were lots of different pieces, and independently, separately, they didn’t, they didn’t make any sense. And I had to think it through really hard, and I had to work out, try different combinations of putting them together. And then finally, I worked out what had happened, and I worked out what I had to do!”

Much like “Throne For A Loss,” Farscape’s previous planet-based adventure, “Thank God It’s Friday, Again” seems to push D’Argo out of his “real” character, as he is first consumed by Luxan hyper-rage and then is brainwashed by the tannot root into a life of happy pastoralism. But as with the previous episode, the show is playing around with sci-fi conventions, and D’Argo is revealed to be a more willing participant in the illusion than it initially appears. He probably wouldn’t normally choose to live out his days on a primitive, stagnant world like Sykar, but he really does possess the urge to be a simple farmer and build a family in peace, as he reveals to Zhaan in the closing scene.

All this broadens the scope of D’Argo’s character beyond the initial warrior archetype he inhabits; indeed, I would wager that many sci-fi fans coming to Farscape for the first time are tempted to think of D’Argo as the show’s answer to Worf—I certainly was. But while D’Argo possesses a warrior’s sense of honor, it doesn’t define him. The Luxan contains multitudes, and he has already shown himself capable of everything from homicidal rage to mellow bliss. We’re not necessarily used to characters in science fiction—especially alien characters—showing such range, and Farscape enjoys playing around with this; why else would the show keep using artificial means like the gauntlet or the tannot to cloak the expansion of his character?

Still, while “Thank God It’s Friday, Again” offers plenty of insight into D’Argo, it isn’t really about him. Honestly, I’m still not entirely sure what it is about. The episode offers some potentially interesting concepts and characters, but the story never quite gels into a coherent whole. As alien cultures go, the Sykarans are far more developed than the Deneans, who were essentially 50s-era Americans with more pronounced jawlines, or the Tavleks, who were uniformly depicted as violent scoundrels. The heavy use of red and the obvious Southeast Asian influences give the Sykarans a distinctive look, although the episode never really clarifies the most important detail about their skin color; as show creator Rockne O’Bannon explains on the DVD commentary, their crimson color isn’t natural, but rather the result of constant, daily exposure to the fierce Sykaran sun. Their absolutely pale leader Volmae isn’t meant to have a different skin color from her compatriots, but rather their actual skin color. Concrete details like that could clarify the Sykaran plight, but “Thank God It’s Friday, Again” leaves too many of them in the subtext.

Really, the episode just feels like an excuse to put Crichton through hell. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing— “Back And Back And Back To The Future” was all about that, Ben Browder is very good at going slowly bonkers, and, ultimately, Crichton suffering through insane situations is a vital part of Farscape’s DNA. There’s a vague reason given why Tanga and her fellow resistance fighters stick a worm into Crichton’s belly; the worm will protect Crichton from the toxins, which in turn will leave him free to escape Sykar and return with weapons and other tools the Sykarans need to free themselves. That reasoning offers a good reminder of Crichton’s everyman status—the resistance doesn’t see him as a brave liberator, but rather as a simple middleman—but it’s still an abstract, complicated reason that doesn’t command much attention compared to the straightforward, visceral weirdness of Crichton getting a worm stuck in his belly.

The episode too often asks the audience to just roll with it, whether it’s in relatively minor details like the freedom fighters’ random immunity to the tannot or in the climactic revelation that the Peacekeepers use tannot oil to make the explosive Chakan oil. This big reveal might carry more impact if Chakan oil had been mentioned once before that crucial moment. Rygel’s flammable urine is meant to be a clue to what’s really going on, as is Crichton’s discovery of the Peacekeeper insignia in the Sykaran storehouses, but the big confrontation scene still has to pull double duty as exposition and climax, with the former severely undercutting the latter. Anthony Simcoe nearly saves the scene when D’Argo breaks his conditioning and chokes out that the tannot he has helped cultivate is used to enslave the Peacekeepers’ enemies, a list that very much includes him. That line is an effective character moment, but even its impact is blunted by D’Argo and Zhaan’s absence from much of the second half of the episode. The whole story is just too sloppy to carry much dramatic heft.

The big mitigating factor here is the scale of this episode. “Thank God It’s Friday, Again” is generally a huge step forward in the show’s depiction of alien worlds from “I, E.T.” and “Throne For A Loss,” with only the very brief alien marketplace scene in “Premiere” approaching this episode in ambition. This episode features lots of extras, it includes multiple logistically challenging dancing sequence, and it utilizes CGI far more than previous stories in building the world of Sykar. And, whatever else one might say, Angie Milliken’s performance as Volmae is the single most alien thing the show has yet featured; it’s about a thousand times weirder than Lisa Hensley’s Matala in “Back And Back And Back To The Future.” Much like Hensley, I’m not sure Milliken turns in a good performance, exactly, although part of the problem with her performance is how it’s such a mismatch for the fairly naturalistic performances of Tanga by Tina Thomsen and Hybin by Ken Blackburn. Again, the contrast makes some sense if you think about it; Tanga and Hybin are worn down by their endless toil, whereas Volmae’s strangeness may have something to do with being in constant pain from the worm in her stomach. Milliken’s performance is audacious enough that it works in isolation, but it’s another element that fits uneasily into the larger whole.

In the midst of all this, it’s Rygel and Aeryn’s turn to spend the bulk of the episode hanging out on Moya. Freezing Rygel is a convenient way to minimize the puppet’s inherent logistical challenges, and it offers Aeryn her first substantial character development. As Crichton told her in “Premiere,” she can be more than her Peacekeeper training, and it’s telling that Pilot, of all people, is the one to get her to open up. As he gently explains to her, he too is a limited creature, one designed to fulfill only the single, specific function of piloting Moya. What distinguishes Pilot from Aeryn is his inquisitive nature, which means he then has to explain something as fundamental as intellectual curiosity to Aeryn. Farscape wisely keeps Crichton away from this plot, as Aeryn could never allow herself to be as vulnerable in front of Crichton as she can be in front of Pilot—at least, not yet. Claudia Black portrays Aeryn in a way that’s alternately childlike and psychotic, with her frenzied monologue quoted up top beautifully capturing just how much her world has suddenly opened up. “Thank God It’s Friday, Again” is another rough entry, but it displays Farscape’s keen grasp of its main characters, which along with its enjoyably weird atmosphere makes the episode worthwhile, its lackluster story notwithstanding.

Stray observations:

  • The episode continues Farscape’s exploration of casual sex, as D’Argo finally finds a lover among the Sykarans and Zhaan sleeps nude with a bashful Crichton. As Rockne O’Bannon admits in the commentary, the moment when a sleeping Zhaan moves her hand over Crichton’s crotch is about the least subtle sex gag in human history, but it earns points for shamelessness.
  • “She gives me a woody.” Speaking of unsubtle sex jokes, the show introduces the idea that Aeryn occasionally tries to speak English, and hilarious misunderstandings may or may not ensue. Her mistake did get me curious enough to look up the etymology of “the willies,” which is a plus.
  • “Oh yeah, I've seen this one. Mel Gibson, Tina Turner, cage battles.” “What?” “Don't worry, nobody saw the third one anyway.” Farscape doesn’t often go meta with its pop-culture references, but the Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome becomes a little funnier when you realize Virginia Hey played the Warrior Woman in The Road Warrior.
  • To any fellow Isaac Asimov super-fans: Does this episode remind anyone else of his early novel The Currents Of Space? It’s not a perfect match, but both stories involve a technologically superior power exploiting an oppressed, backwards agrarian world for a vital crop.

“PK Tech Girl” (season 1, episode 7; originally aired 4/16/1999)

(Available on Hulu and Amazon Instant Video.)

“Human... It's kind of like Sebacean, but we haven't conquered other worlds yet, so we just kick the crap out of each other.”

John Crichton is a lonely man. It isn’t just that he’s unknown light-years from the nearest other member of his species; it’s that he doesn’t know a single person who looks at the universe the way he does. His ignorance of this part of the cosmos is part of it, but it’s also a matter of perspective. Aeryn is a soldier, D’Argo is a warrior, Zhaan is a priest, Rygel is… well, Rygel is Rygel. Crichton, on the other hand, is a scientist. He is a thinker and a problem solver, someone who needs this insane universe to fit together into something that makes sense. The only other person on Moya that shares such an inquisitive urge is Pilot, but those two characters have barely interacted so far, and their personalities are so different that it’s hard to imagine they could find much common ground. Zhaan can sympathize with Crichton and his plight, but she can’t really empathize—as she explicitly points out a couple of times in “Back And Back And Back To The Future,” she finds Crichton a bizarre, incomprehensible creature.

All of that is meant as some explanation as to why Crichton falls so instantly for Gilina Renaez, the episode’s titular “PK Tech Girl.” Beneath her strictly regimented, unquestioning Peacekeeper worldview, she is still an engineer; she may not be a scientist to the same extent that Crichton is, but she’s still someone who primarily thinks rather than acts. She’s the sort of person whose repertoire of friendly questions includes, “So, you like deep space physics, too?” Gilina also recognizes Crichton’s value far more readily than Aeryn does, as Gilina accepts Crichton’s help fixing the defense shield with only brief surprise at the inferior human’s nerve. Whereas Aeryn is seemingly obsessed with the fact that she and Crichton are nothing alike, he and Gilina specifically acknowledge just before their big romantic embrace that humans and Sebaceans aren’t so different after all. Besides, if absolutely nothing else, she’s the first person Crichton has met—and this is only barely an exaggeration—who doesn’t try to kill him, although it is suggested that she’s in dereliction of her Peacekeeper duty when she doesn’t even attempt to take down the Moya fugitives.

Perhaps it’s simpler than all that, though; as Crichton explains to Aeryn after she catches the pair mid-kiss, sometimes two people just click. That instant connection is a vital part of “PK Tech Girl,” because it’s the first real indication Farscape has given that Crichton could find happiness in this strange universe and that he can do more than simply survive out here. It’s also the first episode to deal with love and sex as the featured elements of a story, rather than just as one small aspect of larger intrigues, as in “Back And Back And Back To The Future.” It’s a tricky business introducing an instant love interest for the main character like this, as even after just seven episodes the audience will likely have divided into three main camps: mostly those that want to see Crichton end up with Aeryn and those that don’t give a crap about Crichton’s love life, plus those daring, unconventional types who want to see Crichton end up with Zhaan (or D’Argo, or Rygel, or whoever else, I suppose). Nobody enters this episode rooting for Crichton and Gilina to end up together, though the hope is that at least some will end the episode supporting the star-crossed couple.

Gilina works as a sudden object of Crichton’s affection because both Nan Hagan’s script and Alyssa-Jane Cook’s performance make her feel like a fleshed-out character. Cook and Ben Browder have decent enough chemistry to make their sudden connection seem plausible, though the script smartly has Crichton acknowledge just how common it is in for human entertainment for the guy and the girl to end up together like this. The episode also never shies away from the complications and the impossibilities of their romance. The story opens up another moment of vulnerability for Aeryn when she admits that she initially found Crichton “interesting.” Claudia Black hits just the right notes in her performance, conveying that Aeryn might be honest to a fault about her feelings, but she also doesn’t even begin to understand what causes these emotions. Her acting again conveys a fascinatingly childlike quality to the Peacekeepers, although the fact that these damaged, incomplete souls inhabit the bodies of trained warriors lends that juvenile worldview a frightening quality. Then there’s the final scene, in which Gilina acknowledges Crichton couldn’t stay with her without being dissected by Crais, and Crichton pointedly refuses to subject anyone else to the life he is forced to lead. His is a noble, selfless moment that emphasizes just how worse off the Farscape crew really is when compared to their counterparts in other sci-fi shows.

Set against all this interpersonal drama, the episode’s main alien threat could easily drift into the background, although the Sheyang raiders prove an effective opponent. In terms of prosthetic-heavy guest aliens, the Sheyangs are a step forward from the Tavleks or the Ilanics; while those had recognizably human featured buried beneath the outer shell, the Sheyangs really do look like giant, fire-breathing frogs. These aliens do at first feel like a diversion from the original alien menace—the still unidentified, incredibly powerful race that obliterated the Zelbinion is largely forgotten once the Sheyangs show up—but these scavengers do present an intriguing challenge for D’Argo. His intimidation of the Sheyangs reinforces the Luxan race’s status as this galaxy’s most fearsome warriors, but D’Argo is uneasy with intentionally misleading an enemy to avoid battle. Crucially, D’Argo may possess a keen sense of honor, but he definitely isn’t ruled by it; he may resent Zhaan for forcing him to lie, but he still does so with little hesitation and more than a little flair.

“PK Tech Girl” represents a clear dividing line for Farscape, as this was the first episode shot all by itself; each of the previous six were shot concurrently with another episode. While the jump in quality between the previous six and this episode isn’t massive, it is noticeable. The performances are a little more focused—because, as creator Rockne O’Bannon points out, the actors weren’t trying to wrap their heads around two completely different stories simultaneously—and the writing and direction both feel more confident and purposeful than previous episodes. The Zelbinion is a wonderfully atmospheric set, the first time the show has created a new setting with as much character as Moya. “PK Tech Girl” also expands the show’s narrative scope in the Rygel subplot, as the episode freely intermixes flashbacks of the Hynerian’s captivity on board the Zelbinion with his present-day search for the corpse of his torturer, Captain Durka. While previous episodes have suggested the Rygel puppet is capable of playing a vital role in the narrative, the character has never so completely carried a story as he does here.

Ultimately, this is the episode that takes elements that were occasionally present in the past six episodes—strong character interplay, compellingly bizarre aliens, exploration of the show’s mythology, atmospheric direction, and convincing special effects—and puts it all together. And what’s really exciting is that “PK Tech Girl” doesn’t represent the show’s creative ceiling; rather, it represents a new baseline for what we can expect from the typical episode of Farscape. That’s a very exciting thought.

Stray observations:

  • “And then I think... what if everyone were dead? What if all my friends and family were lying there dead? Now what would it be like to go home then?” “I stand corrected.” This final exchange between John and Aeryn is a wonderfully bleak capper to the episode, and it’s the first time the show really drills down to the full extent of John’s uncertainty and despair. It’s also great that this of all things is the first true moment of understanding between John and Aeryn; the show consistently has them connect over the grimmest possible things.
  • “They spit fire? How come nobody tells me this stuff? How come nobody tells me they spit fire?” I ended up not talking all that much about the power struggle between the Sheyangs Teurac and Lomus or the latter’s final assault on the Zelbinion, mostly because those were just solid sequences in the midst of a lot of other, more interesting elements. To make up for this, let me devote the rest of my stray observations to my favorite Sheyang-related quotes, because there are a bunch.
  • “Those gaps in the protective barrier you must fly through are small and shifting.” “Do you leave me a choice?” “Perhaps one day... they will sing songs of your early death.”
  • “You had nothing, but you used it well. Evran, there is no shame in losing to a clever opponent. And Ka D’Argo... I make it a point to someday kill my clever opponents.”

Next week: Zhaan meets her match in “That Old Black Magic” and Aeryn changes her look in “DNA Mad Scientist.”