“They’ve Got A Secret” (season 1, episode 10; originally aired 6/25/1999)
“Creatures still die out here, and we find new ways to suffer and to make others suffer.” “Well, I never said Earth had a monopoly on that.” “But you say that you want to go back to this place, Earth. A place that you tell me has so much disease and suffering.” “Well, you guys don't have chocolate.”
There’s a common assumption when watching science fiction that characters’ comments can be taken at face value. Unless a character’s defining trait is untrustworthiness, the audience tends to assume that this person invariably tells the truth, and that the sum total of what these characters say about the world around them and about their pasts are accurate. Characters in science fiction don’t lie, they create continuity errors. There’s a natural impulse driving that reaction, as science fiction shows ask their audiences to accept intricate, bizarre alien worlds as real; it’s difficult enough for viewers to maintain their suspension of disbelief when presented with tentacle-chinned warriors and sentient starships without also having to work out when they are telling the truth and when they are lying. “They’ve Got A Secret” offers big revelations for Ka D’Argo and Moya, with the former turning everything we thought we knew about the Luxan on its head and the latter vastly expanding Moya’s potential as a character.
The truth about D’Argo doesn’t contradict everything we already knew, but it does throw what we have learned about him in a different light. In particular, his closing speech in “Thank God It’s Friday, Again” takes on an entirely different meaning; he doesn’t just hope to one day live out a pastoral existence with his family, but rather he hopes to regain what he lost. Everything that has been revealed up to this point suggested he was just the typical Luxan warrior, one that had never known anything but combat and imprisonment—the fact that Zhaan called him a boy by Luxan standards in “Premiere,” his claim that his leaders imprisoned him in “DNA Mad Scientist,” his general conduct with the Ilanics in “Back And Back And Back To The Future”—but here D’Argo reveals layers we never anticipated. What we thought we knew about D’Argo were really self-serving lies and carefully chosen omissions.
None of that matters, though, because what we learn here feels so much truer to D’Argo’s character than any trivial wartime crime could ever be. “They’ve Got A Secret” is the episode where D’Argo steps permanently out of Worf’s shadow, and Anthony Simcoe’s performance is pitch-perfect. His best scene comes when he talks to his “son” about the sacrifices they have made in order to find a peaceful existence away from their enemies. D’Argo has shown vulnerability before, but never like this; there’s tremendous pathos when the audience realizes that Rygel’s objections to D’Argo’s apparent nonsense all double as things an angry Jothee might once have said to his father. Even when D’Argo’s carefully constructed reality was actually real, it was denied, both by a son who didn’t understand all that his parents sacrificed and by a brother-in-law who hated D’Argo on an existential level. And yet, the quick-tempered D’Argo shows infinite patience and paternal tenderness in his scene with his “son.” The illusion can’t last long—and once “Macton” shows up, even the fantasy is compromised—but D’Argo finds happiness in his flashbacks that has eluded him in the time we have known the character.
Throughout the episode, the writing lays out all the clues to work out the truth about D’Argo without ever quite spelling it out. Shows sometimes get in trouble when they attempt to talk around their big mysteries, but D’Argo’s conversations with “Lo’Laan,” “Jothee,” and “Macton” never feel vague because Simcoe commits so strongly to the emotions that underpin the exchanges. It almost isn’t important that Lo’Laan and Macton were Sebaceans, or that Jothee is mixed-race, expect inasmuch as it emphasizes just how much D’Argo and Lo’Laan must have loved each other to cast aside their species’—especially the Sebaceans’—taboos against crossbreeding. But while that last twist is important, it isn’t essential to the success of the episode’s emotional story, as Simcoe’s performance and Sally Lapiduss’ script tap into something that transcends Luxans and Sebaceans. The number of levels on which these scenes operate is impressive, as D’Argo’s past plays both as a kind of larger-than-life Shakespearean tragedy and as intimate personal drama.
Even then, it must be remembered that none of D’Argo’s story actually happens, or rather it all happened a long time ago. Other than the final hologram image of Lo’Laan and Jothee, the entire thing takes place entirely in D’Argo’s vacuum-addled mind, which adds a layer of psychological drama to his story. Simcoe doesn’t have the luxury of flashbacks, but he is ably supported by the rest of the cast; Rygel’s scenes as “Jothee” also represent a new high water mark for Jonathan Hardy and the puppet’s operators, as the Hynerian simultaneously denies and facilitates D’Argo’s illusion. It’s one thing for Farscape to treat Rygel as a living, breathing person, but it’s even more remarkable for a character to mistake him for someone else and interact with him without smashing through the show’s sense of reality. Virginia Hey and Ben Browder also get in nice moments in their assumed roles of Lo’Laan and Macton. Zhaan wants to indulge D’Argo, to keep his happiness alive for his sake and perhaps also for hers, as she can briefly bask in his reflected love. Crichton is forced to be cruel when he uses Macton to shatter D’Argo’s illusion, but Browder suggests this is painful for the human, no matter how determined he might seem.
Moya’s pregnancy is the other big revelation in “They’ve Got A Secret,” though the show takes a winding path to that discovery. Indeed, it’s often difficult to figure out just what the frell is going on, as D’Argo is blasted out into space, Pilot keels over, the DRDs turn violent, and Moya starts shutting down. I’m tempted to say this is a flaw of the episode, but I think this is really just part of what Farscape is all about. Space operas frequently force their characters to confront the unknown and solve seemingly impossible problems, but it’s rare for the heroes to be as ignorant as they are here. Crichton comes up with the virus hypothesis, which seems plausible enough, but it becomes clear just how huge a leap of logic this actually is, and the crew proceeds for the bulk of the episode working from utterly wrong information. Other than perhaps Pilot—who is indisposed for most of the episode—nobody really knows the first thing about Leviathans, which means they struggle to even identify the contours of the problem, let alone the specifics. That can give the Moya story in “They’ve Got A Secret” a fuzzy, shapeless quality, but the final reveal packs more than enough of a narrative punch to compensate.
This episode owes a sizeable debt to “I, E.T.” which first illustrated Moya’s potential as a character in her own right. The story builds impressively on that foundation, as Moya reveals herself willing to kill her passengers and even her Pilot to protect her unborn child. Her motivations make sense in terms of the episode’s internal logic, and they manage to be sympathetic yet alien. The audience can understand Moya’s overriding maternal instincts, but it’s difficult to comprehend the scale on which she operates. As Crichton puts it, he and the other passengers are like bacteria to Moya; she is only dimly aware of their specific movements and intends them no specific harm, but she would never place their wellbeing before that of her child. That’s a remarkable character to add to Farscape’s cast, but then “They’ve Got A Secret” is all about expanding the show’s scope, even if we don’t always know what to believe.
- Aeryn is more on the sidelines in this episode, although her time spent ultra-glued to Moya does set up another sweet little scene between her and Crichton, and the two are far more casually intimate with one another than they have been in previous episodes. Her promise to D’Argo that she will never say anything about his son also probably counts as the most poignant moment those two characters have shared, which says a lot about how messed up both D’Argo and Aeryn are.
- This isn’t a critique, exactly, but it is a bit of fuzziness—Farscape often uses the words Sebacean and Peacekeeper interchangeably, and I’ve never been totally sure whether Lo’laan was meant to be a former Peacekeeper herself as opposed to just a Sebacean civilian. Either way, it’s much more explicit that her brother Macton was a Peacekeeper.
- At the risk of revealing a spoiler, let me just say this much: Crichton’s spacesuits are going to get way, way cooler. Of that I can assure you.
“Till The Blood Runs Clear” (season 1, episode 11; originally aired 7/9/1999)
“You help me capture the prisoners, and I'll split the bounty, 70 -30.” “70-40!” “80-40! Are you in or out?”
It’s easy to think of John Crichton as the hero of Farscape. As the show’s lone human, our sympathies naturally lie with him, and he’s certainly done plenty of things in past episodes that would be considered heroic. He saved Aeryn and the rest of the ship from Namtar’s diabolical schemes in “DNA Mad Scientist,” he survived temporal dislocation and defeated Matala in “Back And Back And Back To The Future,” and he endured the worm in his belly and helped liberate an entire planet in “Thank God It’s Friday, Again.” But the show is told primarily from Crichton’s perspective, which slants our interpretation of his exploits. Anyone who observed Crichton in “Back And Back To The Future” would have assumed he had lost his mind, and he never really bothers to explain himself when he disappears for hours in “I, E.T.,” or for a couple days in “Thank God It’s Friday, Again.” In isolation, there are reasonable justifications for each of Crichton’s actions, but taken as a whole, it’s easy to see why the rest of Moya’s crew would be baffled by Crichton, if not outright contemptuous.
“Till The Blood Runs Clear” forces both Crichton and the audience to reevaluate their opinions, and it reveals just why Crichton is more flawed than we previously suspected. A crucial part of being a hero is selflessness, a willingness to put others’ wellbeing before one’s own. Until now, Crichton has had no reason to be selfish; it’s easy to be noble and self-sacrificing when you think you have nothing to lose. This is the first episode where Crichton sees an opportunity to go home, as the solar flares afford him an opportunity to recreate the freak conditions that sent him hurtling through a wormhole in the first place. Just as he hoped, a wormhole opens up right in front of his Farscape-1 module, and a transfixed Crichton seems ready to barrel the module straight into it and hope for the best, even though Aeryn is also aboard. Crichton later claims that he hadn’t expected the wormhole to open up, and he wouldn’t have flown into it anyway, but these excuses ring hollow. Just like his crewmates in “DNA Mad Scientist,” he was suddenly presented with a way home, and he was willing to drag Aeryn along against her wishes just as much as the others were willing to cut off Pilot’s arm. The wormhole’s instability and the module’s plasma leak prevented Crichton from actually going doing it, but this doesn’t really make him any less guilty.
Indeed, everything that happens once Crichton and Aeryn land on the desert planet to make repairs is more or less Crichton’s fault. It’s hard to fault him too much for not wanting to abandon his module, considering it’s his one remaining link to Earth, and it’s even still sort of reasonable for him to try to hurry along the repairs when his next chance to observe these solar flares won’t be for another 4.8 cycles. But his would-be betrayal of Aeryn hangs over the proceedings as a constant reminder that he’s acting purely in his own self-interest. Yes, Crichton acting like the alpha male with the dog-like Vorcarian blood hunters is a nifty bit of quick thinking, but he almost immediately loses control of the con. Rorf and Rorg aren’t the smartest of opponents, but they clearly aren’t going to give up the hunt for the Moya fugitives without a very good reason, and Crichton can’t convince them to forget about Crais’ promised reward without signaling his own weakness. He continues the deception long past the point of plausibility because he won’t give up on the wormholes.
Farscape gets some nice mileage out of its characters’ unexpected reactions. We have seen Aeryn dismiss Crichton as a strategist in previous episodes, most notably in “Throne For A Loss,” but here she shows a soldier’s discipline in playing along with the ruse. She doesn’t want to pretend to be Crichton’s female, but she also recognizes that Rorf and Rorg will try to kill them if she does anything to undermine Crichton’s alpha male status. Hers is a coldly logical decision; this may be a bad plan, but now that she and Crichton are committed, she does nothing to imperil the mission. Besides, she’s got her own problems to worry about, as she mulls over Crais’ private proposal and later deals with solar flare-induced blindness. Once again, the show takes away Aeryn’s physical strength and forces the character to find a very un-Peacekeeper solution to her problem. Reprogramming the beacon so that Crais seemingly withdraws his reward—and the Vorcarians instantly lose interest in their quarry, which is one of the episode’s best gags—is perhaps a little implausible, no matter how technologically gifted Furlow might be, but the moment works because it’s another example of Aeryn using her mind to save the day. Aeryn Sun is still an aggressive, violent character, as “They’ve Got A Secret” ably demonstrates, but she has shown remarkable growth since her eureka moment in “Thank God It’s Friday, Again.” She’s living up to Crichton’s promise back in “Premiere” that she can be more than her Peacekeeper breeding, even as he is revealing his own shortcomings.
Nowhere is that more clear than in his interactions with D’Argo. Crichton may have a point when he calls the Luxan a pain in the ass, and D’Argo is at his most imperious when he heads down to the planet to drag Crichton and Aeryn back to Moya. But still, that doesn’t alter the fact that D’Argo gets tortured by the Vorcarians because Crichton won’t drop the con; Crichton does all he can to protect D’Argo and ensure his blood runs clear when the bounty hunters cut into his tentacle, but it still boils down to Crichton beating the crap out of his crewmate. Their subsequent confrontation is crucial in defining where their relationship will go from here. D’Argo talks about Crichton less in terms of anger than of disappointment, as he explains that every time he lets his guard down, Crichton disappoints him.
Admittedly, it’s a little difficult to square this pronouncement with what we’ve seen in previous episodes—Crichton may be spinning things a bit when he says he saved D’Argo’s ass on this particular occasions, but he definitely saved D’Argo from Matala and from the tannot. The key here is to understand what D’Argo values, and that’s honesty above all. D’Argo cut off Pilot’s arm, which is still arguably worse than anything Crichton has done, but D’Argo never held himself up as someone who wouldn’t commit atrocities if it furthered his own interests. Crichton pretends to be nobler than he actually is; he tries to pass off his selfishness as being in the crew’s best interest. Their eventual détente is a beautifully played moment, as they agree that they probably won’t ever be friends, but they can at least respect one another. It’s revealing that D’Argo prizes friendship more than respect, as it’s a reminder that he’s more than just a warrior. He will ally himself with anyone, but it’s not so easy to earn his friendship. On that front, Crichton has plenty of work left to do.
- Crais’ offer turns out to be not nearly as good as Crichton first assumes. The mad captain has offered Aeryn honorable discharge and retirement, which in this case means she would be forced to endure the Sebacean heat death and left to live the rest of her life as a vegetable. It’s interesting to speculate on what Crais was hoping to accomplish here—whether he thought Aeryn’s Peacekeeper loyalty was still strong enough that she would consider this non-offer, or if he just meant to mess with her head.
- There’s so much going on with the main cast that I didn’t have time to discuss this in the review, but the alien planet looks fantastic. Australia opens up the use of desert locations in a way that a lot of traditional American filming sites don’t, and as creator Rockne O’Bannon has commented, there’s a great Road Warrior feel to the whole planet. Magda Szubanski turns in an amusingly earthy performance as the mechanic Furlow, and Jeremy Sims and Jo Kerrigan perfectly inhabit Rorf and Rorg.
- Virginia Hey was, understandably, not the biggest fan of Zhaan’s photogasms, as they seem to add a gratuitous bit of sex to her character for no obvious reason. Again, I’ll pick my words carefully here, but there is a reason that becomes apparent later in the season, and it’s why Hey ultimately went along with it.
- “Worf?” “Rorf!”
Next week: Zhaan goes mental in “Rhapsody In Blue” and the crew gets caught in “The Flax.”