Still doing the "This week on Talyn… This week on Moya…" thing, this week brings us back to Talyn (Crais, Aeryn, Stark, John-Black, Rygel). As per the various TV guide synopses, Talyn has landed on a jungle planet to finish recuperating when the Peacekeeper Retrieval Squad - commanded by Aeryn's mother - catches up with them. Between that and the way "Green Eyed Monster" ended, the two big questions on everyone's mind; what will happen when Aeryn and Darth Mum (don't know who coined that term, but I love it) meet face-to-face, and where will the John-Aeryn relationship go from here (if it gets addressed at all)?
Well, shippers take heart. The John-Aeryn issue is addressed long before the opening credits start rolling. If you're a long-time Farscape fan, then you were probably saying, "Yeah, right" as we open on Stark and Rygel in Rygel's quarters discussing how Rygel couldn't sleep because of all the noise "they" were making. "Kemper's idea of a joke" you said to the newbie next to you." When Rygel went on to use the pronoun "she" and the proper noun "Crichton," you were probably still saying, "No way. Play on words. It can't possibly mean what it sounds like it means." Cut to a floor, strewn with black leather clothes. Pan up the corner of a bed. Catch sight of a couple of bare feet sticking out from under the sheets. Keep panning … it can't be … it is … the moment Farscape shippers everywhere have been longing for … Aeryn and John, "between bouts" as Rygel puts it. No regrets, no exasperated looks or flustered attempts at conversation, just good old 7th inning stretch bliss!
Of course if you aren't a shipper, you were saying, "Whatever. Let's just get to the Retrieval Squad thing." Well, you don't have long to wait either. Before you can say "hot and heavy pillow talk," Crais and Talyn pick up a ship in the vicinity. Here's Mommy! Xhalax Sun and three of her hired thugs (see the shapeshifter in "Thanks for Sharing") are hiking through the jungle, hot on Talyn's trail. When the one notes that he is weakening due to the gravity on this planet being over twice what he's accustomed to, Xhalax wastes no time killing him and informing the other two that their shares just increased.
It's quickly decided that Stark and Rygel will stay aboard Talyn, with Stark's job being to keep the slumbering ship calm. John, Crais and Aeryn will try to find the Retrieval Squad before it finds them. Outside, both hunting parties - the Talyn crew and the Retrieval Squad - find the terrain treacherous. Acid bearing fruit, geysers spewing toxic vapors, heavy vegetation everywhere, dark, mist, and something in the atmosphere is causing the pulse weapons to hiccup. Inside Talyn, the vines that are helping to heal him are starting to lace through and inside of him.
Xhalax gets her sights on the Talyn crew first, but Aeryn is sharp as ever and hears the pulse rifle charging before Mom gets a shot off. A firefight ensues, hindered by the on again off again workings of the pulse weapons. Aeryn splits from John and Crais to try and flank the Squad. In the low visibility environment though, they are quickly separated. Momentarily lost and trying to regroup with the others, Aeryn is violently reunited with her mother when Mom attacks her from behind. In a rather brutal hand-to-hand fight, Aeryn gains the upper hand and tries to talk to her mother, but Mom is relentless, even with a wounded knee, and Aeryn is left little choice but to hit her hard enough to knock her out.
Post-battle, Crais is hit and John uses the acid from the fruit they'd discovered to seal the wound rather painfully. He doesn't seem too pleased about helping Crais, but he does so anyway. Meanwhile, the two remaining Colartas - Xhalax's hired thugs - are hot on Crichton and Crais' trail. Worse, Aeryn has the positioning device, which leaves Crais and Crichton lost in the jungle.
Elsewhere, Aeryn ties up her unconscious mother and takes a moment to study her sentimentally. Mother wakes up though and as she does, Aeryn quickly goes back to all business. Xhalax looks at Aeryn and asks who she is. She at least acts surprised to learn it's her daughter. She is also very cold about judging Aeryn's loyalties. "If you're my daughter, you're a Peacekeeper. If you're not a Peacekeeper, then you're with Crais." Aeryn patches up Xhalax's wounded leg and leads her back towards Talyn. They talk along the way. Xhalax tells Aeryn she's sentimental and weak for naming Talyn after her father and especially for letting Xhalax live against Peacekeeper regulations for hostile situations. Aeryn says that letting her live has nothing to do with sentimentality, that alive, she's potential leverage. She goes on to say that she isn't buying the act that Xhalax's presence is by chance and she knew nothing about Aeryn's connection with Talyn. Aeryn also adds that if the idea was for her to flinch in mother's presence, it isn't working. She gets to Talyn just in time to overhear Rygel giving them up for dead and speaking of leaving without them as soon as Talyn is recovered. Rygel of course quickly changes his tone when Aeryn walks in.
Back in the jungle, Crichton and Crais have spread some random kind of highly smelly jungle goo on themselves to try and cover their scent from the Colartas. As Crais slips in and out of consciousness, John tries to concentrate on surviving the immediate situation, fashioning some crude spears (now that their pulse weapons are completely non-functional), telling himself that Aeryn is still alive and ok, and inadvertently summoning Harvey/the Scorpy Clone. The appearance is brief, just long enough to hint that Crais has not been completely honest about his motives. When Crais wakes up, he is tied to a fallen tree. Crichton tells Crais he's finally figured him out. As a Captain, with all the intel that comes with such a rank, the Peacekeepers would be relentless in their pursuit of him. Crais needed allies. So, knowing that the Moya crew would never help Crais but they would help Talyn, Crais hijacked Talyn. Crais says that's not entirely true but Crichton isn't buying it. He dumps water on him to wash off whatever they used to cover their scents, yells for the Colartis to come and get Crais, and leaves him there.
Talyn is almost fully recovered and almost ready to be brought out of his slumber. But, will just having her hands tied behind her back really stop the woman who spawned Aeryn Sun? Not likely. With a free thumbnail, she slits her own arm open and pulls out a hidden knife and quietly frees herself. She also takes a quick sniff of a drug which, when Aeryn goes for the wounded leg, masks the pain entirely and seems to give Xhalax quite a boost of strength. She knocks out Stark with a single blow, stabs Rygel it what looks like a death blow, and takes out Aeryn with a sharp kick to the head before Aeryn can wake Talyn.
Xhalax locks Rygel and Stark in one of Talyn's cells and ties Aeryn up in command. Rygel is alive but barely. When Aeryn comes around and asks Xhalax what she's doing, Xhalax replies that Talyn can't be controlled so long as he is capable of independent thought, so she's severing his higher functions. Aeryn tries to reason with her, saying that she's butchering Talyn and that he'll die before accepting Peacekeeper control. Xhalax is having none of it. Aeryn also tries playing the sentiment card. Xhalax starts out denying that she ever visited Aeryn as a child and denying that Aeryn is even her daughter, Aeryn tells her about the vid recording. Xhalax reluctantly confesses to being Aeryn's mother, but coldly points out that she paid dearly for visiting Aeryn. The Peacekeepers offered her a chance back then to redeem herself and she took it. The redemption; she had to kill Aeryn's father.
The Colartis find Crais, mentioning that a number of inquisitors at Peacekeeper High Command want him back alive, but half alive will do. Before they get to do anything though, Crichton, hiding in the underbrush, thrusts a spear into one and jumps the other, killing him. Crais is less than pleased that Crichton didn't let him in on this plan, but Crichton says he needed Crais' fear. Now though, it's time to leave Crais out here to die. Crais admits to using Crichton and the rest of the Moya crew to survive and asks Crichton to now think of his own survival. What if Aeryn is dead? An idea Crichton angrily dismisses but Crais reminds him to face reality. If Aeryn is lost, Crichton will need Crais to command Talyn.
Xhalax moves the party into Aeryn's quarters with Aeryn and Stark tied up against the wall and Rygel on the bed left for dead. Stark had used some of the vines growing inside Talyn to stitch up Rygel's wound, but it's not looking at all good. It looks as if Xhalax has no idea that Rygel survived the stabbing, otherwise she wouldn't have left him unattended on the bed. Going through Aeryn's belongings, Xhalax inadvertently starts up the vid recording. Aeryn again takes the opportunity to play the mother-daughter sympathy card as her mother watches the vid. Aeryn reminds her that she had risked everything that night for an act of love towards her daughter, that she is a part of Xhalax, and a part of Talyn, and says that surely there must be something left. For a moment, it looks as if Xhalax might cave in to sentiment, but she doesn't. She angrily says that it's all dead history, that Aeryn's father is dead, and that Aeryn will soon face a Peacekeeper tribunal on a charge of high treason. She leaves them there to go get a working pulse pistol from her ship and go after Crais. After she leaves, Rygel wakes up. Not happy with Stark's suture job - his robes are sewed to his chest - Rygel nonetheless manages to get himself over to Aeryn and Stark and cut their ropes. Aeryn tells Stark to try and wake Talyn while she goes after her mother.
John and Crais have found a tracking device and are making their way back to Talyn. Bummer for them though, the first Colartis that John skewered survived and catches up with them. So does Xhalax. As Xhalax takes aim at John, Aeryn joins the game and tackles Mom. While Crichton and Crais are busy with the Colartis, Aeryn and Mom duke it out. Xhalax gets Aeryn pinned to the ground with a pulse pistol to her head. She tells Aeryn she would have tried to have her redeemed in the eyes of the Peacekeepers but she's too corrupted. Aeryn notes that her corruption began the moment she was conceived and makes a final attempt at playing on Mom's sympathies, telling her she spent a lifetime trying to be the independent woman that her mother was in her eyes. Xhalax still isn't buying, calling Aeryn an aberration and a traitor, but Aeryn's ploy distracts her long enough for John to subdue her before she can kill Aeryn. Freed, Aeryn immediately gets up, grabs the pulse pistol and tells John to get out of the way.
With John still on top of her, Xhalax tells him to let Aeryn shoot her. John insists there's been too much killing but Aeryn insists that if Xhalax is allowed to live, she'll only come after them again. Crais concurs that killing Xhalax is the only viable option. Aeryn is shaky though and her mother calls her a coward, telling her she's too afraid to do it. John reluctantly agrees to the execution but he insists that Aeryn should not be the one to do it, that Crais should be the one. John takes the pistol from Aeryn and hands it to Crais as Crais tells her to leave, that she shouldn't witness the execution. Before she leaves though she confronts her mother a final time, seeking confirmation that she's right; if Xhalax lives, she'll only keep coming for them. Xhalax confirms it, refusing to lie or otherwise beg for her life. With tears in her eyes, Aeryn calmly says "goodbye mother" and lets John lead her away. As she and John head back to Talyn, she thinks again of the night her mother visited her as a child. Distraught, she breaks from John to turn back. Just as she does, the sound of pulse shots ring through the jungle and Aeryn is left to grieve in John's arms.
Recovered, Talyn leaves the planet. Stark removes Rygel's stitches, noting that his recovery was nothing short of a miracle, considering he had died for several microts. He also tells Rygel that when he joined with him in his brief death, he met with Zhaan. He said she was content and in a place of guardianship, watching over them. Meanwhile, Aeryn is in command watching over Crais, who appears to be near-unconscious. John comes in and asks how he's doing. She explains that Crais is attempting to splice his neural engrams with Talyn to compensate for the damage done to him. John notes the downside to this is that part of Crais' psyche will now live in Talyn. Aeryn also tells him that with Xhalax dead, all of Aeryn's ties to the Peacekeepers are now completely severed. She seems simultaneously relieved and uncertain.
Remember in "Losing Time" when The Rider - in Chiana's body - gave John a couple of hard-sex-all-at-once jolts? Well, I felt like I got a couple of similar hard-Farscape-all-at-once jolts from "Relativity." This episode spotlighted nearly every major element that has drawn me to Farscape and kept me watching since I first laid eyes on the show. Grit, rawness, realistic passion, imperfect heroes who don't always make pretty choices, and unpleasant situations that don't always get resolved neatly. Yes, I am a huge fan of the "darkness" that so many complain about.
Let's start with THE opening scene. I'm not lying when I say my first thought at the end of "Green Eyed Monster" was, "Wouldn't it be cool if the next Talyn episode opened with John and Aeryn in blissful morning-after glow?" Boy, wasn't I happy when the Stark/Rygel conversation turned out not to be a play on words! The thing that draws me to the John-Aeryn dynamic is how wonderfully designed it is. The pattern so often is that sexual tension between two characters ends up being drawn out too long, spotlighted too heavily, monopolizes the show, and then they get stuck in the rut of kiss-bed-bliss. In other words, the tension and drama come to a screeching halt, the show's shippers are elated for 2 episodes or so, then the show hits the floor faster than Jenna Bush in a nightclub. In Farscape, the way these characters are drawn out, kiss doesn't mean instant sex and commitment. Sex need not mean automatic wedded bliss. Did anyone else catch Aeryn's here-comes-trouble look when John was getting all protective-boyfriendy on Rygel for going through Aeryn's things? Plus, let's not forget John-Green. Oh, there's going to be some major music to face when they hook back up with Moya! I still say The Powers That Be are skating on thin ice here, but they've been skating on it for quite some time and haven't fallen through yet. They've set these two up for all kinds of directions far from the wedded bliss path. In fact, since my last prediction came true, allow me to make another one: John-Black is a dead man. I seriously think they're going to get rid of one of the Johns by the end of the season and since there seems to be a torture-Aeryn theme going on this season, I say this John's days are numbered.
One more comment on the "between bouts" scene. I'm already hearing complaints from the shippers that it was anti-climatic. In short, there are a number of people not happy with the fully-clothed kiss followed by a morning after scene. They want to see some serious in-between. Well kids, I love a hot sex scene as much as the next healthy adult, but in my opinion Farscape's sex appeal doesn't just come from spoon-feeding us skin scenes. The characters and actors are just that sensual. The sheer hunger portrayed by Ben and Claudia in a single kiss beats most full frontal nudity sex scenes I've happened on while flipping through pay movie channels after 10pm. Sometimes, what is implied and imagined is so much greater than what can be shown. I personally think the scene was perfect. Lord knows I had pleasant dreams that night!
On to the element of grit. In Farscape, the characters get dirty. They bleed hard. They scream in pain. They rub smelly goo on themselves. Their hurt and their anguish is real. I recall a Star Trek Next Gen episode (sorry to always pick on Trek, but it's usually the best analogy) where Riker breaks his arm and the only hint of that we get is him holding his elbow and saying with no pain or distress in his voice, "Yep, I'm pretty sure it's broken." Sorry tough guy, but I'm not biting. When Xhalax breaks a bone, she goes down screaming. There's lots of blood and messy bandages. She, like all Peacekeepers, is trained to deal with pain, but you can see it's still there. There is all kinds of grit like that throughout this episode. As much as I felt the passion John and Aeryn were feeling in the opening scene, I also felt the discomfort of the hot and humid jungle. I could smell it. I could feel it beneath my feet. And I felt the pain the wounded characters were feeling (both physical and emotional wounds). Writer, director, actors, all get a standing ovation for this one.
And while I'm handing out standing ovations, let me give an extra loud ovation to Linda Cropper and to all those fantastic puppeteers working on Rygel! The puppeteers always do such a great job anyway. I often have to remind myself that Pilot or Rygel aren't living actors. Yet, in a way they are. Rygel is, as I understand it, about 7 living actors plus Jonathan Hardy. More so than in most episodes, the detail of Rygel's movements here really caught my eye. Between the fantastic puppetry and the fantastic interaction with the live actors in "Relativity," Rygel was as real to me as any of the humanoid characters. Linda Cropper as Aeryn's mother gets an extra bow from me too. Besides the just-right amount of physical resemblance, they really felt like mother and daughter. This had to be a tough role for Linda. "You're her mother, but you didn't raise her and you've never spent time with her save for a momentary nighttime visit when she was a child. You loathe all she stands for, but the audience needs to feel you're her blood relative." How do you take that, play the character as an almost pure villain, and still manage to portray a sense of genetic bond? Ask Linda. She pulled it off beautifully. She and Claudia worked wonderfully together.
All this mother-daughter talk segues into the heart of this episode which epitomizes for me that which sets Farscape light years apart from the rest. Soon after "Relativity" aired, someone - possibly new to the bulletin board since I didn't recognize the handle - posted that Crais, Aeryn, and John's decision to execute Xhalax was disgusting and reprehensible. I agreed that it was, but that's what I love most about Farscape. The protagonists are put in an ugly situation and are left with no easy-out options and no deus ex machina to bail them out. I had personally hoped that Xhalax Sun would be with us for many more episodes than this, but the way they dealt with her, with Aeryn having to consent to execute her own mother, now that's pushing the boundaries of traditional TV. We've really only had this one episode to get to know Xhalax Sun, but we do get a solid sense of her being. Like other Farscape villains, she's more complex than the stock bad guy. And who knows? We never saw the actual execution and we never saw a body. Wouldn't it be a great plot twist to learn that Crais didn't kill her? Either way, the Xhalax issue was not dealt with lightly, and it was not pretty. "The Way We Weren't" was our season 2 reminder not to romanticize Aeryn too much. "Relativity" again reminds us of where this woman comes from and that a lot of the Peacekeeper still resides in her. The combination of soldierly coldness and daughter's anguish on the part of Aeryn throughout the execution scene sent chills down my spine. This is Farscape at it's raw, gritty, ugly situation best.
As I go through this review, I feel like it's lacking. I then realize it's because so much of the sheer power in "Relativity" defies description. I feel like a zealot giving out my third 5 of the season. But if there's nothing wrong with the ep and it's such a standout, what other score can I give it?
And if you're afraid of the dark, maybe this just isn't the TV show for you.
Agree? Disagree? Comments? Questions? Email me! Written by Mary Wood.
In "I, ET" it was established that Leviathans (or Moya at least) could touch down on a planet, but with great difficulty and the gravity is very, very hard on them. Part of Talyn's breeding must include a cure for this as he not only touches down on the planet, but recovers to full health while there.
Aeryn: "I am right aren't I. We let you live, you come and you find us again."
Xhalax: "What, do you expect me to lie? To beg for my life? Crais is right. I will hunt you down and I will kill you."
Aeryn: "Goodbye mother."
Click here to read Dani Moure's review for this episode.
Click here to read Dani Moure's synopsis for this episode.
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