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"Lava's a Many Splendored Thing"

Summary

It's been several days apparently since D'Argo, Sikozu, Crichton, Rygel, Chiana and Noranti left Arnessk in What Was Lost: Resurrection. It's also been at least 3 days since they've eaten and between that, the cramped quarters of the ship, and Rygel's helium farts, tensions are getting high.

Noranti, who has been mixing herbs and spit in her hands, offers the mixture as a cure for the hunger pains. Jilnak. Restorative. Sikozu is the only one who passes it up, wondering how inefficient their bodies are that they can't go three days without food. Everyone else takes their share, commenting that it's actually quite good.

Turns out, Sikozu was indeed the smart one. They land on the nearest planet, which is no more than volcanic rock, to all rush out of the ship and throw up. Noranti notes though that they aren't hungry anymore. This comes as little comfort to Chiana, D'Argo, and Crichton, who are pretty much projectile vomiting everywhere. Rygel finds a large underground cave where he hopes to lose his lunch in privacy.

D'Argo, Noranti and Crichton soon enter the cave to look for Rygel and find him among a slew of jewels and other various treasures. On the surface, the planet sure appeared to be lifeless. D'Argo and Crichton tell Rygel to leave the stuff alone and Noranti says the markings on the cases look familiar but she can't quite place them. Rygel goes to pick up a medallion and is caught in a booby-trap that encases his torso in some foreign material (considering he still has plenty of bowels to move, this makes such encasement that much worse). The booby-trap also sets off a seal over the entrance to the cave, trapping the four of them in and locking Chiana and Sikozu out.

They hear voices and don't have much choice but to leave Rygel out in the open where he is and hide themselves. Noranti figures out that these must be Tarkans and insists there's no danger. These are peaceful people who bring medicine and supplies to wartorn regions. Two men come into the chamber hauling crates. They find Rygel and are unsure what to make of him, keeping guns primed and ready just in case. They see that Rygel still has the medallion in his hand and they comm someone else who tells them to wait and guard the intruder. Rygel claims to be alone but Noranti, convinced these guys are peaceful, gets away from Crichton and D'Argo and steps out into the open. As she tells them there's a Human and a Luxan with her, Crichton and D'Argo have little choice but to come out as well. John tries to play it off that "Grandma" is one sandwich short of a picnic and always wandering off and asks if they've seen his dog (Rygel). All maintain that they'd like to just leave quietly.

"Just leave quietly" never quite works out on Farscape though. The next round of guys shows up and they simply start firing as a gunfight ensues. John and D'Argo learn they're at a huge disadvantage when it turns out these guys have shielding against their energy weapons. They go for an escape route and all but one of the guys follows. The one stays behind to deal with Rygel; melting the casing just enough to pick him up, shove him in a niche in the wall, and hit a button that apparently drops Rygel lower into some other part of the cave.

Outside the cave, Chiana supposes that the lights they saw were pulse blasts and they need to get into the cave to help the others. Sikozu suggests the cannon on D'Argo's ship, but the problem with that is that the key to the ship is D'Argo's DNA.

Still encased in whatever goo is encasing him, Rygel finds himself dropped into a new chamber where a guy with an exoskeleton (hard to tell if it's artificial or natural) steps out of a pool of lava, hauling more containers with him. This Creature from the Red Lagoon holds Rygel over the lava pool to interrogate him. "Who told you we were here?" No one, we found it by accident. "And that medallion fell into your hand by accident?" I was just putting it back. The interrogation is interrupted when one of the guys chasing D'Argo, Crichton and Granny reports they're in something of a standoff. He's not sure his belt will protect him from 2 guns at once.

Creature from the Red Lagoon turns his attention to comming some helpful instructions to his trapped henchman. As the henchman describes where he is, he says there are some purple writings on the wall, though he doesn't know what they mean. Red Lagoon says he knows exactly where the guy is and orders him to shoot at the markings. Not sure why, but being an obedient minion, he does as told. When he does, there's an explosion, incinerating the henchman, and the wall gives way to a new lava flow, trapping D'Argo, Crichton and Noranti. Making matters more interesting, we had just learned another quirk to Noranti; she's narcoleptic and currently, sound asleep. There's an escape route on the other side of the lava flow. After casually throwing Noranti over the flow and onto the ledge on the other side, he gives John a leg-up so he can jump it. D'Argo jumps and for a moment, starts to slip, having barely landed on the edge. He demonstrates a trick we haven't seen before, lashing out his tongue around Noranti's neck and using her weight to pull him the rest of the way up.

Topside, Sikozu is in D'Argo's ship, saying he's a fool if he hasn't set an override sequence to operate the ship without his DNA. Chiana has a sudden realization; they don't need D'Argo, they just need his DNA. Sikozu follows Chiana out of the ship where Chiana is inspecting at the various piles of vomit from when they first landed. Sikozu points to one pile saying that must be D'Argo's. Chiana confidently says that's Crichton's and, going to a much larger pile, says "This is D'Argo's. She tastes it to be sure. If Sikozu would be as grossed out by this as we the viewers are, she is apparently still too taken aback by the wonder that he could produce so much vomit in the first place.

Rygel tries his comm and John hears him. Rygel starts to describe where he is; lower level, some cavern, big pool of lava, and if something doesn't give soon, his bowels will rupture. Red Lagoon hears him and speaks into the comm, demanding to know who's talking to Rygel. John introduces himself as Lou Costello. Red Lagoon identifies himself as Raa'Keel. Before anyone can stop her, Noranti - now awake - speaks up and tries to mediate. She'd just talked D'Argo and Crichton into trying that route before she fell asleep. Now, she explains quickly to Raa'Keel that she knows who they are - Tarkan Freedom Fighters - and that they approve of their work and wish to end the standoff. Raa'Keel agrees, but says they should come get Rygel, as Rygel doesn't look too well. He says he's sending an escort. Despite Noranti's constant assurance that these guys are not to be feared, John and D'Argo don't trust them. John has a plan (doesn't he always?); when the escort gets here, hit the guy with a rock and take his shielding belt. It seems to work only against energy weapons, not rocks.

Noranti wants to help. She mixes a powder and blows it into the air. As D'Argo and John come through to hide and take their positions, she warns them not to inhale the powder. The escort soon arrives; 2 guys. As planned, they come straight through the chamber where Noranti has blown her powder and they get a good whiff. Nothing seems to happen at first, until she boldly walks by them, third eye glowing, and starts to dance. In their eyes, she's now a rather beautiful young stripper girl. She does her dance, they are appropriately distracted, John and D'Argo come up behind them and knock them out. Though perhaps, it wasn't necessary for Noranti to finish the last step of the dance and take her shirt off in front of them.

In D'Argo's ship, Sikozu tries to tell a headstrong Chiana the powering sequence she'd observed D'Argo put in when they took off from Arnessk. Chiana follows Sikozu's advice to some degree, but to another, makes it clear, "I'm the one that put my hands in the vomit. If you want a turn, get your own vomit." She does actually, and when she returns with her hands awash in D'Argo's vomit, Sikozu manages to get the engines working. She sets the ship in position, primes the cannon, hits what she thinks is "fire," and the ship instead powers down. Not quite as simple as Sikozu had hoped.

John and D'Argo try on the belts. Their escorts, now awake and being good little prisoners, explain there's nothing to turn on. They just work. Upon asking if John has any small appendages he doesn't need, D'Argo abruptly tests it by firing his Qualta blade at him. The belt works. John is fairly relieved that it does. They head off to find Rygel. Their prisoners lead them straight to the chamber where they have a quick chat with Raa'Keel. They all have belts, so they can't shoot each other. John proposes a trade; their two prisoners for Rygel. Raa'Keel responds by killing the two prisoners. Another Tarkan who apparently ranks just under him angrily tells him to stop killing his men. Standoff again as Raa'Keel sets off the booby traps, showing that John and D'Argo are standing right in the middle of them and not going anywhere.

Raa'Keel says they're not Tarkan Freedom Fighters, but in fact, they're robbing them. And now they can be identified. He takes a bucket of lava and starts interrogating John and D'Argo, throwing bits of lava at them when he doesn't like their answers (recall that he can touch the lava without being harmed). He wants to know who else is with them. Determining it's just Noranti, he suggests to his second-in-command that they get rid of her and demands to know where she is. John and D'Argo still aren't talking. Raa'Keel wonders which would be worse for them; to burn to death from lava or suffocate in a column of armarack (apparently, the stuff Rygel is encased in).

Topside, Sikozu accidentally stumbles upon the firing sequence for the cannon on D'Argo's ship. Actually after carefully keying in several combinations to no avail, and getting fed up with Chiana's impatience, she just smacks the panel and it does the trick. However it happens though, it happens, and the entrance to the cave is indeed breached. The explosion is felt in the lower chamber where the standoff is taking place. D'Argo figures it must be Chiana and Sikozu, as he recognizes the sound/feel of his own cannon. Raa'Keel's second in command thinks it might be the Tarkans, coming back early for their goods and about to catch them stealing it. Raa'Keel is unsure. John decides to use this to their advantage and tell Raa'Keel that the explosion is their squad blasting their way in, and if he lets them go, he might live through this. Raa'Keel is ready to dump the whole bucket of lava on them and end it now, but his second in command stops him, saying if John and D'Argo are telling the truth, they'll need some hostages. Raa'Keel, impatient and angry that his well-planned robbery has been so horribly interrupted, hands the bucket to one of his men and tells him to guard John and D'Argo.

As Raa'Keel and his second in command head towards the entrance to check things out, Noranti overhears them talking about the planned robbery. Chiana is now roaming the caverns, weapon in hand. Sikozu is still in D'Argo's ship, trying to master the controls. She manages to get the ship to go invisible right before Raa'Keel gets topside to investigate.

John tries to deal with the guy guarding them, saying he'll come out ahead if he joins up with them. As he has the guy distracted with conversation, Rygel manages to wiggle his way off of whatever table/pedestal they have him on. This causes the guy to turn around and gives John time to draw his pulse pistol and, since he can't shoot the guy with the body armor, shoot the bucket of lava, causing him to drop it and burn himself. In the melee of gaining control of the situation however, Rygel inadvertently rolls onto another trap which encases him further - completely encased now. John and D'Argo grab whatever tool the Tarkans were using earlier to melt the stuff off of Rygel. They don't get too far though when it runs out of juice. As D'Argo goes to look for another one, the henchman comes to and gets the drop on John. A fight ensues which results in the henchman falling into the lava pool. Unfortunately, he had Rygel in his hands when he did.

"Don't even think about it" Harvey in a bio-containment suit tells him. But John is considering a dive into the lava anyway. The belt didn't work against lava with the guy who shot out the wall and was melted from it earlier, but John figures that it might work if it's already activated. How does he know Rygel's still alive? He doesn't. But the stuff encasing Rygel seems to protect the crates from the lava, it might protect Rygel. Plus, since Rygel is generally amphibious, John's hoping Rygel can go without air for a short while. He waves Harvey away, tentatively shoots his little finger and sticks it in the lava pool. No problem. The belt wears off and he gets his hand near the pool again, burned. Theory proven.

Outside, Raa'Keel and his second confirm; their transport is undamaged, but they still don't know who or what blasted the cave entrance. They're taking what they have and getting out now before the Tarkans get back or something else goes wrong. Raa'Keel heads off to "dispose" of the hostages. Elsewhere, Chiana and Noranti run into each other. Noranti fills Chiana in on their weapons being useless and thinks they should warn the real Tarkans. Chiana sees little success to that plan as they don't know how to work the radio on D'Argo's ship. Noranti starts to run off and Chiana only follows for a moment before saying "Frell her" and going off in her own direction. She sees the second in command loading crates and decides to continue tailing quietly for now.

In the lower cavern, John is now wading through the lava, looking for Rygel, occasionally shooting himself in the hand to keep the belt activated. Just as he thinks he's found Rygel he ducks down into the lava only to have Raa'Keel come back up out of it. When they meet, a fistfight in the lava ensues. Raa'Keel knows all he has to do is keep John from shooting himself and he'll burn in the lava.

In the upper cavern, D'Argo meets up with the second in command. That fight ends in D'Argo holding the guy's head over the device earlier that dropped crates and imprisoned Hynerians down to the lower level. It apparently sucks the guy's head right off his body.

Still fighting with Raa'Keel, John sees the head roll off the platform and into the lava pool. But, the fight carries on and Raa'Keel does knock Wynonna out of John's hands. Chiana finds them just as John's belt starts to go dead. John yells at Chiana to shoot him and though she hesitates, she only needs to be asked once. She does and John now gets the upper hand in the fight, knocking Raa'Keel's head onto a booby trap where it's encased in amber. Apparently, Raa'Keel can not go without air for a time like Hynerians can. John has Chiana shoot him again to reactivate the belt and he dives down for Rygel.

D'Argo catches up with the other amber-melting-thingy (I don't recall them saying, but I'm pretty certain that's the technical term for it) and they free Rygel. Rygel and his bowels are instantly glad to be free. Noranti joins the party with more Tarkans in tow - this time, the good guys. They are grateful to see the renegade Raa'Keel out of their hair and tell the Moya crew they're free to go, provided they take Rygel with them. They give the Moya crew a body-armor belt, Noranti gives them some jilnak, John and D'Argo whisk her away before the jilnak can make the Tarkans start tossing their cookies all over the place too.

They all hop back into D'Argo's ship where D'Argo immediately complains about the mess and the smell. At least until he learns that it's all his vomit and seems a little impressed by Chiana's idea to use it. They fire up the ship to find there's a message waiting for them. It's from Pilot, transmitting his coordinates to them. Moya's all right and they're going home.


Review

Vomit. How many otherwise serious dramas can successfully revolve an entire plotline around projectile vomit? Or any bodily excretion for that matter? If there's a toilet anywhere on the U.S.S. Enterprise, I'm unaware of it. And yet, how often has barfing, farting, peeing or moving one's bowels played a key role in Farscape?

Much as I enjoyed Deep Space Nine, I just can't see Captain Sisko casually complaining about barf chunks still stuck in his nose.

This, my friends, is just one more thing that separates Farscape from the stomach of its competition. It is also one more reason Farscape will never move to NBC and garner a 26.3 rating. Hot topics, heroes who aren't always heroic, good guys who are allowed to hurt and get hurt, way-complex storylines, arcs galore and the grit and edginess that leaves behind those great masses who just aren't up for the big roller coaster. I'm fairly certain The Powers That Be knew this would be the price for the freedom to revolve a serious drama around vomit. Hey, if they have enough money to produce the show, they have all the money they need. It's a price worth paying in this reviewer's opinion.

And there really is a fantastic freedom in storylines like these. In Farscape Magazine issue #7, Ricky Manning talks about Season of Death and how he needed a device to separate the Diagnosian from John and D'Argo. In any other show, he'd have to come up with some elaborate technobabble vehicle to get him out of the room. In Farscape, he needed only two words: "Must excrete." I am trying to picture a storyline like the one in "Lava's a Many Splendored Thing" being pitched at the writer's table for "Enterprise:"

Dick: "Ok, so the ship can only be controlled with Trip's DNA, but Trip is imprisoned and Hoshi and T'Pol have to get a DNA sample so they can operate the ship."

Jane: "That's easy. Open the episode with everyone retching from some awful food ration comprised of spit and herbs. Then later, have Hoshi and T'Pol find Trip's pavement pizza and cover their hands with it. Maybe we can have Hoshi taste it first to make sure it's Trip's. That would be funny."

{Dumbfounded silence and blank stares from the other writers}

Jane: "Um, Ok, or we can invent some deus ex machina in the form of a technobabble science device with a hideously complicated name that Hoshi just happens to carry around in her uniform pocket."

Dick: "Great. We'll do that."

I wouldn't say that "Lava" is on par with Crackers don't Matter or Out of their Minds, but it certainly falls in the same category of being one of the more humorous, stand-alone episodes. No written synopses can do justice to the fantastic comedic timing and one-liners spewed throughout "Lava." Most of these come from John and D'Argo, but it's also great to see Sikozu truly working her way into the crew via the Sikozu-Chiana dynamic.

The John-D'Argo relationship sometimes borders too much on best-buddy-cop-film for my taste. "Sometimes." "Borders." This is one of those times, but somehow, it didn't personally bug me so much here. Fantastic delivery and it all felt natural. They haven't had much "together time" since reuniting and this is pretty much how I'd expect them to jump back into the fray. Anthony Simcoe and Ben Browder have a comedic rapport that grows tighter and tighter as the series evolves.

Chiana-Sikozu though, for much less screen time, manage to call up a good amount of the spotlight. Sikozu's character has been so well written so far. Thus far, she does a whole lot more reacting than anything else, and this is good in my opinion. The other characters are very well established and it's fantastic to gradually get to know this one through the eyes and actions of the others. Raelee Hill is truly a fantastic reactionary. David Kemper spoke of her "look." I don't know if it's a specific look he's talking about, but there are looks tossed up here in droves that speak volumes about what this character is going through. It started with the tag in Crichton Kicks and is carried out here. You can see that this character is still struggling with being in a circumstance that she feels is way beneath her. Many of us have, at one time or another, found ourselves in a McJob due to circumstances beyond our control. We can all empathize with Sikozu's frustration. For that matter, most of the Moya crew has shared that same frustration, starting with John Crichton. As he and D'Argo pointed out in this episode, "Life sucks, doesn't it? / Quite often in fact." Raelee has a fantastic "life sucks" look!

Gigi Edgley has hurled past outstanding this year. If both she and Claudia Black were nominated for Emmys next year, I honestly couldn't say at this point who should get it. I have praised Gigi over and over for being able to pack so much punch into so little screen time. Now, we have the extra added bonus of so much emotional turmoil in this character just under the surface. Last year was Claudia's turn to be able to spit up cold, hard lines like her now famous "Hello John" in Fractures with volumes and volumes of turmoil just beneath the surface. This year, it's Gigi's turn to really regurgitate the unspoken. Chiana this year has so far danced just on the edge of insanity, and not at all in the same way Crichton has. Finally, she really is dealing with it in her own alien way. As much as I was blown away by The Choice, Aeryn's reactions were quite Human. I suppose we can say Chiana's are also, since Human is really our only reference point. But she is going about it in a much more alien way. Her alien mannerisms, her maniacal laughter and giggling at strange situations, her bouncing joyfully through a dangerous situation. She's cool and creepy, funny and a little frightening, all at once. Ms. Edgley, if this review ever makes its way to you, know that you are the bomb!

Unrelated sidebar; I would give back my lunch for a full-length version of the tune Noranti did her belly dance to. We really need another Farscape soundtrack CD.

There were a couple of other interesting character evolutions called back up here that are worth noting. First up, way back in the fourth episode of the show, Throne for a Loss, the episode opened with John calling for diplomacy with the Tavleks, criticizing Aeryn for being so immediately suspicious of them and unwilling to meet them unarmed. Now, it's John who, when diplomacy seems to be working just fine, says he doesn't trust Raa'Keel and without even giving the guy a chance, attacks his men so he can finish this negotiation at the point of a pulse pistol. Once again, we see dramatic changes in this character from the wide-eyed human who just wants to figure out this strange new universe without any trouble, to being quite the aggressor when he needs to be. John used to be the one begging the others, "Let's at least try and mediate." Now, he's one of the crew telling Noranti that mediation is generally pointless.

Another interesting evolution is the crew truly seeing Moya as home. Each of them wound up there against their will, under nasty circumstances. Many times in each of the character's early days, they express how nauseating it is to be stuck there. Even at the end of Season 3, most of them are pretty happy to have the freedom to leave. Now, they're just as pleased to get back to Moya. As much as they all still have their differences, a definite group camaraderie has continued to form.

I did have a fair share of problems with the physics and science end of "Lava." Mostly with the lava itself. How does someone unshielded hold their hand above the lava to, say, hold a bucket of the stuff without burning? Like a bad burrito, heat rises. After at least 3 days without eating, Noranti suddenly tosses up some chow and no one thinks to ask, "You have food? Why didn't you say so earlier?" But I suppose in the grand scheme of SciFi, these gripes are fairly minor. Like, how do they always get the parking space right in front?

"Lava" bordered on silly, but didn't quite cross that line. It didn't advance the series arc very much, but since when does it need to? Because we still have unanswered questions from the Season 3 ender? Yet another thing that separates Farscape from the chunks of traditional TV is just that. It doesn't need to answer every question within an episode of it being asked. As torturous as it is to have these carrots dangled in front of our noses, it's also the stuff of good drama. The mystery of wondering how, why, when, what really happened. Farscape has realized it can take a season or three to address those questions. Just plain good TV!

Those questions will be answered in due time. It's nothing to lose your lunch over.




Agree? Disagree? Comments? Questions? Email me! Written by Mary Wood.

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Fun Factoids
Best lines:

Sikozu: "You ate only three solar days ago. How inefficient is your body?"
Chiana: "How edible is yours?"

John: "You wondered who was with us? You just found out. That was our squad blasting their way in. ... A whole platoon of big, hairy guys with really cool tats and more guns than you can count. They come down here and find us dead, they're going to slit you from crotch to eyeball with a dull deer antler."

Chiana: "I'm the one that put my hands in the vomit. You want a turn? Go get your own vomit."


Blooper?

Presumably to emphasize the effect of Rygel's helium fart when he lets fly in the booby-trap, the two henchmen's hair is blown back by the passed wind. But A) Rygel is supposedly encased in this gunk such that he can't take a crap, so the fart shouldn't have enough freedom to create wind, even if it could create that much wind. B) Even if he weren't encased, his backside is clearly aimed upward and away from the henchmen.


"McJob" - Thank you KaraS! I never heard that one until you worked it into a post the other day. Had me laughing for the rest of the night!


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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Episode Credits
Season 4, Episode 4 - "Lava's a Many Splendored Thing"
Writer: Michael Miller
Director: Michael Pattinson
Production number: 10404
First UK Transmission: 21st Oct 2002
First US Transmission: 28th Jun 2002
Guest Stars:
Raelee Hill (Sikozu); Melissa Jaffer (Noranti); John Adam (Raa'Keel); Jack Flinsterer (Gleeg); Alan Flower (Frool); Ross Newton (Sloggard); Teo Gebert (Weldon); Mick Roughan (Airek)
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