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"A Prefect Murder"

Summary

The crew's first foray into Tormented Space...

Planetside, daytime, somewhere rural and wasteland-ish. Aeryn is tending to her prowler, taking a moment to swat at an insect on her arm and tell the child behind her not to touch whatever he's touching on her prowler. Although she seems to feel a bit strange about doing so. She gets a sudden memory of hitting the child.

Somewhere else, a bit more woodsy, Chiana is being chased by an angry mob of villagers, women accusing her of "many indiscretions" while she says she was just trying to have fun. D'Argo is hurrying her along but angry at the same time, saying "No wonder you're thrown off every planet you land on." She tries to appeal to one of the aliens in particular to talk again to the Prefect, "After all I did for you." No help. D'Argo reminds Chiana that this is the first planet in too long they've found with drinking water and she's in danger of getting them all kicked off. Chiana claims innocence. As she reaches Aeryn's prowler, one of the other women makes mention of this "outsider" being with her son, and Chiana mocks her. "Was he the cute one? Zerbat?" Gaashah's son, the Prefect's son. Aeryn says she's pre-programmed the prowler with a course for Moya. Chiana complains she'll be bored.

Prefect and clan leader Gaashah is explaining to an apologetic D'Argo that unity among the clans and peace are new around here. And much too fragile to be disturbed by "some indelicate whore." Inside a building still elsewhere on the planet, John has begged the forgiveness of Prefect Falaak, offered compensation, and assured him that Aeryn and Sikozu will be perfect ladies while on his planet. As he comms Aeryn to inform her of this, Aeryn is being led through the sparse woods to an encampment by the child. Along the way she gets a flash of explosion and for a moment, sees Prefect Gaashah instead of the child. The child just giggles and keeps leading her on. She sits down and the child gets her a drink while she continues to have flashes - flashes of a gunfight, of Gaashah, who is there at the encampment, and of Gaashah being shot. John comms Aeryn to say Moya is still out of commission and this planet is it for food and water for the time being. By now, he's in a cavern somewhere and still sniffing laka to keep his mind off Aeryn. She informs him in a bad attempt at English that she's getting a bad vibe. Indeed, she has another flash of Gaashah being shot, and looks down to find her hand resting on her pulse pistol, still in its holster. More flashes.

We back up in time a little to Chiana getting kicked off the planet. It goes down just a bit differently this time, with Chiana addressing Gaashah directly that he's going to be Prefect soon and she should come back then. His response is one of disgust and she's banished as before. D'Argo's conversation with Gaashah is different too and more in-depth. It starts with Gaashah holding a knife to D'Argo's throat searching for a reason not to kill all of the Moya crew. The only reason at the moment is the fact that he and his people are struggling to overcome their violent past and seek peaceful solutions. Peace is new. But the problem isn't just Chiana, it's his son... who, as we speak, is in the woods, exploring a half-naked Sikozu. While they're making out somewhere, Gaashah is explaining that sometime ago, he sent Zerbat off world to learn other disciplines and where he'd be safe. Now that Gaashah is up for Prefect, it counts against him that his son is seen as corrupted by outside influences. Chiana is just one more.

Chiana also returns right back to the planet in Aeryn's prowler, and spies on Sikozu and Zerbat.

As D'Argo and Gaashah enter the encampment, Gaashah explains a bit more about the political situation. His prefecture is predetermined only to a degree. The priest, Paroo has set certain guidelines, including one that states if there are enough votes, one can be determined unworthy and "removed" (killed). He feels though that if he fails in his quest for prefecture, it will signal to others that more can be gained from war than peace. Again, outsiders worsen the delicate situation. The child leads Aeryn into the encampment, who sits down for a drink, looking troubled.

Chiana interrupts Sikozu and Zerbat, apparently a bit miffed that she's been banished for being with nobodies while Sikozu is getting away for "shacking up with their Prince." D'Argo interrupts all of them to angrily ask why Chiana is back on the planet. He's been in contact with John and tells Chiana and Sikozu they should both go to the transport pot for now until things cool down. Weapons fire is heard from the encampment.

John is having that same conversation with Falaak in something of a palace. Turns out he's the real, current Prefect and they elect a new one every half cycle. Falaak describes in his own words the fragile peace that Gaashah spoke of. Maybe a bit better than simply warring with each other all the time, but at least they understood war.

Walking through the woods, Chiana runs into the priest, Paroo, who asks if Chiana is here to seek forgiveness. Without answering, Chiana asks if it's true what they say about priests - they give great religious experience. "What I give is great consequence." D'Argo is in some other part of the woods and on the comms with John, discussing the need for secure relations with these people. John is in the caverns now and has an eerie run-in with Prefect Falaak's henchman, who nearly "accidentally" throws John off the edge of a cliff. He says he's puzzled by off-worlders - which seems strange as he looks fairly off-world himself. He studies John for a moment, and lets him go, telling him to be careful. "The stairs are slippery." John comms Aeryn, who's in the encampment, still having flashes and that bad vibe. John hears weapons' fire over the comms. D'Argo hears it too. He rushes into the encampment just in time to see Gaashah shot and to be fired upon himself by the shooter - Aeryn!

John rushes into the encampment from one side while Sikozu and Zerbat rush in from the other and amidst the carnage, the child is all right and is about the only one who is. D'Argo is wounded. Gaashah is dead. Aeryn is nowhere to be found but D'Argo insists it was her. The locals however aren't that discriminating and are instantly suspicious of all the Moya crew - Aeryn's just extra special. They're eager to find her and torture her for any information suggesting that the rest of the Moya crew had anything to do with this. Though amidst all talk of bringing the murderer to justice, it also comes to light that 2 other clan leaders had recently been murdered. Zerbat had been quiet and blown off by the others as weak and "just as much an outsider." But by the end of the bickering, he collects himself, finds his fire, and declares that he would go to search for Aeryn, taking Crichton with him as a guide.

They go off to find Aeryn and while Zerbat is putting up a good show of strength and aggression towards Crichton, Sikozu reminds him he doesn't have to be just like the other clan leaders - and that Crichton is their best bet of finding Aeryn and Zerbat should be a bit more trusting. With that, Zerbat and Sikozu take the high road and Crichton takes the low road. But Crichton only has to wait until Zerbat and Sikozu are out of sight and Aeryn appears behind him. She asks if she killed Gaashah and says she has no idea why she did it. All she remembers is thinking that she couldn't stop herself. She's also unaware she shot anyone else. Asking how many people she killed, the priest comes up behind them and reports 17 dead. John keeps Aeryn's weapon aimed at the priest (he was disarmed with the others back at the encampment) but the priest seems not too disturbed by the deaths. "People kill each other all the time on this planet. Finding a way to kill Gaashah was finding a way to start a war." He also isn't surprised to hear Aeryn say she was out of control. He suspects she's being used. The advantage here is that the last 2 assassins were killed instantly - she's still alive to talk.

Aeryn struggles to remember but can't, until she recalls the child. She recalls hitting the child by her prowler but suddenly realizes that it wasn't real, she never actually hit him. Then she remembers that a bug bit her and she thought she hit the child. Crichton fails to see the significance as a bug bites him too. Paroos sees the significance though; there are no bugs on this planet. Aeryn gets flashes of the assassination now and sees that she did kill those 17 people. Crichton gets a flash too, of killing the priest. The priest senses it too. Crichton hands the gun to Aeryn, saying he needs to leave as he's the next assassin. He makes a smoldering fire with plenty of smoke to keep bugs away. Paroos asks if he's stabilized, then gives him his gun back. Before they can formulate much of a plan though, Zerbat finds them, full of vengeance. He is persuaded though as he trusts the priest's judgment and Sikozou's. The bugs are off-world, so they know they're looking for an off-worlder.

Remember the guy in the caverns with Crichton, the off-worlder puzzled by off-worlders? Now he's being lectured by the reigning Prefect that his sgabba-flies aren't so effective as he claims. As the Prefect slams Chiana against a table, the hivemaster says the flies aren't attracted to Chiana and the rest are difficult. The flies plant subliminal signals and his mental powers intensify those signals. The Prefect isn't interested in the semantics though. He's interested in starting a war. Hivemaster is interested in more money for more sgabba to eliminate the outsiders. Chiana, with her increasing enhanced vision, sees in detail how the hivemaster "breeds" the flies and they come out of his own head. He hits her hard enough to knock her out.

Crichton and Aeryn are being swarmed by the bugs, yet still confident they can fight it. Sikozu and Zerbat go to the encampment to get D'Argo. Chiana comms to say she's blind again, but she's in Falaak's palace and he's behind it. She also informs them that the hive is in E'Alet's head and the bugs are coming for them. She asks if they got all that but gets no response as Aeryn and John are suddenly stopped and aiming their guns at each other. Each gets a flash of killing the other. They lower their guns, but with apparent effort.

They get to the palace, still swarmed by bugs biting them. They each manage to get a shot off at E'Alet, but he's only wounded. They each try, but can't will themselves to shoot him, they instead aim their weapons at each other. Chiana can't see, but hears and can tell something very bad is up. Aeryn and John tell each other to fight it. They each shoot and barely miss each other. Aeryn says she doesn't think she has the strength to miss next time while John says he thinks he's just a bad shot. He also says he thinks the coin toss (Dog with two Bones) ended badly. She agrees. Sikozu and D'Argo rush in and between them and Chiana, they knock down John and Aeryn and disarm them. They keep getting stronger though, until Paroos rushes at E'Alet and kills him.

Chiana tells them everything and for a moment, Falaak thinks he can get away with claiming that E'Alet acted alone, that no one will believe an outsider. But Zerbat does believe Chiana. He aims a gun at Falaak and gives him a choice; be killed now and they'll say he died the noble hero, or surrender and be judged and probably executed by the new laws. He instead chooses suicide and jumps out a window.

Post-adventure; Zerbat is now Prefect, and his first order is to destroy the Prefect's castle. "A leader belongs with his people, not above them. He wants Sikozu to stay with him and they can leave together after his half-cycle term as they'd planned. But Sikozu reminds him those were his plans. As much as she'd like to be off Moya and away from her crew, a leader belongs with his people. Chiana is talking with the priest. The blindness lasts longer each time and freaks her out more and more each time. "Then stop using the vision" he suggests simply. As they seem to reach a mutual understanding, Sikozu comes to get her and help her to the transport.

And somewhere in the woods, Aeryn is standing over the graves of those she killed while the child is tending to the graves. She's silent, and John is silent as he simply stands beside her.


Review

I left this episode thinking, "Ok, that was ... different." Yet I couldn't quite put my finger on why at first. It's certainly not as "different" as John Quixote or Scratch 'n Sniff. It isn't like we haven't had episodes with flashbacks and such. But I think I've identified it now. It's not that it's so "different," but that it's so "Farscape."

We the die-hard fans often worry that as much as we love the arc-intensity of the series, it must also be an inhibitor to new fans joining the series. I've come to decide now that it's not the arc-intensity so much as just the Farscape-ness. I just saw "Gangs of New York," directed by Martin Scorsese. 3 times in fact (I work at a theater, it's my job to watch each print). The first time I had a hard time liking it. It felt disjointed, disconnected, like he was trying too hard for the Oscar moment. But by the second and third viewings, I thought it was fantastic. Turned out, I just had to get into the Martin Scorsese groove. He has such a style all his own, it can really throw you off if your film-watching self has been over-conditioned on a more standard template for so long.

It just dawned on me, it's the same with Farscape. One person calls it "lean in" versus "lean back" viewing for one thing.

"A Prefect Murder" doesn't further the overall series arcs so much and I honestly think a newbie could start with this episode and "get" the characters just fine. But only if that newbie was willing to "lean in." Even in the first episodes of the series - the most hand-holding that Farscape will ever give us - I see a lot of newbies saying "Whoa! This is a bit fast! What did he just say? What's her deal again? Why would such-and-such be such a big issue?" I honestly don't think Farscape is that hard to watch, it's that so many other shows are way too easy and we become conditioned to that.

A picture is worth a thousand words, right? Well so is a facial expression, a sigh, a tensing of the muscles, suspicion, anger, confusion, love, hate, urgency, behind one's eyes. I think a newbie could learn what he or she needs to learn about these characters just by really paying attention to these subtleties in this episode (among so many others). Even in the one major reference to a past episode, the coin toss in Dog with two Bones, I think a newbie could pull that out of context and even not having a clue what these two are talking about, know that there's some really intense emotional energy being put out here. And that's really all you need to know, right? In the profile for Lani Tupu on the Farscape #9 DVD, he talks about how they go to so much more emotional depth than you're used to seeing in science fiction shows (or very many other shows for that matter). I think it's this depth that makes it hard for some to dive into, but rewarding for those who do.

A Prefect Murder also illustrates how fast-paced Farscape is. The general rule in filmmaking is to enter the scene as late as possible, leave early, and squeeze as much information as you can into as small a space as you can. I've watched entire films that don't cover as much ground as a 44 minute episode of Farscape. Again, this can be a weak point in attracting masses and masses of viewers, but certainly not an element that some audiences don't hunger for. Again, great rewards for those who go there.

When the opening scenes are rewound and we see a little more of what went on, it has a very good effect. It's a bold move. They only have 44 minutes to begin with, then they use precious time going back over the same ground again? Yet Farscape pulls it off. The information we get the second time around asks us not to judge too quickly on so little information. We think we have it figured out, but we find out we don't quite have it. It's the kind of television that keeps you on your toes, makes you think and question your own perception.

As is usually the case in Farscape, the guest cast does a splendid job. I was especially impressed with Ivar Kants as clan leader Gaashah. He bites the big one early on, yet I found it quite easy to care about him and his struggle to bring peace to his people. This was not your standard alien-planet-with-a-violent-history. In a very short span of time, we really feel for them, that they've grown so used to these violent ways and are truly trying to overcome that. And, that overcoming such a violent past is not as easy as the sudden burst of moral inspiration from a few outsiders.

Brett Stiller also gets huge applause. As a kid just a bit young to be thrust into such a position of authority, Stiller plays this of marvelously. In the earlier scenes with Sikozu, he looks truly innocent (and it's easy to suppose, virginal). That innocence is clung to when he finds his father's dead body. When he finds his fire and takes charge, it doesn't feel forced. We can feel that lost innocence, yet he doesn't become uber-leader either. He's still young, inexperienced, but now he's also quite proactive and can hold his own. Conveying so much in such a short span of time.

And speaking of Zerbat and Sikozu, have I mentioned enough times how much more sexual heat this show puts out than the competition? No ultra-choreographed Hollywood kisses here that no one would ever do in real life. We feel the real awkwardness of young lust and body-exploring-body and it's not just a result of the amount of skin shown.

Another barrier often crossed, and especially in this episode, is the brutality barrier. There are too many shows that seem so queasy about showing blood or pain that it makes it difficult for me to believe it when someone is "injured." Farscape holds nothing back and this is especially illustrated in its brutality towards women. Women aren't treated as dainty or extra fragile. There isn't a hidden rule that says the big injuries have to go to the guys or we can't have guys brutalizing women as a passť element. E'Alet backhands a blinded Chiana hard enough to knock her out of the chair and unconscious - and for no good reason. The male clan leaders speak of torturing and killing "the assassin." The fact that she's female offers her no special treatment. I've said many times that I feel this is one reason Farscape has an unusually large female following. It's not just strong women, but women allowed to be treated as people. No better, no worse, but truly equal.

And speaking of Chiana and Aeryn, let's look at these two characters for a moment. Chiana's enhanced vision gets harder on her each time and freaks her out a little more each time. As I understand it, they might be filming more than one episode at once and all out of sequence. I know it's the basics of an actor's job and what they're expected to do, but it still amazes me to see that kind of attention paid to detail. Not just "Chiana is freaked out by her blindness," but where in the sequence of episodes does this fall and how freaked out is she? Gigi Edgley is nothing short of a force to be reckoned with!

This episode also quietly spotlights how far Aeryn has come. For one, she shows some real remorse and even revulsion at her own actions, even though she wasn't in control. I can't imagine the Officer Sun of the first few episodes of the show being so remorseful. It's also with a depth of emotion that this character has been gradually developing. The Officer Sun of "I, ET" might have felt a twinge of remorse, but it would have come out much differently, much more like angry confusion than the grounded introspection we've seen coming from Aeryn lately.

As the core storyline of "A Prefect Murder" is very much about Aeryn losing control over her own actions, this mirrors her character's journey, which has been very much about loss of control. Unlike the others who chose to be enemies of the Peacekeepers, Aeryn was thrown out and it takes her most of the first season to begin to lose her desire to go back (The Hidden Memory). By the third season and beyond, she's still affected by suddenly being torn from what she knew. It might not have been the most moral life, but it was a stable one. One where she had control. From the premiere episode, Aeryn's characterization has been all about loss of control and having to deal with and be affected by events that she has no control over. Emotions she has no control over. People she has no control over. And in this episode, she doesn't even have control over her own actions as she murders 17 innocent people. Very powerful stuff!

As Chiana and Aeryn go through their fears and ranges of emotion over loss of control, John gets a hefty dose of it himself and Ben Browder proves yet again why he was chosen as the lead for this fantastic series.

Watching this episode in what-if-I-were-a-newbie mode, I was also struck by the very Farscape-esque camera work. It was quite early in the first season when they started doing the Dutch tilts and odd angles on a regular basis. Every now and then I step back and wonder if newbies get seasick? Nah. The camera work is different, but not intrusive. It took me a while to realize just how often they do it on a regular basis.

More of Moya-John with Talyn-John's memories. Only this time, it's not little flashes and dreamy sequences, he outright says "You should have met her mother." Now I guess this can be excused as Moya-John hearing the reports about Xhalax, but the way the line is delivered, it sure sounds like he met her himself. And in true Farscape tradition, there's nothing more, no explanation. No heavy-handed orchestration or slo-mo action repeat to hit us over the head and scream, "Hey! Something important just happened!!!" If we get it, cool. If we don't, life goes on. Gotta love it!

And of course, no Mary Wood episode review would be complete without an anal-retentive nit-pick (Hey, does anal-retentive have a hyphen?). John yells at D'Argo in desperation to knock him out. Why doesn't D'Argo just tongue him? Answer; Because John needed to be awake to do that sweet little hand-holding thing with Aeryn. Fine. But realistically, D'Argo would have tongued him, sacrificing a potential sweet lovers' moment to save their asses.

"A Prefect Murder" is a solid episode. In a way, it's "Farscape Casserole" in the style and drama. I wouldn't recommend it as a first ep for newbies just because it doesn't really further the story or give you much background, but if someone happened to be channel surfing and stopped on this episode, I think they'd be in for a solid treat.




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

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Fun Factoids
Best line:

Falaak, talking about Aeryn: "Seems a bit moody."
John: "Man, you should've met her 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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Episode Credits
Season 4, Episode 9 - "A Prefect Murder"
Writer: Mark Saraceni
Director: Geoff Bennett
Production number: 10409
First UK Transmission: 25th Nov2002
First US Transmission: 9th Aug 2002
Guest Stars:
Raelee Hill (Sikozu); Melissa Jaffer (Noranti) [does not appear in episode]); Bruce Spence (Prefect Falaak); Ivar Kants (Gaashah); Peter Whitford (Jabuka Clan Chieftain); Brett Stiller (Zerbat); Jason Chong (E'Alet); Shardyn Faheyleigh; Gitanjaii Seymour
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