Farscape: That Old Black Magic   Rewatch 
July 28, 2015 8:33 PM - Season 1, Episode 8 - Subscribe

On a commerce planet, Crichton finds himself lured into an alternate reality controlled by Maldis, a being who feeds off negative energy. He is pitted against Crais in a fight to the death, leaving Zhaan to tap into her old darkness to try and help him. [via]
posted by Squeak Attack (13 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I hope it's okay that I posted this. I was on vacation and am behind on viewing so I'm off to watch the episode!
posted by Squeak Attack at 8:34 PM on July 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

In which John Crichton learns that this is not Star Trek.

So, John is abducted by a god-like alien/evil space wizard and made to fight Crais to the death. John Crichton does the right thing, as conventionally understood in these sorts of narratives. He tries to reason with Crais and tries to make common cause with him against Maldis. In attempting this, John Crichton has fucked up, and fucked up bad. All he accomplishes is to humiliate Crais, enrage him, and drive his obsession into homicidal madness. As Crais said: "Talvo is dead, struck down by a weak, pathetic, inferior being, it must be avenged!". Everything John thought of as reason signalled weakness to a Peacekeeper and we know how they feel about weakness.

A further point, it wasn't until this rewatch that I noticed: John Crichton should totally have known better. He should have known that trying to reason with Crais would just deepen his hatred. John has been living with a pretty much unreconstructed Peacekeeper. We've seen Aeryn repeatedly display her contempt for John and in the last episode she flatly rejected his idealism. We've seen the Peacekeeper's firm belief that they are superior and that superiority finds it's fullest expression in being a more effective soldier. John should have known that attempting to reason with Crais in a way John was comfortable with was not going to work.

Indeed, John's approach doesn't just fail. He fails it as well. As soon as what John considers to be reasoned argument fails, he writes Crais off as an animal, and tries to kill him. With some success. He was clearly very upset that Maldis intervened and prevented him from murdering Crais with his bare hands. So if the last episode a win for John's way of doing things then this episode was a big big loss.

This is something I know Farscape does at least once more. Take a pretty famous Star Trek plot, file the serial numbers off, and let John fuck everything up by acting as if this is Star Trek and not Farscape. More generally, John's plans breaking down to desperate improvisation and agonizing suffering for everyone involved is a running theme in the show.

Two other notes: First, Lani Tipu, the actor who portrays Crais is also the actor who voices Pilot. I doubt anyone along for this ride didn't know that, but still. I know it and there is a part of my brain that does not quite accept the fact.

Finally: Maldis. Farscape is weird. It has mystic and flatly magical elements. It does not explain or rationalize them. Maldis exists, he's evil, he has vast magic powers, he can be fought by certain other borderline-magic mental powers.

I also really like the performance. While Maldis' actor, Chris Haywood, does chew some scenery, if someone ever finds themselves portraying an evil sadistic god like black leather clad space wizard presiding over a vengeance fuelled death-match they orchestrated as a plot to gain greater power with quiet understatement and restraint, then I submit that they are very much doing it wrong.
posted by Grimgrin at 10:33 PM on July 28, 2015 [3 favorites]

This is the episode which gives me fits because of the use of "magic." There's a fine line, I know, between mysticism that is often employed by Zhaan and magic, but it's there and it's one I can appreciate being on the mysticism side (i.e., kind of like the Force - pre-Prequels). Re-watching the episode, I enjoyed it more, but only because I recalled the parts of the episode I liked.

The characterization of Crais is definitely nice and it's odd they really push him down that pathos path of obsessive revenge (wherein he calmly kills his loyal lieutenant). I appreciated learning about his background and why his brotherly connection had an even higher context of just being "You killed my brother!" to "You killed my brother, the one person I was charged with watching out for!"

I even like Jon's dealing with the situation. AGAIN, Rygel steals the scene with his decision to declare Jon dead and recite the Hynerian prayer for the dead and edits it accordingly.

I just think Maldis is out of place and something that never really ever fits into the Farscape universe. I would have happily accepted the throw away explanation that his magic was really just advanced technology or even, the highest level of mystical powers as practiced by people like Zhaan and that red priest guy...but man, I hate the handwavey magic magic magic. The fact that he's some kind of life source vampire and so on. That one part ruins the episode, or at least, parts of it for me. Meh.
posted by Atreides at 6:53 AM on July 29, 2015 [4 favorites]

Not my favourite episode. It's the one I have to make myself sit through before DNA Mad Scientist.

It feels like it should have been Episode 3 or 4, not 8, and I think it must have been filmed pretty early on because of the orange flight suit.

It does feel like an old episode of Trek, I completely agree. I've never been too fussed about magic aliens because I automatically put this kind of stuff down to advanced manipulation of quantum states in a pseudosciencey way. But what I didn't get was why John was physically equal to Crais in the fight, unless Maldis evened out the stakes a bit? Crais certainly snapped his Lt's neck easily enough.

I guess we're supposed to understand Crais as a conflicted man, caught in the grip of the PK system but also the expectations of his father. He exploits the power of being a captain in a rigid system of command, and yet goes rogue as soon as he gets the excuse.

Rygel is great as ever. More is added to Zhaan's backstory in preparation for the Delvian ep to come, but I liked D'Argo advising her for a change. Also, wouldn't it have been much harder to keep torturing the cute little squeaky alien than inflict pain on Rygel? The red priest guy irritates me just as much as he did 15 years ago.
posted by along came the crocodile at 1:23 PM on July 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

I never liked this episode (and thanks for posting Squeak Attack, was recovering form an out of tow adventure and forgot all about it). I like it less again BUT except it's an important step to show Zhaan's development and understanding her being conflicted about the past. And Rigel is a hoot. Especially after John awakens and Rigel, the opportunist and the scoundrel, tells John the others left him dead, and Rigel saved him.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 10:36 PM on July 29, 2015

Y'all are gonna make me actually sign up for Netflix or figure out where my DVDs are. I could have sworn that they hung a "trans-dimensional" lantern on Maldis, but from what y'all are saying, and what I read on the Farscape Wikia, I guess not.
posted by ob1quixote at 1:06 AM on July 30, 2015

I think that's, not to ruin the surprise for folks watching for the first time, what happens the next time they run into Maldis.

Sigh. Yes. Next time.

It's what kills me about this episode. There's so much great character moments for almost every major character, but it's the decision to use Maldis and how they used him and presented him that undermines the show from being one of the best of season one.
posted by Atreides at 6:43 AM on July 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

John Crichton: Unwelcome shipmate

Grant Bowler (Zhaan's priest buddy) is a good-looking guy and I'm very happy his acting skills have improved since this episode was filmed because he was really bad and his accent was all over the globe.

My girl dog was very, very concerned/confused while Zhaan was hurting the little mewling bird. I always hate that part myself.

I like the layers this episode gives to Zhaan - she becomes more sympathetic to me once her virtuous facade slips a little.
posted by Squeak Attack at 6:36 PM on July 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

Good heavens. I've never watched Defiance but I'll happily take your word for it that he's much less irritating now. Still, my favourite Farscape 'Where are they now?' has to be Grunchlk = Toecutter/Immortan Joe. The Farscape/Mad Max connection with Virginia Hey, Bruce Spence et al. was cool enough already but that's the icing on the cake for me.
posted by along came the crocodile at 12:33 AM on July 31, 2015

Geez, I completely missed Bowler despite being a Defiance watcher.
posted by Atreides at 6:55 AM on July 31, 2015

And I just realised that I missed out mentioning Noranti, everyone's favourite three-eyed drug pusher granny, who was also in Fury Road.
posted by along came the crocodile at 11:57 AM on August 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Zhaan's priest buddy

My partner and I, both of us on our first watch of this series, dubbed him Mangenta (or Magentleman).
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 4:36 PM on January 22, 2020

Lani Tipu, the actor who portrays Crais is also the actor who voices Pilot. I doubt anyone along for this ride didn't know that, but still.

I'm on about my third rewatch of the series and had no idea. Mind blown.
posted by bjrubble at 1:21 PM on July 10, 2023

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