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Farscape - Season 1 - Episode 08

Farscape - 1x08 - That Old Black Magic - Originally Aired: 1999-6-11

My Rating - 6

Fan Rating Average - 4.58

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Synopsis
Crichton is transported into the supernatural realm of the evil Sorcerer Maldis, where he is faced with his arch-nemesis, Crais. Though their confrontation is fierce, they are merely pawns in Maldis' realm. Finding Crichton's body apparently dead, Aeryn and D'Argo try vainly to storm Maldis' fortress. Zhaan attempts a rescue on a spiritual plane, but to do so she is required to invoke the deepest, darkest part of herself, a part she had hoped never to reveal. [DVD]

Filler Quotient: 0, not filler, do not skip this episode.
- Directly addresses main plot of season 1, the Crais chase plot. Crais and Crichton meet for the first time since the premiere.

Problems
None

Factoids
- Liko's race looked similar to Zhaan's, but red and with hair. I wonder if they're at all related?
- This episode establishes that Zhaan has telepathic and possibly telekinetic abilities. Its power is diluted by physical distance.

Remarkable Scenes
- A merchant at the market knowing things about John and his childhood and whisking John away to his lair.
- Crais being ordered to withdraw from the uncharted territories and cease his chase of Crichton.
- Haloth transporting Crais to his lair.
- Haloth pitting Crais against Crichton.
- Zhaan inflicting pain on the little bird beasts with her mind.
- John: "My species is so primitive, we all live on one planet!"
- Maldis bringing in an image from Crais' past.
- Zhaan and Liko reaching into orbit and giving pain to Rygel. Zhaan: "Part of me enjoyed that." Yeah, part of me enjoyed that too.
- Rygel declaring John dead and claiming his possessions, starting with his shoes...
- Zhaan intervening and saving Crichton.
- John waking up on Rygel.
- Crais executing his lieutenant for what she knows.

My Review
A good episode with a poor framing device. Crais and Crichton meet for the first time since the premiere, but the mystical noncorporeal alien plot device used to get them to meet weakened the drama. The alien himself wasn't as annoying as most of the aliens of the week so far, largely because of his awesome, almost deus ex machina power. He represented an incredibly significant menace and was portrayed in a reasonably compelling way for what he was.

The trouble is the implications of what he was somewhat erode the danger Crais presents to Crichton. We spend much of the episode more focused on the more interesting implications of a super-alien who feeds on suffering, rather than the conflict between Crais and Crichton. As a consequence of this, it was a total necessity for the plot to destroy the alien somehow by the end of the story, so that future stories weren't dominated by the existence of such a powerful super-alien.

This of course necessitated expanding Zhaan's mystic powers. The implications of this are both fascinating and troubling. On one hand, it's nice to see a darker, more tortured side of Zhaan, something the story explores very well. But on the other hand, Zhaan's abilities seem nearly as overwrought as Maldis' and turning Zhaan into a supernatural being would make it much more difficult to identify with her and have sympathy for her. In short, we need less mysticism and more realism.

The episode does fairly well with the Crais-Crichton conflict in spite of the poor framing device of the mysticism. We got to see a snippet of Crais' past, his ambivalence towards ever becoming a Peacekeeper, and his guilt toward his failure to protect his brother. We also see Crais acknowledge Crichton's point about the killing of Crais' brother being a total accident and Crais also acknowledges Crichton's regret. Despite acknowledging all of this, Crais still wants to take his anger out on Crichton.

I found it interesting that Crais can understand and even agree with Crichton's argument, yet still be unable to let go of his revenge motive. It still paints Crais as woefully irrational, but we're closer to understanding that irrationality now. He invested so much of his self worth into his and his brother's career that he feels unable to cope with the loss of his brother without killing Crichton, even though he knows Crichton didn't kill his brother on purpose.

Finally, Crais' surprise move to execute his first officer because of her knowledge of Crais' orders to call off the search for Crichton was an interesting twist. All those poor officers are on Captain Ahab's ship now, hunting Crichton the whale. Overall a fine episode, but it would have been better without mysticism as a framing device.

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