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Farscape Rewatch: “That Old Black Magic”

“That Old Black Magic”
Written by Richard Manning, directed by Brendan Maher
Season 1, Episode 8

1st US Transmission Date: 11 June 1999
1st UK Transmission Date: 31 January 2000
1st Australian Transmission: 15 September 2000

Guest Cast: Chris Haywood (Maldis), Lani Tupu (Captain Bialar Crais), Christine Stephen-Daly (Lt. Teeg), Jake Blundell (Lt. Orn), Grant Bowler (Shaman Liko), Wadih Dona (Tauvo Crais)

Synopsis: While on a commerce planet Crichton is lured into the domain of a vampiric sorcerer called Maldis. Though his unconscious body is taken back to Moya by Aeryn, his consciousness is in Maldis’s realm. Maldis brings Crais to his realm as well and sets him upon Crichton, egging him into a murderous rage while Crichton tries to convince Crais that his brother’s death (in ‘Premiere’) was an accident.

Aeryn and D’Argo try to shoot their way into Maldis’ domain but he freezes them in stasis. Meanwhile Zhaan has met a priest named Liko, who tells her that Maldis rules the entire planet; the populace are unable to leave and he kills them at will. Liko thinks that by uniting their spiritual powers he and Zhaan can defeat Maldis, and he helps Zhaan rediscover how to inflict pain with her mind.

Maldis sends Crais back to his ship just as Crichton is about to kill him, and tells John that now Crais will be doubly determined to pursue him, which will bring the PK Command Carrier within Maldis’s reach and allow to him to wreak havoc. He is about to kill Crichton when Zhaan and Liko succeed in making Maldis tangible and Crichton is able to punch him, although the strain costs Liko his life.

Maldis is dispersed, but one day he will coalesce….

Buck Rogers Redux: John’s mother’s maiden name was MacDougal, he skipped third grade, and he lost his virginity to Karen Shaw in the back of a truck. This is the first time we see him wearing his yellow flight suit since ‘Premiere’; his uniform must be in the wash. It’s John’s idea to talk to Crais and try to resolve their differences. He tries his best to convince him that he didn’t mean to kill his brother, pointing out the huge technological disparity between his WDP and the prowler. When that doesn’t work he tries to call a truce and get Crais to join him against Maldis. Finally, when all else fails, he accepts that he has to kill Crais, and almost certainly would have had Maldis not spirited him away. He dislocated his left shoulder once when he crashed his motorbike, but he snapped it back in again himself, a trick he repeats here. He is not only recording messages for his dad, he talks to DK too. There’s an edge of hysteria in his laughter when he wakes up on Moya, indicating that he’s still on the edge of not coping.

You Can Be More: Aeryn scoffs at the idea of sorcery and shoots at the force-protected wall again and again, even when it’s clear it isn’t working. However, her idea of overloading her rifle till it explodes would possibly have worked, and forces Maldis to take action, so if nothing else, she demonstrates that a big enough gun can solve most problems. She compliments Zhaan on her actions, apologises for doubting her, and calls her a fine warrior. Unfortunately this is the last thing Zhaan wants to hear.

Big Blue: ‘Before I became a priest, I was a savage… you’ve never seen that part of me, I thought I’d eradicated it forever… I feel it inside me still, now I have to rid myself of it again and I don’t know if I can do it.’ At some point in her past, Zhaan was in touch with her dark side. She’s spent years moving beyond that, but she is forced to rediscover her old ways in order to destroy Maldis. This re-awakens her demons, and she is terrified that she may never be able to quell them again. She can inflict pain with her mind and, when she really goes for it, can fry someone’s brain with crackling blue energy. Her power has a long range too – she inflicts pain on Rygel while he is on Moya and she is on the planet below, something that she admits she ‘almost enjoyed.’ When John tries to console her back on Moya she lashes out with her mind and warns him off.

I Was A Teenage Luxan: D’Argo has a heightened sense of smell and can track Crichton by scent.

Buckwheat the Sixteenth: Rygel has Klendian flu and remains on Moya moaning about it. When the unconscious Crichton is brought to him for care he pronounces him dead, performs a ‘Ceremony of Passage’ and claims all John’s possessions for himself.

The Insane Military Commander: Bialar Crais is ordered by the PK Council to return and explain his failure to recapture Moya. Only he and Lt. Teeg know of these orders and she swears to remain loyal to Crais if he decides to disobey them. Crais destroys the orders but, according to Maldis, was seriously considering obeying them. After his fight with Crichton, however, he is more determined than ever.

He kills Lt. Teeg because she’s the only one aboard who knows he’s disobeying orders. His younger brother was named Tauvo and their father told Bialar to look after him. They were drafted into the Peacekeepers as young boys and rose through the ranks to become officers. Crais’s thirst for vengeance is driven primarily by his own guilt at not protecting Tauvo better. By the end of the episode he has gone entirely rogue, driven insane with hatred for Crichton.

Worlds Apart: The commerce planet is unnamed, but it is so hot that Sebaceans could not survive there during daytime.

Alien Encounters: Delvian priests can ascend to a twelfth level, three higher than Zhaan’s.

Disney On Acid: John greets Rygel in Oz style upon waking: ‘it’s not Kansas, and you’re way too homely to be Auntie Em, but come here, Toto.’

Get Frelled: No sex this week, although Zhaan looks all set to jump on Liko to better test his aphrodisiac potions. Crichton kisses Rygel too, but it was strictly platonic, I hope!

Seen It All Before: Star Trek‘s episode ‘Arena’ took the hero and the bad guy and forced them to fight at the behest of a higher power, as did Blakes Seven‘s rip off, ‘The Duel.’

Stats: Area can be divided into Dekkas, which is a quadrant or some form of map reference.

Guest Stars: Chris Haywood has a long career in Australian film and TV behind him, including appearances in Breaker Morant, Muriel’s Wedding and Shine. Before Farscape, Grant Bowler was a regular on Blue Heelers; he has subsequently gone on to appear on Lost and became a series regular on Ugly Betty and True Blood. He will soon be seen in SyFy’s potentially groundbreaking show Defiance.

Although this is Brendan Maher’s only Farscape directing credit, he has enjoyed a long and successful career, most recently directing episodes of Spartacus, Spooks (that’s MI-5 for those of you stateside) and Upstairs Downstairs.

This is the second of Richard Manning‘s ten scripts for Farscape.

The Verdict: The sets for Maldis’s domain are very impressive indeed, as is the opening FX shot of the planet. Although Crais is mentioned in the opening narration, and referred to often, he’s not appeared since ‘Premiere’, so his reappearance is long overdue. He’s given a lot of depth in his episode and Lani Tupu’s marvellously unhinged performance serves to re-establish him as a threat. Energy vampires are a sci-fi cliché but making Maldis a virtual sorcerer makes him a formidable opponent, and takes Farscape further away from straight sci-fi and into a looser fantasy realm. Also, it’s good to see Zhaan getting something to do other than dispense advice and look mellow — her lapse into instability makes her a far more interesting character.

Verdict Redux: The parallel between Crichton and Zhaan’s storylines – both want to find a peaceful solution but both find themselves driven to kill – is impressive and works well, and at the end it’s clear that while going to the dark side may have contributed to Crichton’s reckless mania, it’s driven Zhaan to a much more worrying place. This episode looks great, apart from the inexplicable decision to put Crichton back in his formless orange jumpsuit, and it’s flat out fun, giving good backstory to Crais, Zhaan and John, and adding a flamboyant new villain to the mix.

Scott K. Andrews has written episode guides, magazine articles, film and book reviews, comics, audio plays for Big Finish, far too many blogs, some poems you will never read, and three novels for Abaddon. He is, patently, absurd.


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