It's not that Farscape was bad before Chiana finally shows up, fifteen episodes in, but it sure gets a whole lot better. The inimitable rebel alien girl takes the show to new levels in its exploration of ideas about sex and social roles. So far the show has been about characters trying to get home, trying to find a community where they're recognised as fitting into conceived cultural ideas of intelligent species, whether it be human, Luxan, or Delvian. Chiana, on the other hand, is trying to get very far away from her people, physically and conceptually.
Season 1, Episode 15: Durka Returns
The title of the episode, though, marks it as a follow-up to "PK Tech Girl" in which the captain of a Peacekeeper ship, Durka (David Wheeler), appeared to have met his demise. Now it appears he's still alive--an incredible fact, as Aeryn (Claudia Black) observes, even if he had escaped the defeated command ship. He'd be hundreds of cycles (years) old now, longer than the normal Sebacean lifespan.
And he'd spent several hundred years torturing another member of Moya's crew--the Hynerian Dominar, Rygel (Jonathan Hardy). As I discussed in my review for "PK Tech Girl", Rygel's need to assert himself and his identity runs deeper than anyone else on the ship can likely imagine considering he spent centuries being humiliated and broken down by Durka. Now Rygel, as afraid as he is of Durka when he first sees him board Moya, has an eventually cathartic chance to show him he hasn't been broken. Neither, it turns out, has Durka, though it turns out he has himself undergone a century of conditioning.
Enter Chiana (Gigi Edgley) and the Nebari as a species. We don't meet many Nebari over the course of Farscape's four seasons and in this episode we meet only two but it's enough to establish an idea of their civilisation. Built on an ideal of rigorous social engineering, all negative or "inappropriate" feelings and behaviour are carefully expunged from the personalities of its citizens through a mysterious and sinister process known as "cleansing". Salis (Tiriel Mora), Durka's new Nebari boss, is escorting Chiana as a prisoner when Moya collides with his craft, and, it being Nebari space, the crew feel obliged to put Chiana in a cell. Crichton (Ben Browder) inquires as to the nature of Chiana's crimes but receives only evasions from Salis and vague, broad answers from Chiana herself.
But she's young and desperate, not likely to have had time to rack up crimes on the level of Durka's. So in terms of an argument for institutional behavioural modification, we have two ends of the spectrum--a man guilty of true atrocities, and a girl who's apparently guilty of just having another point of view. In both cases, cleansing doesn't seem to be very helpful.
I met Gigi Edgley at Comic Con a couple years ago and had the pleasure of discussing her performance. I complimented her idea to adopt strange mannerisms and body language as Chiana and she told me how she had not wanted to simply play a human in makeup and costume, she wanted to create an alien character inside and out. Obviously this adds a level of worldbuilding but it also has the benefit of adding an intriguing layer to interactions between her and other characters.
You can always tell there's something else going on. The way she holds Crichton's gaze or the pacing of her laughter compel the viewer to watch her attentively along with Crichton as we try to figure out who she is and what makes her dangerous or if she even is dangerous. She's beautiful and the shock of blue-white makeup against black eyes and dark backgrounds further arrest the viewer's attention. When she escapes and Crichton's forced to pin her to the ground she seems to get an, shall we say, "inappropriate" thrill out of it. After all the incidental cuddling between Crichton and Aeryn in earlier episodes, it almost feels like Crichton's cheating and the fact that Chiana seems more aware of the meaning of physical proximity, and less ashamed of it, becomes an increasingly important part of the show's ongoing discussion of sexuality. For now, though, it's the unspoken but plain as day reality. One can easily imagine, without being told, how difficult it must have been for Chiana to live in a society that sought to ignore en masse an unmistakable physical reality.
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This entry is part of a series I'm writing on Farscape for the show's 20th anniversary. My previous reviews can be found here (episodes are in the order intended by the show's creators rather than the broadcast order):
Episode 1: Pilot
Episode 2: I, E.T.
Episode 3: Exodus from Genesis
Episode 4: Throne for a Loss
Episode 5: Back and Back and Back to the Future
Episode 6: Thank God It's Friday Again
Episode 7: PK Tech Girl
Episode 8: That Old Black Magic
Episode 9: DNA Mad Scientist
Episode 10: They've Got a Secret
Episode 11: Till the Blood Runs Clear
Episode 12: Rhapsody in Blue
Episode 13: The Flax
Episode 14: Jeremiah Crichton