The Wonders I’ve Seen: 1×04, “Throne for a Loss”

Am I the only species in creation that doesn’t thrive on conflict?

“Throne for a Loss” isn’t a good episode that lost its way—probably, the best version of this episode was always going to be a little dry—but it definitely does wander off its track.

Ostensibly, this is an episode that digs into the characters’ views on violence, and in that respect, it does, generally speaking, deliver. The problem is that for the most part, it doesn’t do much more than that, and even four episodes in, Farscape has done enough work building these characters that it isn’t hard to guess their views. There’s not a ton of new information here.

Which would be fine if the episode challenged those views, or changed the characters’ relationships with each other. But it doesn’t, really. John and Zhaan start and end the episode as pacifists; D’Argo and Aeryn start and end as people who default to violence as a solution. John and Aeryn start the episode at odds over the question of how and whether to use violence, and that question never really gets resolved between them. 

Not even that—they never even really acknowledge that the question didn’t get resolved between them. The episode, as I said, wanders. The plot is a kind of game of pass-the-gauntlet, with D’Argo and then Aeryn and finally John getting a shot of adrenaline (and rage) from the Tavlek weaponry. The closest thing to an arc holding the thing together is John and Aeryn’s tension, which comes to a head when, in order to get him to come down to the Tavlek planet with her, Aeryn punches John and knocks him out, mid-sentence. 

The moment plays for comedy, in the kind of queasy Farscape way where something can be simultaneously funny and a little affronting; it’s not so much the punch itself that’s humorous as the way that, afterwards, Aeryn corrects the unconscious Crichton on his pronunciation of the aliens they’re fighting: “Tavlek.”

Upon waking up in Aeryn’s Prowler headed down to the planet, Crichton doesn’t just let this go. He’s legitimately upset: “Next time you hit me make sure that I don’t wake up.” The entire interaction works as an elucidation of Crichton’s and Aeryn’s differing feelings about violence, both as a general principle and as a tool to be used in interpersonal relationships. And it certainly works to raise the tension between them. But that tension doesn’t go anywhere: Crichton and Aeryn bicker about the gauntlet some more, then D’Argo knocks Aeryn out, and the plotline moves on to being about something else.

Similarly, Aeryn and D’Argo’s little sideplot—lying around insulting each other and complaining about Crichton, and then getting distracted by Aeryn saving D’Argo’s life—is one of the most memorable bits of Farscape so far, but it doesn’t really tie into anything within this episode. The episode didn’t start out being about Aeryn and D’Argo, and it doesn’t end up that way, and if their interactions are meant to be a foil for Crichton’s approach to violence—conceivable, given that they culminate in Aeryn literally beating D’Argo to keep him alive—the episode doesn’t make much of it.

The only plotline with any real structure or throughline to it is Zhaan’s, as she ministers to Kyr, a Tavlek in withdrawal. This story is also really more about violence than it is about addiction—about the ways that Zhaan is able to be a force without using force, and also the degree to which she is clearly capable of (and perhaps even, underneath, sometimes drawn to) violence.

There’s some good stuff here, from a character perspective—we get to see a little bit more of what makes Zhaan tick, and more of the layers that form her understanding of what it is to be a priestess. But it’s also frankly, a somewhat shallow story. Zhaan talks a lot about choices, and about the drug being Kyr’s enemy, but she doesn’t really talk much about why non-violence is a preferable choice. And it’s a shame, because this would be a great opportunity to learn about Zhaan’s choices—particularly the ones that drove her to be the leading anarchist on her homeworld, and the ones that drove her into the priesthood.

Instead, we get a kind of rote intervention story, filtered through the admittedly interesting lens of Zhaan’s alien personality and biology. But although Kyr’s final decision to continue using the Tavlek gauntlet is, at least, a resolution—more than any of the other stories in the episode get—and an unusual one for this kind of story, at that, neither Kyr nor the plotline itself is deep enough for the ending to play with any particular impact. 

Which is really the biggest problem with “Throne for a Loss”: It’s not bad—it just makes no impression.

Random Bits

  • Also in this episode: Rygel sits in some mud, acknowledges people don’t like him.

  • D’ARGO’S QUALTA BLADE IS A GUN, GUYS. Forget what I said about this episode not making an impression.

  • Further strange Luxan biology: When they’re wounded, their blood is… poisonous? And it has to flow freely until it comes out clear, and that means it’s… not poisonous? Which means you have to beat the wound? How does that even WORK?

  • And a little strange Delvian biology: Zhaan’s blood is white, and can be used to relieve withdrawal symptoms?

  • The opening scene is a really good example of how to shove a lot of exposition into a scene naturally without making it boring or stiff. Everyone’s fighting, everyone’s funny, everyone has a different take on what’s happening. Farscape does its share of straight exposition, but it’s also really well-suited to scenes like this.

  • I’ve decided that today is not the day I’m going to talk about gender dynamics in Farscape, but like, I could’ve, okay?

  • The Tavloid-Tavlek running joke is funny. It’s also pretty amusing that both Aeryn and Zhaan hate Crichton’s plans.

  • There’s also a nice running bit of Crichton being good at thinking on his feet, but not well oriented with the world—he doesn’t know what oculars are, he can’t operate a pulse pistol—which is in keeping with “Exodus from Genesis.”

  • “Pilot! Get a tractor beam on that shuttle!” “Tractor beam? What’s that?”

  • “Check out the critter!” “…What’s your problem? Find Rygel.”

  • “You’re soft and weak.” “Soft? Yes. Weak? No.”

  • “Am I to live or die?” “Die… but not today.”

Alien Words

Corvinium, Pantak jab, Morlian death spiders, plok, Premno and Larg (both directional vectors), Rygel doesn’t give “a garanta’s brax,” and D’Argo’s head is “pounding like a Maxillian Pilater Day parade.”

Spoiler

Given how much the Qualta blade is tied to D’Argo’s character and his arc, it’s kind of funny that Aeryn is the first person we ever see fire it.

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Please remember to tag spoilers for future episodes in comments.

And we don’t have to worry about Farscape being boring for long, because the next episode up in the rewatch is 1×05, “Back and Back and Back to the Future,” which we’ll be covering on Monday, October 26.