The Wonders I’ve Seen: 1×07, “P.K. Tech Girl”

“I hope you will only ever imagine how horrible it is to never return to the life that you love. You are smarter than that, Gilina.”

Building an episode of television around a single guest star is a bit of a gamble. Will the actor click? Will the character work? Will the audience care about this person who isn’t one of their familiar faces? If this one character fails to connect, the entire episode falls through.

Although there are a few other bit characters in the episodes, Alyssa-Jane Cook’s name is the only one that appears in the “guest star” credits of “P.K. Tech Girl.” She is Gilina Renaez, the eponymous P.K. Tech Girl herself; the episode is about her.

Farscape had a bit of help with casting in that they were filming in Australia, and as the first major television show to do so, they pretty much had their pick of Australian actors; everyone wanted to get the chance to stretch their sci-fi muscles. Cook was not an unknown quantity. She had been a regular on E Street, a popular Australian soap opera, for several years, and was fairly well known.

Even without that context, though, Cook is exactly what you need in a load-bearing guest star: She’s warm, she’s likeable, she’s instantly relatable. Other well-known Australian actors who’ve had the chance to take a crack at sci-fi on recent Farscape episodes have used the opportunity to really go for broke with strange alien performances, like Matala in “Back and Back and Back to the Future” and Volmae in “Thank God It’s Friday, Again.” But Gilina is resolutely human, moreso even than Claudia Black’s stiff, slowly unwinding Aeryn. Unlike anyone we—or Crichton—have met so far in the Uncharted Territories, she looks and acts utterly familiar and understandable.

So naturally, when Crichton and the others discover Gilina marooned on the wreckage of the long-lost Peacekeeper ship the Zelbinion, he finds himself drawn to her; she’s the closest thing to a human he’s seen in months. Moreover, she’s an engineer, a scientist, like him. In Zhaan, and increasingly in Aeryn, Crichton has found friends in outer space. In Gilina, for the first time, he finds a kindred spirit.

Meanwhile, Aeryn is attracted to and repelled by Gilina in equal measure. She’s naturally suspicious of anyone who works for Crais, as Gilina does, and she also feels an inherent superiority over someone she considers a mere tech. Despite coming from the same people, they are not of the same world. And Gilina is similarly wary—to her, Aeryn is a traitor. But despite all of that, Gilina is the only living Sebacean Aeryn has seen since leaving the Peacekeepers who hasn’t been trying to kill her. For Aeryn, like John, Gilina is a tenuous connection to a home she has lost.

Gilina, for her part, is a tech. The Peacekeepers have clearly allowed her more softness and emotion than soldiers like Aeryn are granted, and she is open to new ideas, and curious about the world. She sees in Crichton both a like-minded soul and an opportunity to feel and experience new things. And she sees in Aeryn a warning—because, as she comes to understand over the course of the episode, Aeryn is not a traitor, so much as she is a victim of all of the new experiences that Crichton brought to her.

The episode plays out as a complicated three-way dance between John, Aeryn, and Gilina. It is a romantic story, to be sure. Its action rises and falls with the rhythms of the romance between John and Gilina, and with the romantic tension between John and Aeryn: the flirtation, the kiss, Aeryn’s growing and badly-concealed jealousy.

But like all the best romances, it’s about more than just the romance. John and Gilina see things in each other that they want, and those things both explain their romantic connection and transcend it. Aeryn is upset by the way that Gilina encroaches on her relationship with John, but she’s also just upset by Gilina, and all of the loss that she represents.

It’s such an effective, efficient, detailed love triangle that it tiptoes up to the edge of being more of polyamorous triad. Every individual relationship gets moments to breathe, every dynamic gets careful attention and progression over the course of the episode, and the story is at its absolute heights when John, Aeryn, and Gilina are all on screen together.

The culmination of that dynamic is a scene where John, Aeryn, and Gilina all have to work together to quickly get a defense shield operational before an approaching enemy vessel can fire on the defenseless Moya. It’s halfway through the episode. John and Gilina have grown increasingly flirtatious, but they haven’t yet kissed; Aeryn is just starting to get annoyed with John’s attachment to Gilina; Gilina is just starting to rethink the idea that Aeryn is a traitor.

John, at Gilina’s urging, starts disconnecting black wires. Aeryn stands, at a loss, until Gilina calls her to attention and, in a reversal of their dynamic from the beginning of the episode, starts giving her orders. John picks up tools and starts making connections, proving to the formerly skeptical Gilina that he knows what he’s doing. Gilina runs back and forth, directing the action, and Aeryn listens.

For a moment, they’re all in sync.

In writing classes, they say that if you want to shake up a scene and make it dynamic, you should add a third character. That’s really what Gilina does. She comes onto Farscape for an episode, and she brings out, not new aspects of our characters—we already knew that John was a scientist and Aeryn was a soldier, and that they were falteringly attracted to each other—but deeper understandings of traits we were already aware of. She forces John and Aeryn to confront each other, and their own emotions. She brings them, paradoxically, closer together.

And then she leaves, changing and having been changed. What a terrific episode of television.

Random Bits

  • The act of reviewing a show always changes your relationship with it, and I was a little worried when I started reviewing Farscape that it would change my relationship with it in a bad way. But I’ve watched this show so many times that, even though I definitely saw things in the first six episodes that I didn’t see before, reviewing them didn’t fundamentally shift my perspective. This is the first episode where I really feel like approaching it critically has had a huge impact on how I feel about it. I always liked “P.K. Tech Girl.” But now, after sitting down and really thinking about its construction, I love this episode.

  • There are non-love triangle plots happening, and they’re all good! Zhaan and D’Argo team up to stall for time against the enemy Sheyang vessel, and it’s generally a clever plot that uses the characters and their relationship well. (The Sheyangs also get personalities and a whole set of internal politics, which is really fun and probably wasn’t necessary for this episode to work. Part of what makes “P.K. Tech Girl” so good is that every part of it is filled to the brim with detail.)

  • Meanwhile, Rygel gets his first really serious plotline, as the Zelbinion is the ship where he was initially held and tortured when he was deposed 130 years ago. Rygel is kind of inherently a comic relief character, and it’s always a bit of a question of how well it’s going to work when shows take dramatic turns with comedic characters. But this is only the seventh episode, and Rygel’s plot is, in some ways, Farscape taking a stand: Even gross, greedy little frog puppets have internality. Even Rygel gets to have trauma, and gets to have his trauma treated seriously. There’s something surprisingly affecting about watching the traumatized Rygel in the flashback scenes.

  • Rygel doesn’t stop being incredibly gross during his plot, which I think is part of why it works.

  • In a little sign of character progression from “Throne for a Loss,” Aeryn tries to hit John again during their argument over how to treat Gilina when they first meet her. But this time, John sees the punch coming and deflects.

  • The conversation between John, Aeryn, and Rygel about what the Peacekeepers are and the good they could do with their resources if they were willing to change is really, really good. A vivid explanation of every character’s perspective that puts unexpected people in alignment with each other and lets you completely understand where everyone is coming from, but also doesn’t pretend that the Peacekeepers are justifiable in any way.

  • This episode is also just really well shot. Most of the action takes place on a fairly contained, dark set, and the camera finds all kinds of interesting angles in and around it. The wide shot to reveal the scope of all the Peacekeeper technology—which I think had to include some CGI—is really nice to look at. I also love the extreme close-up on Rygel’s eye that starts the episode.

  • When Gilina has to decide whether to betray her oath never to give away Peacekeeper tech to the enemy, she says, “I will do it for you.” Shot of John. “For all of you.” Shot of Aeryn. When I say this episode has strong polyamory vibes, I am not fucking kidding, okay.

  • “When you told me endless tales of your home, you spoke of forests and rivers and valleys. Well, I was thinking of walls not unlike these.”

  • “Confront your demons, Rygel. Or they will chase you from the shadows to the pyre.”

  • “Officer Sun, I think you should know, I consider you a traitor, and therefore worthy of the punishment it merits. But as a Sebacean, I believe you are as deserving as I to know the truth about a cultural treasure.”

  • “Human. It’s kind of like Sebacean, but we haven’t conquered other worlds yet, so we just kick the crap out of each other.”

  • “I try to save a life a day. Usually it’s my own.”

  • “So it’s always red wire, blue wire, red wire, blue wire, and at the last possible second… he cuts the wrong wire.” “And the bomb never goes off?”

  • “You robbed me of so many cycles. But no matter what you did to me, I’ll always remember one thing. You lose.”

  • “They spit fire? How come nobody tells me this stuff? How come nobody tells me they spit fire? Aeryn!”

  • “Listen, gas-hole!”

  • I would quote John and Aeryn’s entire final conversation, but it’s so long. Please just understand that it’s a masterpiece of dialogue and character work and scenecraft. It goes nowhere that you’re expecting, it lets the characters have sharp edges, it packs so much emotion into characters who are trying not to let emotions show. I want to live inside it.

Alien Words

Arns! We have a verified “arns” sighting! Plus, frotein, and Gilina works for Tramco Support, Maintenance Provost.

Spoiler

The eyebrow kissing was supposed to be a thing that all Sebaceans did, as in, the original idea was that Sebaceans just kissed on the eyebrow. But then after this episode they dropped it, so it looks like Gilina is just a weird kisser.

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Please remember to tag spoilers for future episodes in comments.

Next up, we get acquainted with everyone’s favorite space wizard, in “That Old Black Magic,” on Monday, December 7.