“So how does the pious Zhaan coexist with all that rage?”
“Rhapsody in Blue” is a love story.
It’s several other things besides—a Zhaan character study, a mild psychological thriller, a vehicle for establishing some more backstory for John—but the plot relies on, and ultimately celebrates, John and Zhaan’s love for each other.
It’s not a romantic love story. John and Zhaan never even say that they love each other, outright. But then, in that peculiar Farscape way, it’s not entirely unromantic, either. John’s storyline revolves around a hallucinated wife who sets herself up as a rival to Zhaan in his attentions. The episode culminates with John and Zhaan essentially having sex. But spiritual sex, you understand, so there’s plausible deniability.
(As an aside: The funniest moment of the whole episode is when Zhaan says of Unity, “This is not sex,” after 40 minutes of it being really clearly coded as sex by all of the Delvians, and after John had explicitly called it sex earlier and Zhaan hadn’t challenged it. And then a minute later, in Unity, John says it’s “like 10 years of really great sex.” Unity is sex, okay, Zhaan?)
But setting Farscape’s eternal preoccupations aside, the climax of this story (look, I’m sorry, that’s just what the word is) is Zhaan finding herself through John’s love for her. In Unity, he lets her see herself through his eyes, and that, as he says, is enough for her to build on.
It’s the ultimate expression of “Hey, don’t talk about my friend that way”: When we shift our perspective to see ourselves as our friends see us, it’s easier to find our positive qualities.
In return, Zhaan saves John’s life. But more importantly, she shares herself with him. She shows him her history. And she relies on him. Zhaan could’ve asked for D’Argo to come stay with her with the Delvians, but she didn’t; she asked for John. She relies on his judgment and his capabilities. Which, for a man whose crewmates are still making jokes about his erraticism and stupidity, is a huge display of faith.
Zhaan has faith in John. John has faith in Zhaan. And because of that, the day is saved.
There is an actual plot around all of these emotions, and I suppose it’s worth talking about. Probably the best thing this episode has going for it is that it doesn’t try to hide its hand. This Delvian sect is obviously shady, John’s ex-girlfriend obviously didn’t come to the Uncharted Territories with him, so very quickly, Tahleen’s duplicity is revealed, and we get to see her reasoning and the machinations behind every piece of the plot.
Neither Tahleen nor any of the other Delvians are particularly interesting characters—Tahleen is a tunnel-visioned revolutionary, Lorana and Hasko are spatting lovers with an inkling of a conscience, and Tuzak is a doddering old man giving out bits of wisdom. But they serve their purpose, which is to provide an infrastructure of plot on which John’s hallucinations, and Zhaan’s crisis of faith, can hang. They also allow us to get a slightly broader picture of Delvians than we’ve had before, and start to suss out what’s a Delvian trait and what’s simply Zhaan. (Broadly speaking, the mysticism and tendency towards rage seem to be Delvian, but the tenacity and determination—that’s Zhaan.)
Crichton’s ex-girlfriend, Alex, is even more not a character. The only bit of the real Alex we see is in a short cold open that flashes back to her and Crichton’s break-up, and the only thing that really tells us is that Alex is blonde and smart and dedicated to her passions. (Crichton has a type, it seems.) The Alex of Crichton’s hallucinations is pure obstruction, whose only interest is stopping Crichton from talking to Zhaan. If there’s a missed opportunity in the episode, I think it’s here. Alex is one of the very few people from Crichton’s life on Earth who we ever get to meet, and ultimately her appearance tells us very little about either her or Crichton.
But this is really a story about Zhaan, and her relationship with John. And that story is gentle and layered and tells us a lot about both characters.
- Lorana and Tahleen are “sharing Unity,” and given the, I can’t stress enough, extremely clear ways in which Unity is coded as sex, I think that makes them Farscape’s first explicitly queer characters.
- This is, oh, let’s go ahead and say the third episode that involves someone messing with John’s mind, and the cumulative effects are starting to show. He’s immediately suspicious of the Delvians and their plans, in a way I’m sure he wouldn’t have been five or six episodes ago. And he’s cutting when Lorana reveals her deception to him: “How in God’s name do you call yourself a priest?”
- This episode has some similar themes to “That Old Black Magic,” in terms of Zhaan’s story, but it also seems to just kind of not acknowledge “That Old Black Magic.” Zhaan should already be struggling with rage, she should already have been “starting over,” in some sense.
- Oh, uh, Aeryn, D’Argo, and Rygel. Mostly they just hang around Moya being distracted by Delvian mind tricks of varying levels of funniness. But Aeryn does get some interesting conversation with John when she’s down on the planet. I like how pretty much every episode contains some meaningful interaction between John and Aeryn, even if it’s just an aside, to show how they’re steadily getting to know each other.
- The John and Aeryn underwear bit is a classic.
- Delvians all wear blue all the time. Can you imagine if humans only dressed in shades of brown?
- I apologize for all of the quotes I’m about to list. This was a really well-written episode on the dialogue level.
- “I am unimpressed by your masculine memories.”
- “It’s so perfect my teeth ache.” “No, that’s from all the sincerity.”
- “We always remember, Zhaan. We simply choose to ignore.”
- “Almost everything we see almost every day is brand new to both of us. And it’s worth of a response. …But it’s also a little creepy.”
- “Surrender your demons. For I have others to replace them.”
- “As the past is sweeping over me, I must rely on the judgment of someone I trust.”
- “Where there is risk, there is hope.”
- “I do respect your teachings, Pa’u Tuzak.” “I respect your choice of murder victims.”
- “When the darkness rises up inside, that’s normal. It’s when you reach down to pull it up that the noxious warnings sound.”
- “Bawk bawk bawk bawk bawk! Your translator microbes handle that one?”
- “Fight all the things that betray you.”
- “Well burn down the temple, sister, ‘cause you’re a bastard sect in any religion.”
- “We all visit the precipice. Each of us must find his own way down.”
- “Seems a shame. Waste all those years of training.” “Hardly wasted. They were the best cycles of my life.”
None? At least, I didn’t write any down.
This is something I could’ve talked about in the regular review, I guess, but I had a hard time finding a way to discuss it without spoilers. Something that really hit me in this episode is that John Crichton really loves women. Romantically, yes, but also just as a sort of primary facet of his personality. I don’t necessarily mean that he loves women in a “respect women juice” kind of way—he has hang-ups about masculinity and gender roles. But he just seems to really easily connect with, and really appreciate, the women he meets. His first friend on Moya is Zhaan; he will ultimately end up being closest to Aeryn and Chiana; he absolutely cherishes his mother, and half of his issues with his father seem to stem from defensiveness of her. He goes out of his way to comfort Lorana even when she did something terrible to him; he connects with the woman on the pre-warp planet in “I, E.T.,” with Gilina, with a dozen episode-of-the-week women. It’s not to a fault—he has no love for Tahleen, or Grayza, or Matala. But he honestly just seems to like women, as a baseline, and to find them really easy to talk to and connect with. And given Farscape’s gender role fuckery, that seems worth noting.
Another thing that I kind of note in the review proper, but that is so much clearer with the perspective of the entire series, is that John absolutely has a type, and that type is blondes (especially intellectual blondes), which is one of the funniest things Farscape ever does, as far as I’m concerned. Gilina, Alex, Caroline, his high school girlfriend, even the Peacekeeper Disruptor in “Look at the Princess,” even Chiana—six women who look and act nothing like Aeryn.
I’m not going to get deep into it, but I will say that John’s line to Tahleen—“This isn’t about freedom. It’s about power.”—pinged me because it reminds me a lot of something John will say to Grayza in “We Are So Screwed”: “I have been in your hands. There’s no peace there. Only power.”
Please remember to tag spoilers for future episodes in comments.
Next Monday: Farscape grows the beard in 1×14, “Jeremiah Crichton.”