The Wonders I’ve Seen: 1×15, “Durka Returns”

“I left the half-dead sanctimoniousness of my planet the first chance that I got. I stole food when I was hungry. Jumped transport without voucher. Defended myself when necessary.”

“Durka Returns” is, in most respects, a fairly middling episode of season one Farscape. It’s not dreadful, but it’s also not captivating the way that some of the show’s most inventive and incisive episodes have been. At times, it seems a little scattered: If this is an episode about Rygel’s trauma, why does Rygel fall out of it for long stretches? If it’s an episode about John’s relationship with this strange new grey girl, why are we bothering with Durka? If it’s about the ethics of mental cleansing, why does that question get tossed aside a third of the way through?

But that’s all really missing the point, because “Durka Returns” is less an independent story than it is a showcase for Chiana. Supposedly, Chiana was originally supposed to be a true guest star, and die at the end of the episode, but the producers liked her enough to keep her around. It’s not hard to see why the producers kept Chiana around, but it is a little difficult to understand what the episode was supposed to have been like before that decision was made.

Consider the structure of “Durka Returns”: There’s really no reason for Chiana to be in it except to join the crew. She’s not necessary to the Durka story—indeed, she’s mostly a distraction from it. To the extent that Chiana is necessary to Durka’s story, her part could have been played by McGuffin Cargo of the Week. There needs to be some reason that Durka and Salis are traveling together, and some reason that a Nebari host vessel would be in the vicinity. Chiana provides that reason, but a boatload of unobtanium would do the job just as well. 

Instead we have Chiana, sitting in her cell, eating up narrative time and energy. An episode called “Durka Returns” would, one would think, spend a lot of time exploring the character of Durka and his effect on Rygel. But Rygel is at best a side plot in this episode, largely overshadowed by the question of who Chiana is, what she’s done, and whether John can trust her. There’s no time to dig into the layers of Rygel’s relationship with the rest of the crew, or to properly examine the array of reactions that there should be to Durka.

By which I mean: Durka tortured Rygel! Rygel’s reaction to him isn’t disproportionate or unreasonable. He should be angry and suspicious. And although the rest of the crew have a reason for reacting to Rygel’s outbursts the way they do—they don’t want to piss off the Nebari host ship headed their way—an episode that was fully about Rygel and Durka would have time to spare on the unfairness of that.

But again, “Durka Returns” is not really about Rygel, or even Durka. It’s about introducing the viewer to Chiana. And to the extent that it’s about that, it succeeds wildly, because Chiana is great. Played with a kind of alien off-kilterness by Edgley, she walks onto screen and immediately pulls eyes towards her. Her character design is fantastic. She’s wounded and aggressive, seductive and restless. Despite being similar to the crew of Moya in a lot of ways (how many sex-obsessed escaped prisoners can one galaxy hold, anyway?) she brings a totally new energy onto the ship.

In particular, since he’s the only main character that she really interacts with, Chiana brings a new energy to her dynamic with John. It’s not new for John to have sexual chemistry with a main character—he has it with Aeryn, Zhaan, and arguably D’Argo. But John and Chiana’s dynamic is undeniably sexual from the word go. Intense stares, John feeding Chiana by hand, and of course a several-minutes-long conversation held while John is pinning Chiana to the ground, their faces inches from each other.

But beyond being someone that John can flirt with on a physical level, Chiana is also someone that he can guide. So far, John has largely been the least knowledgeable, least powerful member of the crew. (He’s only barely started to outrank Rygel.) But Chiana is newer to the ship than he is. She’s clearly young. She is, physically, less powerful than he is, a rarity in the Uncharted Territories. John has both wisdom and experience on her, and that means that for the first time, we get to see John being a mentor, of sorts.

All of which is to say that “Durka Returns” is probably more memorable for introducing Chiana than it is for anything to do with the episode’s actual plot—but there are worse things to be memorable for.

Random Bits

  • This is where I should confess that I love Chiana, and I’m completely incapable of objectivity where she’s concerned. When she appeared, I shouted, “Yes, I love you! Hi!” Rewatching a show weekly really makes the big moments pop.

  • The decision to leave the identity of Salis’ murderer an open question is great; it provides Chiana with an edge that both makes her a proper member of Moya’s crew, and makes her just a little unsettling.

  • Aeryn gets a smidge of a plot: She grew up being taught about Durka’s legendary accomplishments, but upon coming face to face with the real Durka, finds herself disillusioned and even disgusted. There are really only two scenes dealing with this, but they’re a good two scenes, as all parts of Aeryn’s gradual disillusionment with the Peacekeepers generally are.

  • The best part of this episode’s structure is that it starts out seeming like it’s maybe going to be a classic Star Trek ethical dilemma episode—“Is it acceptable to brainwash unrepentant murderers in order to make them more peaceful?”—and then immediately pretty much everyone but Zhaan forgets about the ethics entirely.

  • Zhaan calls Crichton “John”! Twice!

  • The other thing that I think makes John and Chiana’s dynamic really work is that, while they don’t trust each other at all, they very clearly like each other, even beyond physical chemistry. Even their arguments (“I said get him in the room!” “You said to the room!”) display a sort of baseline likemindedness. Which is funny, because in a lot of ways they’re not very similar characters!

  • “Our record with guests ain’t too sweet, Pilot.”

  • “Nebari mental cleansing doesn’t get the tough stains out.”

  • “Durka’s gone Hannibal Lecter on us.” “I don’t know what that means.”

  • “I’ll hunt you down and I’ll kill you!” “Get in line, Durka.”

Alien Words

Watruka plant, Glendien pleasure vessel, jellifan fire paste, sevar crystals, gleebos, draz.


You would be forgiven, from this episode, for thinking that Chiana had been introduced as a romantic rival to Aeryn. But although Chiana and John’s relationship is and continues to be underlined by sexuality, perhaps the best thing about Chiana is that the show never really does go down the love triangle route. There are moments where they flirt with the idea—“Look at the Princess” probably comes closest—but ultimately, Aeryn and Chiana aren’t rivals. Everyone’s relationships are much too complicated for that.

This maybe could’ve gone in the review proper, but the way that John and Chiana interact in this episode—again, despite the overt sexuality—is kind of sibling-like. The bickering, the nose boop, the irritation colored by affection. The reason that I’m putting this under the spoiler cut is that a) that sibling dynamic continues for the entirety of the show, and b) eventually we will learn about both John and Chiana’s actual siblings, and see how much they seem to be replicating those dynamics with each other. Chiana has an older brother who she’s been separated from, and John has a little sister. In finding each other, they’ve found someone to fill those roles.


Please remember to tag spoilers for future episodes in comments.

Next Monday, there’s no place like home, in 1×16, “A Human Reaction.”