“And holy women never go bad?”
Unusually for Farscape, the cold open of “Vitas Mortis” fails to set up any obvious compelling conflict. D’Argo, Zhaan, and John visit a Luxan priestess (or, I suppose, “orican”), but they don’t need anything from her; they just want to pop by and say hello so that D’Argo can see a fellow Luxan. Nilaam wants D’Argo to attend her death, but there’s nothing particularly wrong with that; sure, it’s potentially dangerous, but D’Argo wants to do it. And then Nilaam judges D’Argo unworthy, which is sad for D’Argo, but again, it’s not like they really <i>needed</i> anything from her; the worst thing that’s going to happen is that D’Argo goes back to Moya a little sadder than he left it.
Unfortunately, this sets the tone for the rest of the episode. “Vitas Mortis” is an episode without any real stakes, mystery, or conflict. Moya is dying, but it’s immediately obvious to both the viewers and the characters why she is. What’s more, the solution is exactly what we and the characters would expect it to be, and there’s only minimal conflict on the way to getting there. Yeah, okay, Aeryn shoots at Nimaal—but two minutes later, Nimaal and D’Argo essentially have a civil conversation in which Nimaal agrees to kill herself with really pretty minimal resistance.
The problem is that there’s no internal conflict here. D’Argo is pretty clear from the start that he’s not going to choose Nimaal over Moya, and he never really wavers from that—nor would it be believable, at this point in the series, that he would. So the decision to kill Nimaal to save Moya is painful, yes, but it’s also a foregone conclusion. We learn nothing about D’Argo from it, and D’Argo learns nothing about himself.
This might have worked as an inevitable but still moving tragedy, except that neither Nimaal nor Nimaal’s relationship with D’Argo is given much detail or distinction. Her best, most lived-in scene is with not D’Argo, but John, when she explains why she’s asking D’Argo to be her attendant, and how much she misses her home—but we don’t even know why Nimaal is in the Uncharted Territories.
The best and most revealing parts of the episode are those that are only tangentially related to the plot. Chiana bickers with Aeryn over laundry and pesters John with questions about D’Argo’s romantic interest in Nilaam. Aeryn fights to protect Moya and Pilot, and learns more about the personal consequences that Pilot’s decision to live with Moya have had. And John freaks out.
Unlike in “Bone to Be Wild,” no one ever comments on it directly, but there is still clearly something not right with John. He’s reflexively suspicious and ready for violence, which was apparent at the end of last season. But he also spends the episode swinging between wild-eyed anger and a flat, dull affect, and it’s not always clear why he’s displaying one or the other. He shouts and rants and has to be physically restrained at the idea that Nilaam has insulted D’Argo, but he sounds almost bored when discussing Moya’s dangerous and rapidly deteriorating physical condition.
But despite Farscape’s trademark attention to its main characters being in evidence, when none of that characterization is being put to active use for the story, the result is an unfortunately listless episode.
- Probably the best thing about “Vitas Mortis” is the direction, which is significantly more energetic and detailed than the writing. The shot styles feel distinctly 90s, but they’re undeniably evocative, with perspective and timing used to build up a feeling of real grandeur and ominousness in Nimaa’s chambers.
- Farscape Being Farscape: This episode gives us a close-up on D’Argo’s nipple and an extended shot of his O-face.
- Given that Luxan blood is toxic to them when exposed to the air, you would think their rituals would involve less bloodletting.
- “I wonder if I’ve got any grenades left.”
Old Nimaal is played with great skill and charisma by Melissa Jaffer, who would go on to play Noranti in season 4. You can see why they returned to her; in addition to being a known and experienced actress, she knocks her part in this episode out of the park. She’s only in a few scenes, but she has terrific presence and chemistry with both John and D’Argo.
Please remember to tag spoilers for future episodes in the comments.
Next Monday, May 17, it’s a teenage wasteland, as we cover 2×03, “Taking the Stone.”