“I don’t know art, but I know what I don’t like.”
Maldis’s original episode, “That Old Black Magic,” works because it has clear emotional stakes for every character involved, and because the mechanics of the magic are straightforward, if vague: John is trapped in a mind prison, and Zhaan can break him out by psychically weakening Maldis.
“Picture If You Will” has neither of those things. The stakes are muddled; the mechanics are vague to the point of being basically non-existent. The episode doesn’t even seem to know who it’s about, let alone what it’s about.
Is it a story about Chiana’s fears and foibles? Well, no, because Chiana disappears a third of the way through. Is it a story about Zhaan’s power and its pitfalls? Maybe, but Zhaan is basically putting on a one-woman show for most of the episode, so when or if she overcomes any doubts is unclear. Is it a story about Aeryn’s tenuous faith in the crew? That’s probably the clearest arc in the episode, but it starts from the strange, unfounded premise that Aeryn doesn’t care about most of the crew. Aeryn arguing to throw Chiana off Moya is a very first-half-of-season-one plot beat; we’re past that now, guys.
In fact, everyone is a little off from their usual character, in a way that makes you kind of wonder if there isn’t some mind-warping magic at play. Chiana is weepy and hysterical and helpless; Aeryn is cold and detached; Zhaan is a complete cipher. John and D’Argo are fine, I guess, but any sense of nuance to their characters has completely vanished.
Without any kind of emotional continuity or character depth to latch onto, the plot is the only thing the episode really has going for it, and unfortunately the plot (and the tone) is all over the place. Parts of it play like a kind of tense, Final Destination-like horror movie, but outside of the scene where Chiana “dies,” it never leans into either the horror or the outlandishness of that tone. Parts of it play like an Alice in Wonderland drug trip, but for a show that loves drug trips, they don’t linger on it at all.
And as for the actual mechanics of the plot, they’re so obscure that the episode does a jokey wrap-up exposition scene where Chiana explains to Rygel, at length, what’s just happened. Unfortunately, a) it’s not that funny, b) it’s not that helpful, and c) it doesn’t make up for the fact that the plot is confusing as it happens. Don’t hang a lampshade on your failures; just write better.
- The scene where D’Argo sees a prediction of himself getting stabbed through the chest and then immediately stands in front of an enormous spike is, in a word, hilarious. If they’d called attention to the spike in any way, it could’ve felt intentional, like a Final Destination set-up, but they didn’t, so it just feels like D’Argo being inconceivably stupid.
- It is nice to see D’Argo and Chiana finally getting non-mind-warped time together, but it would’ve been better if it were in an episode where they were more in-character.
- It’s weird that the characters don’t believe Chiana at first, when what she’s describing is practically an ordinary day in their lives. John shouldn’t be dismissing what she said as “power of suggestion,” he should be gunning to get back to Kyvan and fuck shit up.
- As someone with chronic upper back pain, I was so jealous of Zhaan getting walked on by Maldis.
- “Have you eaten, drunk, smoked, sniffed anything weird lately?” “No. Have you?” “Not lately.”
- “Have you never heard of a self-fulfilling prophecy?”
- “He sucks the life force out of people.” “He just plain sucks.”
Please remember to tag spoilers in the comments.
Next Monday, June 14, there’s no place like budong, as we cover 2×07, “Home on the Remains.”