“Cross my heart, hope to die, stick a needle in my eye.”
“The Ugly Truth” is fun because any half-decent Rashomon episode is going to be fun. Rashomon is a fun concept, and even more fun when applied to characters we’re already familiar with, because we can appreciate all of the quirks of personality and relationship that play into people’s different views. If you’re the kind of show who’s going to do a Rashomon episode, you’re probably flexible and fun enough that you’re not going to completely fuck it up.
That said, Farscape’s take on the concept is… fine. It’s fun, as I said; there’s a real depth of detail to the characters’ different recollections that’s really enjoyable to sift through. There’s also a certain subtlety to some of the biases that, in typical Farscape fashion, the show never calls out. It’s obvious, for instance, that every character is literally the protagonist of their own retelling. Zhaan is much more active in her version of the story than she is in anyone else’s, and the same goes for pretty much all of the characters. But the blocking of the characters, for instance, changes a lot as well. The Moya crew is fluid in Aeryn’s version, with John up and about and circling around Crais, while Zhaan and Stark hang back; and though the characters don’t move as much, they’re spread throughout the cabin in Zhaan’s version. In everyone else’s memory, the entire crew presents a kind of wall opposite Crais. (Although the precise make-up of that wall changes depending on the teller.)
The thing that keeps “The Ugly Truth” from greatness is that it’s a little bit broad. Zhaan views everyone as much more level-headed and pacifist than they are in reality; D’Argo imagines himself the leader who everyone agrees with; John is the more-or-less reliable outside observer. It’s not that these versions of the story aren’t funny, because they are. But they sort of play like the molds the characters were cut from, rather than the characters themselves. Zhaan has a violent side—and even if she were to deny that violence, which is reasonably in-character, she has a complicated history with all of the Moya crew. She and Aeryn have had real and memorable disagreements over the use and valorization of force; she’s very fond of John, but she’s often found herself impatient with his imcomprehensibility and capriciousness. There’s no reason that her vision of them should be so peaceful and agreeable.
Meanwhile, John’s narrative plays out the most like an episode of the show likely would, without any obvious bias—but John is extraordinarily biased, and just as likely to misread or exaggerate a situation as anyone else in the crew. Is John really a more objective reader of Zhaan than D’Argo is? Is he a more objective reader of Aeryn than nearly anyone? In a show that considers the de-centralization of humanity to be one of its major themes, it’s odd that John doesn’t get the chance to be just as wrong as the aliens.
The worst Farscape episodes are the ones that are boring, and “The Ugly Truth” isn’t that. It’s absolutely fun to watch—just a little shallow.
- The most fun part of this episode is mixing and matching different characters’ versions to try to figure out what really happened (which is another reason that John’s more-or-less unbiased version is kind of disappointing). For instance, the idea that Crais might be trying to get even deadlier weapons onto Talyn only comes up in Aeryn’s, D’Argo’s, and John’s versions. The fact that Aeryn and D’Argo both bring it up is enough to clue us in that it’s a real thing—we don’t need a definitive answer on that.
- I’m glad that Zhaan got to be part of the fun on this one, and someone other than Rygel had to stay on Moya to make that part of the episode work, but I would’ve really enjoyed seeing Chiana’s version of events.
- Chiana listing names in ascending order of how much she thinks Pilot cares about them: D’Argo, Crichton, Zhaan, Aeryn.
- “Good question.” “Bad answer.”
- “This is the weirdest hoosegow I’ve ever been in. Slammer, clink, jail, prison.” “Just how many of them have you been in?”
I’ve never really understood the point of dispersing Stark. He’s only out for one episode, and then he’s back with information about D’Argo’s son. Fine, okay, maybe he leaves so he can come back with that information, but then why bring him in at “The Locket”? Doesn’t that just sort of double the same plot point? Stark shows up with a lead on D’Argo’s son… then nothing happens… then Stark dies… then Stark shows up with a lead on D’Argo’s son again. It’s just weird.
Please remember to tag spoilers for future episodes in the comments.
Next Monday, September 27, the crew gets cleansed, in 2×18, “A Clockwork Nebari.”