The Wonders I’ve Seen: 2×19-2×21, “Liars, Guns, and Money”

“We’re gonna rob a bank?!”

“Liars, Guns, and Money” is just so full. The basic story of the episodes, as a friend once pointed out to me, is summed up in the subtitles: “A Not So Simple Plan,” “With Friends Like These…”, “Plan B.” We break into a bank, we bring in back-up to fix the things we fucked up while breaking into a bank, and then we break into the bank again.

But the blocks that story is built out of are elaborate, and varied, and above all numerous. To list only the plot threads that are vital to the central narrative: D’Argo’s reunion with Jothee; Stark’s vendetta against Scorpius; John’s vendetta against Scorpius; Scorpius and Natira’s weird… BDSM… thing; Talyn and Crais’s tenuous relationship with the Moya crew; and of course, the neural clone in John’s head. And again, those are only the elements without which the story doesn’t function. If I were to list every running character thread, we’d be here all day.

It’s a lot to juggle. And the fact that the episodes don’t feel overstuffed or (for the most part) confusing is testament both to the space that this story was given, and the skill with which it was written, directed, and acted.

In addition to being full, the trilogy is big. It’s big in the way that “Nerve”/“The Hidden Memory” is, only moreso. Things explode; people die; the cast is enormous. “Liars, Guns, and Money” is Farscape with no holds barred.

And it’s good. I would love to be more sophisticated about it, but this trilogy is just good, in the way that well-constructed pulp will always be good. Intelligent and flamboyant villains, overly elaborate bank heists, shoot-outs every time things start to feel like they might get dull, last-minute betrayals, declarations of love from within the pit of despair. There’s not a lot of deconstruction happening in “Liars, Guns, and Money”—just a lot of people who clearly love stories trying their best to wring every ounce of entertainment out of this one.

That said, despite its straightforward tropeyness, “Liars, Guns, and Money” is recognizably Farscape: dark and witty and gross and sexual and character-focused. The most obvious element that just wouldn’t appear on any other show is Natira. From her spikily beautiful character design, to her obsession with eyeballs, to the openly sadomasochist affair she’s got going on with Scorpius, she is pure Farscape. She’s like a sea urchin with a libido and bloodlust. I would watch her strut around an evil bank for at least a season.

D’Argo and Jothee’s plotline feels specific to this show as well. D’Argo lashes out at John in the first two episodes, blaming him for pretty much everything that doesn’t go exactly right because John didn’t immediately agree to the suicidal bank heist. That doesn’t make much sense on its face, but D’Argo is in a stressful place, and for all that he and John are good friends, they have a tense history, and John is probably in some ways the easiest character for D’Argo to lash out at. Once Jothee returns, that tension doesn’t entirely dissipate. Father and son have been separated for most of Jothee’s life, and while their reunion is joyous, it’s also awkward. They don’t really know each other, and clearly have different priorities and expectations out of life. D’Argo goes from sniping at John about Jothee to badgering Jothee about John. It’s just a highly emotionally charged situation in which no one is really acting at their best or most sensible, and there’s no really solid resolution at the end of the episode.

Speaking of things that don’t get resolved at the end of the episode, the real driver of this trilogy’s emotional stakes is John’s increasingly intrusive neural clone. Ben Browder clearly enjoys playing Crichton anywhere from slightly to entirely unhinged, and he really gets the chance to have fun here. John’s deteriorating mental state straddles that quintessential Farscape line between funny and grim, providing some of the trilogy’s best laughs—when he drags himself away from Scorpius while shout-singing the national anthem—and some of its most brutal devastations. The final scene of the episode is memorably dark, with John begging D’Argo to kill him, but the moment that really stands out to me is when John, in the middle of a fire fight, stands up and quietly, almost childishly, tells Aeryn that he’s going to go with Scorpius. (And then Aeryn immediately knocks him out.) Farscape keeps pushing to find out how much deeper it can drive John into despair, and it hasn’t found a bottom yet.

Luckily, there’s always the finale!

Other Stuff (a.k.a., wow this trilogy has so much to talk about)

  • Along with body swapping, “we made the ship tiny,” and time loops where people in the past send messages to people in the future the long way, gathering up the guest stars we’ve met along the way for one big final showdown is a trope I will never, ever, ever get tired of. Farscape has a wealth of great characters to chose from, with the added twist that most of the useful people Moya has met over the past two seasons are their enemies, because Moya rarely runs into friends. It’s obvious that Farscape’s writers love this trope as much as I do, because they absolutely suck the marrow out of it. In very Farscapeian fashion, none of the characters are in the same place they were when we last saw them. Bekhesh has found religion and given up the gauntlet; Rorg is pregnant; Teurac has been turned on by his crew and lost his fire; and the Zenetan pirates now answer to Durka. This is the kind of thing that a lot of shows might overlook. It’s easy to think of one-off guest characters as being in a kind of stasis when we’re not interacting with them, unless they’re bit villains who we can assume are actively plotting against the protagonists. But the world of Farscape is sprawling and wild and very much alive, and to butcher Heraclitus, we never meet the same character twice.

    The useful side effect of this is that each of the guest characters gets a story. In an episode heavily centered on John and Stark confronting their torturer, Rygel gets to kill his. Rorf worries about his pregnant mate, and falters because he doesn’t have her skills (and then dies slightly tragically). Teurac struggles to find his flame again (and then dies a little bit more tragically). The Zenetan pirates turn on Moya, because of course they do! Yes, it eats up time, but these episodes have time to spare, and it’s so much more fun to spend time with evolving characters who have their own stories than it is to just check the boxes on a parade of familiar faces.
  • Talyn is back! And Crais and Aeryn’s relationship is more tangled than ever. There’s a lot that just kind of gets thrown at the viewer in their few scenes. Crais has never shown overt romantic interest in Aeryn before, although their interactions at the beginning of the season were obviously loaded in some sense, but Aeryn has clearly picked up on signs, given her offer. But equally clearly, Crais rejected that offer, given Aeryn’s surprise at his return (and Crais’s insistence that it was not he, but Talyn, who made the decision).

    Talyn and Crais’s development this season have been interesting because they’ve been largely off-screen. This is only their third appearance, so we have to make a lot of assumptions about Crais’s intentions and Talyn’s state of mind. The key takeaways seem to be that Crais is, to some degree, legitimately changed—or at least, in a position where he has to act changed. And that Talyn is loyal and essentially well-intentioned, but not controllable.
  • You can really see how hair-triggered John has become, because he pulls a gun on Stark basically just for being snippy. The episode doesn’t really clarify whether that’s a result of the neural clone or just garden-variety trauma, and it’s likely that John doesn’t know either. Considering the neural clone is, to some extent, a metaphor for trauma, in some ways it doesn’t even matter.

  • Jothee hasn’t had a ton of time to be developed yet, but I enjoy that he’s both recognizable as a trope—angry rebellious teenager who has suddenly appeared, check—while also being specific and understandable. We know where Jothee’s anger comes from, and we understand why his views and priorities are likely to be very different from his father’s, so even when he’s not precisely likeable, I still don’t find him aggravating. I also like his sparse little teenager mustache.

  • I have a giant all-caps note to “TALK ABT CHIANA’S SHIRT,” because I forgot to mention it last episode and was afraid I would forget again. Anyway, Chiana’s midriff is no longer bare; she now has a kind of sheer grey shirt under her jacket. I don’t have any evidence, but I assume this was done to cut down on Gigi Edgeley’s time in makeup.

  • Every part of Zhaan and Chiana’s act in the bank is beautiful, from Zhaan’s eyepatch to Chiana fully committing to her hypeman act where she breathily repeats everything Zhaan says.

  • Chiana is just lowkey great throughout this entire trilogy, acting as a surprisingly reasonable voice amidst a ton of chaos, throwing down on Stark when he goes rogue, fighting a pirate, and doing a completely out-of-nowhere and completely amazing war trill as they swoop down to attack the repository.

  • It’s a tiny thing, but I love that at the end, when he’s holding John still as he begs D’Argo to kill him, D’Argo strokes John’s face. D’Argo has spent a lot of the trilogy being very angry, much of the time specifically at John, but he’s equally capable of gentleness and caretaking, and Farscape is a show that (oh boy, mini Farscape Gender Corner happening) for all of its occasional hang-ups about homosexuality, is perfectly comfortable showcasing that side of D’Argo’s personality and his and John’s relationship.

  • It was obviously made on a budget—though equally obviously, a slightly larger budget than the rest of the season—but I love the set design of the shadow depository. It’s grand and dark, but still colorful, full of jewel tones and streaks of ivory. It’s also sort of recognizably bank-like, while looking very alien.

  • How much did this trilogy commit to its pulp tropes and aesthetic? There’s a scene where Chiana and a Zenetan pirate struggle over a gun, and the gun goes off while it’s in between their bodies, and we don’t see who was shot until the pirate collapses! Beautiful!

  • It’s just basic plotting, but I love the twist with the fake money. It ties Natira and Scorpius’s power play into Stark’s obsession with revenge and D’Argo’s drive to rescue Jothee, and complicates the situation in a way that feels inevitable from the viewer’s perspective but completely unforeseeable from the characters’. Just a really neat bit of writing.

  • That said, the fact that it doesn’t occur to Natira that Scorpius might kill her until John suggests it feels a little off. She tried to kill him! But maybe she just views it as a kind of foreplay, that he’s of course going to notice and avoid—whereas John is suggesting that Scorpius is going to like, for real kill her.

  • This is really the episode where Farscape fully commits to its BDSM undercurrent. We’re never going back, guys; this is the future.

  • “You ever hear of KFC?” “KFC?” “It is, to my knowledge, unique in the universe, and unique is always valuable. We have managed to procure the eleven secret ingredients.”

  • “Bonnie and Clyde. Oh no, forget about that one, it’s a bad ending.”

  • “Hey Stark, riddle me this. What’s black and white, and black and white, and black and white?” ← This is my favorite Farscape quote in the entire series.

  • “What are you doing?” “Doing what guys do best. I’m looking for Baywatch.”

  • “Aeryn, if Scorpius gets me—” “I know, shoot you.” “No! No, no, no, shoot him!”

  • “I got a piece of you in me, now you’ve got a piece of me in you!”

  • “Insert the rod, John!” (This is also the episode where Farscape fully commits to the homoerotic undertones of the Scorpius/John dynamic.)

  • “Aeryn, I um. I meant what I said. Didn’t say.”

  • “There are vast regions of your brain that are filled with nothing but gibberish.” “That would be high school.”

  • “Crichton’s too honorable.” “Aeryn’s too dull.” “D’Argo’s too…” “Say it.” “Simple?”

  • “Our money’s alive!” “You realize what that means?” “They’re eating the ship!” “Yes, but… we’re poor.”

  • “A lifetime of killing and extortion takes its toll.” “Especially on those you kill and extort.”

  • “I need your gauntlet.” “No! It’s a tool of destruction.” “That’s why I want it.”

  • “It’s easier to reform when you’re rich.”

  • “You win.” “As if there was ever any doubt.”

  • “See, Flavius Scorpius here wants to visit foreign lands, meet foreign people, and conquer them.”

  • “He’s an old enemy. I like that he doesn’t talk back.”

  • “Good news. I’m always suspicious of good news.”

  • “Don’t be jealous, Frau Blucher. He only loves me for my mind.”

  • “Well I can tell you, you’re about to taste blood.” “Was that good for you?” “Yes.” See my comments above re: Farscape’s commitment to BDSM.

  • “Aeryn. I’m, uh. I’m gonna go to Scorpius.” “Frell you are.”

  • “Farewell, my friends. And thank you for teaching me to kill again.”