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We see Furlow only twice, and yet she leaves a permanent mark in our memory and imagination, thanks to her unforgettable personality, the product of both writerly genius and the outstanding performance of the actress that impersonates her.

The mechanic from Dam-ba-da is a study in contrasts: the unlovely appearance of an overweight, under-cleaned and overall unkempt person, with an unlit cigar stuck between her lips, goes hand in hand with an unsophisticated and often slurred speech typical of the less refined strata of society, and these details bring both viewers and opponents to underestimate her.  Yet, under the coarse exterior lurk both a fine intelligence and a shrewd mind: adding a very flexible morality to the mix, the result is an ambiguous character that sometimes borders on the dangerous.

Furlow's only priority lies with herself, and to that goal she does not hesitate to create allegiances with the worst kind of subjects, which she betrays without qualms when a better opportunity comes over the horizon: in the double episode INFINITE POSSIBILITIES, for example, we learn she made a bargain with the Charrids, yet she kills a good number of them while appearing to side with our heroes, and she justifies it, in the most innocent-looking way, with the need for credibility before the 'good guys'.  She is indeed shameless and bold at the same time.

It's almost impossible not to feel a flash of sympathy for Furlow, despite these premises and the role she plays in the show: once we overlook the instinctive outrage for her actions, we understand she's moved by an excellent drive for survival, the kind that manages to land her always on her feet - not a simple achievement considering the difficult environment where she lives, the shady world at the border between law and anarchy.

The contrast that is Furlow is therefore mirrored in the viewers' mixed reaction, who alternate between loathing and admiration, disapproval and respect:  a further indication of the depth and lack of stereotyped representations that are at the basis of this ground-breaking show.

These are not the only remarkable women to grace Farscape's tapestry, of course, just the ones with longer screen-time and impact, because this great show does not lack notable female figures, like Tech Gilina, sweet and yet possessed of a very special kind of courage, or Empress Novia, shrewd political manipulator, or Jenavian Chatto, ruthless and resourceful spy. And again the evil Natira, collector of eyes, or double-dealing Raxil. The list could go on and on for quite a while...

What these characters share is the freshness of the approach in designing and portraying them, which mirrors the daring attitude of Farscape's creators in picturing peoples and situations that stand well outside the accepted (and sometimes stale) norm of serial tv. And that is part of the magic that draws so many spectators to this awesome story.

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The Scarran Empire's War Minister possesses several similarities with Grayza's figure, particularly where ambition and lust for power are concerned.  Ahkna'a handicap is represented by her small stature, a difficult barrier to overcome, both on the physical and on the psychological side, in an aggressive and militaristic society such as her own, where brute strength is the first requirement, and more so because she is a woman in a predominantly male environment.

Despite these common elements, Ahkna's character is quite different from Grayza's: endowed with an arresting scenic presence, enhanced by an attention-getting tone of voice, the Minister pursues her goals with an icy determination untouched by personal baggage.  Such self-control is hardly surprising when considering that Scarrans are, in fact, reptiles and therefore cold-blooded by definition.  Ahkna is not interested in short-cuts or unorthodox maneuvers, her sense of honor and integrity - although filtered through the Scarran way of thinking - are solid and firmly rooted: we can see this in the episode BRINGING HOME THE BEACON, where she clashes with Grayza in a verbal skirmish barely tempered by diplomacy. The two women battle on the field of politics and personality and Ahkna comes out as the winner, not just because she can meet every curve ball the Commandant throws at her, but because she rests on a moral higher ground.

Being part of the Scarran ruling class, Ahkna was born with power and did not have to conquer it day by day: what we perceive as arrogance on her part is simply the assurance of someone with a life-long training to use that power. A self-made woman like Grayza seems therefore destined to lose such an encounter because she's weighed down by the more or less unconscious insecurities of someone who had to rise through the ranks on her own assets alone. 

We witness this same self assurance when Ahkna deals with Emperor Staleek, against whom she engages a complex and dangerous campaign for supremacy - and also vengeance, since her own father used to be Emperor and was unseated by Staleek.  She often confronts Staleek boldly in the course of the treacherous maneuvers they engage, and openly expresses her intentions, never using the cloak of the "common good" to justify her goals. The power game between Ahkna and Staleek is a fascinating one, played on the fine balance of the Emperor's need for a shrewd counselor and the awareness of the menace she represents, and it reminds the viewers of the dance between two poisonous snakes, a comparison that becomes all the more evident when we consider the nature of these two alien creatures.

One of Ahkna's greater shortcomings is her tendency to indulge in the torture of prisoners, an activity that often seems unwarranted by the situation: one might think that this is her way of venting the unavoidable frustrations born out of a life lived on the edge, among the many plots and shifting alliances of the Scarran court. But this is just theory, and another small piece in the unresolved puzzles that riddle the Farscape story arc.

What is certain is that Ahkna is an intriguing figure of great depth and complexity that's able to fuel the spectators' interest and curiosity.

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The characters I have examined in the first six posts of this "marathon" belong to the Moyan family and can be placed in the "good girls" category, with the caution that in the Farscape universe this kind of definition is never clear-cut. There are however other interesting female roles that can be more easily placed on the other side of the fence, showing us that there is room enough for "bad girls" as well.


Commandant Mele-on Grayza is the quintessential dark lady: cruel, ruthless, darkly alluring and gifted, so to speak, with more than a veneer of perversion. Even Scorpius is hard-put trying to stand up to her, because Grayza pursues her goals with such relentless determination that she quickly becomes a formidable adversary. 

A subtle indication of her standing is given in the Season Four's opening monologue by Crichton, where his voice-over describes Scorpius as just "dangerous", while Grayza is depicted as "powerful", a definition that goes well beyond simple dangerousness.

Sexual exploitation is the Commandant's main weapon: since her first appearance, the most revealing detail for the viewers is the deep cleavage that opens on her non-regulation uniform - a form of appeal and also a statement. There's a substantial difference, however, between the use of sexual attraction by well-known dark ladies and Grayza, because her attitude appears mechanical and utilitarian, a soulless form of exploitation that's quite far from what could be expected from a femme fatale.

Arrogance is Grayza's fatal flaw, the element that compels her to commit critical mistakes and sometimes to pursue hazardous shortcuts, like her choice to have herself implanted with a special gland producing an aphrodisiac substance, with which she ensures her victims' compliance. The only downside of this implant is a drastic reduction in life expectancy: such a radical choice implies both an iron will and a boundless, no-holds-barred ambition, as testified by Grayza's angry fits following defeats and the humiliation that comes with them.

This is probably the chink in her armor, coupled with an unexpressed but palpable need for revenge that seems to inform her personality: Grayza appears quite sensitive in this respect, as if humiliation had been part of her past life, leaving a permanent mark and depriving her of the detachment she needs to pursue her goals.  Considering that her appearance is not quite Sebacean, the hypothesis that she's a half-breed like Scorpius does not look far-fetched (her extreme pallor is reminiscent of the Nebari): in the xenophobic milieu of Peacekeeper society this could very well be a serious hindrance that Grayza choose to overcome recurring to extraordinary means.

With such premises, the parallel between Grayza and Scorpius is inevitable - both hybrids, working in an environment where racial purity is paramount: yet they are quite different. Scorpius' weapon of choice is his intellect, coupled with the patience he claims to have made his chief virtue; Grayza prefers quicker means, thus exposing herself to every possible trouble and downside they entail. Where Scorpius believes in his mission, the elimination of the Scarran threat, Grayza cares only about power, masking her lust for it under the convenient cloak of the "greater good", a sentence she often uses without the slightest hint of sincerity.  They are both great manipulators and have an uncanny knack of landing on their feet when the tables turn against them, yet Grayza lacks the touch of "humanity" that sometimes we can see in Scorpius, and that brings viewers to empathize with him, even for brief moments.

This makes Grayza a rarity among Farscape's characters: she exhibits none of the dichotomy between 'good' and 'bad' they all possess - she is, in this respect, monochromatic, as far as her definition in the story-arc is concerned, although this does not detract from her impact on the audience.

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Mystery, or Enigma, could be further names for Utu Noranti Pralatong: when she appears aboard Moya, in the final episode of Season Three, she looks at ease on the Leviathan as if she had always been there, while no one can explain when or how this happened.

Noranti looks like the proverbial witch of children's tales: she's old, small, wizened, her hair gray and unkempt, her face deeply lined. She's often seen bent over some boiling cauldron, thus reinforcing her witch "mode" in our collective imagination, and the third eye in the middle of her forehead, flashing with different-colored lights, adds to the impression of mysterious and otherworldly powers.

The doubts about her origins - and her goals - are never fully cleared and leave the viewers with many unanswered questions: if she truly came aboard Moya with the other prisoners escaped from Scorpius' exploding carrier, why was she a prisoner in the first place?  It sounds incredible that such a peculiar creature would not come under Scorpius' radar, who clearly doesn't recognize her and looks intrigued by the old woman. And again, why does she stay on the Leviathan and why does she make John Crichton the focus of her attentions? Why does she choose to ply him with the many hallucinogenic substances she seems to possess in unlimited quantities?  We're still looking for these answers…

It would be too easy to label Noranti as "crazy old woman": the nonsensical utterances and the occasional lapses of narcolepsy would point that way, but she always manages to surprise the audience because her meaningless dialogue - like the obscure revelations of archaic oracles - takes on a precise meaning only with time, and also because under the apparent madness lurk both a deep wisdom and a profound respect for every life-form.

This latter comes to the fore in a very intense segment that helps us define Noranti's personality beyond the smoke-screens the writers employ to enhance her mysterious aura: it's a moment of revelation that in a handful of seconds can subvert any negative notion created by Wrinkles' (that's her nickname) ambiguous activities.   In the episode FETAL ATTRACTION, Noranti comments with Rygel her role in Aeryn's rescue from a Scarran prison, rescue that required Noranti to create a dangerous epidemic as a diversion: many have perished because of the contagion and the old woman laments the loss of innocent lives - her pain is genuine this time, not mediated by obscure ramblings or convoluted word-play. For the first time viewers are able to see her true inner self, and in a touching, sadly ironic moment Rygel welcomes her to the Moyan community, to which she has been bound by pain and guilt, the elements common to this mixed group.

Of course Noranti possesses a "fun" side also, because in the best Farscape tradition every character is a mix of drama and comedy in equal parts: so we can see old Wrinkles as she and Chiana, perfect accomplices, try to fool Peacekeepers under the guise of exotic-looking lovers, or we watch - in horrified fascination - her improvised strip-tease in LAVA IS A MANY SPLENDORED THING. In this instance, through the use of some of her strange powders, she manages to distract two mercenaries appearing like a beautiful exotic dancer unveiling before them with alluring moves: the contrast between the drug-induced vision of the mercenaries and the stark reality observed by Crichton and D'Argo - whose disgust is plain - constitutes one of the most exhilarating moments of the season.

Noranti too, like Jool and Sikozu, suffers from the untimely end of Farscape and remains incomplete, although her unusual and controversial nature makes her a fascinating character that draws its strength from its very uncertain nature.

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Like Jool, Sikozu appears only in one season, the fourth and final one of Farscape, and in the conclusive mini-series PEACEKEEPER WARS, but her character is explored in far greater depth, so she quickly becomes one of the key roles in the story-line: shrewd and enigmatic, quite intelligent but disdainful toward those she considers inferiors (which means almost everyone), she soon shows herself as a controversial, multi-layered and intriguing figure.

Sikozu is gifted with a superior intellect: able to quickly learn a language only by listening to it; she possesses an encyclopedic knowledge on many subjects; she's brilliant, clever and displays a cutting sense of humor - or better, sarcasm - which she can use without mercy. Her physical abilities are on the same level as her mental gifts: she can shift her center of gravity, therefore walking as easily on the walls or ceiling as she does on floors, and the loss of a limb is for her a mere inconvenience, since she's able to reattach it without appreciable function loss. The young Kalish holds herself in high value and is firmly assured of her own superiority, which brings her to classify everyone else as irredeemably inferior.

And yet she's somehow incomplete: her vast knowledge on Leviathans is just theoretical, not supported by any hands-on experience, and her people skills are almost non-existent.

These contrasting, and puzzling, details are explained once Sikozu's true nature is revealed: she is a bioloid, an artificial construct created by the Kalish resistance as a secret weapon against Scarran domination. Her inorganic nature, and therefore her growth in an artificial and presumably isolated environment, explain the striking contrast between her psychological immaturity and the high cognitive levels. And of course her difficulties in social relationships.

There's a segment, in the mini-series PEACEKEEPER WARS, where all her contradictions come to the fore: in a short but intense dialogue with Aeryn Sun, Sikozu stresses her convictions of intellectual superiority but at the same time admits her surprise in finding her equal in Scorpius. And not just her equal, but someone who can even outsmart her.  This is the key that reveals her "innocence", so to speak, this simple black-and-white view of the world that does not understand its inherent many shades of gray, an innocence - or lack of properly gained experience - that prevents her from understanding Aeryn's reply about the mutual give-and-take at the basis of every relationship.

It's through her allegiance with Scorpius that Sikozu's personality takes on an interesting ambiguity: if on one side she actively contributes to the Moyan's survival, on the other her fascination with John Crichton's nemesis puts her in a suspicious light and prevents her full integration with the crew, always placing her at the outside of the 'circle' and accentuating her differences in a group that has found its inner strength in reciprocal diversity.

The partnership between Sikozu and Scorpius, that for a long time looks only like a meeting of minds, adds a further element of suspense in an already suspenseful story-line and is later played on the subtle edge of a mutual physical attraction reminding us of "Beauty and the Beast": Scorpius is the ultimate villain but is also marked by unappealing looks that are sometimes exasperated by ghastly behavioral patterns. The attraction game played with Sikozu, and the admiration the Kalish expresses toward Scorpius, bring the viewers to hover between fascination and revulsion while they observe, as if hypnotized, the evolution of this "match made in Hell".

The premature end of Farscape has prevented the creators from a deeper exploration of Sikozu's character and unfortunately the final mini-series only managed to worsen the situation, with the introduction of unexplained variables that did little for the development of her personality and could only accentuate the mysterious halo that envelops her.

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She's probably the less explored character among Farscape's recurring roles: we see her for just one season and she's often relegated in the background, coming to the fore only when she serves as the Moyans' scapegoat. Her arrival aboard the Leviathan coincides with Zhaan's tragic demise, and Jool's initial penchant for whining and temper tantrums accentuates the contrast with the Delvian's dignity, so that her loss is felt more profoundly.

When she first comes aboard, Jool is far more isolated than John Crichton ever was at the beginning of his adventure: the Human too was like the proverbial fish out of water, but he was able to compensate his shortcomings by exercising considerable powers of flexibility and adaptation. Not so Jool: still clinging to her high social standing, she shows a great deal of preconceived scorn toward her shipmates, rating them far below her exacting standards.

Yet she has more in common with this band of fugitives than she can imagine: like them, she is far from home, having been unwillingly placed in cryogenic sleep for a long time, and she's bereft of any certainty about her future. Unlike the Moyans, though, she doesn't try to elaborate her options from this starting point and remains attached to her vanished past, refusing categorically to adapt to her new life.  We can see this clearly in the episode EAT ME: left to guard Moya's transport pod in a terrifying situation, Jool considers suicide as an escape from a reality she is unable to tolerate.

We could see in Jool a cruel parody of Sleeping Beauty: she's not awakened from her long sleep by a lover's kiss, but because of an emergency and the poor girl doesn't find herself as the recipient of general benevolence but in the role of eveyone's laughing-stock. The worst example of this situation comes with DIFFERENT DESTINATIONS, where Jool is repeatedly hurled against a wall, thrown into mud puddles and forced to drink animal urine as medicine.

Given these premises, when the crew starts to nickname her "Princess", the title takes on a mocking overtone that reveals the Moyans' meaner streak, as they tend as a whole to exclude her from their circle instead of trying to help her integrate.

"No one wants to talk with me!" Jool laments at some point, and quite rightly: once she takes on - even if by default - Zhaan's scientific and healing duties, it's only proper that she demand the others' respect, at the very least. Unfortunately they are too involved in their own troubles - that by this point have grown to considerable proportions - to have the time or the inclination to pay her any attention.

If Chiana represents a child that had to grow much too quickly, Jool is her opposite: her vast and formal education, coming from her privileged upbringing, never allowed her a true inner growth. This childish side is expressed by the penetratring scream, able to melt metals, with which she reacts to stressful situations - the comically enhanced cry of a child incapable of dealing with the world's troubles.

Something does change along the way, though, and often Jool voices some snippets of wisdom, showing she too is capable of becoming more. In the double Season Four Episode WHAT WAS LOST, the last one in the series where Jool has a role, her enthusiasm, when she meets again with the estranged members of the crew, is quite genuine and there are indications of a deeper relationship with D'Argo. The good-byes at the end of the episode suggest a positive change in the group's dynamics and yet they have an unfinished flavor, like that of a road not fully traveled: the viewers feel that there was more to this character than what was explored on screen, and that the loss in the episode's title might have a deeper meaning than intended.

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In the beginning, young Chiana seems destined to the role of the outsider, the off-key note: her arrival aboard Moya happens in the middle of the first season and her presence acts as a ripple passing through the fragile balance that is taking hold among the Leviathan's inhabitants.

Chiana is a rebel, running away from the oppressive Nebari government and its imposition of rigid rules that even contemplate brainwashing of its citizens. Since her escape, she's been living a hand-to-mouth existence and her instincts are tightly focused on survival, while her principles are quite flexible.

More than anything else she is a study in contradictions: her slight, juvenile appearance leads people to underestimate her because it hides the crafty experience she's gained through a life on the edge. These contradictions are also plain in the way she moves, with sudden and almost disarticulate gestures that match her speech pattern, that is breathy, fast and full of stops and repetitions, as the outward expression of a mind riddled by conflicting thoughts and emotions that make her interaction with the outside world quite unpredictable.

So it's hardly surprising that the Moyans have some trouble in trusting her, particularly so when she seems unwilling to contribute to everyone's survival: in THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS we see her trying to escape from the dangerous situation they are in, and we can sympathize with her companions' annoyance, but we also understand that this flight reaction is nothing more than the product of her former life, where Chiana certainly survived by being fast on her feet and not trusting anyone but herself.  It will be only thanks to her life on Moya, and the family that's being slowly created there, that she will learn how to depend on others.

It would be too easy to label Chiana as self-centered and egotist or, worse, as an unrepentant tralk, as some commentators did. Easy and wrong, because she is instead a very complex person, one that is revealed little by little and that always manages to surprise – both the viewers and her traveling companions.   With the latter she creates, with time, a fierce bond of love and loyalty that grows as the ties between them all become stronger. We could say that Chiana is the emblem of the complex synergies aboard Moya: as the group initially works together for simple expediency and only later grows into a real family, so the young Nebari's stay with them morphs from a temporary measure, just a stop along the way while waiting for a better opportunity, to a progressive integration with this group of people, until she becomes an essential part of the family she learns to count on for survival, and love.

This does not mean, however, that Chiana completely changes her attitude or behavior: indeed some her most radical sides keep appearing like glitches in an unstable mechanism, as we can observe in her relationship with D'Argo. Once they become lovers the Luxan sees in Chiana the chance to restore the family that circumstances stole from him and dreams of a quiet and peaceful life. A terrifying prospect for the Nebari, since she resents every limitation – be it true or imagined – to her own personal freedom; and that's why she decides to destroy their relationship in the most devastating way, betraying D'Argo with his own son Jothee.   It's curious that Chiana would consider the dramatic shattering of her love story with D'Argo as the lesser evil, if compared to a conventional, probably boring life, but we must keep in mind that her past – and the oppressive atmosphere of the Nebari worlds – plays a key role in this: Chiana is a free spirit, a creature that does not bear well a cage, no matter how sweet or gilded. 

Her refusal to accept the conventional often places her in the position of offering an unexpected point of view and therefore different and revealing considerations, as she does in THE WAY WE WEREN'T. With the exception of Crichton, the Moyans all agree on condemning Aeryn's past actions and it's only Chiana's voice that brings them down from their moral high ground, reminding them that Aeryn's role as a soldier did entail brutality and violence; she does this with clarity and bitter sarcasm that reveal a maturity well beyond her young age.   

Chiana's character, while growing in depth and responsibility, does take on an increasingly tragic streak that is tied to a series of traumatic losses: her carefree youth comes to an end when she's forced to part company with her brother Nerri, the only person she has a strong emotional bond with, and until that moment the very center of her world.  Zhaan's death again marks a turning point, because it finally stresses how Chiana has become an integral part of Moya's family and how the loss of this pivotal and irreplaceable figure will affect her. And last but not least, D'Argo: once he breaks their relationship after the fling with Jothee, Chiana understands the importance that the Luxan had in her life, and after they manage to seal the breach - thus revealing the Nebari's further emotional growth – D'Argo dies heroically, leaving her once again adrift. 

The last scenes where we see her, in PEACEKEEPER WARS, show us the extent of her evolution through her decision to carry on D'Argo's dream to live on Hyneria as a farmer: accepting her dead lover's legacy and making it her goal she proves how the past experiences have changed and matured her, although something of the "old" Chiana peeks through the cracks when she ironically comments on these changes. It's a pity that this particular scene is available to us viewers only as deleted footage, because it would have better defined Chiana's character and its progresses, while at the same time stressing the contradictory spirit that still dwells at her core, making her so elusive, mysterious and fascinating.

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Where Aeryn represents physical strength and soldierly values, Zhaan in a way acts as her counterpart: she's a Delvian priestess who cherishes spirituality above all else and embodies a sort of protective, maternal instinct which makes her the logical representative of the necessary spirit of cooperation that will be fundamental for the survival of the Moyans.

She is the voice of reason, the one who takes on the often difficult task of smoothing over the crew's animosity toward each other, employing all the wisdom of her 800 cycles-long life.  The group of people aboard the Leviathan is thrown together by accident and at first their association is more a matter of necessity and convenience than true friendship: this is why Zhaan's mediation acts often as the only barrier between the opposing needs of the Moyans and the catastrophic consequences of many of their actions. And probably it's not accidental that from Season Three on, after her demise, the story-arc becomes darker and more devastating.

With these premises it also appears logical that she would be entrusted with the crew's physical well being: her herbal remedies and her knowledge in the field often make the difference between life and death and there's a fine irony in the discovery that Delvians are in fact evolved plant-life. Herbal therapy incarnated.

Zhaan's mother-like, protective attitude creates a special bond of allegiance with Moya, herself a protector and a mother-figure: inside the Leviathan, like in the maternal womb, the crew is reasonably safe and finds almost everything they need to survive.  We see the Delvian assume this role as early as the second episode of the show, I, ET, when she takes on herself Moya's pain while Rygel tries to disconnect the Paddac beacon from her neural system: given the Leviathan's proportions and the invasiveness of the procedure, it's evident that Zhaan is facing an almost impossible – and very painful – task, yet she accepts it with courage and determination.

Later on, in the LATP trilogy,  Moya encounters the beings that claim to have created Leviathans, and when the self-declared god Kahaynu intends to terminate Moya's life as a form of expiation for having generated an armed hybrid, it's again Zhaan who calls Kahaynu's bluff: in fact, the "god" only wanted to test the worthiness of the Leviathan's passengers, but the Delvian reacts with firmness and surprising aggressiveness, although later she's plagued by guilt for having given in to her baser instincts.   

Yes, because ethereal and contemplative Zhaan is the child of a violent past: she murdered the Delvian leader – her lover – when he sold the planet's independence to the Peacekeepers to gain absolute power.  Mindless violence, that sometimes can be permanent, represents the dark side of the Delvian soul and Zhaan freed herself from it thanks to the Seek, the mystic quest for enlightenment she initiated during her long imprisonment.  Yet these cruel instincts can only be repressed but not eradicated: in several occasions, as in THAT OLD BLACK MAGIC or RHAPSODY IN BLUE, we see them emerge and threaten to overwhelm Zhaan's better nature.

She is without doubt a positive figure, but she's far from perfect: she takes an active part in the forced amputation of Pilot's arm to pay NamTar's price for the promised star-charts, and her cold rationalization of such brutality makes us spectators reel back in horror before this unexpected turn. Just as we listen in painful astonishment to her reply at Aeryn's and Crichton's protest, when Zhaan accuses them of being angry only because NamTar's charts will be of no use to them. Hypocrisy is not something viewers would expect from her and it shocks us again when we encounter it once more, in THE WAY WE WEREN'T, as she chastises Aeryn for her murder of Moya's first Pilot, conveniently forgetting her barbarous act against the present one.

These contradictions stress Zhaan's imperfections, true, but in counterbalancing her more spiritual tendencies they make her more approachable, more understandable and closer to us.  There is a scene, in THRONE FOR A LOSS, that is strongly emblematic of Zhaan's nature: while she's dealing with the captured Tavlek's mercenary, she repels his attack with surprising ease replying to his bold statements that she's "Delicate, yes, weak, no".  This is Zhaan, in a nutshell: grace and strength, spirituality and "human" frailties.

And dignity. This is the word that best defines her and informs her every gesture and nuance of expression and accompanies her to the very end: when she chooses to sacrifice what's left of her life – and every hope of recovering from the illness caused by her gift of energy to Aeryn – she takes her leave from the crew of Moya with the same grace and dignity that are uniquely hers. Each family member, which she claims are her "children and loves", receives a blessing and a spiritual parting gift that leaves an indelible impression – on both sides of the screen.

Even after she's gone, her memory and spirit still linger along Moya's corridors, as if she were a protective deity: each time the camera pans through the rooms where her presence was more constant, it's impossible not to think about her or imagine her blue-clad form sailing through them with her trademark gracefulness.

Sweetness and strength, wisdom and sternness, imperfection and willingness to sacrifice oneself: Zhaan's character is indeed greater than the sum of its parts and she's also an unforgettable female figure.

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If what happens aboard Moya is at one point labeled as a "transformative journey", this is particularly true for Aeryn Sun: once she finds herself stranded on the Leviathan, cut off from her past, stranger in a strange land, she begins a long and often painful metamorphosis.  Declared "irreversibly contaminated" by her fellow Peacekeepers, trapped with escaped criminals and facing a very uncertain future, she deals with a series of dramatic choices whose consequence is the radical transformation of her whole being, one she tries at first to resist with stubborn determination.

We see that stubbornness since the pilot episode: faced with the choice between unavoidable execution and escape with the other prisoners, still she clings to her old life ("It's what I am, it's my breeding since birth!") and only when John Crichton tells her that she can "be more" does she snap out of her hesitation.  And only much later will we learn the meaningful importance of that choice of words.

From that moment on she starts the long journey that will reveal her as a person, not just a perfect soldier that lives and breathes discipline and orders; a journey that will open to her a world of feelings and attitudes that had been denied her by Peacekeeper social mores.

In this respect two are the pivotal episodes in Aeryn's story-arc: the first occurs in Season One and is DNA MAD SCIENTIST. When the insanely brilliant NamTar injects her with Pilot's DNA, her physical barriers are breached, her "racial purity" – one of the tenets of PK society – broken forever. By her own admission Aeryn feels that the very core of her being has been changed irrevocably, that she has now truly been irreversibly contaminated as her captain declared some time before. 

In Season Two, with the episode THE WAY WE WEREN'T, her emotional barriers crumble in the face of long supressed memories and a tragic revelation: Aeryn had a passionate relationship with the Leviathan scientist Velorek, who had perceived her great potential and wanted to take her away from the stifling mold of the mindless soldier. Terrified both by the intensity of the feelings she was discovering for the first time and by the prospect of a future so distant from what had been her life-long comfortable routine, she had denounced Velorek for his treason and gone back to her old unit. Not without harboring a deep-seated guilt and fear of emotional commitment. When these circumstances are revealed we understand her reaction to Crichtons' words about "being more", since this was exactly what Velorek had urged her to be.

It's easy to sympathize with Aeryn while she faces these trials that little by little dismantle the barriers she puts between herself and the outside world, and it's just as easy to share her enthusiasm when she breaks unwritten rules and manages to overcome the PK's psychological conditioning. A good example is in THANK GOD IT'S FRIDAY, AGAIN, when she  successfully analyzes the compound that makes Rygel's body fluids explosive, providing the key factor in solving the situation the Moyans find themselves in. Among the Peacekeepers, tasks are strictly compartmentalized: soldiers fight and techs work in supporting roles. Her pride in overcoming this limit is almost childlike and stresses once more her stunted emotional growth, a side of Aeryn that clashes with her outward appearance, that of a fearless and competent soldier.

Interestingly, it's Pilot who urges her toward this kind of discovery: Pilot, whose DNA will mix with hers and who represents the being she is initially more attuned to on Moya.  Her relationship with Pilot – even more than the one with Crichton – will help expose her softer and more feminine side and will be one of the constant links to her better instincts throughout the story arc. Somehow, Pilot is Aeryn's mirror image: he is kind and gentle but is also possessed of a strong mind-set and deep-rooted principles. This must be the main reason they find, almost from the start, a common ground ("We work together well" she tells Pilot at some point) that blossoms into a special and privileged bond.

Aeryn's character is also defined by her difficult and tormented relationship with John Crichton: their love story, one of Farscape's core themes, is the ground where her inner changes are played more deeply and is also a way to portray the romantic side of the story in a new and unconventional way, while at the same time presenting many interesting angles for discussion on the ever complex relationship between men and women.

Aeryn and John's relationship is fraught with objective difficulties and misunderstandings that come both from the universal differences between the male and female of any species and from the cultural and psychological barriers between two alien races – no matter the striking physical similarities between them.   Peacekeepers are conditioned to avoid any emotional commitment, because it's considered a weakness that can impair a soldier's efficiency: they don't have the concept of family, births are decided by assignment to "fill the ranks", they entertain no stable love relationships and are allowed to "recreate" – the choice of term speaks for itself – only as a form of stress-management. Everything revolves around rules and discipline. At some point we learn that Aeryn's birth was exceptional, because she was conceived out of the clandestine and forbidden love of her parents: once discovered, they were cruelly punished – Aeryn's mother was given the choice between taking the life of her daughter or of her mate.  

With these premises it's hardly surprising that John Crichton's efforts to conquer Aeryn's heart meet with such resistance and fall into the category of  "one step forward, three steps back".  Moreover, she often lays the rules of the "game", which is clear since their first fateful encounter, when she throws him bodily to the ground – without apparent effort – and demands for his "rank and regiment".  From the start it's evident that Aeryn is the "strong" half of the couple, a role that is usually reserved to the male, and that Crichton represents the more "feminine" half, particularly in his desire to mediate and talk before recurring to brute strength.  Role-reversal, in tv shows, is often relegated to the realm of humor, as if to indicate that it's a joking matter. Farscape has no fear of tackling this topic in a more serious manner.

This strong core in Aeryn's personality remains basically unaltered throughout the show, and is evident in the fundamental dignity that informs her character despite the changes effected by experiences: this trait is plain in many circumstances and is brought to the fore in one of the most dramatic moments of the saga. During Aeryn's imprisonment by the Scarrans, in Season Four, she has little or no hope of rescue – not just for herself but for the child she carries in stasis. The surprising, uncharacteristic prayer she addresses to an old Sebacean divinity is of course a sort of last resort against despair, but is also quite emblematic of the person Aeryn is: she does not ask as a supplicant at her wit's end, but as a soldier dictating conditions.  She can be hurt by wayward emotions, because she's had no training or life-long acquaintance with them, but she can physically and mentally withstand almost anything.

This is one of the reasons she is such a fascinating figure, this amalgam of outer strength and inner fragility, this factual representation of a real, flesh and blood woman, with all her realistic contradictions.

Even when the love story with Crichton finally rests on firmer ground and we see them assume the role of parents, Aeryn's basic essence remains unaltered: it's impossible not to smile when we see her determined to be an active part in the defense against the Scarrans despite being racked by labor pains – "Shooting makes me feel better!" she says, and if we know this is a necessary tension-breaking line in the script, we also know it comes out of her deeper nature. As does another sentence uttered at the prospect of an hours-long delivery: "I've killed men for less!"  It's a warning, a statement that shows how this woman will not be constrained into an idealized mold, or weighed down by conventions.

She is transformed by her experiences, yes, but not altered: when we look at her, towards the end of PEACEKEEPER WARS, we see her holding her newborn baby with one hand and shooting enemies with the other, with her  usual, economical efficiency; stroking her child with love and dispensing death at the same time.   

The discovery of feelings, love, motherhood has not changed this extraordinary character but simply added more layers to it, making it more complete. Making it *more*.  This is why she is one of the most original figures of the modern sci-fi scene. And probably the best.

nymeria_dw: (Default)

While writing my "essay" for   [livejournal.com profile] farscape_land

Challenge nr. 18 I loved exploring in more depth one of the many aspects of this show, so I thought of taking this other work out of mothballs, and sharing it with you. 

Since it's quite long, I will divide it in several sections, leaving this post as an index.

Hope you enjoy it...


It was not so long ago that female roles in sci-fi were limited to the stereotype of the quaking victims waiting for the square-jawed hero's rescue. As a rule, they were scantily clad, perfectly coiffed and totally brainless. Quite a far cry from real-life women.

Star Trek afforded us the first glimpses of a different way to portray female characters: although still scantily clad – at least in the original series – women were often professionals, with a degree of intelligence and self-assurance that had no precedent on tv or movies. Even if sometimes the writers had to give in to the irresistible urge of having Lieutenant Uhura utter her trademark "Captain, I'm frightened!"…

Then Captain Kathrin Janeway made her appearance, and the bridge (no pun intended) was finally crossed.

But the first, radical improvement came with Alien and Ellen Ripley: at long last we could see a woman who was as capable, strong, courageous and even aggressive as a man – sometimes more – while still possessing more classical feminine traits.

After Ripley it was as if a dam had been broken, and more modern tv series, like Babylon5 or Firefly, followed the same example – but none with the intensity of innovation that we see on Farscape.

Farscape's characters – both male and female – hover on the dividing line between "good" and "evil", being the realistic representation of the many shades of gray that are part of human (and alien!) nature. In the same way, female roles possess each and every quality which makes a woman a living, breathing creature and not an idealized stereotype.

The first difference we can observe, in respect of other shows, is the number of female characters aboard Moya (who, by the way, is a female herself): in Season One there are three of them – Aeryn Sun, Pa'u Zotoh Zhaan and Chiana. As the story progresses and new roles appear, the women end up being the majority aboard the Leviathan, and there is also a considerable number of secondary characters that enrich and deepen the complex narrative structure of the show.

Table of contents:

1) Aeryn Sun
2) Pa'u Zotoh Zhaan
3) Chiana
4) Jool
5) Sikozu
6) Noranti
7) Grayza
8) Ahkna
9) Furlow

nymeria_dw: (Default)

My entry for Challenge 018 at [livejournal.com profile] farscape_land

It would be easy to believe that Farscape has little or no interest in exploring spiritual matters: the frequent focus on scatological images or language, and the abundance of body fluids of any kind, seem to leave no room for higher considerations.

But that's hardly true.

Read more... )


nymeria_dw: (Default)

September 2013

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