Season 1, Episode 8: “That Old Black Magic”
***1/2 out of *****
“What is the matter with her?”
“You called her a warrior. You could not have cut her more deeply.”
Crichton runs afoul of a powerful mystical being called Maldis with a ginormous black ruff who pits him against Crais in a fight to the death. Zhaan digs into her violent side to find the means to face Maldis herself, getting help from a red-skinned priest shopkeeper who’s nice enough to be kind of a dick in order to make us not mind that he dies at the end.
Okay, first of all, I like Maldis, so I like this episode. In a sense, his power makes him Farscape’s answer to Q from Star Trek. I know a lot of fans don’t much care for him, but as far as I’m concerned his presence makes for two good episodes. I suspect, if Zhaan had stuck around, Maldis would’ve turned up again, but without her to deal with him, there’s really no one else who can without bringing in a one-episode throwaway character. (Come to think of it, that would’ve been a great way to bring Zhaan back for another episode.)
This is the first time we’ve seen Crais since the premiere. He’s already showing signs of being a little cracked from his obsession. It would’ve been interesting to have a Crais-focused episode prior to this to show how things have been for him as he struggles to find Moya and comes up empty, but as that would mean an episode without any of the regular cast, that’s not really something they could do during the first season while they’re trying to establish the show. On the other hand, this episode does do a good job of showing where he’s at now, if not precisely how he got there. The fact that Crais was a conscript from a farming colony rather than a volunteer adds another layer to his character.
The fact that John empathizes with Crais’s grief adds a layer to John, too. John keeps trying to make peace with Crais, giving Crais multiple chances to change his behavior. It’s a core aspect of his character. Sometimes (i.e. in other episodes, with other characters) it pays off, but Crais’s constant refusal pushes John to accept the kill-or-be-killed situation. The “good man pushed too far” is a role John finds himself in a lot in this series, isn’t it?
While John and Crais are undergoing The Maldis Experience, Zhaan spends much of the episode struggling between finding a way to fight Maldis and still keep her inner peace. It’s a good struggle, and one she’ll continue to struggle with, but in this episode it’s slightly flawed in that there’s a difference between fighting someone who’s hurting others, and inflicting pain on an innocent two-headed bird. Yeah, yeah, slippery slope and all that, I get it, but there’s room for shades of grey there that no one seems to acknowledge.
For Maldis’s failure, he does manage to achieve one goal: giving Crais’s vengeance a booster shot. Crais snaps Lieutenant Teague’s neck to keep from being called off of the chase, and he’s now in even deeper than he’s been before.
I’m sure I’ll say this many times, but the CG establishing shots for the planets Moya visits are really freaking top-notch.
The idea that Maldis can’t be killed, only dispersed, will not only be used for Maldis but also for Stark later on (though Maldis will return from his re-coalescence in far better shape than Stark does).
We learn that Crichton lost his virginity to Karen Shaw in the back of a 4×4; a throw-away detail that’ll be repurposed to amusing effect in Season 4…
 I can only guess that some people don’t like mysticism in their sci-fi. I suggest these people stay away from Dune and Star Wars (okay, Star Wars is arguably fantasy, but…)
 Stark? No, Stark’s mind is already shattered enough without Maldis sitting on it. He’d crack like a walnut under a budong.
 Not that it’s enough to get through Crais’s desire for vengeance just yet, but it’s a start.
 “So you’re done talking to him?” “Yeah! All done!”
 Sounds like a band name. “The Maldis Experience: Featuring Haloth!”
 Or Rygel, whom no one ever much seems to mind hurting…
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