Mark Watches ‘Farscape’: S01E08 – That Old Black Magic

In the eighth episode of the first season of Farscape, Crichton is tricked into a horrible fight. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Farscape.

You know what’s most compelling about this episode for me? That there were no easy answer given to these characters. The resolution here is an unsettling one, deliberately so, because even if people get what they want, it comes with a price.



Even if this is technically a monster-of-the-week style episode, I think there’s a clear direction given by the end of “That Old Black Magic.” What Maldis did here will have an undeniable affect on future events. The use of a source of magic to make a person face a painful event in their life isn’t exactly a new thing, but the way in which Maldis forces a confrontation between Crichton and Maldis feels refreshing. AND TERRIFYING. And I think it’s actually been a good thing that while the threat of Crais hangs over this show, he hasn’t appeared since “Premiere.” It makes his return here a lot more menacing because so much time has passed since his brother died, which means he’s been harboring a whole lot more resentment and anger.

As for Maldis himself, he’s only sort of vaguely interesting. The show introduces him, gives us a very basic idea of what he’s done on this planet, and explains his power. He feeds off violence and, ultimately, death. It’s a decent premise, not anything terribly new, but it’s how Maldis specifically goads Crais that makes this such a memorable episode.


I tend not to like when miscommunication is used as both a plot device or a character trait because it ends up giving way to a lot of frustration and unnecessary fluff. I know I’ve written about it in the past, but I really hate it when characters refuse to just TALK to one another. It would solve so many problems! So, going into this, understand that I was already biased in favor of what unfolded here. Crichton, who has no interest in killing Crais or getting revenge for anything, wants to avoid the entire conflict all together. So, I kind of expected a one-note antagonist in this episode, simply because miscommunication and misunderstanding was built into Crais from the beginning.

You sweet summer child, Mark.

The utter brilliance here is that in shedding light on Crais’s backstory, we get something from his character that’s a lot less like a villain and more like… shit, I don’t know. Something INCREDIBLY sad. (Well, except for the ending, which is horrifying, but I’ll get to that.) It’s understandable that anyone would feel rage at the death of their brother because of the actions of someone else, and while Crichton tries his best to reason with Crais, I don’t think he tries to avoid the fact that he did kill Tauvo Crais. It was a genuine accident!

And lord, Crichton gets SO CLOSE in that scene with the… fire pit thing. WHATEVER THAT THING IS LOL. But this is where the writers wave a possible future in our face – one where a major conflict is resolved by talking it out – and punt us into another stratosphere. While I would have totally been into that other story, I was very pleased (AND DESTROYED) by what the writers chose to do next. I expected Crichton to try and explain himself. I did not expect Maldis to explain Crais to Crichton. And he does so simply to exploit Crais’s pain over the loss of his brother and BEING FORCED TO SIGN UP FOR THE PEACEKEEPERS AS A CHILD.

!!!!!! WHAT THE FUCK !!!!!!

This twist works incredibly well when coming off of “PK Tech Girl” because we know how much pride and duty plays into the culture of the Peacekeepers. For Crais, he’s got an added layer of emotional trauma: his father made him promise to keep Tauvo safe in the Peacekeepers, and Crais failed. He failed to do so. And I think you could even argue that there’s another layer of emotional damage here, too. I think Crais doesn’t know anything but the life of a Peacekeeper, but I suspect that there’s a part of him that resents being forced into this destiny. Yes, it’s easy for us to interpret his obsession with catching Crichton as a simple revenge plot. But what if his opposition to authority also stems from a desire to have another life? What if he defies orders because he hates these people for what they’ve brought into his life?

It’s mostly speculation at this point, I admit that. And I don’t want to deny that his murder of Teeg is super upsetting and completely fucked up. It’s clear he’s given in to his obsession, and Maldis guaranteed that.


HEY, WOW, DOUBLE HEARTBREAK IN A SINGLE EPISODE. It would be so much easier for this show to have said that Zhaan just turned back into her normal self after the events in “That Old Black Magic,” but that’s obviously not the case. This episode teases us with yet another clue to her backstory, and in this case, we’re given a hint that before she became a Delvian priest, she was… well, evil? She describes herself as “savage,” and this whole plot is built on the idea that at one point in her life, she was willing to use her powers to cause a lot of harm. In that sense, then becoming a Delvian was a way for Zhaan to purify herself. I mentioned before that she’s largely a force for goodness and peace, and now I know that that was an intentional thing.

Her journey to seek out the darker part of her is guided by Liko, who once used to be a high priest himself. Despite that we ultimately don’t know that much about him, I did love his appearance here. He’s someone who understands what it’s like to have to leave part of yourself behind, so it makes sense that he’d be willing to help Zhaan recover the power to hurt Maldis. Well, and there’s a personal stake in it, since Maldis is oppressing the commerce planet he lives on.

But Zhaan’s use of this darker magic/power is not something that’s easy to switch on and switch off. Her purification was complete in the sense that she refused to ever even acknowledge her own ability. Now? It’s on the surface. She’s conscious of it. And her snap at Crichton at the end of the episode suggests that she’s going to have a hard time getting it to go away again. AND I’M SAD I ALREADY HAVE A TON OF FEELINGS FOR ZHAAN HELP ME.

The video for “That Old Black Magic” can be downloaded here for $0.99.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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