In the seventeenth episode of the second season ofÂ Farscape, a disaster aboard Talyn puts Moya’s crew in danger. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watchÂ Farscape.
I LOVE THIS EPISODE A GREAT DEAL. I think it actually helped me figure out what it was about “The Locket” that didn’t quite connect with me. The premise of that episode was unbelievably ambitious, and I think that perhaps the show bit off more than it could chew. The same idea is present here, since trying to execute aÂ Rashomon-style narrative that’s remarkably subtle is a challenging thing. However, unlike “The Locket,” I think that “The Ugly Truth” completely succeeds in pulling off something that could have failed miserably.
Because this is a dense and nuanced story, I kind of think the best way to address it is to cover each of the five pieces of testimony in chronological order. STRAP IN, FRIENDS, THIS IS GONNA BE A WILD RIDE.
The set-up to “The Ugly Truth” doesn’t even give us a hint of what’s about to happen, and I like that. After being reunited with Crais and Talyn and learning why they’ve asked for help, we’re suddenly thrust into chaos. Rygel and Chiana watch as Talyn fires on the Plokavian ship, Talyn starbursts away, and the transport ship is captured by the Plokavians. It’s important that this is from their perspective because it introduces the central mystery: Why did Talyn fire on the Plokavian ship? What happened onboard Talyn?
And that’s the framing device for “The Ugly Truth”: we cycle through the “trial” the Plakovians force these characters through, and it gives us a haunting and fascinating exploration of perspective and bias. The set for this episode is also unnerving, and I think it’s important that it plays such a huge part in setting the mood here. From the prisoner disc to the interrogation chair, this is a minimalistic location; most of the Plakovian ship is shrouded in darkness, aside from the seemingly floating disc and the chair. (Oh god, there’s so much to be said about how the Plakovians value a dichotomy, too. Light and dark, truth and lies, right and wrong; it’s this very concept that Crichton criticizes later.)
Anyway, the first version of events we get are Aeryn’s. She establishes a number of details that will appear in practically everyone else’s testimony: Crais remembering Stark from the Gammak base; Crais asking for help with the installation of a dampening netÂ on Talyn; Aeryn offering herself up as a possible connection to Talyn to convince her; Aeryn and Zhaan being the only characters willing to give Crais the benefit of the doubt; and Zhaan bringing up the Halosian attack from “Out of Their Minds.” These are important details that help establish aÂ somewhat dependable version of events, but it’s only in hindsight that I was able to truly appreciate what Aeryn had done.
She had liedÂ really fucking well.
Which is fascinating once you consider who follows her! That would be Zhaan, who was easily theÂ worst liar. By speaking first, Aeryn gave credence to the idea that Talyn was never to be considered as a guilty party. Like her, Zhaan and Crichton’s testimonyÂ also supported the theory that this was all an accident. (It wasn’t lost on me that one of the major conflicts in season one was all because of an “accident” as well! I SEE WHAT YOU’RE DOING, CRICHTON.) But that idea began to fall apart for a couple of reasons.
First of all, Zhaan’s testimony is just… well, it’s not very believable. Still, I was curious as to how the writers were going to pull this off. What Zhaan says while being interrogatedÂ technically supports Aeryn, but it’s the first chance for the Plakovians to witness the contradictions and differing details between each person. However, it’s not like what Zhaan says is horribly contradictory, you know? So my initial worry was that we were going to see five of the most subtly different versions of the same story, and that wasn’t allÂ that interesting to me. But it’s with hindsight that I can appreciate what an unreal thing this was to execute, becauseÂ nowÂ I understand how well each person’s testimony reflects on how they view one another. It’s clear to me that Zhaan believes D’Argo has a propensity for violence; she also viewed Crais’s demeanor as being more genuine than the others. Hell, she’s the only one who portrayed the Plakovians’ interaction with Crais as wholly positive, too! I think that speaks to her willingness to view every being with good intentions from the start, and it’s a major way in which her testimony differs from the others’.
And then the writers drop their first major and disruptive contradiction into our laps: Stark insists that it was Crais whoÂ definitely fired the cannon on the Plakovian ship. But even before we get to that point, Stark’s perception of how everything happened is massively different from the past two characters’ view of events. It’s totally intriguing to me that he views Crichton as a sort of badass hero, that Crais spoke with a malicious tone as if he were nothing more than a monologuing villain, and that it’s more important for Stark to protect his friends over Talyn and Crais, even if that means he’ll lie to do so. But this has an unintended consequence for Stark. Instead of protecting the rest of the crew, it puts them at risk of execution. By contradicting their testimony, it means that the Plakovians are now willing to kill them all to obtain “justice.” That’s important to note because it plays directly into the choice Stark makes at the end of the episode.
But it’s also vital in understanding D’Argo’s testimony, too.
I think that D’Argo is the first to get as close as possible to howÂ Stark truly reacted when he heard that Crais was going to make a deal with the Plakovians. He’s the one character here who is most biased against them, since their weapons were what contributed to the enslavement of his people. Which is just… lord, y’all. The Plakovians are a gigantic contradiction themselves, aren’t they? They believe in truth and justice, but they manufacture weapons that enslave others, that are used for genocide, that wreak havoc and violence in other beings’ lives. How on earth do they rectify these two concepts?
By being identical. Which is a terrifying, unnerving concept, y’all! Once we get to D’Argo’s version of events, it’s clear that these five people willÂ never agree on a single version of events. Apparently, D’Argo is convinced that he’s always the front of the MOYA BATTLE FORMATION, which might be my favorite single detail from this entire episode. I mean, he clearly believes he’s in charge, doesn’t he??? But his testimony introducesÂ a new explanation for the cannon fire: Stark. This is thenÂ kind of confirmed by Stark’s reaction post-interrogation, as he’s convinced that D’Argo’s testimony will get him executed. WHICH CONFUSED ME. Why was he so certain this was the case? What had he done that would, at the very least, make itÂ look like he’d shot the cannon at the Plakovians?
Crichton’s story isn’t necessarily significant because it confirms or contradicts the others. Those aspects are part of it, but I loved that he was the first person to question the very nature of truth and perception when it came to the Plakovians. Isn’t their perception of truth deeply flawed because they’re so used to consistency in their views? Just because each person believes that they’ve experience a specific version of what happened does not mean people are actively lying. (I say that, but… pretty much everyone was lying, weren’t they? Aeryn and Crichton were!) A great example of that is how everyone says Plakavoid in Crichton’s testimony, because that’s how he perceived the word! Well… maybe he purposely mispronounced it just to annoy the Plakovians. Regardless, I thought it was bold that there was no perfect “truth” given during these interrogations.
Instead, Stark sacrifices himself to spare the others. Was it out of guilt because he believed he was responsible? Was it to pay the debt that he felt he owed to the others for saving his life? “The Ugly Truth” gives us no easy answers here, just heartbreak. WHICH IS THEN MADE A BILLION TIMES WORSE WHEN WE FIND OUT WHO WAS ACTUALLY RESPONSIBLE: TALYN. TALYN WAS PROTECTING MOYA FROM THE NOVATRIN GAS. IT WAS NEVER STARK TO BEGIN WITH.
And that’s the ugly truth referenced in the title: truthÂ itself is a complicated concept, one that can be brutally uncomfortable to have come to light. Really, y’all, this episode should not have worked. But itÂ did, and brilliantly so. Everything about it deserves to be praised: the writing, the acting, the direction, the set design, the art direction for the Plakovians! It’s a fantastic example ofÂ Farscape’sÂ ability to give us complex, emotional, and entertaining stories that are unlike anything we’ve seen in the genre before. BRAVO.
The video for “The Ugly Truth” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
Mark Links Stuff
– If you would like to support this website and keep Mark Does Stuff running, I’ve put up a detailed post explaining how you can!
– Please check out the MarkDoesStuff.com. All Mark Watches videos for past shows/season are now archived there!
– My Master Schedule is updated for the near and distant future for most projects, so please check it often.
– I will be at quite a few conventions and will be hosting events throughout 2014, so check my Tour Dates / Appearances page often to see if I’m coming to your city!