Farscape: S02E02: Vitas Mortis
Note: The name of this episode has multiple meaning, which include something like “The Lives of Death” or “Death’s Lives,” or perhaps “Death’s Ways of Life.” In addition to the “life-related” meanings, there is also an alternate meaning to “vitas” which means to “avoid or evade,” which would give the title the meaning “‘To Avoid/Shun/Evade Death.” All of the possible meanings seem more or less relevant, making this the best-titled Farscape episodes to date, in my opinion. Puns are cool.
D’Argo, John and Zhaan (all with new outfits!) head down to the surface of a cold, desert planet. They had been given a tip that another Luxan was to be found there, and D’Argo wishes to look this person up. When they arrive at the other Luxan’s abode, a servant indicates that they wait. It hurries off, and D’Argo examines the odd lamps which are burning in the waiting room. He tells Zhaan and John, who seems very restless and edgy, that the lamps are a special kind of Luxan lamp to ward off evil. The servant returns, and John, Zhaan and D’Argo enter the strange Luxan’s room.
The Luxan, a very old lady, tells them all to stop in the doorway; she is only interested in seeing D’Argo. In fact, she is a very RUDE old lady, telling John she doesn’t care to know more about humans. She beckons D’Argo closer – and tells him he is rather young to be a general. This information is a surprise to John and Zhaan! But the old lady tells General D’Argo that her name is Nilaam. At that point, D’Argo’s courage breaks, and he begs her forgiveness, telling her he didn’t realize she was an Orican. He tries to leave and usher John and Zhaan out, but Nilaam orders him to stay, telling him to stop groveling in fear! “Look at me!” She demands in a harsh voice. She beckons D’Argo closer, and tells him she is dying.
At this information, D’Argo tells Nilaam he will attend her, if she wishes it. In the same bitchy strain she has displayed so far, she asks him contemptuously if he thinks he is worthy of the honor, and then sticks her hand inside his chest and rumages around inside his body cavity in an effort to determine his worthiness! This naturally causes D’Argo a certain amount of agony, and John freaks out. D’Argo yells at John to stay back while the old lady handles his guts, and Nilaam finally shriekss, “You are very strong, but worthy?? FRAUD!!!!” And D’Argo goes flying backwards through the door.
John and Zhaan run after him, of course, but D’Argo tells them he is fine. John is unimpressed by this sangfroid, demanding to know how D’Argo can be fine when Nilaam just felt up his insides. D’Argo says they can leave now, but Zhaan demurs, telling him he doesn’t want to leave now. John is taken aback by this perfidy, and hotly demands to know what she is up to. “She does not mean to harm him,’ explains Zhaan fiercely. “She’s an Orican, a Holy Woman.” This seems to be all the explanation that Zhaan needs. Well, it would be. John refuses to let the explanation slide at this point, and asks Zhaan to tell him why this woman is all alone in the Uncharted Zone. He asks is the Oricans never go bad. “I don’t know,” admits Zhaan, still fiery. “Right.. You Don’t Know!” finishes John triumphantly.
For some reason, John is absolutely furious with both Zhaan and D’Argo, to the point where it is over the top. He has been acting more and more irrational since the Aurora chair, and it really shows in this episode. I am utterly unsure of why D’Argo didn’t tell John where to get off, but he was very patient, even though John acted like a total control freak during the whole episode.
“Her worthiness is not in question, MINE is!” D’Argo tells John vehemently. Apparently, D’Argo’s tentacle tattoos convey that he is a general, but in fact, he isn’t. He assume the markings because was in a battle in which their groups was surrunded by the enemy, and the real general was severely wounded. D’Argo realized that when and if their group was captured, the general would never survive interrogation. In order to spare the general the interrogation, D’Argo assumed the markings so that he would be interrogated instead. As it turned out, the general lived because of D’Argo’s actions, so a greater good was served. “So tell me, what the hell is she bitching about?!” John asks in a very in-your-face manner, thwacking D’Argo on the chest. Even Zhaan agrees with John, and she tells D’Argo that his fraud served a higher purpose and that the old lady should understand that. “And if she doesn’t, brother, that is her problem,” finishes John.
I thought this scene was interesting, especially John calling D’Argo “brother.” John and D’Argo have been growing steadily closer throughout the series after a pretty bad start, starting with “’Til the Blood Runs Clear.” Although that term is used in an informal context a lot of the time, I got the distinct impression that John literally feels as if D’Argo is his brother – hence his extremely impassioned reaction to Nilaam hurting him.
“You’re right,” D’Argo says finally. “You’re right that she should understand that.” And instead of leaving for Moya, D’Argo heads back in to brave the Orican. Needless to say, she is displeased at seeing D’Argo darkening her doorstep, despite his telling her that he wants to explain his deceit. “I could kill you where you stand,” she offers. “I know you could,” D’Argo admits, “but nevertheless I wish to say something.” The Orican mockingly asks why she would wish to hear whatever he has to say, and D’Argo tells her that it is the duty of Oricans to uphold the truth, and if she doesn’t want to hear his truth, then she isn’t a true Orican. Luckily for D’Argo, the Orican is amused by this remark; she tells D’Argo that she had needed to see if he had fire in him to accompany his strength.
On Moya, Chiana is washing some clothes in Moya’s amnexus fluid, a disgusting -sounding white substance, in which she stands and hand-washes everything. At this point, Aeryn comes in and rather arrogantly asks Chiana to hand wash some more things as long as she’s washing stuff. “Here’s some more clothes to be cleaned!” she says, throwing Chiana a pile of her undies. Chiana rather pointedly asks when she became Aeryn’s servant. “You’re cleaning D’Argo’s, aren’t you?” points out Aeryn in a huff. “Yeah, but I like D’Argo,” returns Chiana. Ouch.
Back on the planet, D’Argo explains that he will be attending the Orican in her Ritual of Passing. John continues in his rather obnoxious, control-freakish behavior, telling D’Argo he doesn’t like the sound of the ritual, especially when he discovers that the Ritual involves a transfer of energy and that there is a small chance D’Argo could die from it. D’Argo tells John that it is the highest honor his species knows to attend an Orican in her death, and any risk is worth it. Apparently, when they return from the Ritual, they have seen the other side of death. Zhaan tells D’Argo she envies him, and despite John’s warnings, D’Argo decides to do the Ritual. D’Argo and Zhaan return to Moya to gather D’Argo’s Luxan belongings for the Ritual, while Crichton remains behind with the Orican.
John has a discussion with the Orican, in which he essentially asks he why she just doesn’t die like other people. The Orican is unoffended (and has become rather unbitchy by this time) by his attitude, and tells John she could, but she doesn’t want to, that she hasn’t seen another Luxan for over nine cycles. Ironically, she asks John if he knows what it is like to be cut off from your own people, and finds that he does indeed understand and has sympathy for how that feels. “Then you can’t begrudge me this one last wish,” says Nilaam quietly. John extracts a promise from the Orican to minimize the risk to D’Argo, and with that, John has to be content.
After D’Argo returns to the planet, he and Nilaam begin the Ritual behind the closed doors of Nilaam’s chamber. (I think this is an appropriate point to mention that Luxans seem to have a rather gaudy fashion sense – both Nilaam’s and D’Argo’s Ritual clothing is rather… wild.) John sits quietly (albeit impatiently) outside, waiting for it all to be finished. Nilaam tells D’Argo that she is old and in pain, but is still not really ready to go, but perhaps that is why Oricans have attendants at their death, so that their resolve might be strengthened as well as their spirit. She admires D’Argo’s strength again, and he tells he that he hopes it is sufficient. With that, they begin to chant.
While they chant, both D’Argo and Nilaam cut their palms on D’Argo’s Qualta blade and clasp their hands together while their black blood drips onteh ground. As they chant, the Qualta blade raises off the floor, suspending in the air above the two of them. Although tempted, John decides not to interfere, but back on Moya, Chiana clearly hears the chant while she is washing clothes. At this point, tempted by the power of D’Argo’s strength, Nilaam decides to change the Ritual. She chants faster and faster, drawing on D’Argos essense to bolster her own, causing D’Argo a great deal of pain. He cries out in agony, and Chiana hears that as well! John tries to enter the sealed room, but is finally forced to go through a side door, drawing his gun on Nilaam to stop the Ritual. Nilaam tells him that the Ritual isn’t over, and causes John’s gun to become so hot he is forced to drop it. But it seems like everything is too late anyway – the sword has dropped and D’Argo is still alive but apparently exhausted.
“It worked, it really worked! You’ve given me life!” Exclaims Nilaam, looking in a mirror, and feeling her new, youthful body. She turns around, and she is a young Luxan lady, rather than the aged crone she had been. D’Argo strength was so powerful that she was able to change the ceremony to the Ritual of Renewal rather than the Ritual of Passing.
Meanwhile, back on Moya, things have taken a turn for the strange. Moya’s amnexus fluid has frozen solid, with Chiana standing in the “ice” up to her knees. She calls desperately to Aeryn and Zhaan to help her out the frozen mess, whereupon Aeryn takes the golden opportunity to ask, “When did I become your servant?” with a bit of a smirk. Both Zhaan and Aeryn ask what Chiana did to make the amnexus fluid freeze, but Chiana maintains that she didn’t do anything, she was just standing in the stuff and it froze. When queried about the frozen amnexus fluid, Pilot tells the women-folk that Moya’s hydric system is failing on a number of tiers, and he doesn’t know why.
D’Argo is rather charmed by this now rather attractive Luxan lady, and she seems to be rather smitten with him as well. They start feeling each other up right in front of Crichton, who is very uncomfortable with this turn of events, as one might imagine. He decides to head back up to Moya, and the two Luxans get it on.
OK, these lovemaking scenes were a little more than I needed to see; these were possibly some of the most unerotic pseudo-sex scenes I have ever witnessed. They made me squirm more than anything else, and not in a good way. I don’t know why I feel so strongly, but for me this scene approached “ooky.” Other physical manifestations of relationships in the show don’t bother me, but I could have lived forever without seeing the nipple-licking scene. Oh well, I am glad D’Argo got laid, I guess.
Aeryn isn’t having much luck chipping Chiana out of the amnexus ice, nor is Zhaan having much luck using solvents to dissolve the stuff. In fact, the DRDs can’t even melt it with lasers. Pilot informs the Moyans that even more serious events are transpiring – bits of Moya’s outer hull are deteriorating, and he has no idea why it all is happening.
Moya’s system failures are starting to escalate, now encompassing outer hull breaches, although the inner hull still holds true. While trying to figure out a way to chip Chiana out of the ice, John asks Rygel to make an inspection of the hulls in conjunction with the DRDs. Rygel is reluctant (lazy), telling John that hull breaches are nearly unheard of on Leviathans. As luck would have it, right then a huge hole into outer space opens up in the sluice chamber (where they all are), and John is unable to keep hold of Rygel, who flies butt first into the hole, plugging it nicely without a leak. “Decompression has ceased!” cries Pilot exultantly.
Aeryn returns from an exploratory trip to the outer hull; it seems pieces of the outer hull are breaking away. She hands John a chunk of Moya’s hull, which came off easily in her hands. “Maybe it will give Zhaan a clue,” John speculates.
At this point, D’Argo and Nilaam join the Moyans in the Sluice room. Nilaam thinks she can help heal Moya’s problems, much to Rygel’s relief. Apparently, plugging holes to deep space with your butt is more than a little uncomfortable. Surprisingly, Chiana seems somewhat hostile to Nilaam. “I thought you said she was ancient,” she hisses savagely to John. As Nilaam serenely and confidently touches the area around Rygel, Moya shudders, and Pilot conveys that tremors are occurring all throughout Moya, increasing the damage and the deteriorating of Moya’s systems.
“Nilaam, you’re making it worse, stop,” John says almost sympathetically. Nilaam looks disoriented and confused. “It’s a healing incantation, it has to work!” she responds in dismay. She tells the Moyans she needs to meditate and asks D’Argo for a private place.
While she is meditating and chanting under her breath, D’Argo finally says, “We did this didn’t we, we harmed Moya.” Nilaam tells D’Argo they she didn’t realize the source of strength she felt was Moya, and she tapped into it to complete her Ritual of Renewal. Nevertheless, Nilaam maintains that she can save Moya with her knowledge, but she needs to consult her papers and books down on the planet. After Nilaam shows – by merely placing her hand on the wall — that she is literally poison to Moya, D’Argo agrees to escort her down to the planet’s surface.
Pilot pages Aeryn and tells her he needs to speak with her; when she arrives, she sees that Pilot is very ill. His link to Moya is dragging him down with her, and his own health and acuity is beginning to fail along with that of Moya. He tells Aeryn he doesn’t know how to fix things, but that the symptoms Moya has experienced – amnexus freezing and hull deterioration — only happens with old age in Leviathans. But Moya is young, so he doesn’t understand what is happening. “It makes no sense,” Pilot gasps to Aeryn.
It makes all too much sense to Aeryn, and she enters warrior mode, demanding to know where Nilaam is. When she learns that D’Argo and Nilaam are on their way to the transport hangar, she tells Pilot she won’t let Nilaam keep what she has stolen, and heads out with her big gun in hand. John runs into her on her way down, and decides to accompany her to prevent her from doing something rash (he apparently strongly disapproves of her plan to blast Nilaam).
Aeryn and John enter the hangar right behind Nilaam and D’Argo, and, while John cries out for her to stop, Aeryn immediately powers up the laser gun and takes a shot at Nilaam! D’Argo turns and throws himself in front of the blast and Nilaam (thereby proving to at least my satisfaction that it is in fact possible to exceed the speed of light, even if one isn’t an exotic subatomic particle), while Nilaam causes the bolt to split in two around her and D’Argo. She then encases Aeryn and John in mounds of ice — even though John was completely innocent — and she and D’Argo leave Moya.
Down on the planet, trouble is brewing between the two lovers. All of Nilaam’s incantations to cure Moya have failed, and finally, she asks D’Argo how far the transport pd can take here. She explains to D’Argo that putting some distance between her and Moya might help. D’Argo is decidedly cool to this idea, and finally Nilaam explodes, “D’Argo, it is just a ship!” D’Argo is appalled by this comment, and tells her that the fact that she is having such a bad effect on Moya, an effect she can do nothing to ameliorate should tell her something.
John trails the pair down to the planet and enters the Orican’s residence. D’Argo greets him with his drawn Qualta blade, but John pulls off his gun and lays it down. D’Argo lowers his weapon, and tries to explain himself to John. “Moya, Pilot, Aeryn… they will never forgive Nilaam… they may never even forgive me. But you, you must understand,” he beseeches John. “I understand, what she’s dong is killing Moya,” returns John quietly, getting to the heart of the matter. D’Argo tells John that Nilaam isn’t evil, and that she never meant for any of the mess to happen.
John finally tells D’Argo that he didn’t know what Nilaam intended, but that what it is is murder, and that D’Argo is the only one who can stop it. This naturally incenses D’Argo somewhat, and he hurls his sword across the room. “Don’t you think I know what has to be done?!” he cries out, weeping. John retrieves the sword and sits next to D’Argo. “I came here to end this,” D’Argo finally says, “and I will.” And with that he takes his sword and enters Nilaam’s chamber.
Nilaam tells D’Argo that she has treasured the gifts he gave her, and that she isn’t afraid anymore. She asks D’Argo to assist her once more, and they begin the Ritual of Passing. Nilaam stabs herself with the Qualta blade, and dies in D’Argo’s arms, an old lady once again.
Back on Moya, Chiana is hobbling around joyously, and Zhaan massages Rygel’s feet, which had been sticking out into space. Moya’s systems are returning to normal, and Pilot is recovering from his ordeal.
Down on the planet, John finally enters Nilaam’s chamber, and finds D’Argo sitting alone. “Want me to get lost?” he asks D’Argo. “Why would I want you to do that?” D’Argo responds dully. “In case you want some time alone,” returns John. “I do, but not yet,” D’Argo finishes quietly.
Comments: I had mixed feeling about this episode. This was obviously a character episode rather than a story-arc episode, but the Nilaam/D’Argo thing didn’t work for me at all, and I thought some of the characterizations were odd: Aeryn asking – no, demanding — that Chiana wash her clothes?! What’s up with that? Also, I think the fact that Chiana is washing D’Argo clothes merits a closer look. Although I can’t say what women do in Chiana’s culture, at least in our culture women tend not to wash male friends’ clothes: that is a rather intimate action that tends to be reserved for lovers or family (and I have to say I would balk at washing my brothers’ clothes unless it was an emergency). Was there supposed to be some sort of deeper implication here regarding Chiana’s and D’Argo’s relationship? The language was also a bit saltier than other episodes (Chiana calling Rygel a turd-face, for example), which didn’t bother me, but which I noticed a lot more because of the contrast. I did like the depiction of how close John and D’Argo have become during the course of their adventures together, and I thought their male bonding was very affecting.
I rate this episode 3/5.
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This episode review is © 1999 – 2019 Andrea Reed
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